Krishnaa Pandya (2013) completed a Medical Studies (Preclinical) degree at Fitzwilliam, after self-belief encouraged her to apply to Cambridge.
What was your first experience of Fitzwilliam?
My school gave us a range of colleges they thought were appropriate. I was discouraged to apply to Cambridge to begin with, but I carried on with my application. I had never heard of Fitzwilliam before, but I remember reading the prospectus and I felt like this was the kind of college I would like. I applied on an absolute whim. The first time I went to Fitz was for my interview. I remember stepping into the grounds, through the Porters’ Lodge, walking up towards the Buttery and it just felt like home, the very first time. The whole atmosphere was very serene. It was a crisp December morning and it was beautiful. I could just see myself walking there as a student and I fell in love with it. I was so glad I applied. There’s a tranquillity about Fitzwilliam. It’s a little haven outside of the academic bubble. You can feel a little bit more relaxed, not as much of that Cambridge pressure. The people are so friendly. Everyone is so nice to each other. Everyone encourages people to do well and helps each other to be the best they possibly can be. That atmosphere is what it makes it feel like the perfect college.
Why were you discouraged from applying?
I went to a grammar school in London. Compared to my peers at school, I didn’t do that well in my GCSEs, despite being above average for the country. When I did my AS Levels, I did a lot better in my maths and physics than biology and chemistry. My school said ‘if you were applying for engineering or maths at Cambridge, we wouldn’t say anything. The fact you want to do medicine, we would advise a safer option. We don’t think you’ll get in’. I went against their advice and I applied. I had an older cousin who went to Oxford and when I visited her I thought ‘I’d love to go to a place like this when I’m older’. That was in the back of my mind when I was applying to university and I said to myself ‘you don’t know unless you try… you don’t want to look back in 50 years’ time and think what if?’ So I said ‘I’m just going to do it. I believe in myself enough to go for it’. I had the support of family and friends who said ‘go for it’.
How do you think that experience has changed your school’s position?
The administrative staff were a bit surprised and a bit reluctant to say congratulations. It was a very hushed ‘well done’ as I was filing out of assembly. My subject teachers were great and helped me get the grades. I hope it has changed their opinion. I went back after first year of university and my biology teacher said she still uses me as an example of someone who got a C in her biology coursework and ended up getting an A* and going to Cambridge. Whenever I go back to school I do some mock interviews and help with personal statements. I tell all the girls ‘if you want to apply, go ahead and apply – use your self-belief’.
How did your preclinical medicine course go and your career progress after Fitzwilliam?
Preclinical years were fantastic. I went on to carry on my medical studies at Imperial College, London and I have just graduated. I’m going on to start my medical work at Bedford. It’s all very new and exciting.
You posted on Twitter about the Access and Widening Participation Conference (on 14 September) – what are your thoughts on it?
I know a lot of people who ended up not applying to Cambridge and I felt so sad for them because they could have done so well there. A lot of it was because of a lack of access in schools. That’s something very personal to me. Being told you can’t do something and then going on to prove them wrong, just inspires me to tell people to give it a try. I remember bumping into some girls from the year below me at school on the train. They asked ‘how did you do it?’ and I said ‘I just tried’. It just takes a little motivation. Give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?