Steven Hawking and Sir Humphrey

Namedropping has got to be one of the most common pastimes at Cambridge, if my first week of work here is anything to go by. On Sunday we were walking between the city centre and Granchester Meadow and I looked up to see Steven Hawking directly in front of us on the path. I only realised it was actually him right as we were walking past him, but it was incredibly cool to see him just tooling around campus. Then today we went down to the Judge Business School for my first look at an actual Cambridge class in progress. It was a role-play simulation about the privatisation of British electricity in the 1980s. But this was a role-play with a difference. They’d invited a couple of VIPs to take part, including Lord Wilson of Dinton, who played the role of Permanent Secretary to the Department of Environment. If you’re a fan of Yes Minister, Permanent Secretary was the role that Sir Humphrey played in that series. The thing is, Lord Wilson was the real one. It added a certain sense of realism to the whole thing, I have to say.

Hello Cambridge

And here’s the new flat in Cambridge. We were really impressed with how big it feels, and it still feels brand new. We’re only the second tenants since it was built in 2004. Lotte’s demonstrating how to make a chicken stir fry with our new stirfry pan from Tesco, which we ate on our new plates from Tesco. In fact just about everything we’ve bought so far (including our groceries) has been from Tesco. It’s not our first choice to support a giant megastore chain, but well, we’ve got a limited choice at the moment and it really does have everything. We’ve made what seems like dozens of trips there already, stuffing our little back packs full every time.

The place was fully furnished, so the fridge, book case, couch, kitchen setting and desk were all waiting for us. The best thing about the place is the floor, which is some kind of faux wood and will probably come in pretty handy when we want to practice dancing.

Probably the most surprising thing was the bedroom seems an awful lot bigger than at our place in Melbourne. It could be because the bed is only a double, but it really does feel pretty big. Both rooms have windows onto a courtyard, which has a bike shed on one side that is always crammed to the gills with bikes. Lotte was pretty happy about that.

Today’s major Tesco purchase was a micro stereo system, bought mostly based on being the cheapest one we could find that had audio input, so that we can use AirTunes. Wouldn’t be without it. It’s all plugged in and pumping out the tunes now.

We got the flat

We found out today that we got the flat we applied for, which is on the ground floor in the newly built West Cambridge university residencies, close to the Cavendish Laboratory. If the university map is to scale, it seems to be around a mile west of the city centre. The floor plan makes it look pretty small, but we actually measured up our current living room/kitchen and it’s almost exactly the same size, which put our minds at ease a bit. The big difference will be that we’ll have hardly any room for storage, and no spare room for visitors. Still, there are a couple of desk areas and we won’t have to store years of stuff with us. It should be pretty good.

Beaming Up

Since getting over the initial shock of our impending trans-hemispheric move, we’ve started to notice our perspective shift. Before we were here in Melbourne and thinking about what it would be like to be overseas, and all the implications for family, friends, and work. Now, even though we’re here in Melbourne in a physical sense, our minds are already on the way to England.

Not only are we dealing with the issues of setting up bank accounts, arranging visas, accommodation, and travel — we’re also slowly beginning to consider all the human connections that are important, both with people in Europe and people here. We’re conscious of spending time with family and friends while we’re still here. And we’re in daily contact with friends and family in England and Holland respectively, talking about everything from airport pick-ups to who has some tea-towels and crockery we can “borrow”.

All of this gives us this strange sensation of seeing our lives here as though we’ve suddenly jumped outside the goldfish bowl. We keep noting how cheap groceries are here (like it didn’t occur to us before) and spending time in the sunshine like it’s our last chance. Stupid, really, but we just can’t escape the feeling that our cognitive epicentre has already started teleporting to the other side of the planet.

The Whole Story

Back in June & July when we visited Europe, Lotte and I started talking seriously about the idea of spending an extended stay there. We’d actually been talking about it since our previous trip when we visited Zurich and thought how fantastic it would be to live there. But this time we were talking about the practicalities rather than the dreams — if we wanted to make this happen, how would we do it exactly?

We figured out pretty quickly that the biggest hurdle would be for me to get a visa and a job. Lotte has excellent English and holds an EU passport, which makes everything pretty simple for her in many countries in Europe. It turns out that Switzerland is one of the most difficult places to move to in the world, and not even EU people can live and work there easily.

It didn’t take long for us to start thinking about the UK. It’s close to France, Holland and Sweden, and it has the distinct advantage of being a good place for an Australian to find work. It also happens to have a lot of universities.

When we got home, Lotte just asked me one day about where exactly I would like to live and work if I had my choice. The answer was obvious but I hadn’t really given it much thought until then. Cambridge. It’s about a year ago now that my supervisor was over in the UK and visited the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) at Cambridge. He came back with a lot of good things to say about it. The interesting thing is that they were clearly interested in what we are doing at Melbourne as well, because in some ways our work is complementary as well as overlapping. The background of CARET is as a research unit, whereas CDS (where I work now) is made up mostly of people involved in the production of multimedia.

More recently, apparently, CARET has started to turn its attention more to projects involving the development and delivery of materials for courses — the sort of thing we do here all the time. At the same time we are attempting to bring more of an applied research model to what we are doing here.

In one of those really fortuitous turns of events I just decided to do a search of jobs in the higher education and see what turned up. The second job ad I looked at was actually from CARET and the Faculty of Education at Cambridge. It was quite bizarre — these jobs don’t come up very often. The job description was a very close match to my background.

I applied in late August, and didn’t hear anything for about a month. I actually only found out that I was shortlisted last Monday, and the interview was on Wednesday night. Despite some technical problems (the videoconference didn’t go according to plan) I thought it went pretty well. I answered all the questions and seemed to get along well with the interviewers.

After the interview I had a strange deflated feeling — perhaps because I had hardly slept the night before with nervousness, but also because there was really nothing I could do after that point. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I might get the job, but I had also didn’t expect too much because I knew the other candidates would be strong.

On Friday night we got home late and got the news by email. It said that they had given the job I applied for to another candidate. Again I had that sinking feeling in my stomach, along with the sort of immediate acceptance that I had tried my best. But then I kept reading.

The next sentence said that they had been impressed with my interview and my background, and wanted to offer me a different, even better, position. I was absolutely stunned. Not only was I going to Cambridge, they were offering me a new position that they were creating just for me, and it would be 100% within CARET, which is exactly where I wanted to work. I had got even more than I’d asked for!

Lotte and I have been so excited since getting the news we have hardly had time to think about anything else. The position is for 12 months in the first instance. We’ll move to Cambridge in January. So if anyone knows of some good accommodation in or around Cambridge, let me know!

Cambridge!!

Well, this one is a biggie. We found out late last night that I’ve been offered a position at CARET at the University of Cambridge, starting in January. I don’t have time to tell the whole story right now but needless to say we are both incredibly excited and will be rushing to get everything in order before we leave. Wow!