When Vanessa Chuang and Olivia Taylor became student volunteers, they had no idea they’d need to re-invent their activities as a virtual programme. Despite a turbulent year, they managed to keep supporting vulnerable clients in the local community — and to go ahead with their much-loved Christmas Present Campaign.

Vanessa: For a small organisation, Student Community Action (SCA) does a lot. Our foremost aim is to support people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable in Cambridge. We do this by running a number of projects and also through supporting other local volunteering initiatives.

Vanessa: In normal years we run about ten projects aimed at children through to elderly people and every age in between. Our wider goals are to create a culture of care and compassion within the Cambridge community, and to unite students who have a passion for volunteering.

Vanessa: The project I was in charge of was called…

Respect for the Mongolian landscape is engrained within her, says Onon Bayasgalan. Her work is helping herders in her home country to preserve livelihoods and lands that are under threat from the luxury fashion industry.

Onon in the grasslands of Mongolia.

I would watch as my grandmother sprinkled milk to honour Mother Nature before breaking the soil to plant seedlings. Respect for the natural world was something my grandmother had grown up with, and in turn taught me. It’s a mentality that is entwined with Mongolian culture.

The Mongolian landscape is vast, harsh and untamed. Crucially for the nomadic herders who live there, it’s not partitioned off into pockets of land. Herders make up 40% of the population and being able to roam freely and graze goats is essential for preserving their livelihoods.

Tiara Sahar Ataii has just been named Undergraduate of the Year for Impactful Social Action. She shares how her love of languages and exploration of her Iranian roots took her on unexpected paths, and led her to found a charity using fashion to fund legal aid for refugees.

Tiara in the gardens at Robinson College

I thought my future lay in classical music. I attended the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music for three years while I was at school and initially, I was offered a place to study music at Cambridge.

But during my gap year my focus changed. For some time I’d wanted to become more in touch with my Iranian roots, and I’d started learning how to read and write in Farsi, to complement my spoken Farsi.

I decided to go to Calais to volunteer as an interpreter in one of the camps. There, I was confronted with how much…

Chioma Achi is worried about the global misuse of antibiotics in agricultural practices. Her work helping farmers in Nigeria to reduce infection in livestock and use fewer antibiotics in animal feed was highlighted in the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Research Impact and Engagement Awards.

We are living with a ticking time-bomb as bacteria like Salmonella become increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) results from the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in agricultural practices, livestock production and human medicine. Of all the cases resulting from foodborne infections around the world, Salmonella accounts for up to 93.8 million cases annually, with a resultant 155,000 deaths. In fact, this is a low estimate as many cases often go unreported in Sub-Saharan Africa.

AMR is not just an issue with developing countries or a problem for low resource environments. This affects the entire world as it means…

Self-confessed comic addict Osarenkhoe Ogbeide sees beyond the superhero to the scientist. When he’s not developing printable gas sensors, he’s passionate about celebrating the contributions of black scientists throughout history.

Osarenkhoe with the pan-African flag

Marvel films and comics sparked my interest in science subjects. I realised that lots of the best superheroes had a background in science — Ironman was a genius engineer and Spiderman studied as a biochemist — and they would often use this knowledge to solve problems.

Today I’m a PhD student at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, working on developing the next generation of gas sensors using 2D materials, such as graphene. The real-life applications of the technology include monitoring CO2 in the home and ammonia in industrial settings, but it also has the potential to be used as a medical…

Recent graduate and former president of the African and Caribbean Society, Toni Fola-Alade, talks about advocacy, start-ups and fundraising for Nigerian fishermen — and looking forward to the day when he doesn’t have to talk about race.

I never expected Stormzy, the Vice President of Malawi and the General Counsel of GE Africa would accept our invitation to the Motherland Conference, but they did. And I don’t think we expected to fill out the Cambridge Union. That was just a fun bonus.

The Conference came about after I’d attended a debate about race and educational privilege in my first year, hosted by Tiwa Adebayo (Sidney Sussex 2016). After the debate, a couple of us were hanging around and chatting about the issues raised. …

As they (literally) hand over the keys to their much-loved Vet School, Betty and Paul tell us about the poorly elephant who brought two friends and why it was important to keep the place going in the midst of a pandemic.

Paul: I didn’t want a job working with animals, so when I first joined the University in 1974, I purposefully took a job in what was then called the Botany School, now Plant Sciences. Fast-forward to today and I’ve been Facilities Manager at the Vet School for 26 years. I’ve worked for the University for 46 years, and Betty for 48 years in one department or another.

Betty: Keeping the Vet School running was such a big job that I was recruited to help Paul as Facilities and Safety Co-ordinator. We’ve worked together for 15 years as part of what…

Areeb Mahtey (Fitzwilliam College) is studying for a PhD in epigenetics, but outside the lab he is a member of the University of Cambridge’s Fashion and Luxury Brands Society and models for upcoming fashion brands and charitable causes. He explains why science and fashion have more in common than you might think, and how in the future he hopes to combine his two passions.

I’m currently in the final year of my PhD, part of Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian’s research group, which studies the chemistry, structure and function of DNA and RNA. My research focuses on detecting low-abundance natural DNA modifications using a technique called mass spectrometry. By understanding how these modifications affect the structure and function of DNA, my research has implications for diseases like cancer but also for our understanding of embryonic development and may even lead to the development of new drugs. …

It’s not often someone compares the voices of seals to the sounds of space set to a Grime beat. But when he’s not monitoring seals from space, PhD student Prem Gill is using ‘Seal Grime’ as one way to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds to take up polar science.

Prem Gill at the Scott Polar Research Institute

I can be sitting in my office in Cambridge and witness a moment in time, the other side of the world, that no other human has ever seen before, like a newly born seal pup lying beside its mother on the sea ice. It’s surreal to have these rare glimpses into life in Antarctica.

There’s so much crazy stuff going on in the natural world and I just want to know what’s happening. I’m particularly interested in using technology to explore hidden or remote parts of planet Earth which we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see.

My PhD research, which…

When Charis Millett realised that being a museum technician was the job for her, she worked day and night to make it happen. She speaks about her passion for transporting museum-goers to another time and why Blue Peter may have more in common with museum technicians than you might think.

Charis in the Museum of Classical Archaeology

I never have that ‘Monday morning feeling.’ I work in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Antiquity Department where no two days are ever the same. One morning I can be wheeling a sarcophagus out of storage for a researcher, another afternoon I might be packaging up a terracotta amphora to be sent on loan to a museum in New York. When you handle ancient artefacts every day it can begin to feel normal, but I make a point of reminding myself how special this job is and how lucky I am.

I come from a really creative family. My mum is amazing…

University of Cambridge

Research from the University of Cambridge

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