Summer Plans: To work or not to work?

Amelia Oakley 9 June 2015

As exams draw to a close, and the libraries begin to empty up as painfully sleep-deprived students trudge out of their doors, still wrapped in blankets, twitching with the impact of Basics energy drinks, blinking into the blasts of sunlight and post-exam cheap Cava, it can only mean one thing — summer is on its way.

Slowly but surely, the tables at Formal start to fill up again and Hall swells with chatter of summer plans. Suddenly you’re struck with the realisation that May Week is, in fact, just a week, and not a blissful month-long period in which you are able to doss around Cambridge, rectify the relationships you’ve accidentally tainted across the term, get your life in order and form an incredible plan of action to fill the three months of nothingness ahead. Across the table, talk of month-long placements, work experience in the city and internships at major companies are being flung about and landing with a dollop in your half-eaten panna cotta. And this isn’t spurting from the mouths of finalists — who you applaud for their efforts to gain employment, and ability to function in the real world as a real adult —  oh no, but rather from youthful fresher tongues.

The same people who, last summer, were planning their obligatory post A-level blow outs and concocting their Malia wardrobes, are now casting off their ill-advised pineapple covered swimming costume, and replacing it with a Goldman Sachs ready collection of business attire. Whilst they plan post-workday, loosened tie drinks at Sushi Samba, you sit staring in awe at these semi-grown baby adults and are faced with the unavoidable truth that you too are one of these so called ‘adults’  and therefore, you too should perhaps be getting your life together. The painful reality is that after you finish first year, you really only have two summers of freedom left at your disposal before you are forced into the 9-5 world of earned holidays, rather than a completely unwarranted four months of blissful emptiness. So should we really be rushing to fill these summers with academic work and career orientated placements?

Obviously, we all want to inhabit that ‘employed in graduate career’ segment of the graduation statistics and undoubtedly these internships and placements are a significant part of gaining us a place in the lofty heights of the city — but I can’t help but think the individuals who inhabit the ‘other’ segment, might have had just a bit more fun in their summers. To be honest, as an English student the possibility of immediate graduate success is suitably unlikely that throwing caution to the wind, and abandoning all efforts to gain an internship is a pretty easy option for me. 

Travelling across a continent, volunteering in a teaching project, taking a show to the Fringe — ok, so these might not be box ticking three month internships at Deloitte, but are they really any less valid? When did we become so numbed to the idea of life experience over work experience? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were planning the street corner we were going to hang out on, and make our teenage mistakes on? Now we’re rushing to settle into a life of commuting, office chairs, and labelled coffee mugs.

Cambridge stinks of success, of five-year plans, and people with contacts in high places — and that’s not a necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not every-thing. After a year here, I’m still not used to the Cambridge dialogue — to the people who exit exams exclaiming ‘I absolutely nailed that!’, or who had gap years where they achieved more in six months than I likely will in a decade, or will be satisfied with nothing else but a First. The unrelenting career drive here is like nothing I have ever seen before and, for me, the jury is still out on how healthy it is for the brightest hopes and keenest minds of tomorrow to slip their feet into a pair of shiny, polished Oxfords before they’ve fully worn out the battered white Converse of their youth.

If interning, working or assisting a researcher is what you want to do with your summer, then don't let anyone stop you. But equally, don't let anyone force you. The 'Cambridge Bubble' is a delicate phrase for a place that can often feel like a flood; a flood of pressure, expectation, and other people telling you what you need to do to get ahead. It's a place which will drown you if you let it; it'll pull you under if you let yourself be overwhelmed by it all. So don’t waste your summer. Instead, do what you enjoy most, whether that be scaling the Andes, or the dizzy heights of Canary Wharf.