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Topic: BA2

BA2 - Bath Uncut - the full interviews

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For our 50th birthday edition of BA2 magazine, we interviewed former student journalists from across the decades about their experiences writing for and editing our University newspapers. Here are their full interviews:

Tony Kerpel MBE (BSc Sociology 1968)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
In the case of Bath the student newspaper was of particular importance because of a) the geographically split site nature of the college and b) the placement/sandwich nature of degrees which meant that at any one time a large proportion of the student body was not on campus but scattered around the UK. So the student newspaper provided a means of establishing a Bath student identity by transmitting information and also reflecting student opinion back to the authorities.

2. You came across as being a very single-minded editor! What motivated you to do the job?
I entered my degree with the sole intention of entering the BBC as a radio news and current affairs producer. So contributing to the student newspaper was a method of developing relevant journalistic skills.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was always a collaborative effort with friends. But when copy was in short supply I have to say that I would bash out up to 25% of the content myself on my portable Hermes typewriter. That is why the paper often contained more opinion than news!

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor?
I don't do pride. But I am pleased that we championed free speech for all shades of opinion ( Enoch Powell came to speak in November 1968 ), and also helped create an atmosphere of constructive student engagement with the university authorities. We also developed good relations with The Bath Evening Chronicle and through that with the city. That was very important in the early days of town-gown relationships being developed.

5. Did what you publish ever change anything at the University?
You need to recall that Bath University was being created while I was there. There were no traditions, no proper student facilities, and so to a great extent we could work with the Vice Chancellor to create the basis for future generations. Through the newspaper we articulated student demands for both facilities to be built and representative structures/committees through which the student voice could be effective.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Not that I can recall although I'm open to having my memory jogged.

7. Some of the stories published were quite close to the mark! Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
Yes. In the interests of fearless expose journalism I visited a Soho stripclub and wrote an unexpurgated account of the delights on show. Our printers refused to publish this article on the grounds of obscenity. So we went ahead with our own version rolled out on a duplicating machine and inserted this loose leaf article into SUL. It caused both offence and amusement. How ironic that four years later I joined the British Board of Film Censors as its youngest film examiner!

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
This was the 1960s after all. So pushing boundaries was part of the zeitgeist.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
This was the time of student revolt and many campuses were experiencing serious disruption over the issue of student representation in the running of universities. In the case of Bath the then Vice-Chancellor, George Moore, was surprisingly open minded about granting a limited degree of student representation on university committees thereby defusing the sort of resentment and protest one saw at other universities.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
None at all. I was completely non party political.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Possibly.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Do it, but always with the aim of making a public service contribution to the wellbeing of your fellow students.

Nick Savage (BSc Sociology 1971)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
A student newspaper in the context of the 1967 to 1971 period ( a new campus location, new univ., no radio station, no TV station, pre-web) .... very important. The only other undergraduate channel for comms was the student noticeboard and screen-printed posters. In the context of 2016 - probably not important - how often do you see an 18-year old student with a paid-for print newspaper ?

2. How much freedom did you have? 
Editors had a lot of freedom. At the direct level, the Bath Students Union Finance Committee held the purse strings, but did not try and influence. However, we ran 'SUL' on a responsible journalism basis, according to what we imagined were Fleet Street principles, so aimed to be serious about news, verifying sources etc. University authorities expressed displeasure occasionally, but the academic commitment to freedom of speech was pretty strong then. We were pretty impervious to pressure anyway.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
The technology involved was so different then : the amount of work required was substantial with a fortnightly print deadline - probably 4 or 5 days cumulatively out of every 10 days. The joint editors carried a lot of the workload. A life-size layout had to be done, marked up the way the printers wanted it : copy was type-written and then had to be set in letterpress type fonts at the printers, pictures had to be sourced hard copy, and photographic printers blocks manufactured.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor?
I was proudest of the fact that the paper made it to the students' hands every fortnight on-time, and that students paid cover-price money for it : a source of wonder and astonishment at the time to me. Aside from that, the satirical pieces that Keith and I collaborated on for the spoof gossip column, 'Mortimer Honey', originated by a previous Editor, Tony Kerpel.

5. Did what you publish ever change anything at the University?
Did we try to change things ? Yes. Did we actually change anything ? No.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Any regrets ? Yes, a particularly florid and grossly over-written Editorial I wrote early in the Editorship which I cannot now contemplate without a severe cringe of embarassment. See also Q.11.

7. Some of the stories published were quite close to the mark! Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
I cannot recall ever being asked to pull a story, and I don't recall getting into trouble, though we were pretty thick-skinned then.

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
The journalistic principle is to reveal facts that other people want to conceal. We drove the paper on that basis. I can't say we thought about pushing any boundaries even if it appeared so in hindsight.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
The dominant issue was the build-up of a New University on a new campus (i.e. opening a wondrous University Library building, which had a tiny number of books - the consequence of two separate & disconnected sources of funding - Construction Budget and Facilities Budget). Student politics and the wider controversies of student revolution in 1968 proved to have little connection with a wildly technocratic Univ of Technology.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was never conscious of my own political views (such as they were) having any influence on what I wrote.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Most unfortunately, yes. See answer to Q6. In fairness, that was one of the first things I had ever written for print, and I did manage to improve my writing style as I went along.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
I'm sure that I would not be thinking about a printed-paper medium at Bath University today. My advice would be : while you are there, step back and look for the larger issues - is it quality and personal impact of the lecturing ? am I getting value for the fees I pay and the cost of my 3 or 4 years ? is there a connection between the way the University administration makes decisions and what the student population wants ? In other words, get stuck in and make sure at the same time that you learn how to communicate in a language that everyone can understand.

Nick was editor along with Keith Cameron (BSc Sociology 1971)

Sue Ryan (BSc Sociology 1972)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
They are a necessary tool for providing information and provoking debate on campus. But they are also essential as the first step for a career in newspapers. Nearly every journalist started out on a student paper. I recruit graduates to become trainee journalists interviewing over 100 every year and if it's not on the CV I want to know why.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
Complete freedom - though I fear I failed to take advantage of that.

3. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a team effort and we all worked hard but university papers were not as strong then as now and while we all wrote pieces there was a not a lot of digging going on, so there was a not a lot of burning the midnight oil.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor/writer?
I seem to remember that getting it out on time, with enough advertising to pay the printers, was always the main achievement. I have written so many thousand words since then so I am afraid most of what I wrote or commissioned is lost in the mists of time.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
I think we may have contributed to ending the University beauty queen contest. Yes really, universities had them.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
I do remember using the whole of the front page for a colour picture of Che Guevara. I have no idea why. It looked very striking but we didn’t even try to write copy to justify it. Its not what we published that I regret but what we didn’t publish. Students were centre stage on the public arena. Tariq Ali, Grosvenor Square riots, Enoch Powell were headline news and I don’t think we really engaged. What a golden period to be a student editor, and what a missed opportunity.

7. Some of the stories published in the late 1960s and early 1970s were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Were you ever asked to pull a story?
I never got into trouble – at least not to do with the newspaper – which given it was the peak time for investigative journalism– means I must have been a very tame editor.

8. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
It was the sixties, boundaries were being pushed all over the country and we just went with the flow. we didn't really feel we had boundaries.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for SUL?
The University was tiny - as indeed was the population of Bath, and the pace of growth was the source of most ‘home’ news. Nationally, the IRA were planting bombs all over the country, but not in Bath. The city did stage some student marches, the chant was Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher – in reference to her policy of stopping free school milk in schools. Enoch Powell came to the University – or at least a hall close by – and some students staged a protest and rocked his car until it almost turned over.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
None.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
Absolutely not. I wince at what I might have written.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Do it to have fun, to have your voice heard, to work in a team, and to further you career . Try everything - polemic, interviews, features news stories, investigations, sub-editing , production. And aim to be the editor.

Martin Nesirky (BA MLES German 1982)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
Student newspapers serve several purposes; informing and entertaining students in a style they understand, providing practical information and news that other outlets are unlikely to cover and offering a training ground for would-be journalists, graphic designers, editors and others. Of course the advent of social media, to give just one obvious and pervasive example, has allowed people to deliver and consume news and information in many other ways beyond a printed newspaper.

2. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a small but dedicated team and we worked many hours on the reporting, writing, photographs, typing up, layout and distribution. It was tremendous fun. Some of us were intent on becoming journalists but not all by any means. And one kind soul had to drive to Bristol to deliver the layouts to the printer and bring back the newspapers.

3. What were you most proud of in your time writing for and editing Spike?
As editor I think I was most proud of producing Spike in newspaper format and trying, with my friends and colleagues, to cover stories in a way that would appeal to our readers.

4. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
That's difficult to judge and probably for others to say. I hope it encouraged others to take up journalism and to think critically. And if not, I hope it made the fish and chips taste better.

5. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Of course, with hindsight, some of what we thought passed for satire or gossip probably missed the mark.

6. Some of the stories published were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Was your editor ever asked to pull a story?
One issue of the newspaper had to be withdrawn because a photograph was considered to be too risqué. Probably not our finest hour, but no lasting damage, I believe.

7. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
My main aim, and the aim of the team, was to produce Spike as a "proper" newspaper.

8. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for Spike?
Student politics and the anti-apartheid movement were certainly major themes.

9. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was not particularly politically active and I tried to separate my own views from editing and writing, not least because I knew this would be important in a future journalist career and more immediately to try to ensure Spike appealed to as wide a readership as possible.

10. If you read one of your pieces today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I certainly recognise myself in the writing and recognise also how much I still had to learn about journalism - and the world!

11. What impact did student journalism have on your career after graduating?
My student journalism and my studies at Bath had a direct impact on my career. I joined Reuters news agency (now Thomson Reuters) as a graduate trainee in September 1982 and remained with them until March 2006, having had postings in London, Moscow, The Hague, East Berlin and Seoul and reported from many other places. It also helped me when I subsequently joined the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and then the United Nations in public information and spokesman roles.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Times have changed dramatically since we struggled with sticking bits of copy on to layout sheets and developing photographs in the darkroom. Websites and social media were of course unimaginable at the time. But the core skills of reporting, writing, editing and critical thinking as well as news photography and graphic design are useful not only if you wish to enter journalism. Student publishing helps to open a window on to university life and fosters teamwork as well as individual skills. And of course it's highly enjoyable. Embrace this and any other similar opportunity at Bath University while you can.

Deborah Hargreaves (BA MLES German 1983)

1. Why do you think student newspapers are important?
Student newspapers are a great way of getting started in journalism and honing some skills in an informal environment before being thrown into the competitive world of real journalism. It is much easier now to set up your own blog and contribute online to get some journalistic experience, but in the 1980s when I was writing for Spike, student papers were one of the only ways to prepare for a career in journalism.

2. How much work was involved in putting the newspaper together?
It was a fairly straightforward process of putting the paper together, although at times it could involve a last-minute rush and a few all-nighters.

3. What were you most proud of in your time writing for and editing Spike?
I enjoyed covering some of the political events of the time. I was writing for Spike in 1982-83 and there was a lot of political upheaval going on. We interviewed some of the politicians involved and went to political rallies.It made me feel part of the political process.

4. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
We campaigned against proposals by the then education secretary, Keith Joseph, to introduce student loans or fees. He dropped these plans in 1984, so collectively, student protest had maybe worked.

5. Is there anything you regret publishing?
I can't remember anything we regretted publishing.

6. Some of the stories published were quite risqué! Did you ever get in trouble? Was your editor ever asked to pull a story?
I was writing for Spike for just one year 1982-83, and I don't remember any pressure to pull a story.

7. How important was it at the time to push the boundaries?
We were keen to be provocative and campaigning, but equally eager to be taken seriously. So while we did take risks and push the boundaries, we also wanted to be a voice that would be listened to, so couldn't go too far.

8. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing for Spike?
Interestingly, one of the dominant issues at the time echoes today's concerns in that we were campaigning strongly against any introduction of student fees or loans or even any top-up payment for tuition fees. We were lucky enough to benefit from government grants for our tuition and maintenance and we strongly felt these should remain.

9. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
I was very interested in left-wing politics at the time. In another striking echo of today, there was a lot of disarray and upheaval in the Labour party. The Gang of Four politicians had left the Labour party in 1981 to set up the SDP which later merged to become the Lib-Dems. I interviewed Shirley Williams at a rally in Devizes for the 1983 election and I think I gave her a very sympathetic hearing. I met her recently in the House of Lords and reminded her, she predicted I would have a good career in journalism!

10. If you read one of your pieces today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I think my writing at the time was a bit naiive. I went on to become a business journalist so maybe I am now a lot more cynical.

11. What impact did student journalism have on your career after graduating?
Student journalism was instrumental in launching me into my career. It gave me some cuttings and experience to talk about at interviews. My first job was with a trade magazine and I then went to the Financial Times for 19 years, working in the US, London and Brussels. I then went to the Guardian as business editor for 4 years. In 2012 I set up my own think tank - the High Pay Centre to research top pay and inequality.

12. What would your advice be to anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
As someone who has recruited young graduates into journalism and was involved with the FT graduate recruitment interviews for a couple of years, I would say that student journalism - or at least some experience of writing, blogging and commenting - is essential for anyone considering a career in newspapers. It is a very competitive environment and it helps to stand out in any way.

Ellie Barker (BSc Sociology 1996)

1. Why do you think student publications are important?
I think they are important for two main reasons. They give students their own voice, but it also gives those with an interest in journalism a chance to have a go and see if it is for them. When I was at Bath there was Spike, but also a radio station and television station.I saw people who never thought they would be any good at radio, turn into fabulous presenters, the same with writers for Spike. It was the main reason why I wanted to go to the University. The practical experience I gained helped me immensely with my next step into the world of journalism. It also showed the hard work involved.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
There was lots of freedom. I am sure if you did something that wasn't correct or reflected the University in a bad light, this would not be allowed, but other than that we were given pretty much complete freedom.

3. How much work was involved in putting the magazine together?
There was lots of work involved! I hope it is not rude to students to say our hours in lectures were much less than just a normal working week. I soon realised there was a huge amount of hours involved in getting to deadline - although this reflects the media world. If you want a 9-5 job, don't work in journalism.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor or writing for Spike?
I was extremely proud when we won the Guardian Media award and collected it from Peter Preston. Of course it was all thanks to everyone else and their hard work, but to be the Editor was a great honour.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
I wouldn't say it dramatically changed anything but I do believe it helped the magazine continue to evolve.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
My favourite colour is pink - and one issue was pretty much entirely pink. I am not sure I would do that again today, much as I still love the colour.

7. Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
No (not that I can remember!)

8. How important did you feel it was to push the boundaries?
I felt it was very important to give all contributors their voice as much as possible. We had incredible people working with us and this meant huge variety in the magazine.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing?
It was mainly about students - coming to university - many of them leaving home for the first time. It was about them finding their way - whether it was a music review, a piece about their travels, a piece about their hopes. Top tips to get through campus life. We tried to make the content as relevant to as many students as possible.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
Although in the past Spike had been fairly political - it was less so under my editorship. I believed very much in letting everyone have their opinions, meaning their was something for everyone.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I would - but I would almost definitely cringe. I would like to think I have become more confident now and have a greater self-belief. I have worked in journalism since the day after I finished my finals... which is a long time ago now!

12. How did your experiences affect your own career path, and do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
Honestly, I was asked more about my time as Editor at Spike than I ever was about my degree. Journalism is all about experience, about being able to connect with a whole range of people and being able to communicate in a simple, engaging way. I learnt the basics for all of this at university, but most of all I learnt what I always thought I knew.. that journalism was the correct career path for me and fingers crossed, I have not been proved wrong since.

Tom Vincent (MEng Automotive Engineering 2004)

1. Why do you think student publications are important?
The traditional line is that the student press provides an independent voice for students, and is uniquely placed to hold Universities and Students’ Unions to account. Depending on the publication and the restrictions placed upon it, I think most manage to do this to some extent.
However, that overlooks other reasons why student publications are important. Obviously, they inform and entertain the student community – surely the only reason they’re picked up and read. But most important, to my mind, is that they allow people to go and have a go at journalism. University is all about trying new things and gaining experiences, so I think it’s absolutely appropriate that any student with an interest has the opportunity contribute to a newspaper or magazine. I’m not sure where else you’d have the chance to do that.

2. How much freedom did you have as editor?
The level of influence the Union tried to apply varied during the three years I was on the editorial team. We enjoyed a good bunch of Sabbs during the time I was editor, and unlike in previous years I don’t think we ever had an article pulled. That said, every issue of the paper had to be approved by the Union prior to publication, and they paid the bills, so we weren’t truly independent.

3. How much work was involved in putting the magazine together?
A lot. The total of everyone’s contributions must have run to hundreds of hours per issue, which came out fortnightly. We had around 60 or 70 contributors, and an editorial team of around 12 people. Each of the section editors would coordinate content for their pages, which was an ongoing task taking a few hours per week. On production week, they would lay up their pages themselves, which took several hours. The sub-editors, photo editor and I would do our bit to tidy the pages, add photos, proof read articles and generally get the paper together. Depending on how we were feeling, that either took place overnight on a Thursday, where we’d finish around 9am on Friday, or we’d stop at 2am on Friday and finish it off during the day. That was less tiring but more stressful, as we’d be running close to the printer’s deadline.

4. What were you most proud of in your time as editor or writing for impact?
I can’t really think of a single stand-out article or issue that I wrote or contributed towards. I am proud to have been a link in the chain that kept the paper going, however, and very pleased to see it still in print 13 years later.
I am proud also to have been part of something that provided such a great opportunity for people, whether they simply enjoyed contributing to the paper, or were helped in some way into a career in the media.

5. Did your work ever change anything at the University?
Nothing significant that I can think of! impact was a young publication when I was involved, and certainly not a campaigning newspaper. We did run a story where, depending on whose view you took, the University was trying to solve a shortage of teaching space by encouraging departments to cut teaching hours. That got quite a lot of attention, including from national media, but I’m not convinced it really changed anything. Another time we helped some students to get their deposits back from an unscrupulous letting agent, which I was pleased with.

6. Is there anything you regret publishing?
Only one article comes to mind, a crass and insensitive piece which certainly shouldn’t have been printed. It offended a good number of people, but we dedicated a page in the next issue to the feedback we received – I felt it was important to admit we’d got it wrong and to try to address that.

7. Did you ever get in trouble? Were ever asked to pull a story?
It never happened while I was editor, but in previous years when I was on the editorial team stories were certainly pulled. Never with just cause, it was always very frustrating, and gave us a real problem with what to fill the gap with at short notice.
We never got in trouble in the legal sense, fortunately. Certainly people were quite regularly angry for various reasons, but you can’t please all the people all the time.

8. How important did you feel it was to push the boundaries?
We weren’t interested in pushing the boundaries just for the sake of it, but everyone involved in the paper believed it was important for it to be a truly independent publication, so we were always pushing back against interference from the Union.
On a wider level, we also felt that the Students’ Union should have been a more democratic organisation – the feeling was that the Sabbatical team and student members had little real control, and that the management team were making decisions with minimal oversight. We did manage to publish a story to that effect – with the approval of the Media and Communications Officer, to his credit – which was probably about as far as we pushed what we could get away with.

9. What was the dominant issue of the day when you were writing?
Tuition fees – the increase to £3000 per year (from around £1000) was being discussed by Government. The invasion of Iraq took place while I was editor, although that perhaps received less coverage in our pages than you might imagine. It often felt that items that were getting lots of column inches in the national press were less interesting in a student paper, unless they had a specific bearing on us.

10. How much of a role did your political views play when you were editor?
Very little, really. I didn’t have particularly strong political views at the time, and we weren’t a particularly political paper.

11. If you read one of your editorials today, would you recognise yourself in the writing?
I’d imagine so – I hope so. I don’t think I’ve changed that much!

12. How did your experiences affect your own career path, and do you have any advice for anyone thinking about getting involved in student publishing?
I wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in the media, so it didn’t help me get a foot in the door in that respect, but I think it must have helped in some ways. I was exposed to lots of situations that I wouldn’t have been otherwise: just to be heading up a team of 70 and having the responsibility to produce the paper every two weeks was terrific.
My advice for anyone wanting to get into student publishing would be to do it! It really takes very little effort or commitment to start contributing, and, unless things have changed, the publications are always looking for new contributors. You might find you get hooked, like I did, and end up spending more time in the newspaper office than in lectures. You might also make some great friends – the team were a diverse bunch from all years and subjects, and the social scene was always good.

 

BA2: A flying start

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014 How did 140 metres of concrete contribute to Olympic gold?

On a soggy Valentine’s Day evening 2014, students, staff and sporting superstars alike gathered around the TV screens at the University’s Sports Training Village. What brought them together was Bath-based athlete Lizzy Yarnold’s final skeleton run which saw her storm to Olympic victory in Sochi, finishing almost two-tenths of a second ahead of her nearest rival.

British Skeleton has its headquarters at the University; Yarnold trains here, following in the sled tracks of her landlady, graduate Amy Williams, who won gold in the same event at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Despite not having an ice-track in the country for athletes to train on, skeleton is now one of Britain’s most successful Olympic sports. How has the University helped this unlikely rise to dominance?

Tucked away beyond the playing fields at the eastern edge of campus is 140 metres of sloping concrete. The push-start track, built in 2001 with help from Lottery funding, is the only facility of its kind in the UK. It features wheeled sleds running on rails, and allows skeleton and bobsleigh athletes to work on their sprint starts all year round, away from the ice.

Lizzy Yarnold training on the University's concrete push-start track

Lizzy Yarnold training on the University's concrete push-start track

In a skeleton or bobsleigh run, the speed of the start is crucial. It’s calculated that any one-tenth of a second advantage you gain at the top of a run can become three-tenths by the time you reach the bottom. Successful athletes therefore need to have a perfect combination of power and sprinting speed.

The push-start track has an impressive track record (pardon the pun). Athletes who have trained here have won four skeleton medals in four successive Olympic Winter Games: Alex Coomber (bronze in 2002), alumna Shelley Rudman (silver in 2006), then back-to-back Olympic champions Williams and Yarnold.

Now the concrete track is becoming a star in its own right. Since Yarnold’s golden achievement in Sochi, the University, British Skeleton and British Bobsleigh have been inundated with enquiries from people wanting to have a go on the track themselves.

The University’s sports facilities already attract 1.3 million visitors a year, ranging from members of the local community playing a game of tennis, to Olympic and Paralympic athletes such as alumni Samantha Murray and Ben Rushgrove.

Stephen Baddeley, the University’s Director of Sport, says, “Bath is such an attractive university for aspiring young athletes because they are able to combine study with sport, whether it’s swimming, hurdling or skeleton. Successes at the Olympics and Paralympics have raised the profile of what we do here.

“It was terrific to have the opportunity to cheer Lizzy on to gold. Her success was testament to her own effort and also that of her support team. And of course, we are proud to host the headquarters of both British Skeleton and British Bobsleigh.”

Watch Guardian journalist Barry Glendenning try out the track before the Winter Olympics:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrbYJQGrfc8

 

 

BA2: Science in the City

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014Many of the great things our University campus provides – world-class sporting facilities, public lectures and evening classes – still involve a hike up the hill for Bath citizens and visitors. But we are also at the heart of life closer to the centre of town. Molly Conisbee explores how University science is infiltrating the city.


The University takes its role as a member of the City of Bath’s wider community very seriously. Whilst the campus buzzes with student life, we are also very much part of the city that hosts us.

It may surprise some to learn that our strong science and engineering tradition is mirrored by the City of Bath that was once famous for the Griffin Engineering works, Stothert & Pitt engineering, mining and other manufacturing and today hosts a thriving tech and digital start-up sector. This means there is a creative backdrop for exciting town and gown collaborations that bring together academics and invited guests to host open public events on matters scientific and technical. These include science cafés, debates and children’s workshops – all organised to enthuse and engage non-expert audiences with some of the big scientific questions and challenges of our time.

Science Cafés – which take place in The Raven pub on Queen Street – offer a diverse take on everything from fracking to food production for a growing world population. Professor Rod Scott, Head of our Department of Biology and Biochemistry, chairs the organising committee. Rod explains that the events were established in part to create a forum for non-experts to learn about and discuss scientific issues.

Bath Science Cafe Feb 2014

Punters enjoying the debate at the Bath Science Cafe

“We see the cafés as helping to develop understanding for people who are interested in science but don’t necessarily hold a science degree. So that when they are discussing issues such as GM crops or green energy with their friends and colleagues, they feel they have some tangible, evidence-based information to build their opinion on.”

“The Science Café has grown and grown,” adds Professor Saiful Islam, one of Rod’s colleagues on the organising committee. “The audiences we get along are genuinely engaged and interested in the issues under discussion.”

“One of the challenges of the way in which science is presented in the media, is that controversial issues like fracking are often polarised into ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ discussions. The cafés are much more nuanced and don’t tend to get monopolised by lobby groups in that way. We are often blown away by the quality of the questions asked during audience discussions.”

The cafés are usually packed out; a great testament to both the quality of speakers, as well as the genuine interest in matters scientific in the community. February’s discussion, which I went along to, featured the BBC’s Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott, who talked about ‘Tales from the Zooniverse’ – which explored how astronomers are using citizen scientists to help them document the night skies. Aside from being a witty and engaging presenter, Chris made the point very well that often scientists rely on enthusiastic amateurs in order to process the vast amounts of data their work involves. Citing the RSPB, who use members and the public in their annual bird surveys, Chris pointed out that understanding the universe better needs millions of us to record what we see and where and when we see it.

The cafés have a loyal following. Bath resident Nick Moss said, “I find the cafés really fascinating. I’m not a scientist but I’ve always had an interest. I’ve been coming to these for the last three or four years and never experienced a dud talk.” Nick’s friend Ian Clarke added, “I don’t know any more about science than what I learned at school. I’m interested in the issues though; I find the talks here are pitched exactly right for the non-expert like myself.”

It’s not just those of pub-going age who can experience science in the city. Professor Chris Budd, from our Department of Mathematical Sciences, is the engine behind the annual ‘Bath Taps into Science’ fair, which reaches out to more than 1,500 school children and young people across the city every March. Events take place on campus and in the city centre, with a wide range of talks and activities aimed at different age groups to enthuse and inspire about science in general. This year’s fair included an exploration of Enigma-style ‘codebreaking’ as well as short talks from academics about their exciting new research projects.

Chris notes, “Bath Taps works on so many levels, to enthuse young people about science but also to be a two-way exchange between the University and the city. “We’ve been delighted by the response from the community which is why we’re growing every year, hosting science talks and events across the city. But getting students and schools on to campus to experience science in labs and – uniquely – to get students to co-present with scientists has to be one of my favourite parts of the festival. It’s open, democratic and reinforces the message that science belongs to all of us.”

The University’s Head of Public Engagement, Dr Joanna Coleman, sees a key role for citizens in both promoting understanding of science and involving people more in the research that takes place – and also celebrating the achievements of researchers and the benefits of having a university in the city. She believes that “sometimes academic life can appear quite isolated from the wider community – but the high quality research at the University impacts on us all. That’s why we’re committed to getting our researchers into the public domain, and also inviting people to come and explore what’s going on in research, and to get involved with it both in the city and on the campus.”

Responsible for an annual Images of Research exhibition, which happens both on campus and as part of the Fringe Arts Bath Festival, Joanna really sees the value of greater University involvement in city life. “Ultimately, we are funded by the community, we live in this community and we want the community to be proud and part of what we do.”

If you live in or around Bath, come along to the next Science Café – they take place on the second Monday evening of every month. www.bathsciencecafe.org

 

BA2: The vaccine challenge

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014More than 2.5 million children under five die every year from diseases that could be prevented by vaccination. Now one researcher from our Department of Chemistry thinks she may have found a solution to the long-standing challenge of transporting and storing vaccines without refrigeration. Andrew Dunne finds out more.


It was taking her newborn daughter Melinda for routine inoculations at the local doctors’ surgery in 2011 when Dr Asel Sartbaeva experienced her ‘light bulb’ moment for an innovative research idea. Observing that vaccines had to be taken out of a fridge and used almost immediately, she identified a challenge facing public health officials worldwide.

Dr Asel Sartbaeva in her lab

Dr Asel Sartbaeva in her lab

“Vaccines need to be kept between 2˚C and 8˚C. Above or below these temperatures they degrade. So, how do you store and transport vaccines, especially to remote parts of the world where they are so needed?” she explains when we meet.

The answer, she discovered, is a costly and often impractical process of constant refrigeration, otherwise known as the ‘cold chain’. This challenge leads to wastage and leaves vulnerable patients without the life-saving treatments they need. Recent estimates suggest that more than 6 million people around the globe, of whom 2.5 million are children under five, die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases. A recent UNICEF report suggests that transportation costs for vaccines can run to as much as $300 million a year.

“My trip to the doctors really got me thinking,” she tells me. “What if I could use my knowledge of inorganic materials to make vaccines stable at room temperature?”

Drawing on her experience and expertise working with silica-based materials, Asel envisaged an idea for a new nano coating that could protect a vaccine from its environment both in transit and for storage. Using the latest chemistry advances, she set out to show how a protective substance could be grown around individual vaccine molecules, enabling it to be taken anywhere in the world without refrigeration.

Publicising on the world stage

I catch up with Royal Society Research Fellow Asel in the University’s Department of Chemistry, refreshed and invigorated having delivered one of the keynote presentations at a recent Google X Conference in California. “I think it was partly the effect of the Californian sun, and partly the interest and enthusiasm in my project!” she tells me, explaining how her talk, one of only 18 from around the world and one of only two from the UK, generated a lot of interest from both Google X and other organisations globally.

“Google X is about promoting moon shot ideas – ideas that, in a traditional sense, might struggle to get funding but have the potential to make a real impact globally or internationally. I was delighted to be invited, to share a platform with innovative thinkers across different disciplines, and to meet business leaders and policymakers who expressed great interest in my plans.”

Her idea for nano-coating vaccines, which also saw her as runner-up last year for the prestigious L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Fellowship, would produce a lightweight, easy-to-transport, solid material packed with vaccine. “Once doctors were ready to administer the vaccine substance, the protective coating could be broken using either chemical or physical methods such as acids or microwaves,” she explains.

Collaboration with colleagues

By collaborating with colleagues from the University community, including Dr Karen Edler in Chemistry who has provided advice and guidance on using this technique and keeping proteins alive, and Dr Jean van den Elsen from our Department of Biology & Biochemistry who has provided specific expertise on vaccines, Asel has been able to progress her plans quickly.

“It’s true to say this project would not have started had I not come to Bath,” she explains. “I have really benefitted from working together on this with colleagues with expertise in different areas who have helped me to challenge ideas and save a lot of time.” Asel is also supported by postgraduate students Tristan Smith, whom she supervises as part of his MRes, and Yun-Chu Chen, a PhD student.

Thanks to a gift from a Bath graduate, Asel has now been able to get the project off the ground. With further funding, her next challenge is to obtain data from initial tests to prove the concept and to apply the coating to small-body insulin, antibodies and other drugs which currently require cold chains for storage and transport.

A global journey

Originally from Kyrgyzstan, the daughter of an arty family, Asel has always challenged conventions. Her father’s background was in design and architecture, her mother’s in social science. Asel’s parents expected her to study philosophy at university, but instead she saw her future in physical science.

While at high school, the Soviet Union broke up, resulting in immediate economic hardship in her country. Her family could not afford to pay university fees with the only option to get a state scholarship, which she received with a place at Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, the best in Kyrgyzstan. An up-side of the break up of the Soviet Union was the fall of the Iron Curtain, when it became possible to travel. “There were very limited opportunities, particularly in research, when I graduated, but I knew I wanted to do a PhD to continue my studies”, she says.

Instead, Asel worked for the British Council where by chance she saw an advert which would set her on course for a new life overseas. “At the British Council we had deliveries of various international publications. Everyone always went for the Economist; I was the only one interested in reading the New Scientist. It was in an edition one week that I found a PhD opportunity in Cambridge. I emailed and within four months was on a plane for the first time travelling to the UK.”

At Cambridge, Asel worked in a research group with physicist Dr Stephen Wells – now also at Bath – whom she married in 2002. After other academic appointments at Arizona State University (2005-2007) and Oxford (2007-2012), Asel joined the team at Bath in 2012.

Inspiring a future generation

Asel is passionate about using her experiences to inspire future generations of women scientists, and in particular those working in higher levels of academia. She is currently involved in a number of initiatives in this area, including Springboard workshops, mentoring early career scientists and encouraging young women to take up a career in science.

“If my experiences can help future female scientists to succeed, my mantra would be to believe in yourself and to never give up.”

Asel’s work is certain to inspire the scientists of the future, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

If you would like to find out more about supporting this project, or any other area of research at Bath, please contact Senior Development Manager, Stephanie Lear at s.lear@bath.ac.uk.

 

 

BA2: Memories are made of this

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014Did you know that in an overlooked corner of the Library is a treasure trove of University history, which tells the story of our campus and its inhabitants over almost 50 years? Molly Conisbee finds out what’s in the University Archives and Research Collections.


Tucked away at the back of the University’s Library is a veritable treasure trove: from photographs, magazines, old exam papers, student newspapers and letters, to official records, meeting minutes, payroll and pension files, prospectuses and more. All of this is overseen by University Archivist, Lizzie Richmond, who, since 1998, has been the guardian of this fantastic repository.

University Archivist Lizzie with assistant Adrian

University Archivist Lizzie with assistant Adrian

Lizzie is responsible for managing, maintaining and properly cataloguing the University’s archives. In doing this she must draw on her training as an historian to make decisions about what actually constitutes a valuable and ‘archive worthy’ object or document. “There are certain routine official documents that must be kept for legal, regulatory or operational reasons,” explains Lizzie, “but we also get sent lots of more unusual things that need to be sifted and assessed, to establish their value as an historical record of the institution.”

One of the hardest things to capture in an archive is some of the more ephemeral paraphernalia that might seem trivial at its moment of production, but can actually tell you volumes about how life on campus felt during certain eras. Amateur photographs, protest posters, information about gigs and concerts and sporting events, leaflets, flyers and student magazines are often amongst the best expressions of their zeitgeist.

An exciting new project hopes to digitise and catalogue a collection of old footage of campus life, mainly taken from former student TV recordings. These offer fascinating glimpses – not just at the fashions and phraseology of yesteryear – but also the changing physical features and landscape of campus as we have aged and expanded. As Lizzie remarks, “Understanding the experience of being a student here 20 or 30 years ago is much better expressed through a few short moments of fi lm than any number of meeting minutes. That’s one of the reasons I’d love to track down the keen photographers and fi lm-makers within our alumni community, to see if they have footage or pictures we can add to the collection. They offer an amazingly evocative glimpse of the campus through its history. And every year the student magazine had an ‘official’ photographer, so we know you’re out there!”

Some of the photographs in the archives – such as students swimming in the Roman Baths, or pushing a Fiat-500 around the city streets (this was apparently a popular game) – show the way that, for example, health and safety regulations have changed over time. Some of these larks clearly date from before the city was designated a World Heritage Site. Nowadays the University is very proud of its strong connection to the beautiful city of Bath, but as Lizzie notes, “It’s interesting to see how the external face of the University has changed. In the late 1960s and 1970s we were really proud of our cutting edge and modern campus and this was refl ected in printed institutional publications that tended to be quite formal. Over time our relationship with the City, which was always important, has come to feature more prominently. Now the University produces a huge amount of promotional material in a wide variety of media – most of it is heavily design-based and a bit more relaxed. This tells you lots about branding and changes in marketing techniques and how the University’s image has evolved.”

As well as being a repository of University records, the archive has been the lucky recipient of some research collections of wider, national and international importance. Hockey’s national governing body chose Bath to host the archives of the All England Women’s Hockey Association documenting the beginnings and early development of organised hockey played by women in the UK. The collection is fascinating not just to those who play the sport, it also offers an insight into social history and women’s experiences, because it tells the story of the changing ideas of acceptability in women’s dress; the practicalities of where women could (and could not) tour; the fact that the organisation was kept – deliberately – an all-women’s affair.

“It’s a wonderful resource,” recounts Lizzie. “I hope a student or academic here will explore it more thoroughly at some point, as this is an important piece of social, sporting and cultural history.”

The University also holds research collections relating to judo, rightwing politics, underwater acoustics, modern pentathlon, regional architecture, steam engines, botanical ecology, spelling reform, the SS Great Eastern, phonetics and Pitman’s shorthand.

“The archives are the University’s memory,” says Lizzie. “There are inevitably gaps in the collection, and we can’t really ever have enough things to go in it – especially the ‘off-the-record’ stuff, the things that capture the experience of studying or teaching here. “I hope our latest project digitising film footage will bring the memories of studying and living here flooding back for former students and staff. And better yet if that encourages people to send us some of their pictures or memorabilia.”

Police on campus

Alumnus Neil Jarman (BSc Building Engineering 1982) was kind enough to share some of his memories with the University archive. In his first term in 1978 he went to a concert at University Hall (many alumni remember amazing gigs they attended on campus in the 1970s and 1980s). Neil recalls, “The main act was a comedy trio called ‘Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias’. The support act was a then little-known band who called themselves ‘The Police’. The support band duly impressed all of us who attended.

“Sure that they would make the big time, I acquired one of the few posters put up for the concert. It was on my wall for a few years, including the Students’ Union President’s office during my sabbatical year.”

Neil has kindly donated his precious poster to the archive, where Lizzie has carefully stored it for future generations to enjoy.

Can you help us tell the story of our first 50 years? If you have any posters, photos or other memorabilia that you would like to donate to or share with the archive as we approach our 50th anniversary, please contact the Alumni Relations team at alumni@bath.ac.uk

Visit our 'Memories on a postcard' exhibition on Flickr

 

BA2: Box clever

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📥  BA2

BA2 2014Mentoring students is a great way to reconnect with your University and provide practical help that brings benefits all round, as one alumnus volunteer is finding out. Rachel Skerry meets the team behind Our Honest Foods, and their mentor.


The last BA2 magazine showed just how connected our alumni and students are, through a diverse support network which provides scholarships, offers work experience, supplies placement grants and invests in student enterprise projects.

Leafing through the magazine last year, graduate Laurence James (BSc Mathematics 1976) was inspired to get in touch to find out how he could help current students. He says, “I’ve always had a connection with the University. I’d never lost touch but, equally, I’d never felt particularly engaged.”

Laurence – who has almost 40 years of business experience behind him – leapt at our suggestion that he volunteer to mentor a student enterprise group, partly because it spoke to his own inner entrepreneur. “If I’m honest, it’s something I wished I had been able to do, but in 1976 if you were a maths graduate you either became an accountant, a teacher or you went into business on a graduate trainee scheme. I can’t recall anyone thinking ‘I’ll be an entrepreneur’– I don’t think the word had even been invented!”

The enterprise group in question were final year students Charles, Giles and Joe. Each had aspired to run their own businesses from an early age, cutting their teeth on enterprising schoolboy ventures. Giles sold sweets, Charles went door-to-door mowing lawns and Joe made smoothies in the Food Technology classrooms at lunchtime, recalling, “I was usually late to classes because I was scraping strawberry pips off the ceiling”.

Thrown together by the University’s highly competitive BSc Business Administration programme, they quickly sought to channel their different talents into a shared ambition. Fast forward to 2013 and, with a fledgling business plan, the soon-to-be graduates were looking for guidance.

Our Honest Foods

Bath graduates Giles, Charles and Joe, with their alumnus mentor Laurence.

The University’s Student Enterprise team arranged for Laurence to meet the group and he was bowled over: “I could see I would benefit from all their passion and energy – it’s infectious. I was very excited about the whole prospect.”

The team’s initial business idea was to supply Bath Freshers with a welcome pack when they arrived on campus, filled with essentials such as toothpaste, shower gel and Cup a Soup. ‘My Student Box’ hit the rocks when they discovered that they couldn’t get access to a sufficient number of company contacts to pitch their idea. Thankfully, they were brimming with other ideas, and with Laurence’s guidance, they changed course.

In autumn 2013 Charles, Giles and Joe launched Our Honest Foods, delivering boxes filled with snacks to offices and homes. They’re called Honest because they started off by leaving an ‘honesty box’ in each office where they delivered, so customers could pay for each snack individually. All the snacks in the boxes are British and most are sourced from small companies, which is something they are passionate about. They do everything from designing the packaging and marketing and sourcing the products, to making the office deliveries and selling at markets.

The group agrees that having a mentor has been invaluable, and the dynamic of their relationship with Laurence has changed as the business itself has evolved. Early formalities were soon abandoned in favour of a more relaxed approach: “Now we just go for beers!” observes Charles.

Laurence agrees. “I don’t think we’ve had many formal meetings. It’s more on demand. They say ‘We’ve got some things we want to talk through, can we get together?’ and we’ll perhaps spend an hour at my place and go for a beer. But it works.”

Joe says, ”We joke that it’s like counselling, but at the same time keeping that informality makes it cathartic for us. What comes up in conversation after just five minutes is usually the biggest issue that’s facing the business at the time.”

Each member of the group brims with confidence, acquired in part by coming through a tough business degree with flying colours. So what does their mentor add to the equation? Charles reckons, “The business degree teaches you the language of business, but not necessarily the strategic side. You do get taught theoretical strategy but when you’re in the real world, it’s different.”

On Laurence’s part, he feels he is contributing the benefit of his business experience: “Having been in corporate life for so long, it’s difficult to suddenly think as an entrepreneur. I tried to do it myself and went through a big learning curve. Also if you’re going to be an entrepreneur there is no better time than when you’re fresh from university because you don’t have the commitments you have later in life.”

So what’s next for Our Honest Foods? Thanks in part to local publicity, they recently secured a deal with the Bath Abbey hotel for a snack box to be left in every guest room, and they’re thinking up ever more innovative ways to get their tasty products out into the market place. Making Bath their business base is also helping them to open doors locally and, as Giles says, “Having the University of Bath tag is a real advantage for us.”

Accolades are coming thick and fast. Recently they won a Shell LiveWIRE award and in April they won the University Business Plan Competition, sponsored by Deloitte, which will see them head to New York to meet leading alumni in business.

Whatever the immediate future holds, they and Laurence have no intention of parting company. Giles says, “The University has been brilliant because it set us up with a great mentor and then let us be. There hasn’t been a necessity to fill out a form saying ‘We met on this day’, or have a regular monthly catch-up. It has been in ours and Laurence’s hands.”

And, as Laurence says, self-effacingly, “I would hope that they remember me when they go public!”

Are you inspired by what you have read? We have a variety of ways in which you can help current students and recent graduates, including becoming a mentor like Laurence. Please get in touch at alumni@bath.ac.uk to find out more.