Enduring friendships for Caian postgraduates

  • 14 November 2023
  • 3 minutes

Jessica Corry (Biochemistry PhD 2018), Sasha Eremina (Biochemistry PhD 2018) and Tomasz Hollanek (Film and Screen Studies 2017) reflect on their experience as postgraduate students at Gonville & Caius College and their enduring friendship which survived a global pandemic, just like a tin of baked beans.

Jessica, Sasha and Tomasz were neighbours on Harvey Road, where the majority of Caius postgraduates live. It was at a freshers’ pub night at The Cricketers where Sasha and Tomasz first spoke.

Tomasz says: “Waiting at the bar for a pint, we began talking about our research. Sasha’s work on time and biology fascinated me, precisely because it's hardcore fundamental science, yet sounded like a philosophical question. That's what made us click.”

Sasha adds: “After all these years, I love listening to his take on AI ethics, and he finds my bacterial clocks equally intriguing!”

A collage of two photos showing two women wearing academic gowns

Sasha and Jessica had met previously as undergraduates at the University of Cambridge through the Amgen scholars programme and were reunited as PhD students in Biochemistry two years later, both matriculating at Caius.

A sense of a postgraduate community comes from living together and socialising together.

“An amazing element of the Caius experience is almost everyone lives on the same street which helps create a good vibe and a great community. We shared a massive garden at the back so could enjoy spending time together spontaneously,” Tomasz says.

Jessica acknowledges starting a PhD and making new friends at a new university can be daunting, but the MCR (Middle Combination Room, for postgraduate community) Thursday Port Nights were a meaningful point of connection.

“There would always be someone to have a good conversation with on a Thursday night, a time to catch up every week. And also a place to celebrate as a community everyone’s successes at the end of the term!” she says.

Sports and societies forge bonds, too. Jessica and Sasha made the most of College life and were inspired to row by their friend Marion Perrin (Biology PhD 2017) and enjoyed being part of the female postgraduate boat the Sirens.

“Marion encouraged us to get up at 6am to go rowing in the snow. It is extremely bonding and part of the whole Cambridge experience,” adds Jessica, who was MCR Vice-President when Marion was President in 2020-21.

Our experience at Caius is a bond for life

Their experience on the MCR Committee was shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, a seminal moment for the three friends. All were grateful to have had time to spend together before going into lockdown in March 2020.

“We remember sharing a dinner together right after the Covid pandemic started,” Tomasz says. “We had just come back from a crazy shopping trip to stock up. Some of us were still thinking of staying in Cambridge for the pandemic. Three days later we were all gone.”

Sasha remembers buying a can of baked beans on their panicked trip to the shops, even though she does not like them. She kept them for two years as a symbol of the pandemic.

“I remember thinking ‘Should just I eat them and stop this pandemic? It cannot last any longer!’,” she says.

Jessica is now a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Francis Crick Institute and has launched a start-up in techbio.

Sasha is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Sainsbury Laboratory and investigates how and why cells feel time.

Tomasz completed his MPhil at Caius before staying on for a PhD in Design Theory and Technology Ethics. He is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Technology and Humanity and an Affliated Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Technology.

The three friends who recently reunited for their PhD graduation ceremonies were also reunited last year for Marion’s wedding in France.

“We had an amazing time, driving through France together after two years apart,” Tomasz says. “Even though most of us have now moved or are moving to different places, our experience at Caius College is a bond for life.”