Pembroke People: Tek Kan Chung

Pembroke’s renowned IT and Communications Officer talks wifi, winning a national award and life at Cambridge.

Tek is a second year Engineering student at Pembroke. Over the last year, through his role as IT and Communications Officer, he has become well-known for his perceptive (and pun-filled!) newsletters on a range of topics from tennis to self- love.

I ask what inspired him to start writing his newsletters in this way. “Well, in first term, I kept getting these emails from my predecessor but – no offence to him – I never really read them! So I thought,you know, I don’t want to be the same.”

“I’m quite keen on keeping up to date with the news and world affairs.” He says that some of these things trigger him to have certain thoughts. “I’ll write them down and think about them, talk to my friends, have discussions. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly deep thinker, I think a lot of people have similar ideas.”

After a reader complained that the official JP newsletters had become a ‘forum for fresher ramblings on the meaning of life’, Tek received an overwhelming amount of support. “I actually got back 30-40 emails just saying, you know, that they really enjoy my newsletters and want me to continue. And lots of people I see around College tell me the same thing.” He says it’s satisfying to know that so many people have found what he writes helpful.

His inspiration for the newsletters comes from everyday Cambridge experiences, including problems like exam stress. “I was very much a part of it; I was stressed as well, just like everyone.” He suggests that dealing with difficulties can sometimes be beneficial. “Through solving problems, you learn a lot and you reflect back on your experiences to try to see what you could have done better.”

Tek has had his fair share of challenges. At age 11, he moved to the UK from China. “It was difficult at first. And obviously the language barrier was very hard to overcome.” He remembers times at school when he didn’t understand what was going on in lessons. “I think it’s developed my resilience quite a lot.”

This year he was named one of the nine winners of an entrepreneurial competition involving satellites. SatelLife (a “cheesy name”, remarks Tek), is a competition organised by the UK Space Agency to find innovative ways of using satellite data and imagery.

Tek found out about the competition over Christmas. “I was bored,” he says, laughing. His idea was to use satellite data to prevent congestion on roads. “When you’re managing traffic networks as big as on a national level you have to use some kind of machine-learning algorithm.”

By using an algorithm to learn about the conditions causing congestion, it may be possible to find ways of preventing it. “It’s all about trying to predict and pre-empt any problems.”

He wrote a piece explaining how this idea could be developed. “I sent it off, and for some reason I won.” Tek is unbelievably modest, despite beating contestants across the UK for the £5000 prize.

When I ask Tek how his idea is different to Google Maps, he says it’s all to do with the scale and anonymity of it. “Google Maps are using GPS data from your phone so it’s a little bit dodgy actually - it’s a bit of a privacy issue.” He also explains that since only some people enable GPS and Google Maps on their phones, it’s hard to get a complete picture of what the traffic is like. “With satellite images you can know exactly how many vehicles there are on a particular road and you can tag each vehicle and anonymise it.”

One idea Tek had for preventing congestion was to use automated ‘pace cars’. “A lot of traffic congestion at the moment is caused by the erratic behaviour of human drivers.” Slowing down and speeding up at random times can cause certain parts of the road to become more congested than others. “It’s not over-capacity that’s the issue most of the time.” Having automated cars that run at certain speeds in areas predicted to become congested, says Tek, could “smooth out the erratic behaviours and hopefully smooth the traffic as well.”

Being the IT and Communications Officer in Pembroke has been a big part of Tek’s life here. When I ask what the best part of his role is, he says it has to be working with everyone from the Junior Parlour Committee. He also adds: “organising bop – that’s pretty fun actually. Hard work cleaning up afterwards as well, but I think it’s worth it. A lot of people have fun.”

When I mention the topic of college wifi, Tek laughs. “It’s a very long, arduous process, but we’ve had quite a lot of successes now.” Tek has been working hard this last year to get the college to install better wifi. “There will be an upgrade over the summer. It won’t be a complete upgrade, but it will at least be an improvement to what we had last year.”

I ask why it’s taken so long. “There were lots of different factors. Money was a big issue. To upgrade the whole wifi system would have taken a lot of investment. And it was only a few years ago when they did a small upgrade, so the interest in upgrading again was quite low.”

It seems the College didn’t roll over easily. “I understand the Bursar’s perspective, I know he’s trying to do his job and ensure the finances of the College are sustainable, but I think there was a slight disconnect between the Bursar’s point of view and our point of view. He doesn’t realise that we’re very much concerned about issues like wifi. It’s very frustrating when you go to the library and there’s no wifi to do your work.”

Tek says he’s met lots of amazing people since coming to Cambridge, and he loves the community spirit. “People are so active in things like environmental issues, politics, and lots of different areas that aren’t part of their course. They put themselves forward and try to make a difference. I really like that attitude.”

The best thing about Pembroke? “Apart from the food - obviously the people! We’re all so supportive of each other. But yeah, the food as well. I’ve been lucky that I don’t have to worry about cooking every single day because trough is so close.”

If Tek could go back and give his fresher-self some advice, it would be “don’t pressure yourself too much.” He says he came to Cambridge expecting quite a lot of himself. “I said I’d work really hard and get really good results. But I think I’d say to my past self that that’s not the most important thing in Cambridge. Take care of yourself a bit more.”

And finally, I leave you with one of my all- time favourite quotes from Tek’s emails:

“Learn to love yourself. Then learn to love others in the same way.”