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Women in STEM: Krittika D'Silva

Krittika D'Silva (2016) is a PhD candidate in the University's Department of Computer Science and Technology, a Gates Cambridge Scholar and a member of Jesus College. Alongside her academic research in AI and machine learning, she has worked for NASA on monitoring astronaut health with AI and wearable devices, and for the UN in using data science to inform public policy. Here, she tells us about her motivation, goals, and how she ended up playing a tennis match against College alum HRH The Earl of Wessex (1983).

My PhD research focuses on using machine learning algorithms and network metrics to model urban cities worldwide. A project I led examined the role of network and transport metrics to predict whether a business will survive or fail.

My work at the NASA Frontier Development Lab focused on space medicine. As we send astronauts on longer missions into deep space, they are exposed for longer periods of time to radiation and microgravity both of which create numerous physiological changes.

We're only just starting to understand these changes, but harnessing AI and wearable devices to monitor astronaut health in space and build autonomous systems of healthcare in space is imperative. I think it's really exciting work and isn't talked about nearly as much as it should be since it's important for all of our future missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond!

The Pulse Lab is an innovation lab formed within the UN to harness data science insights for policy. I worked on modeling internal migration in Vanuatu to support future national resource allocation. The experience with the Global Pulse lab taught me about the importance of translating research insights into practice. It provided me with exposure to public policy which was work I found interesting and impactful.

On a daily basis my research primarily involves me reading papers or coding at my computer from the Department of Computer Science and Technology, in West Cambridge.

My advice for women considering a career in a STEM field is to find role models in the field who can support and guide you over the course of your career. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of mentors who have helped to find opportunities, think through career decisions, and network with others in the field. This mentorship has been priceless.

The most interesting day I’ve had so far in academia was when I was invited to travel to the UN office in New Delhi, India to help lead and present at a workshop on the potential for machine learning in the public sector. It was an opportunity to meet with those outside my field and share current machine learning research that I found exciting!

Last year, I was invited to a private estate in Kent, for a day of tennis with HRH The Earl of Wessex. I played in a doubles match against The Earl and although I lost, it was a unique opportunity and one I’ll never forget!

I hope my work can utilise machine learning to have a positive impact on the world. The private sector has harnessed machine learning to support products, advertisements, and services. However, the public sector has been slower to use the potential of machine learning to support government decision making and inform policy. In the future, I expect technology to play a larger role in development efforts worldwide. After my studies, I hope to support this work using my background in technology.

Cambridge has been a fantastic place to do my PhD research. The professors, peers, and resources are world-class. I’ve been given funding to travel and present my work at top-tier conferences worldwide as well as to work on international collaborations. I have also had the flexibility and exposure to internship opportunities which have enabled me to work in new countries, fields, and projects.

My advice for women considering a career in a STEM field is to find role models in the field who can support and guide you over the course of your career. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of mentors who have helped to find opportunities, think through career decisions, and network with others in the field. This mentorship has been priceless.

This article first appeared on the University of Cambridge website and is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

  • Jesus College wins Green Impact award

    Jesus College Award

    We are delighted to have won a 2019-20 Green Impact Gold Award for our commitment to reducing our environmental impact.

    Green Impact is the University of Cambridge’s environmental accreditation scheme. It supports and encourages departments and Colleges across the University in reducing their environmental impacts..

    The auditors were very impressed by the College’s commitment to sustainability and how much is done on a day-to-day basis. They commented: "Jesus College is actively taking a role in reducing its environmental impact, more so within the catering system and within their green grounds. They are also actively engaging students and charities, which is amazing. We are particularly impressed by the A-Z sustainability guide, the wildlife pond, and the traffic light system in Hall.”

    Alexis Moreau, the College Manciple, said: “We are very aware of the importance of doing our best to behave in a more sustainable manner. We continually challenge ourselves to find more sustainable ways of running the College and our conference service. The whole community has been wonderful at making suggestions and getting on board with our many initiatives.

    “We are delighted that Green Impact has recognised everyone’s efforts, and want to thank all College members who volunteered their time and skills to make Jesus College a more sustainable place to live and work.”

    Display date: 
    Tuesday, June 2, 2020 - 13:00
  • Update from a student in residence

    Lisa Vickers

    Lisa Vickers (2016) is a postgraduate student and has remained in Cambridge during the pandemic lockdown. In her own words, she tells us how she has been navigating her way through these times while continuing her studies.

    We have been social distancing at Jesus College for over two months now. The format of learning has understandably been modified. Discussions with my PhD cohort in the Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies program have moved to online Zoom meetings. I am in the process of writing my PhD thesis so, hypothetically, being stuck indoors is the perfect opportunity to complete it. However, focusing on academic tasks can be difficult at times, as I miss studying with friends and having access to the library. Many of us have been disappointed that the university’s annual activities have largely been cancelled. Yet, we have much to be thankful for here at Jesus.

    The Jesus College community has shown its strength throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Students who have remained in Cambridge have formed online groups where I frequently see small acts of kindness: offering to pick up groceries for other students, sharing magazines, and sending word when they have seen much-coveted hand sanitizer at the market. It puts a smile on my face when I see students walking around the College, even from a distance. Jesuans are keen to continue participating in online events that we usually experience in person, such as Zoom yoga and pub quizzes. I am the Women’s Welfare Officer on the MCR Executive Committee, and we have been involved in facilitating these events.

    The MCR Executive Committee has been active in bringing students’ COVID-related queries and concerns to the College’s administrators, who have been responsive to the suggestions that they can accommodate. I see Jesus College staff working tirelessly to ensure that we are safe and cared for. Takeaway cafeteria meals are still provided, as well as postal services. The Master even regularly writes to those of us who have remained in Cambridge to update us with information and keep our spirits up. These acts have served as further reminders to me that I am lucky to consider Jesus College my home.

    My favourite activity has been walking around Jesus College and the surrounding areas. It is quiet with far less people, but it is as beautiful as ever. We have been blessed with more sunshine than usual. Cows are out grazing on Midsummer Common, ducklings are swimming in the River Cam, and a family of foxes has been visiting College. I have found myself looking around with the same wonder and awe that I felt when I first arrived in Cambridge. I have noticed more hidden niches and figurines watching from building walls. The flowers and wisteria have bloomed beautifully this year. I enjoy taking it all in and only wish that the rest of our postgraduate community could be here to enjoy it too. College life is a passing moment for us and, even with the stress and hardships that COVID-19 has posed, I am cherishing my time here. I know that when it is safe for all students to return, we will be stronger than ever.

    Display date: 
    Friday, May 22, 2020 - 10:00
  • Statement from College leaders about the academic year 2020/21

    The main entrance and gate tower into Jesus College

    A joint statement about the academic year 2020/21 has been published from all Cambridge College Heads of Houses, including Jesus College Master Sonita Alleyne.

    "As heads of Cambridge Colleges we have been concerned in recent days to see headlines around the world making the claim that Cambridge will be moving entirely online next year. These claims have caused unnecessary alarm to students and our wider community. We are a Collegiate University, and our strength is that so much student activity takes place in Colleges, from small-group teaching and pastoral care to music and sport.

    "We will always take the latest public health advice and clearly there will be challenges in providing all this in the next academic year. Online lectures will make a key contribution. But we are determined to do our best to bring the Colleges and the University back to life with intensive in-person learning in the traditional locations together with the widest possible range of activities."

    Jane Stapleton, Master, Christ’s College; Athene Donald, Master, Churchill College; Anthony Grabiner, Master, Clare College; David Ibbetson, President, Clare Hall; Christopher Kelly, Master, Corpus Christi College; Mary Fowler, Master, Darwin College; Alan Bookbinder, Master, Downing College; Fiona Reynolds, Master, Emmanuel College; Sally Morgan, Master, Fitzwilliam College; Susan Smith, Mistress, Girton College; Pippa Rogerson, Master, Gonville & Caius College; Geoff Ward, Principal, Homerton College; Anthony Freeling, President, Hughes Hall; Sonita Alleyne, Master, Jesus College; Michael Proctor, Provost, King’s College; Madeleine Atkins, President, Lucy Cavendish College; Rowan Williams, Master, Magdalene College; Barbara Stocking, President, Murray Edwards College; Alison Rose, Principal, Newnham College; Chris Smith, Master, Pembroke College; Bridget Kendall, Master, Peterhouse; John Eatwell, President, Queens’ College; David Yates, Warden, Robinson College; Mark Welland, Master, St Catharine’s College; Catherine Arnold, Master, St Edmund’s College; Tim Whitmarsh, vice-Master, St John’s College; Roger Mosey, Master, Selwyn College; Richard Penty, Master, Sidney Sussex College; Sally Davies, Master, Trinity College; Daniel Tyler, acting vice-Master, Trinity Hall; Jane Clarke, President, Wolfson College; Michael Volland, Principal, Ridley Hall.

    Display date: 
    Friday, May 22, 2020 (All day)
  • Alumna seeks coronavirus vaccine

    Sally Adams

    With decades of experience in developing therapies against HIV and cancer, Dr Sally Adams (1979) is part of the scientific push to develop a vaccine for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Dr Adams has built a successful career in drug discovery and development. She is the Development Director at Scancell, an immune-oncology company with a primary focus on developing innovative immunotherapies for cancer that stimulate the body’s own immune system

    One of the first cohort of women undergraduates to arrive at Jesus, the 40th anniversary of which we are celebrating this academic year, Dr Adams received her MA in Genetics before going on to study for a PhD in Microbiology at Imperial College London.

    When asked about her current work and time at Jesus, Dr Adams said: “Our primary focus is to develop vaccines against cancer; however, this has now come full circle for me as we exploit our expertise in the vaccine field to tackle the virus that causes COVID-19. 

    “Coming up to Jesus in 1979 was the start of my interest in biological sciences.  My first taste of research was as a Part II student in the Genetics Department where I was introduced to the idea of ‘jumping genes’ through the work of Barbara McClintock in the 1950s.  This interest continued through my PhD studies and culminated in my eventual career move into the development of vaccines against HIV in the late 1980s. 

    “It was an honour and privilege to be one of the first female undergraduates in 1979; it prepared me for a career in science and forged many long-lasting friendships which are still an important part of my life today.”

    While studying at Jesus, Dr Adams was a keen sportswoman and served as the first ever Secretary for the newly formed Jesus College Women’s Boat Club. We were delighted to welcome her and others from the 1979 cohort back to College for ‘The Fortieth’ event in October and to the 40th Anniversary Boat Club dinner, to celebrate their trailblazing achievements.

    Display date: 
    Thursday, May 21, 2020 - 10:00
  • COVID-19 (coronavirus) update

    Photo of ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses

    The COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak is a cause of great concern for the College, our members, staff and visitors. We have set up this page to signpost people to the most relevant information.

    The College is closed to the general public. The health, welfare and safety of all College members, staff and visitors is our top priority. As a community we are known for our care for others, and so we are asking everyone who enters the College to refrain from shaking hands and to follow all NHS advice regarding hand-washing and good hygiene practices. We have increased our already-excellent cleaning regime in College and we are asking everyone to come into College only if they feel fully well and have none of the risk factors listed by Public Health England. If you feel ill during or after your visit, please let us know as soon as possible by calling or emailing our Porters on +44 (0)1223 339339 or

    College members and staff

    We have set up a dedicated page on JNet with specific guidance for you. We have written detailed plans covering various scenarios, and we are in touch with different groups in College to discuss the scenarios that may affect them. We will try to limit email communications to essential ones, so please read the emails sent to you.

    The Porters’ Lodge is manned 24/7; please contact them via phone or email if you need urgent advice.

    Conference, event and accommodation guests

    We are currently making contact with event organisers to discuss plans for their upcoming events and to look at alternative date options and have now cancelled all events up until the end of July 2020. Please contact your Jesus College event organiser on +44 (0)1223 760524 or email if you have any queries. We are now also closed for B&B bookings until the end of August. Please contact West Court reception directly on +44 (0)1223 760571 to check the status or to amend your booking. 

    Further information

    We recommend that you regularly visit these websites in addition to this page:

    Display date: 
    Thursday, May 14, 2020 - 10:00
  • CISL students advise Jesus College on improving the sustainability of historic estate

    The Waterhouse Building in Jesus College

    Students from the MSt Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment (IDBE) course run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) have been working with Jesus College to help us consider how to manage our historic estate to achieve ambitious sustainability targets.

    One of the areas of focus for IDBE students is ‘Heritage Environments’, looking at the social, environmental and economic value of heritage properties and the challenge of retrofit. Jesus College provides an ideal example of these opportunities and challenges. Established in 1496, our estate includes examples of architecture from the 12th to the 21st centuries. Many of our properties contribute to the rich heritage of the city and are listed as Grade I and Grade II.

    Jesus College aims to be recognised globally as a leading academic institution where sustainability is intrinsic through engagement, collaboration and innovation. We have already implemented a number of initiatives including solar thermal panels, a ground source heat pump and LED lighting. The Catering team is growing the sustainable food offering, reducing the volume of ruminant meat used and working with students at finding ways of minimising food waste. The student community encourages behavioural change via their ‘Sustainability A to Z students’ guide’ and College leaders are actively involved in a number of environmental committees within the University of Cambridge.

    Kayla Friedman, IDBE Course Director, said: “Jesus College represented a fantastic opportunity for our students to explore the possibilities for investment across an interesting portfolio of properties. It may cost more upfront to make significant changes to windows, walls, heating and lighting systems but these changes are worthwhile when you look at the savings made over 50 years. The College was very receptive to our suggestions and our students will be interested in following its progress towards its sustainable goals for the future.”

    Domestic Bursar Stuart Websdale welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with CISL and the IDBE. He worked with the CISL students by providing the history and background details of the project sites and he outlined the College’s sustainability plans. The students, who are all part-time professionals from across different built environment disciplines, split into six teams to work on different types of projects owned by the College. Initially, they planned to spend every afternoon for a week on site during their residential week in Cambridge. Due to COVID-19 however, the project became a virtual one and all research and feedback was provided in digital formats.

    Amna Bin Thaneya is a Development Architect at Joint Ventures and is studying for an MSt in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment at CISL. She said: "Hopefully, the work will set a benchmark for all students on the importance of utilising sustainable and energy conscience solutions into any development whether in retrofit projects or new construction."

    Athena Chau is a practising architect from Hong Kong. She said: "I hope to set a good example of how we can bring a sustainable redevelopment, while preserving the heritage value of the architecture.”

    Stuart Websdale said: "We were delighted to welcome involvement from CISL students in our plans to become more sustainable in the future. They understood the challenges and opportunities of making improvements to our older buildings, and they came up with some innovative suggestions, many of which we will incorporate into our renovation plans. This project is one of many initiatives at Jesus College to develop our Sustainability Strategy through engagement, collaboration and innovation.”

    Student proposals by project

    The Estate Strategy

    One student team looked at the overall framework to Jesus College becoming net carbon zero across the estate. They recognised that achieving sustainability goals would mean setting clear abiding principles to guide all College projects, and embedding a new culture throughout the College to change behaviour. They outlined the overriding project principles of heritage preservation, long-term thinking, College culture, information management, stakeholder engagement and working in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They suggested that the key pillars of design should be power, waste, transportation, water and people and they suggested possible elements of a road map towards achieving the ambitious goals of the College.

    Jesus Lane

    Two example residential properties on Jesus Lane are Grade II listed, two-storey residential buildings containing 12 student bedrooms in total. The team made proposals aiming to maintain the heritage value and charm of the properties, while upgrading their sustainability performance to work towards the aim of becoming net carbon zero. They suggested:

    • Installing cavity walls to improve thermal and acoustic performance
    • Installing double-glazed windows to improve air-tightness
    • Replacing the existing boiler with a ground source heat pump and building management system
    • Replacing one of the two staircases to the en suite bathrooms with a fire-rated, protected lobby which would create a more open and flexible floor plate while providing additional space for shared amenities per floor.
    • Recycling grey water for gardening
    • Restoring an internal part-original grey Gault brick wall
    • Introducing renewable energy using photovoltaic panels, a wind turbine generator for a garden lamppost and an electric bicycle charging point for the community.

    Elm Street Living

    Elm Street Living is a new development proposed to be built on a site currently used for garages, within Kite Street Conservation Area in the historic centre of Cambridge. It is proposed that 9 new homes (3 x 1 bedroom and 6 x 2 bedroom) could be built from recycled materials to a high standard of sustainable living with net carbon zero emissions. They would include courtyard gardens, cycling storage and communal spaces and would be designed to complement the existing architecture of the local area. The students looked at key principles that could be used when designing new buildings within existing historic contexts. As part of the exercise, the students were not privy to existing proposals that have been developed for the site.

    19-44 Lower Park Street

    The properties of 19-44 Lower Park Street are currently used for postgraduate family accommodation. Early 19th century, Grade II listed terraces, they are small and inefficient with energy usage, but their design adds to the value and charm of the central conservation area of Cambridge. The team of students suggested a number of ways and options that could be considered to improve energy performance, while respecting the historic character of the buildings:

    • Improvements to insulation would prevent the loss of heat energy through the roof, solid masonry walls and poor fitting doors and windows
    • Shared living spaces could be introduced to maximise use of space, for example shared kitchens, outdoor courtyards or allotment areas
    • A basement beneath the existing houses could allow ground source heating and provide extra living space
    • A radical approach could involve encapsulating the terraces in a larger glass house to promote a fully tempered climate, and to preserve the existing historic fabric with minimal direct interventions.

    The Waterhouse Building

    Constructed in the Tudor style in 1869-70, the Waterhouse Building was originally designed by Alfred Waterhouse for student accommodation during a time of huge expansion for the College. This demand for accommodation is now met elsewhere on the estate, freeing the building for possible development into a contemporary and energy efficient workspace for administrative staff. The team made the following suggestions:

    • Smart meters and sub-meters are recommended to gather sufficient energy data to monitor progress towards net zero. Smart building technology is also suggested to help maximise the efficiency of the operation of the building.
    • Discretely open up the internal floor plate through the use of archways to provide a more open plan feel, whilst preserving the external character of the building. Bathrooms are included on each floor with showers being provided on the ground floor.
    • To enable disabled access to the upper floors, an external lift shaft could be installed in keeping with the design of the building, like the one at Westminster Abbey. The lift shaft is proposed to be made from sustainable CLT material, and the lift itself will incorporate energy recovery technology.
    • To improve the energy performance of the building, internal insulation will be installed throughout and the windows will be replaced with streamlined single pane double glazed windows. In addition, it is proposed that a ground source heat pump will be installed, along with solar panels on the roof and on the car ports within the car park. Rain-water recycling is also recommended.
    • The fit-out is recommended to include elements of biophilia throughout. The lighting should all be LED and PIR controls, circadian lighting and task lighting should all be considered. The furniture used should either by re-used from the current office provision or should be refurbished. Any materials installed should be low VOC materials, and the supply chain of those materials should also be looked into.
    • To ensure accurate and reliable waste data, the team proposed the use of sensor technology. The sensors are installed into the bins and measure the fill level which is then converted to a volume measurement.
    • Enlarge the current cycle storage and make it lockable. Within the car park, install a solar PV car port with integrated car chargers. Include dedicated car-pooling spaces at the front of the car park and instigate step challenges to promote walking.

    The Quincentenary Library

    The Quincentenary Library occupies a site that was formerly the kitchen garden of the Master's Lodge. It was designed by architects Eldred Evans and David Shalev, and was officially opened by the Queen in March 1996 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the foundation of Jesus College. The team suggested ways to improve the thermal comfort of the building, whilst working towards net zero emissions and enhancing biodiversity:

    • Upgrades to the Library entrance and doors could include making sure the outer door is closed before the inner door opens, to retain heat.
    • Improvements to fenestration would involve checking the integrity of all windows and repairing as necessary.
    • Lighting improvements would mean reviewing the current daylight controls and switching to LED bulbs where possible
    • Ventilation improvements could involve checking the integrity of roof vents and repairing as necessary, upgrading the motors and switching from battery to mains power. A mechanical ventilation system could be installed.
    • Introduce a Ground Source Heat Pump as a sustainable means of providing heating and cooling to the Library.
    • Install solar panels on the roof, used to generate electricity for GSHP operation.
    • The College should use a framework to assess the desired goals and needs for biodiversity.

    In response to the reports, Stuart Websdale said: “We are excited about the opportunities outlined by CISL’s IDBE students to improve our sustainability and work towards the goal of a carbon neutral estate.”

    Display date: 
    Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 12:00


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