Newnham College images by Sir Cam
Living and breathing science - Victoria Kimonides
Victoria Kimonides (Newnham 1993) explains why she’s passionate about representing alumni as part of the Alumni Advisory Board.
Cambridge gave me the confidence to embrace the challenge of life and to dare to step out of the box!
I have always loved learning and having a good balance of sports and cultural activities, as well as social and quiet time. So doing research at an institution like Cambridge was always at the back of my mind. I was thrilled when I first visited the University for an interview. The city was exactly as I imagined it to be in terms of architecture, size and vibes. I remember receiving my acceptance for a PhD as if it were yesterday. I was so excited to be able to do a PhD straight after my first degree! The dream was coming true!
A fresher view
Ι arrived in Cambridge with a bucket full of dreams and pride, ready to handle everything. Well, not quite…Cambridge was different and my first couple of days were certainly not what I had imagined! As a graduate student I started a bit earlier than the undergraduates, arriving in an empty College. The few people I encountered, mainly the Porters, were using a lot of unknown words and everything seemed so strange. I was certainly not prepared for that! These couple of days were character shaping for me in terms of having an honest conversation with myself and building my survival armour. This experience spurred me to develop a welcome pack for the new graduate students in the following years.
Exploring the brain
After overcoming this first shock, studying at Cambridge was fantastic! As a postgraduate student living in College, I felt privileged in that I could benefit from all the great experiences that the University and Newnham had to offer. The proximity to distinguished scholars and scientists, as well as the simplicity of interactions with great minds in general was unique. As my supervisor always said: "the greatest conversations and ideas develop around the coffee machine!"
I did my PhD at the newly established Brain Repair Centre that brought together several disciplines around neuroscience. I was trying to understand what I feared most - the human brain! Here I lived and breathed science from anatomy and surgery, to tissue culture and gene activation. We used microscopes, software and statistics, and learnt that the design and approach was as important as the outcome. It was an amazing experience - I would say mind-blowing!
The art of balance
I learnt to balance my hectic schedule of laboratory work, supervisions and sports. I was lucky enough to be part of a University team for women’s basketball as well as the Newnham College Boat Club. The sports opportunities at Cambridge are outstanding and not to be missed by anyone.
I also loved the value and respect for students at Cambridge. It was quite a surprise at first to see that there was student representation on the College’s Governing Board. I truly valued being a member of the Board as we did great things that we can look back on and say: "I was involved in that!"
From neuroscience to information technology
I never had a fixed idea about the career path I wanted to take. At the beginning, I wanted to be a researcher and then realised that I was too much of an idealist; I only wanted to do research in the context of pure scientific curiosity and not linked to commercial products. So after a short Post Doc, I took the bold decision to make a turn to financial services, where I could continue my learning and be able to see an immediate impact of my work in the market.
Cambridge did not teach me theory or the contents of a textbook but rather enabled me to identify the right theory and have the confidence to embrace the challenge of life and to dare to step out of the box! So I did and do not regret it! I have put into practice the learnings and experience from Cambridge by applying my discipline knowledge in different situations, especially with regards to the evolution of technology.
Today I am a director for technology strategy at Microsoft, helping organisations be successful in their business using technology. In my spare time, I am involved in applied neuroscience and predictive analytics research, coming almost full circle to where I began, but with additional knowledge and skills.
The Cambridge impact
The Cambridge experience is not something to boast about, but rather to share and invite others to. It is only in the last few years that I have realised that Cambridge has really shaped who I am today. During the first ten years after graduating, I had very limited interaction with the University, but over time I became involved in a local Alumni Group, supporting a few initiatives and gradually rediscovering the University from an alumna's perspective.
As a member of the Alumni Advisory Board, I want to enable alumni to give back and take the light of Cambridge to wherever they are in the world. It is not about looking back but rather looking forward, and about how the collective knowledge and expertise of alumni, together with the University’s research can help solve the world’s challenges.
Victoria has a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge and attended Newnham College. She is a member of the Alumni Advisory Board.
If you would like to submit your own alumni story, send us an email for details of our submission guidelines.