MCR President on Paralympic training, lockdown and Lego
We spoke to the new 2020/21 MCR President Jan Helmich about his amazing journey and how Trinity Hall has opened up a world of possibilities to him, academically and athletically.
It’s fair to say the Computer Science graduate and new MCR President Jan Helmich has packed a lot into his 22 years on Earth and four years at Trinity Hall.
He has gone from creating worlds with Lego as a child to researching at the interface between the real and virtual worlds. He also went from learning to row at Trinity Hall in his first year to para-rowing glory at the International level.
As a child he loved to build things, but he quickly realised he wanted to do more: “When I was young I used to love building things out of Lego but I soon realised that there wasn’t enough Lego in the world to build what I wanted.”
Having grown up in Dortmund, Germany, Jan didn’t have a chance to visit Cambridge to look around colleges when he was looking for an undergraduate place. But, taking in student online reviews and the odd Google image, he saw that Trinity Hall met his criteria of “a small(ish), friendly central college with nice architecture and river access.”
Jan said: “My time at Trinity Hall has taught me to have confidence in myself, even when working under quite a bit of pressure. My best memories are definitely around the people and the community that the college has.”
Speaking of the Cambridge experience he said: “Cambridge – whether it be sports, drama, arts, music – it just seems Cambridge really has it all. It is really intense but being here really means the world is your oyster.”
His advice to new students is simple: “Be yourself and enjoy it. Whether that be during the interview or during the time you actually study here, there are so many great opportunities that are waiting. Try as many sports, clubs and events as you can beyond your academic commitments.”
Jan certainly embraced college life when he started as an undergraduate. Alongside his studies he took up college rowing. Having fused ankle bones Jan was pleased to see he was able to compete with athletes who did not share his physically disability and he was soon rowing for the College in the bumps. Not satisfied with that he went on to train with, what was then, the Development squad of the Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club (CULRC) which is now part of the combined Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC).
“It was incredibly good fun and was the first time I did multiple sessions a day. It made me realise there is a whole world beyond what you encounter in just your degree or your college,” said Jan.
With that success under his belt, he spent a summer of rowing at international level between his second and third years of undergraduate before returning to row for the CULRC as part of the regular squad.
“Although being very intense and very hard, once you get used to it and also get into the social circle and see the same faces every day you really bond with the people around you and that makes it so much more bearable and more fun.”
During his second year at Trinity Hall he won blades in the May bumps with the College first men’s boat.
Now Jan competes at the international level with the German para-rowing team and was a World Rowing Cup Winner at Rotterdam in 2019 in the coxless pair (in the PR3 category).
Photo: Detlev Seyb, DRV
Having completed his undergraduate degree at Trinity Hall, Jan is now studying for his PhD at the Cyber-Human Laboratory, based at the Institute for Manufacturing.
Of course the pandemic has created many challenges for students, not just at Trinity Hall but across the collegiate university.
Jan, as the new president of the MCR, is keen to help the graduate community through this.
“Lockdown has been tough for everyone. As the President of the MCR Committee my role is to provide a voice for the several hundred members of the MCR when communicating with College.”
For those who don’t know, the MCR stands for “Middle Combination Room” and represents graduate students, fourth-year undergraduates and postdocs studying at the College.
To hear more about Jan’s incredible story listen to this Hawk Talk podcast from late 2020.