Dr Lizzi Rawlinson-Mills is the new Admissions Tutor for Widening Participation at Robinson. Lizzi read English at Clare College before leaving Cambridge for a while to work as an English teacher. Following her MA at Bristol and her PhD at UCL, she now works on poems published in wartime newspapers. She has two small children and loves singing, swimming, and crochet.
When I told my parents twenty years ago that I had decided to apply to Cambridge, my dad cautioned against it: it was bound to be terribly disappointing when I didn’t get in.
What I found when I arrived as a bright-eyed first year, fresh from my rural comprehensive, was a university quite different from the other-worldly place of stuffy prejudice my dad had imagined. Yes, there were the arcane terms - matriculation, Michaelmas, Tripos - that lend a special Cambridge glamour, but the structures and processes they describe are exactly the same as those at any other university. And yes, there were people from backgrounds which seemed to me to be impossibly privileged. But there were also people, many people, just like me, and people from all kinds of other backgrounds. There were people who loved the things I loved - reading, music, theatre - and people who loved totally different things - sports, politics, dungeons and dragons. Almost everybody loved eating and drinking, which I could definitely get on board with, and even those super-privileged people turned out to be not so different from me after all.
I hope I’m still bright-eyed. I certainly haven’t lost my enthusiasm for sharing the wonderful experience that is a Cambridge education with as many people as possible. Having been a secondary school English teacher for ten years, I am now a lecturer in the Faculty of Education with responsibilities for the Secondary PGCE course, a role which keeps me closely in touch with school and sixth form colleagues. I also teach Education and English undergraduates and take part in admissions interviews for both subjects. I know from the inside, as student and academic, that Cambridge is a very special place. And I have seen the Admissions process as applicant, sixth form tutor, and interviewer.
The beliefs and stereotypes that shaped my dad’s view of Cambridge are still prevalent: there are many parents, teachers and academically brilliant students who suspect that Cambridge is not for them. To our shame, there are still under-represented groups in Cambridge - and the University is the poorer for it. Part of my role as Admissions Tutor for Widening Participation is to join my voice to the chorus of colleagues saying: Cambridge is for you. As I said to my dad: it’s worth a shot.
And why Robinson? Well, we might not have the Hogwarts charm of Cambridge Instagram, but we are a warm, welcoming, diverse community. We are centrally located - the closest College to the University Library and a very short walk from the city centre. As one of the youngest colleges we can have a sense of humour about the University’s more esoteric traditions, as well as a sense of humility in the face of its awesome 800-year history. Behind our unique red-brick battlements, we have the most beautiful gardens, with grass you are actually allowed to walk, sit and picnic on! And we have the best food in Cambridge – everybody can get on board with that.