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Goodbye and thank you Hughes Hall

“Whose Hall? Your Hall!” Andrea Di Antonio remembers the ‘four beautiful years’ of his PhD in Chemistry, during which he also founded the world-famous Hughes Hall Pizza Society, served as MCR Committee Welfare Officer, May Ball Committee Food Officer and Captain of the football team. He also won the 2019 Hughes Hall 3 Minute Thesis Competition’s first-place award and the Hughes Hall Research Symposium’s best presentation award.

Andrea is about to complete a PhD in Chemistry at Hughes Hall in which he worked on new methodologies allowing low-cost air quality sensors to measure ambient Particulate Matter concentrations accurately. He has also insisted we title this piece “Whose Hall? Your Hall!” in honour of his old welcome chant for new students at Freshers’ Week celebrations.

“I have always been passionate about Atmospheric Science since I started studying Meteorology in high school. I followed this passion and started studying Atmospheric Physics at university. During my MSc, my brother, at the time a post-doctoral research associate at the Department of Chemistry, encouraged me to contact the group leaders of the Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Cambridge to ask whether I could join one of the groups for a few months to carry out a research project as part of my degree. That was the beginning of my Cambridge journey. I enjoyed my stay in the Centre for Atmospheric Science so much that I decided to apply for a PhD position within the same group. The prospect of expanding my knowledge of the field by studying for a degree in Chemistry, coming from a Physics background, was fascinating. However, being new to the University of Cambridge, I was not aware of how the College system worked and opted not to indicate a College’s preference in the application.

“While waiting for the application results, I got to know some Hughes Hall students who made me wish I’d chosen Hughes Hall as my College preference. When I received my offer, I was thrilled to learn that I was assigned to Hughes Hall. I immediately felt welcomed from my first day, and it did not take long to consider Hughes Hall as my home-away-from-home. I wanted to fully enjoy my time with the current students and play my role in making the new students feel welcomed as much as I did. For this reason, a friend of mine suggested running as Welfare Officer for the MCR Committee and as Food Officer for the May Ball committee. Being a great football fan, I also joined the Hughes Hall Football Club, which I had the privilege to guide as Vice-Captain and Captain.

“As part of my duties as both Welfare and Food Officer, I contacted most of the College staff. I quickly realised how kind and helpful they were. From the tutorial office to the conference team, the catering staff to the maintenance team, the housekeepers and the nurse, everyone was always kind and keen to help. In particular, the porters are just great. They are available 24/7 to help out and always with a smile. I am also incredibly grateful to the accommodation team, who did everything they could to help me get couple’s accommodation when I decided to move in with my girlfriend. The more time I spent at Hughes Hall the happier I was to give back something to this exceptional community. 

“After four beautiful years, my time at Hughes Hall is about to be over. Last December, I successfully defended my PhD thesis, which was approved subject to some corrections. Since then, I’ve chosen to leave academia and translate my knowledge to other environments related to Atmospheric Science. I now work for an organisation aiming to facilitate the transition to electric vehicles to reduce pollutants’ emissions in the atmosphere. Despite being away from academia, I hope to raise awareness about air pollution and climate change and contribute to reaching the net-zero emissions target as fast as possible.  

With thanks to Andrea for his kind words and for taking the trouble to tell us about his time at Hughes Hall. If you would like to share your story, please email comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.