On parade

The University of Bath alumni blog

Let it snow!

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📥  Bath, On campus

One of the biggest up-sides of preparing for our fast-approaching 50th anniversary is looking at the collection of your photos from the 'old days' which you have kindly been sending in to us. We've been putting some of the best on our Flickr photostream - thank you for sharing your memories with us.

In a bid to get into the festive spirit early this year, we're looking for Christmassy photos from your time at Bath. Snowmen on the Parade, Christmas parties, you get the idea!

We will be creating an album on Flickr of your seasonal student snaps and, you never know, one of your photos might even make it on to our alumni Christmas card…

If you would like your photo to be included in our album, please send a scanned or digital image (as high-res as possible) to alumni@bath.ac.uk. Please include as much information as possible, including the year it was taken and anyone you can name in the picture.

University of Bath snowball fight on the Parade

Here’s a starter for ten. Can anyone name the three combatants?

 

Bath alumni meet up Down Under

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📥  International

On a Spring September evening in Melbourne, around 20 alumni gathered in a suitable watering hole to share memories of their time in Bath and stories of how they ended up in Australia. We were honoured to be joined by David Hancocks , the University of Bath’s ‘Graduate No. 1’, having been first up to collect his degree certificate for Architecture in 1966. David spent most of his working life in Seattle but is now in Melbourne and enjoying life in this thriving city, recently named named the world's most liveable city for the fourth year in a row.

The three Davids

The three Davids: David Chuter ((BEng Manufacturing Systems 1992), David Hancocks (BSc Architecture & Building Engineering 1966) and David Suder (MSc Industrial Systems 1992)

Many of the alumni came to our first gathering last year so it was great to catch up with each other, share stories of trips back to the UK and talk about the changes that people have seen in Bath on their recent visits. It was also fantastic to welcome new faces, some of whom were recent arrivals to Melbourne. Some were putting their degrees to good use whilst others had ended up in careers quite different to their studies. Everyone remembered their time at Bath very fondly and looked forward to their next visit.

Australians have developed a love of cider but we all agreed that it wasn’t quite the same as the scrumpy served in the Beehive - many were sad to hear that it’s no longer a pub. We look forward to catching up again next year!

Isobel Michael (BA MLES German & Russian 1991)

 

Behind the scenes of the Large Hadron Collider

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📥  Bath, International

As a Bath graduate based in Geneva, and the CEO of the world’s largest cancer NGO, the link between the University and CERN is for me, a compelling one. And one which, amazingly, came about due to a chance alumni connection.

In a nutshell, engineers from my old university are adapting technologies from the Large Hadron Collider to find ways to treat lung cancer tumours more effectively.

CERN group around collider

At the Large Hadron Collider

Dr Steve Hancock, who studied physics at Bath in 1980, had been working on 3D imaging technologies at CERN for over 20 years. He had the idea that the type of imaging used to examine tiny particles moving close to the speed of light could be beneficial in medical treatments too. So when he saw a tomography laboratory at the University mentioned in an alumni e-newsletter, he was inspired to get back in touch with Bath academics.

A year on and, alongside Dr Manuch Soleimani from the University’s Electrical Engineering Department, they secured £100,000 of funding from CERN to work together on the application of his technology. Lung cancer is particularly difficult to treat as the tumours move a lot within the body due to the motion of breathing. This makes it difficult for surgeons to remove all of the cancer without damaging healthy lung tissue. Bath and CERN’s technology should help surgeons to see the real time movement of cancer tumours in the body, and will hopefully one day translate into an affordable product that hospitals around the world can use. The project has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of cancer patients and is a great example of how blue skies research at CERN can turn up incredible and unexpected applications.

And where do I come in? I founded a Bath alumni group in Geneva a few years ago, because I wanted to help fellow graduates find their feet in the city, make friends and get on in their careers. We’re a mix of generations, working in all kinds of areas, from the UN and NGOs to pharmaceuticals and corporate finance. We try to meet up at least twice a year for drinks or dinner to share our experiences of working in Switzerland, have fun, and help each other in any ways that we can, such as passing on job opportunities.

To celebrate Bath’s new partnership (and the happy accident of our living in the city where the world’s most talked about science takes place right under our feet), the Alumni team at Bath arranged a special opportunity for our group to visit CERN in July.

Matthew Wilson, one of our newest members of the group, at CERN's Large Hadron Collider

Matthew Wilson, one of our newest members of the group, at the Large Hadron Collider

Our day began with a welcome from their ‘Head of Beams’, Paul Collier. Beams, we were to learn, are what they accelerate around the 27km long ring of tunnels which lie 150m below ground, before they collide in the Large Hadron Collider. While the beams are circling the ring it is the coldest place in the Universe, due to the liquid helium cooling the giant magnetic tubes, then the hottest place in the Universe when they collide, hotter than the centre of our sun! This was the first of many awe-inspiring facts and sights.

I was surprised to learn that CERN employs many more engineers than physicists - it is the engineers who designed and built CERN’s giant instruments. One point, particularly pertinent to a university like Bath, is that without the engineering and computing behind CERN, there would have been no Higgs Boson Particle, or World Wide Web (which was invented there).

The highlight of the day was descending down the lifts to see one of the Large Hadron Collider experiments, CMS. This was special access we’d only been granted because of Bath’s links to CERN, and it was a truly magnificent, Sci-Fi-esque vision. By this point the science had gone a little over our heads, with talk of quarks, laptons and fermions, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the human achievement. When they conceived the idea of the Large Hadron Collider, the engineers and scientists hadn’t a clue how they would turn it into a reality, but through ingenuity and perseverance they succeeded.

This event was the first of its kind in for us in Geneva, and I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to gain such an amazing insight into the world of CERN. I look forward to seeing how Bath’s research project progresses and hope that this partnership will be the start of something remarkable.

Cary Adams (BSc Economics, Computing and Statistics 1985, MBA Business Administration 2002) is  Chief Executive of the Union for International Cancer Control and the leader of Bath’s alumni Chapter in Geneva.

 

Goodbye... and hello!

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📥  Bath, On campus

Do you remember your graduation day?

It can be a bit… well… emotional, as you say goodbye to the place you’ve called home for the last three years or more. But it’s also a new beginning.

Three days of ceremonies in the Abbey last week – many presided over by our new Chancellor, HRH The Earl of Wessex – saw thousands of students become Bath graduates.

Every year, we in the Alumni Relations team take time out to greet new graduates, their families and friends, and press a goody bag into their hands. It’s one of the highlights of the year for us when, on behalf of Bath alumni everywhere, we welcome new graduates into our thriving alumni community.

Graduation 2014 goodbye

Raise a glass to that...

This year we also asked new graduates to record their “Goodbye” – what they would miss about Bath ...

... or “Hello” – what they were looking forward to next.

Graduation 2014 hello

Enjoy it 🙂

See more Hellos and Goodbyes in our Flickr gallery.

 

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.

 

Shanghai alumni reception: a message from the Vice-Chancellor

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📥  International

It was a great pleasure to meet so many proud, engaged and enthusiastic Bath graduates at last week’s reception in Shanghai. Our alumni community in China is by far our largest overseas, with nearly 600 alumni in Shanghai alone. As well as having the pleasure of speaking to many locals, I was also really pleased to see how many alumni had travelled hundreds of miles to join in the celebrations, particularly from Beijing. The encouragement to reciprocate was strong, and I will look into the possibilities of visiting soon; it’s great to be in demand!

Vice-Chancellor meets alumni in Shanghai

Meeting graduates on the night

With more than 150 alumni in attendance, it was the biggest alumni event our University has ever held outside of the UK – and hopefully a glimpse of the global scale of celebrations to come as we build up to our 50th anniversary in two years’ time. Certainly the venue was appropriate – the 93rd floor of the World Financial Centre, literally on top of the world, and quite right for a university like ours.

We currently host over 1,000 Chinese students, across all disciplines, on campus but, of course, we have been welcoming students from China since the University received its Royal Charter in 1966. Our alumni in the region are all part of the story of our first 50 years and it was gratifying to hear that so many retain fond and vivid memories of their time at Bath. I confess I was surprised by how many were interested in the marital status of their former lecturers; clearly the impact our academics are having is deep and long-lasting!

The Vice-Chancellor with members of the Shanghai Alumni Chapter

With members of the Shanghai Alumni Chapter

Over the course of the evening I met countless graduates who feel that their connection with the University is strengthening, even though their time on campus is now several years behind them. While I feel this is testament in part to our own alumni engagement activities – from the success of our ‘China Connect’ employability events to more formal occasions such as this one – I think the momentum lies with the tremendous networking efforts of our Chinese alumni themselves.

During the question and answer session, when asked about my ambitions for Bath, I said I wanted our University to be in the top five in the UK. As I write, the Guardian University Guide 2015 has us ranked fourth, which is a record position for this table, so I could hardly ask for more. We are now ranked consistently in the top 10 of UK institutions and our profile is also growing globally – this year we were named one of the 100 most international universities in the world.

These endorsements are vital, but it is important to remember that it is endorsements from our alumni that will also help to ensure our future success. You are our best ambassadors and the Shanghai event last week showed that – please continue your excellent work in spreading the word about your alma mater. We are proud of you, and I hope you are proud of us.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell DBE DL, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bath

See photos from the event on Flickr.