Rowing Gemma Swan - Let Women

Gemma Swan’s inspiring story shows that balancing work and rowing can be the recipe for success


Gemma Swan, Emmanuel College, is currently reading for a PhD in Nanotechnology and Nanoscience and is in the women’s lightweight crew for the 2023 Interactive Investor Lightweight Boat Races. Gemma hadn’t rowed before coming to Cambridge. It was only whilst Covid restrictions began to lift that she noticed loads of people heading out in boats for the June Eights Regatta and thought how much fun it looked to be a part of a squad. Having found her marathon swimming background a bit lonely at times, the team aspect of rowing really appealed. 

A steep learning curve

Gemma’s first real experience of rowing was novicing with Emmanuel College Boat Club, after which she joined the CUBC Development Squad, before racing in the Beginners 4+ at BUCS. 

Gemma says:

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind going from novice to CUBC Lightweight crew  in one year. A steep learning curve!

I would say to anyone who might be interested in rowing but doesn’t think it’s for them or doesn’t have any previous experience, that rowing experience isn’t what counts. It’s the drive of the athlete, the willingness to learn and equally the willingness to make mistakes. Trialling is a tough process but if you are excited to learn, to try and ultimately to race then you’ll have a fabulous time.” 

Studies and rowing are mutually beneficial

Gemma studied Chemical Engineering at Swansea University where she fell in love with both engineering and the beautiful coastline of South Wales. Whilst completing her undergraduate degree, she ‘dabbled’ in some nanotechnology research – fascinated by the incredible and often surprising properties materials possess on the nanoscale. She then joined the NanoDTC and is currently reading for a PhD in Nanotechnology and Nanoscience. 

Gemma explains:

“My PhD project is looking at ways we can use plants for sustainable protein production. I’m essentially creating frankenstein plants that will hopefully one day grow vaccines, biopharmaceuticals and meat alternatives in low resource settings at scale. 

It’s tough, and the early mornings are a challenge,  but I think that my studies and rowing are mutually beneficial. I love my work and my studies but rowing gives me an outlet, space to breathe and come back to the work feeling energised. Research is also inherently creative. I really value the time away from it and find that I’m often more creative upon my return to the lab.”

An inspiring and supportive community

Gemma says that sport has always helped her to manage both her physical and mental health and having a physical outlet for stress has been a really positive experience. 

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