From undergraduate to alum: A Bristol story

Helen celebrates her graduation with a smile, as she stands outside the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, dressed in her cap and gown.

Recent graduate Helen (BA 2023) took on a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Summer Internship, working in the University of Bristol’s Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO). We caught up with her to hear about her internship experience, how she feels transitioning from graduate to alum, and her advice for current students.

In the last few weeks, you’ve transitioned from undergraduate to graduate – congratulations! How does it feel to be a Bristol alumna?
It feels really surreal to be a graduate after studying for so long. I actually completed Access to Bristol – a scheme to help local students get a feel for what it’s like to study at the University of Bristol – in year 12, so this is something I’ve been working towards for a while! Another reason it feels strange is that I’m starting my master’s in History here in September, so I still feel like a student!

However, it feels great to be an alumni as well. Being at Bristol has broadened my horizons and shown me just how global university life can be – I’ve made friends with so many people from different walks of life. This has been particularly emphasised since becoming an alum, as some of my friends and peers who were international students have returned to their home countries, and the physical distance between us is now so much bigger.

It’s also been interesting going on LinkedIn and seeing everyone post about graduating – it has made me realise just how many of us there are!

Over the summer, you’ve been working as a CASE Intern in the alumni office at Bristol. How has that experience been for you?
I’ve really loved working with DARO throughout the summer! It’s been a massively rewarding programme, and getting to work across all the different sectors of the alumni engagement office has been really interesting. I’ve been involved in a range of great projects which have felt tangibly impactful, something I think can be a struggle to find in an internship. Primarily I’ve been working to curate a series of ‘Throwback Thursday’ posts for social media, using the University’s Special Collections archive, something I’ve really enjoyed as a history student! One of my favourite projects has been working with my fellow intern Jordan to research the potential for creating a podcast which could feature notable alumni providing their advice to Bristol students on the mentors programme.

I’ve also worked alongside the Volunteers, Trusts and Foundations, Fundraising, Legacies, and Operations teams. The programme has been great for me as a transition between student and graduate life, giving me experience of working in an office environment on a 9 to 5 basis. The entire experience has been incredibly worthwhile, and I feel like I am now hugely knowledgeable about how alumni relations works – something I didn’t know anything about before!

What are some of the key things you’ve learned about the alumni community during your internship?
There’s such a long list of things I’ve learned. Having met several notable alumni, and hearing about many more, I feel as though I know the alumni community incredibly well now. There are many who I would love to reach out to, to hear about their experiences, as many of them have lead such fascinating lives! A key realisation for me has been that alumni don’t just donate money in their Wills or via telethons, but also volunteer their time, often contributing to talks and mentorship programmes. I’ve also learned about the huge amount of history that’s contained within the University’s walls. I’d definitely encourage anybody to visit Special Collections or follow the alumni Facebook page to see some of the things I found and that the archivists showed me.

I never really knew about the Bristol Mentors Programme before now, and it is something I really wish I’d done when I was an undergraduate. DARO’s work to pair you with an alum who is an expert in their field is definitely an invaluable resource and one I’d suggest undergraduates apply for.

The access alumni can gain to the University after graduating was also something I’m really glad I now know about, because I think it’s incredibly useful when navigating the working world. All alumni have access to careers support for three years after graduating, as well as access to libraries and online journals. It’s definitely something I will be using after I finish my master’s!

I think my key take home message would be that even though alumni may leave Bristol, they are still key members of the University community. The internship has emphasised to me the importance of keeping in touch, not only because of the benefits you can receive, but also because of how important it is to support the next generation of students.

What advice would you give students going into their final year, as they prepare to become Bristol alum in 2024?
I’d suggest using the Careers Service early on to look at grad schemes and internships – this will make your decisions a lot less stressful and mean you know how to use the system once you leave. I would also join Bristol Connects, to stay in touch with your peers and keep in contact with the University after you’ve finished – I’ll definitely be joining!

What are your next steps?
For now, my next steps are going to be focusing on my History MA and working out what I want my career path to be after graduating. I really loved my time working with the Trusts and Foundations team, and I’m keen to explore opportunities in this field.

Look out for your monthly Recent Grads e-newsletter, and remember you can access the University of Bristol’s Careers Service for up to three years after you graduate. Find more inspirational stories from Bristol graduates on the Alumni Blog, and in Nonesuch, your alumni magazine.

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