World-renowned earthquake scientist on her Chevening experience at Cambridge University

Chevening Alumna Helen Anderson shares the impact of her Chevening experience at Cambridge University in the UK.

Helen is a renowned seismologist with international expertise in the mechanics of large earthquakes. She holds a PhD from Cambridge University in geophysics, and worked as a research scientist for 17 years.

As a visiting scholar at the Centre for Women Leaders at Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, Helen undertook a bespoke programme to study the challenges and relationships between Cambridge University and its associated industries and science parks. She also had personal tutoring on topics related to international economics, biotech, and bioethics.

For her services to the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, Helen has been honoured as a Companion of the Queens Service Order and is a Companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Immerse yourself in the experience but also take time to reflect on what you can influence on your return.

What encouraged you to apply for Chevening?

I had done my PhD at Cambridge, so I knew its ‘ecosystem’ well – I was particularly keen to understand what had driven its remarkable transformation into a centre of science, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The Chevening Award supported me to get a great introduction to the senior levels of the organisation.

Did you get what you thought you would out of the Chevening experience?

The whole college construct is about helping people to be consciously curious. I think it opens up your mind in a completely different way than the strict academic process. That is one of the strengths of those college-based universities. I was so privileged to first go to Cambridge and to Churchill College, which focusses on science and engineering. But at Lucy Cavendish College, I felt much more grounded because it was multi-disciplinary.

It is easy to go to someone to get some techniques, but Lucy Cavendish stretched me in ways that I don’t think I could have experienced elsewhere. I had someone who was overseeing my programme who was the Master at Darwin, and Lucy Cavendish set that up based on what I wanted to understand. Through him and my personal tutoring, it was a fantastic experience, incredible really.

What was the most important thing that you learned throughout your Chevening experience?

It was really that issue around economic growth not being enough in and of itself, in a country like New Zealand. It has to be viewed through a cultural, social, and environmental lens. That is now what is called, in governance world, integrated reporting. I intuitively felt that something was more important, particularly for New Zealand’s position, and coming to that realisation gave me more confidence.

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