Ellie Davies (Engineering 2010) followed her parents (Liz Makin (Economics 1979) and Mark Davies (Engineering 1977)) to Fitzwilliam - but didn't tell anyone initially. She shares her experience.
How did having two parents attending Fitzwilliam impact your choice of university?
I had been once when I was really little, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. When I started to think about university, my mum received information about an open day at Fitz. I went to that and everyone seemed really normal, friendly and not intimidating like I had imagined Cambridge students to be. I never told anyone at College for the first couple of years that my parents went to Fitz and never mentioned it on my application.
Did they reminisce when they visited you?
When my parents came to visit, they spoke about their experiences and how the College had grown over the years and yet my room was decorated and had the same furniture as when they were there. They are both still really good friends with people from Fitz and like going back to see everyone at reunion events. They used to say it felt like nothing had changed. My dad loves going back to sports dinners and hanging out with the old Onions and my mum has just come back from the wedding of the son of her best friend from Fitz. I didn’t get it before I went back for my MA graduation but now I do.
Why did you choose engineering, like your dad, and not economics, like your mum?
I would have studied economics if I had not studied engineering. Some of my closest friends from Fitz did economics, so I got a fair insight into the course anyway. I also thought about architecture and then an architect friend of Mum’s suggested structural engineering and it definitely was the right subject for me.
Your mum was in the first intake of women, in 1979. What did she tell you about that experience?
That is one of the things I remember her speaking about before I went to Fitz, the fact there were very few women and you had to be quite confident and prepared to stand up for yourself. And society was a lot more sexist then anyway. She said that because there weren’t many women, they got lots of attention but also had a great time. Her best friend is a girl she met on the first day and lived on the same corridor, which was exactly the same as me! When I went to Fitz, it was still only a third female and engineering is worse than that, but I have never particularly noticed. One reason may be that women seem to get a lot more involved in College life, such as the JMA (Junior Members Association, now JCR) committee.
Do you have any other family who are members of the Fitzwilliam community?
No. My brother and sister went to other universities. My sister, Maria, studied Biology at York and is about to finish a PhD in Sheffield. She enjoyed working for a pharmaceutical company in her year in industry in Cambridge and ended up doing a PhD. My brother, Tom, did economics at Bristol and now works in the City. My other brother, George, is still at primary school so a long way to go to till he goes to university!
How would you describe your experience of Fitzwilliam?
I had a great time. Four of my closest friends are from Fitz. As well as that, there are so many people I know I could carry on where we left off if I bumped into them now. College is great because there is a supportive environment with lots of people from all walks of life, but in the same position. I guess some of the welcoming atmosphere comes from the College history, with an emphasis on access and outreach, as well as its location. As Fitz is a bit out of town, away from prying tourists and grand old buildings, the car park-like façade hides away a lovely space and a real community feel.
Sport was my main hobby (like my parents) whilst at Fitz. I played on most of the College teams at some point and for the University at squash and cricket. I was also on the JMA for two years, the first year as vice-president of amalgamated sport, the second year as JMA president.
What do you do now?
I’m a structural engineer. I worked on sports stadia for three years, including the new Tottenham stadium. I am now a Chartered Engineer and focus mainly on smaller projects, including schools, museums and residential. I work with architects and clients to achieve their visual and functional ambitions for the building, but our main job is to make sure it stands up. It is great to see your designs come to life, but also a bit daunting when 20,000 people are standing on a football stand you designed!