During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with Avalon Lee-Bacon (2009) and you can read her story below. You can find more stories here.
History of Art (2009), MPhil History of Art (2012)
Why did you want to study History of Art at Trinity?
The joy of History of Art for me was that it brought together all of the disciplines that I was thinking about – literature; history; languages; and it combined it all with visual media, which is something that I’ve always been super passionate about and I still love to this day. So it was a great opportunity for me to study all of these different things, and increasingly bring in socio-economic political history as well, through the lens of visual media. It was a very small subject, only 20-30 people I think!
Where did you live while you were at College?
I lived in Wolfson in the first year, which was a lot of fun and we were quite privileged to have our own bathrooms, which I don’t think anywhere else in College did. After that I moved all around, I was in New Court for a while and Whewell’s, and then in my final year, when I was doing my MPhil, I was in a little house close by. It was wonderful, and such a privilege to be able to stay in College or at least in College accommodation those full four years because you really feel part of a community.
Where is your favourite part of College?
I love Windy Passage, that takes you into the back half of Trinity. I also have some hidden favourite parts of college that we utilised for the May Balls. I was on the May Ball Committee for most of my time at Cambridge, in various different roles, and we got access to some really beautiful rooms that we held our Committee meetings in and that would be our base on the night of the ball, where we had all of our headsets and everything, so those hold some quite special memories for me.
What’s your favourite part of Cambridge, outside of College?
I think the part that kind of resonates most with me, as I look back, is my walk from Trinity to my department. This was down King’s Parade, past the Fitzwilliam Museum, which obviously, given my subject and my interests, was one of the most amazing places to have access to in Cambridge, and then up to our Department. It’s a beautiful stretch, and you could pass Fitzbillies and grab a coffee or a Chelsea Bun on the way. I also love Market Square as well and have some quite fond memories of browsing around there.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time at Trinity?
I have so many ‘highlight’ memories! The ski trips were always a lot of fun, and we also had the opportunity to go on a lot of trips with my subject. I remember one in particular to Rome that was so much fun, doing a Bernini and Borromini module with Deborah Howard who’s one of the most incredible History of Art lecturers. Also the May Ball – I think that’s a highlight for everybody, but having a role in helping to shape it and organise it was the most phenomenal experience.
Were you involved in any societies?
I was involved in the May Ball Committee, as I mentioned, so that for me was just one of the most wonderful opportunities, I would highly encourage anyone to get involved in that. I was also involved in the Fitzwilliam Museum Society, which was at the time one of the largest arts/cultural student societies in Cambridge. We held weekly events like Museum tours; we took people up onto the top of King’s Chapel; we also did an incredible after dark event at the Museum with all sorts of people who might not otherwise have visited. I was also involved in College social societies.
What was your first job after Trinity?
I actually have Cambridge to thank for helping me to find my first job. I went to a networking event organised by the University and met a woman who was working for a cultural communications agency in London. I loved the sound of what she did, and interviewed with them later that year. I joined them after my MPhil, and it was a great place to start my career, and wonderful to have the opportunity to start it so closely associated with the field I studied.
What do you do now?
I now work for one of the leading executive search and advisory firms, where I sit within our global technology practice, which has been really wonderful.
Was this an unexpected move?
The seed had actually been planted while I was at Trinity when an alumna came to give a talk about working for another executive search firm. When I was thinking about what to do next, I went back to her and she gave me some really great advice, and I did end up moving into the industry. So I think it was half unexpected, and half predestined!
Do you have any role models?
There’s a combination of amazing people that I met and studied with at Trinity. A lot of the lecturers that we had in History of Art had obviously carved out incredible careers, so I’ve looked up to a lot of those people, but I think increasingly today it’s my friends and my peers who are doing some really remarkable things in their spaces and we kind of inspire, encourage and push each other every day in our own different fields, which is quite special.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Some advice that resonated when I was choosing what I wanted to study, and I think still resonates today is – if you really love it, do it, and you will make it work. You will do much better at something that you love than something that you don’t like as much, even if it might seem like a more sensible option on the surface of things.
How have you used your degree since graduating?
The academic side was really important in my first job – I think the majority of us were History of Art graduates – and we were working directly with artists and museums or with brands who were sponsoring the arts, and it was really important to have that credibility and background knowledge. Later on, it’s the skills around listening and absorbing information and structuring my own time. Being quite independent in the ways that I work and being able to structure arguments and thoughts in a way that is hopefully compelling is definitely something that I learned at Cambridge, sitting in front of tutors each week trying to justify what you’ve written! It really gives you the confidence to have those conversations and back up your own arguments, but also to have the humility to appreciate other perspectives and to not be too precious about your own opinions.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I’m really proud of the way that I’ve stayed in touch with Trinity and continued, hopefully, to give back, in the work that I’ve done with the Trinity Business and City Association as well as other initiatives, and I really hope that this relationship will continue.
What’s your advice for current students at Trinity?
It’s such a privilege to study at Cambridge, so study something that you really are passionate about and that you want to work very hard at. It’s your one opportunity to truly invest time in yourself, so do what you enjoy and what makes you happy. Don’t worry too much about what comes next because it will work out – maybe not in the way that you thought it would, but it’ll work out.
Try not to overdo it in terms of societies and all the amazing opportunities on offer – there will be some phenomenal things that you can get involved in, but you also have the opportunity to meet some amazing people and build friendships that you will have for life. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re spending so much time hopping between societies and meetings that you don’t actually get to spend time with the people that you really care about. Those relationships will be so rich once you’ve left Trinity, as much as when you’re there, so do invest in those as well.
Finally – and this is particularly for Humanities or courses with low contact hours – be as structured as you can be with your time. It will make for a much more pleasant experience to think about the routine that you can set for yourself, and it will also prevent you feeling like you’re working all the time. If you can stick to a good and rigorous routine, it will really help to keep everything in balance at the most stressful times as much as during the exam season.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at email@example.com