On parade

The University of Bath alumni blog

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.

 

A very special place

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📥  Bath, On campus

Crispin and Formula student car

Crispin (right) chats to a member of the University's Formula Student racing team

Bath is a very special place to me.

So when I received the 2014 Alumni event invitation I immediately made plans to attend. Sure we’d had an informal 20th anniversary get together in Bath for the 1984 Engineering Class. I’d also travelled from my home in Toronto in 2001 to show my wife and daughters the University and city (admittedly with a secret desire that one of them may choose to apply). But, this was the chance to really take in the full university experience over two days of planned activities. Oh, and enjoy a few beers and laughs with old friends.

The Alumni Reunion embodied the University of Bath spirit. Confident, forward thinking, friendly, innovative and striving to make the world a better place. Each scheduled activity celebrated this uniqueness and cemented first hand why the University of Bath ranks #1 in many independent University surveys.

There’s another reason Bath is a very special place to me. Its charm and beauty attracted my wife-to-be in the summer of 1987. A Canadian backpacker traveling in Europe after graduation, Bath was on her must visit list. We met in Tilley’s, and will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year.

Crispin Clarke (BSc Aeronautical Engineering 1984)

 

As the train drew in to Bath Spa station...

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📥  Bath, On campus

As the train drew into Bath Spa station I looked at the beautiful city I had lived in for four years. The sun was shining - it was going to be a great weekend. That evening , dinner and a wander round – oh look! The Green Tree looks the same but there is a bouncer on the door. The Saracen’s Head still looked the same – I met my future husband there. At breakfast the following morning, two more friends from Applied Biology were in the dining rooms – a lovely surprise and the beginning of a growing group- we found two more friends up at the University during the morning and more people found us during the day.

The campus had changed a lot – many more buildings and all the trees! We enjoyed the slide show and kept thinking we recognised people but the images didn’t stay long enough for us to be sure.

After some interesting talks and a lovely lunch we went on the tour of the Science buildings and were disappointed that the South Building does not seem to have had the investment of other parts of the campus. C’mon, Bath, put this right!

Saturday evening, we met up with another year group for a few drinks then had a leisurely meal in one of the many new restaurants – it was wonderful how well we all got on and how much we had to talk about. Sharing memories and thinking of those who were not there, we formed a plan to try and get a much bigger group together, maybe for the 50th celebrations in 2016/17.

Biddy Unsworth (BSC Applied Biology 1974)

 

Could a reunion be inspirational?

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📥  Bath, On campus

Could a reunion be inspirational?

This wasn’t the question at the forefront of my mind as I agreed to attend the University of Bath reunion.

I have been back to the City of Bath numerous times, but have never ventured back to the top of 'the hill'. What would I do and whom would I see? Would I get marched off the premises by security?

So, when I received an invitation to attend a 35th anniversary reunion, the spark was there to see what had changed. Saturday 10th May was the day it all happened.

I arrived later than planned due to the Badminton Horse Trials congestion. Not to worry, as the Alumni Relations team warmly welcomed me. I was quickly able to strike up conversations with ‘strangers’ as we had so much in common.

The buffet lunch enabled us to catch up on old times and the faculty tours brought the memories flooding back. Lecture theatres and exam rooms were all there to re-experience. It was good to see the progress being made with the campus and the educational offerings.

In mid afternoon, there was a lecture on the University, past, present and future. During the following convocation meeting the statement was made – “we are proud of you, and we hope you are proud of us”. You bet!

So, could a reunion be inspirational? For this 35th year alumnus, it certainly was.

Kevin Phillips (BSc Electrical and Electronic Engineering 1979)

 

Day 4: Business time

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📥  International

The final instalment from our Apps Crunch winners:

It was business time.

We’d spent a day looking at the big guys in tech, Facebook and Google. We’d spent a day looking around smaller startups to see how the faster paced but smaller scaled companies work, and now it was time to go to J.P.Morgan and see what the style of a larger bank was.

It was different, to say the least. We went from a day where almost all conversation was about money, where to get it from, how to get it, and how to keep it flowing to a company that could afford to sit back for a bit, see what people were doing and wait out the storm.

“We sometimes have people come in and tell us there’s a problem. ‘What, are we out of money?!’ ‘No?’ ‘So what’s the problem?’”. Being able to afford this kind of thinking allows the company to focus on what it needs to: making sure every single one of their 100 million+ customers and their transactions are processed safely. In a place where a bug that only affects 0.001% of people still affects 1000, in a way that might be devastating to them, they had to have some of the more focused minds working around the clock to be sure everything goes smoothly.

And it was with a group of these detail-oriented minds we were presenting to. You can imagine it was a little nerve-wracking. Still, we were given yet another insight on our product, and though what different companies suggested was sometimes contradictory, it all came down to a simple idea. Honour thy consumer. Knowing what your customers wanted, aligning with them, and marketing to them correctly is the only way to succeed; the product is secondary.

After our high level scrutiny, it was time to head down to the runway, yet another completely different place, full of startups in their infancy, no more than 10 people each, and all working on completely different products. We had 3D-printed open-source drones next to dermatology applications next to people tinkering with their google glasses, all under one roof. Quite the setting for a presentation to Bath alumni.

It was the largest group we had presented to, certainly the largest in one room, but as always we were met with excitement, advice and ideas rather than scrutiny. It was as we were told on the first day, “No matter what your idea is, in Silicon Valley, someone will listen to it.”

Over canapés we found out what other Bath alumni were doing in SiliconValley. Investments, textiles, tech, engineering, it was all there and many business cards were passed around and contacts made. It was great to see so many people with the same connection, and even some of the current interns with jobs out stateside.

Our day ended with some time zooming back and forward on a Boosted Board through the runway, a longboard equipped with an almost unnoticeable motor to zip you along at 20 miles an hour.

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The trip has been life-changing.

The contacts we made, the experiences we had, the stories we’d heard; none of them could have been had anywhere else.

Not many other students aged 19-20 can say they’ve wandered around Facebook and Google, chatted with millionaires and received priceless consultancy time with top businessmen and tech startups. We were filled with ideas from every angle, from marketing to business to product features; and also excitement for the product we’d worked on over only a month, from people with an incredibly strong background. It was awesome to be praised by those in such high positions.

Thanks so much to J.P. Morgan, Enterprise@Bath and the University's Department of Development & Alumni Relations for making it happen.

There really is no other place like Silicon Valley for tech. I hope we’ll all be working our way over there as soon as possible.

 

Day 3: "Coding is easy, people are hard"

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📥  International

More from our Apps Crunch winners in California:

Full on sleep but lacking in breakfast, today was a look at smaller startups and what it was like to work in the city, rather than an offsite campus.

First stop was StumbleUpon, for a chat with the insanely experienced David Marks about strategies for making a startup work. Test test test, fail early and often, and make sure you can make a guerrilla marketing campaign. For the latter, he gave two examples from a friend trying to promote half.com. The first included wandering into a large conference, and replacing all the urinal filters with branded ones; a super cheap way to get people looking at his product. The second was a little more exotic:

1. Convince a town they need a new snow plough.

2. Offer to buy them this snow plough on the condition they rename their town to half.com

$50,000 for a product mention in almost every newspaper in the country. You can’t find these ideas in any marketing book. Free food and drink, large open office spaces, central location, it was surprising to hear that companies in the area were struggling to hire new talent. The news certainly incentivised us further to get across the pond in a more permanent position asap.

Eventbrite was our second stop the day. Having moved in only two days ago, the offices were already up and running and busy, touchscreens displaying the schedule on each door, hammocks for solo hackathons, screens displaying “Did you know…”s about employees; it was a hive of creativity. Again, food and drink was provided free to all employees. This included a modified fridge dispensing alcohol from a tap, but no longer included an application to recognise people’s faces and monitor their alcohol intake for that week (Having online leaderboards was perhaps not the best idea).

None of this was as useful as the insider view of exactly what it takes to go from an idea to acquisition, given by Bath graduates Natalie Downe and Simon Willison. We had a long discussion about needing to learn on the fly, working out what people want, hiding information for press releases, what you should tell the press, right from a couple who had just in the past few years been through the entire process. The 8th-floor view over central San Francisco was certainly an apt backdrop for talk of angel investors and the difficulty of those first 100 users. “Coding is easy, people are hard.”

After a day learning the secrets of making a successful startup, we headed home to iron our shirts and shine our shoes ready for the big pitch to J. P. Morgan (who supported this year's Bath Apps Crunch) in the morning...

 

Day 2: Google. Google Google Google.

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📥  International

The second instalment from Apps Crunch winners Tristan, Ashton and Ryan on their Silicon Valley adventure:

Google. Google Google Google. It was hard to believe we were really driving there; the famous googleplex.

Outside Google HQ

Outside Google HQ

Entering the first building, it was exactly what we expected. We walked around a slide to get to the reception, toyed on their latest chromebook offerings, then changed the lighting system from a tablet mounted to the wall. And this was just while waiting for our guide: Andy Warr.

The campus was not dissimilar to a university's, with mathematics and physics replaced with Chrome and Maps. Transport was simple, brightly coloured bikes greeted us outside of every building, a bridge replacing the zipline which once crossed the stream running through campus (The town Mountain View thought fun was a 'safety hazard'), Larry Page even had an electric scooter to cross the entire floor which made up his office.

Not to mention perks galore for the employees, the almost jaded Andy recounted the at-desk dry cleaning, errand boys for other needs, massages, free food and free bus service as if they were standard across all companies. Infinity pools, tennis court, and T-rex skeleton (“A reminder not to go extinct”) coated with flamingos; the campus was certainly living up to the hype.

After a quick stop at the android building for a photoshoot by the ever famous candy-statues, one put up for each release of the mobile operating system, it was time for us to give our tech talk: Quick internal presentations given whenever an employee or an outsider had something cool they wanted to share. Broadcast live to all google offices, we ran through the idea which allowed us to win the AppsCrunch, and were met with great enthusiasm (“First question, when can I get it?”). It was mentioned that, in Silicon Valley, regardless of the idea you have, someone will listen to it. This was just as true at google, ideas were shared and creativity flowed freely with no fear of a thought being shunned or rejected.

Alas, our time was over at Google, and it was on to Facebook; surrounded by the aptly named ‘Hacker way’.

“Like a movie set” was the first description. “Orlando studios” shortly followed. Outside the building was merely a block of offices, inside was a different world full of food, creativity, food, cutting edge technology, and food. Free barbecues, buffets, ice-cream, brownies, drinks, snacks and more made us begin to think their headquarters might even surpass the perks of Google’s. The arcade and hammocks certainly helped the cause. We even passed Mr. Zuckerberg, pacing back and forward behind a “Do not photograph the animals” sign. “He -hates- getting his picture taken”, we were told.

Instagram, a recent purchase of Facebook, now hidden behind a steampunk chess set, was just as fantastic. Bourbon lined the walls, a tribute to the original name of the application, but the main focus of the area was an entire room built to look sideways, with chairs, keyboard, mouse all bolted down firmly; a definite photoshoot opportunity. (“Did we put this in the risk assessment?”)

At this point, a vending machine selling keyboards and mice struggled to surprise us (I think we were all looking for the right point to leave behind our CVs) and we headed on home to a night of Chinese food, trams, and geocaching in the Golden Gate Park.

 

Day 1: Claverton Down to Silicon Valley

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📥  International

Computer Science students Ryan, Tristan and Ashton won the University's Apps Crunch competition to design an original app. Their prize was a trip to California to meet Bath alumni and other representatives from leading tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Eventbrite and Twitter. They're now halfway through their trip - here's what's happened so far:

We arrived, slightly frazzled, to a house in southern San Francisco. Ringing the doorbell, we were greeted with a "Are we expecting any company tonight?" - An easy joke to play on three students having travelled for 25 hours; 8 hours jetlagged.

The following day more than made up for the few moments of fear. We began with breakfast at Louis’, a diner overlooking the remains of a victorian spa. ("How can an ocean-water spa burn down?"), and an insider tour to the places to be in San Francisco. Golden Gate Bridge, Little Italy, the Castro district, Disney Museum, Chinatown, all still looking quintessentially 50s. The tech influence of Silicon Valley also started to become apparent. Advertisements for cloud computing, headquarters of Eventbrite and Salesforce. We were even told that "This used to be a bad part of town, until Twitter came here".
The afternoon was when the trip started proper, however. Taking the BART down south, our excitement picked up after receiving a text of “I’ll be in the white Porsche”. As promised, we were soon zooming down the wide, and much flatter streets of Millbrae to Anthony Lye’s home, an incredible multi-million dollar mansion, where we met some of his friends, many of whom were entrepreneurs. Of course our questions started along the lines of “So, say I want a mansion in California…” (Though perhaps a bit more subtly worded), but soon quietened down into gossip: Google and Twitter aren’t cool anymore, but are nice if you want to start on six-digit salaries. Startups are where it’s at. Network companies are terrible. Facebook has peaked.
San Francisco seemed to be unquestionably where it’s at for the tech world, and we all got excited at the amazing prospects there. Later that night however, after returning to our hotel and looking around for food, we were reminded very clearly of what we were told earlier. If you do well, San Fran shoots you up. If you do badly, you crash and burn. After the sun went down, the city becomes very different, with many people down on their luck roaming the streets; a stark reminder of how, though tech had changed the city radically, it hadn’t benefitted everyone.
Look out for more posts from the trip soon.