Laura Foster ready to dig deep for Boat Race glory with Cambridge University Women's Boat Club
Something that never ceases to fascinate in the build-up to the Boat Race is the studies of the participants.
Some subjects can appear to be relatively straightforward such as veterinary medicine, law, medicine or natural sciences, but when you scratch beneath the surface, particularly where PhDs are concerned, you discover some interesting areas.
On Laura Foster’s biography on the official website, it just lists archaeology at Queens’, and that does not quite do justice to her area of research.
The 22-year-old American is looking at Anglo-Saxon transit systems and haul overs from the Romans to find out what factors determined how road systems changed, or not.
“I did a project at undergrad where I traced the Castel Sant Angelo in Rome, and the history of that structure from 300 to 1400,” explains Foster.
“It went from being this very side bridge, like go see Hadrian’s mauseloum, it’s a lovely sidewalk to being the main conduit to the Vatican.
“I thought that was a really interesting thing to change the usage and significance over time but stay as they were physically. It’s very niche.
“I’m not actually doing any fieldwork. The way archaeology is done here, it’s a lot of development based stuff so as developers want to create a new housing unit or someone wants to build out their house, if it’s any important area historically, they will have archaeologists come in and do a sweep of things.
“It’s pretty quick as it’s paid for the developers so there is all this data out there that you can use, that people haven’t had the chance to fully go through.
“It’s actually a really good depth of resource for PhD and masters students.”
Having been a rower since high school, Foster knew she was always going to do postgraduate studies and it was while at the University of Michigan that she made the decision to pursue her education at either Cambridge or Oxford.
Foster, who is from Princeton, arrived at Cambridge last year to do an MPhil in medieval archaeology, and she trialled with the Light Blues then, making the successful Blondie crew.
It was quite an eye opener in her first year, with the programme and set-up different to what she was used to across the pond.
“It’s very different to the US, just in terms of here each athlete has a lot more autonomy, it’s a lot less hierarchical, there is a lot of back and forth between the coaches who individualise things a bit more which I was very confused by,” said Foster.
“For instance, in the US, it is customary in every programme I had ever been in that the coaches would say here is the plan, here is what you’re doing on race days, here is what you will do during the race and here is the plan you will go in with.
“Here last year, there was definitely a lot of framework but then as it is such a long race there were discussions about helpful calls, what do you guys like to hear, what do you guys think about this.
“A lot of the US programmes are based on getting as much mileage as you can, which is based off the US national team, which especially in the women’s eight has been incredibly successful with a massive dynasty going back to 2005.
“Here, because the academic schedule is so rigorous, they want to make the most of every second you are at practice.
“Every stroke you take is much harder, but you take fewer of them so it’s much more economical in terms of that. I was very confused by it. I thought I have to go harder for every single stroke, but there are fewer than them.”
But so far, it has all been a good experience for Foster, even though day-to-day life took a bit of getting used to.
“I think that Cambridge University rowing has been very similar to what I expected in terms of great coaches, high performance, a really good squad to part of,” she said.
“I think the university in terms of studying is very challenging obviously. I think the biggest adjustment for me was moving to a different country – riding my bike anywhere instead of driving a car, being on the left.
“All the day-to-day stuff was the hardest transition whereas the rowing actually was a good continuity that helped me go through the rest of it.”