Boat Race 2017: World traveller Alice White balances mind and matter at Cambridge University

PUBLISHED: 06:40 01 April 2017

Cambridge University Women's Boat Club's Alice White

Cambridge University Women's Boat Club's Alice White

Iliffe Media Ltd

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When you look down the list of subjects being studied by members of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, it is an impressive collection.

Medicine, social and developmental psychology, law, engineering and energy technology are just a selection of the courses being undertaken by the athletes bidding for a rowing Blue.

But one of the most eye-catching disciplines in name, let alone theory, is the MPhil in basic and translational neuroscience which is being taken by Alice White.

“At UCLA I had done a major in psychology and biology and I had always been interested in neuroscience but the rowing schedule meant that I couldn’t be a neuroscience major there,” said the 24-year-old Homerton College


“I looked for graduate programmes in neuroscience and this one is the first year they’ve run it. It’s only small, there are about five people on the course and it’s very interesting – I really like it.

“It wasn’t that I targeted neuroscience and was like, ‘wow, I’m interested in that’.

“I knew I was interested in biology and the other topics peeled away as I did them, and I thought ‘I don’t enjoy

that, I don’t enjoy that’, and this was the one that was left.”

There is a marked difference in terms of academic expectations on White from her days at the University of California,

Los Angeles.

And the same applies to the rowing squads at the two institutions.

“The studying is very different and I’m not sure if that’s going from undergraduate to graduate. It’s just a lot more independent,” said White.

“You don’t really have to be anywhere at any one time but you just have to get stuff done by a deadline six months from now.

“You make your own path to get there and you’ve got to do it well otherwise you’re not going to pass or have a good grade at the end of it.

“You need intrinsic motivation with the studying, whereas at UCLA it was a lot more spoonfed, memorise

this, take the test.

“And then in terms of rowing, there is a smaller squad and I guess there is just more of a very evident

drive here. Everyone is 100 per cent committed and you can always trust them in the boat and in training.

“I know if we’re not doing training at Goldie, in our own time I know everyone will do it. Whereas

that wasn’t really the case with the younger girls at UCLA.”

White arrives at Cambridge with an impressive rowing CV that crosses two nations.

As a junior, White rowed for New Zealand at the Junior World Rowing Championships in 2011, winning a bronze medal in the coxless fours.

But when education demands and sport collided, White made the decision to change rowing nations.

“I guess I’m a bit unusual in that I rowed as a junior for New Zealand and then following that I was recruited to UCLA to row,” she said.

“But the New Zealand rowing system means that you can’t compete for New Zealand if you’re studying at the same time in a place that is not their training centre.

“Being in America it was impossible to row for New Zealand and I still have aspirations to row on an international level, so I looked into changing my country that I’m affiliated with because I have both citizenships.

“I knew that I would be coming to university in Great Britain so I changed to Great Britain and did the under-23s with them last year.”

And that led to her going to Plovdiv in Bulgaria last year for the Under-23 World Rowing Championships, and winning a

bronze medal in the British eight.

“It was overwhelming and pretty scary at the start, coming into a whole new rowing system,” she said.

“Then it was just a lot of fun. High level rowers are always entertaining and great to be around, they just make it a good environment.

“It was in 2015 and I had to move up all of my final exams by a week so we were still being taught material and I was taking the exam that afternoon for my three classes.

“I moved out of my apartment and flew out the next morning, and there was just so much going on.

“I arrived and was picked up by one of the coaches and selectors and stayed at his house, and the next day was training and trialling.”

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