Hertford Made Me…a life-long learner

I applied to Hertford after spending a week in Oxford at the UNIQ summer school, which was paradise on earth for a nerdy 17 year-old. I’d been bowled over by a lecture on The Tempest by the wonderful Emma Smith and found that Hertford had a great track record for admitting state educated students.

My three years at Hertford were really the best undergraduate experience anyone could have, and I’m still so grateful for them. We were trusted with so much freedom in our studies (resulting often in curious essays about Dracula’s nose and Alexander Pope’s DIY grotto). We had privileged access to world-class libraries, museums and speakers. Our tutors – as well as the librarian, porters and other College staff – really knew us and our work, interests and aspirations (and propensity to lose keys). It was also a lot of fun.

I left Hertford in 2016 and went straight to Blackpool to start work as a secondary school teacher on the Teach First training scheme. Two others from our little cohort of English students did the same, and we were assisted by a Hertford Teach First bursary. That first year was very tough, with some great moments – feeding my students gruel to bring Dickensian England to life, or presiding over an employment tribunal against Father Christmas alleging elf and safety breaches.

I completed a part time MA over three years while teaching and loved it, so decided to take some time out to do a PhD in Education at the University of Manchester (my home city, and where I am a short walk or cycle away from a good few old Hertford friends). My project investigated ways in which schools in disadvantaged areas promote good outcomes for students.

Whilst I was researching – and with a bit more time on my hands over the Covid pandemic – I became interested in education law. I decided to add some spice to my thesis writing-up year by studying a law conversion course (GDL) at the weekends. I think law is brilliant because at the end of the day, or week, or trial, the judge has to make a decision that will bring about real change in someone’s life. In my PhD studies, I spent three years ruminating: what is justice? What is truth? Lawyers have to crack on and promote those ideals in the real world.

I’m now working for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Manchester, and studying the Bar course part time (it’s my eleventh consecutive year as a student – I’m making really good use of those shopping discounts).

Hertford is still a big part of my life. I see one or other of my Hertford friends on a weekly basis and we organise holidays together (being mostly English graduates, we’re particularly fond of a pilgrimage walk). Our first gaudy, in early 2023, was a bizarre and brilliant experience.

Image of Rebecca at her 2012-2013 Gaudy at Hertford with friends, in April 2023.
Rebecca and friends at their 2012-2013 Gaudy at Hertford College, in April 2023.

In late November, the Development Office organised a get-together for Manchester alumni. It was a real pleasure to meet different generations of Hertfordians, including one who was in the first cohort of women students at Hertford in 1974. I also got chatting to Her Honour Judge Singleton, who is the Designated Family Judge for Manchester. A week later, I was sitting next to her in court as she listened to three cases concerning the custody of young children. This was a really memorable day and an invaluable opportunity.

I still think of all the roles I’ve tried my hand at, teachers make the most impact day-to-day. I miss it, and I wouldn’t rule out going back in the future. My teaching experience means that I’m never nervous about public speaking (I’d take a crotchety judge over 33 Year 9s any day of the week) and has permanently altered my definition of a difficult day.


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