When Varun Chander returns to Darwin for his graduation tomorrow, it will be with a little more life experience under his belt than graduates usually acquire between the completion of their course and the ceremony.
Following a PhD in Material Sciences, in which he researched how organic corrosion inhibitors could protect the pipeline steels used in oil wells, Varun tapped into a different skillset and spent several years as a professional gambler.
“Until I was banned from every casino in the UK!” he says. “So I didn’t necessarily use my research later on in life, but the scientific training and way of perceiving the world my education at Cambridge gave me was definitely vital, and I was happy to know there is a long tradition of physicists who became professional gamblers.”
Varun followed this with time as a close protection officer, making the most of military experience which began with Cambridge’s Officer Training Corps.
“In this world the importance of planning, being detail-oriented, analytical, and logical to choose between different options can be a matter of life-and-death - all good traits of a scientist.”
Having completed an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at Fitzwilliam College, Varun made the move to Darwin to make the most of its graduate-only community.
“Fitz was brilliant for undergrad, and by the time I graduated there I knew I had made the most of it, so it was natural to draw a line under my undergrad experience and have a fresh start at a new College where I didn’t know anyone and the focus was purely on grads.”
As DCSA Sports Officer, a role which he combined with that of Honorary Secretary of the Cambridge Powerlifting Club, Varun was responsible for equipping the old gym with weightlifting equipment, reclaimed after the University upgraded its own equipment after the opening of the University Sports Centre.
“If you still see weight plates in the Darwin gym marked with "CUPC", now you know why. Those plates were cast in the Engineering Department by early members of the University Powerlifting Club to use in training as we didn't have the funds to buy commercial sets - that's why they are 'non-standard' weights. While rough they were enough to lead us to many victories against Oxford so I hope later generations of Darwin students can keep getting stronger with them too!”
While his loyalties may be eternally split between two colleges, and he’s seen a lot of life since he was last lifting hand-made weights, it’s clear that Darwin will always be able to claim a piece of Varun’s heart.
“In my view what makes Darwin special is the intimate feeling that comes from being a small grad-only College in the cosy surrounds between Silver Street on one side and the river on the other; our bridge to the small island to hold barbecues on in the summer; the famed-across-the-University bar, and of course the students and staff who every year fill the College with life.”