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Postgraduate Admissions

 

‘There’s a great community at Cambridge - you’re always interacting and making connections with different people’

Alex Hwang, from California, chose to study for an MPhil degree in Physics at Churchill College. Based in the NanoPhotonics Centre, his research focuses on light and nanotechnology

Cambridge is such a unique place to study and to do research. It’s got a great community and you’re always interacting and making connections with different people - from different fields and from lots of different countries. I feel like I get to learn something or to solve something every day.

As a researcher, a lot of your happiness and satisfaction comes from your work, and at Cambridge my research group has really reinvigorated my enthusiasm for science. People are happy in general and that makes such a difference - they’re enthusiastic and energetic about the science.

Cambridge University is one of the best academic institutions in the world, and the quality of learning is excellent. Since school my academic interests have been around science and physics. And Cambridge, in particular the Cavendish Laboratory, is a huge part of the story of physics. Initially, I was daunted by the University’s academic reputation, but the people here are so kind and helpful. Before you come to Cambridge you only really know it for its big reputation, but you get here and you find it’s a warm and welcoming place with a really collaborative atmosphere. I went from imposter syndrome to feeling like this place was my second home!

The focus of my work is nanoscience and the study of light. Throughout history, light has been a key tool in helping us understand the world. I’m using it to see what’s going on at a cellular level. I’m fascinated by light, and the potential to use it in all sorts of new ways - in place of circuits or electrical systems, for example.

My undergraduate degree was in Physics and Electrical Engineering. I studied at Rice University in Texas, and that’s where I started my research. After that I really wanted to experience doing research full time, and not having to worry about classes. That’s why the MPhil at Cambridge is really unique – it’s one of the only degrees at Master’s level which lets you do that. I wanted to come to Cambridge for a year to grow as a scientist and develop a more mature vision before going on to a PhD. It’s been about learning to make decisions independently, which can be a hard thing to learn, but it’s been a huge benefit.

When I was first looking into studying at Cambridge I found a lot of information online - on the University website, reading blogs, watching videos on YouTube. There’s actually more funding available than people realise. My funding came from the Churchill Scholarship, which sends US students to study at Churchill College every year.

Being a Master’s student at Cambridge means that as well as being a researcher at a university you’re also a part of the whole community because of the college system. Everyone’s living in the same area, so you’re not completely separate from undergraduates and other postgraduates.

The traditions here will be some of my fondest memories  – cycling every day gives me so much joy, and being part of the Formals [traditional dinners] with so many other people is really special. It’s amazing to experience that side of Cambridge. And the extracurricular side of things is really vibrant too. Music is such a big part of my life - I play the viola, and there aren’t a lot of violists in general, so musical groups always need a viola! I’ve played in a lot of different groups across Cambridge, from accompanying choirs to playing in musical theatres.

This is my first time in England, and I’ve had the most wonderful year at Cambridge - even with the pandemic. The College has been supportive and I’ve also been impressed with how my department handled the lockdown. It was operational again as soon as possible, and that’s a testament to the organisation here. I’ve felt very safe with the all the precautions, and happy that I could get back to my research so soon.

Coming here has given me so many more connections to researchers and collaborations in Europe, and in general, and having Cambridge on my CV will be absolutely fantastic and help me stand out back in the US. But it’s also about being around these incredible people who push you to keep growing and progressing.