Being an Access Officer at Cambridge

Natalie Thompson
Created: 2 years, 2 months ago
Last modified: 2 years, 2 months ago

Hi, I’m Natalie, and I’m the Target and Access Executive for Fitzwilliam College JCR.
There’s a lot of weird terminology there, so I’ll break it down a little! A JCR, officially a Junior Common Room, is a mini students union at the college level. It’s composed of a President, Vice-President and a group of officers covering areas including Events, Welfare, Academic Affairs and much more. Each of these is an elected student representative who works with both the student body and college staff to improve the quality of students’ experiences at the college. My role covers Target and Access, which refers to the recruitment of new students, particularly those from under-represented socioeconomic, ethnic or geographical backgrounds who may not think that Cambridge is ‘right for them’ due to a lack of information. I also represent current students from underrepresented backgrounds, ensuring that they integrate fully into college life and helping to tackle ‘impostor syndrome’, which is experienced by many students who may be initially intimidated by the culture shock of Cambridge. To do this, I work closely with the Welfare and Class Act (a representative of students from low income backgrounds, as well as care leavers, young carers and other disadvantaged backgrounds) officers, and also lead a sub-committee of three Access Officers who help me out!

As the Target and Access Executive, I have a lot of scope to work on my own projects and bring some of my ideas to life! My proudest achievement of the year so far has been bringing the Unibuddy platform to Fitzwilliam College. Because Open Days haven’t been able to go ahead in their usual format for the last year, I tried to think of another way for prospective applicants to engage with and ask questions of current students. I came across Unibuddy, which allows prospective applicants to directly message Fitz students through a moderated chat function. I pitched this idea to senior members of college staff at the termly Admissions Committee meetings I attend as part of my role, and they agreed to pay to license the platform for the next year! I’ve already had some great, productive conversations with some Year 12 students thinking of applying to Cambridge, so I’m glad it seems to be a worthwhile endeavour!

In pre-Covid times, I would have hosted termly socials for students from ‘access backgrounds’ or those interested in helping out with access projects. I’m hoping to run some of these at the beginning of the next academic year. Instead, I’ve been quite active on my college Facebook group, where I let students know of any opportunities to get involved with student-led access projects including InsideUni, Project Access, Slipstream Education and Zero Gravity. I also post termly updates about applying for and receiving bursaries from the college and university, as many students from low income backgrounds are eligible for some form of financial aid.

I’m looking forward to building on my current work next term. I’m planning to co-host an Access / Class Act social in Freshers Week, to allow new students from similar backgrounds to meet one another and hopefully feel more at home. I’m particularly looking forward to organising the annual Fitzwilliam Shadowing Scheme in November 2021, where students from the college’s link areas of Cumbria, Cheshire and Hammersmith and Fulham are invited to shadow current students for a few days, experiencing what life is like as a Cambridge student. I’m currently in the early planning stages for this scheme, but I’m hoping to organise taster supervisions, application workshops, fun trips out in Cambridge and social activities.

I’ve found that getting involved in access projects while at university has been a great way to make friends with people from similar backgrounds to my own, as well as give something back to prospective applicants who could benefit from hearing about Cambridge from a current student - especially one with a Northern accent from a state school who doesn’t really fit the old-fashioned Cambridge stereotype! Being a JCR officer has put me in a position where I can exert real change and help prospective applicants decide whether Cambridge, and Fitz, is right for them. I’m really enjoying the role and look forward to starting some new projects next term!