‘Enjoy the journey’: From criminal defence law to inspiring kindness, Zahra Afshar (LLB 2005) shares her eclectic insights

After working as a criminal defence lawyer in London, Zahra Afshar (LLB 2005) is now in-house counsel for her family business, Ahmad Tea. In this role, Zahra works with charitable organisations all over the world as part of Ahmad Tea’s commitment to philanthropy.

As part of the company’s ethos of giving, Ahmad Tea have recently established a fully funded scholarship for a Black medical undergraduate student at the University of Bristol. This initiative complements the University’s recently launched Black Bristol Scholarship programme, which will create 130 scholarships for Black and mixed-Black heritage students over the next four years.

We speak to Zahra about what motivated Ahmad Tea to make this gift, her fascinating career journey and the other ways she gives back to Bristol. 
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The view from here: Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (BSc 2019)

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (BSc 2019) was elected Vice-President (Higher Education) for the National Union of Students last summer. She is the former Undergraduate Education Officer for the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union and a passionate advocate for education. Here, Hillary reflects on how students have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the national student body are responding to these major global issues.

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Travels beneath the earth: University of Bristol Spelaeological Society

Image: Linda Wilson and a team of cavers explore the GB Cave in the Mendip Hills.

The University of Bristol Spelaeological Society (UBSS), founded in 1919, is the longest-running student society at Bristol. As the society celebrated their centenary in 2019, husband-and-wife duo, Bristol alumni and UBSS members Linda Wilson (LLB 1982) and Graham Mullan (1972) reflect on the magic of caving and the significance of alumni and student partnerships for sustaining a society. (more…)

‘We make sense of the world through stories’: Tim Gregory (PhD 2020) on life as a scientist, writer and TV star

Tim Gregory (PhD 2020) is a man of many talents. At any moment you might find him teaching children through BBC Bitesize revision classes, presenting BBC4’s The Sky at Night, or hosting online stargazing events for Bristol alumni.

Since graduating from the University of Bristol last year with a PhD in Cosmochemistry, Tim has worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the British Geological Survey, published his first book Meteorite: The Stones From Outer Space That Made Our World (2020), and started a new job as a nuclear chemist. He’s achieved an astonishing amount, no doubt helped along the way by his infectious enthusiasm and passion for his subject.

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Alumni interview: Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (BSc 2019), Vice President (Higher Education), National Union of Students

Recently elected as Vice President (Higher Education) for the National Union of Students (NUS), Hillary Gyebi-Ababio (BSc 2019) has taken remarkable steps since running as Undergraduate Education Officer for Bristol’s Student Union.

Empowered by her new role and inspired by an increasingly vocal national student body, Hillary shares unique insight into her experience at Bristol, the importance of her role on the Alumni Association Committee, and the integral role she believes alumni have in shaping the University and student experience.

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‘Knowing that there are people willing and generous enough to help me is huge’


Rhea Griffiths, studying Politics and International Relations, tells us about the difference having a Futures Scholarship has made during her first year.

My school’s catchment came predominantly from the council estate where I grew up – there were only 12 of us in my sixth form. I took a year out after A Levels because I needed to work. I’m the oldest of four children and my mum had lost her job so I was helping to pay for rent.

When I said I wanted to go into higher education my mum was sceptical because she always saw it as a huge expense. When I found out I had got the Futures Scholarship it felt like such a relief. The Scholarship funding has helped with my deposit for next year’s rent – I wouldn’t have been able to afford that otherwise. I also enjoy going to public lectures on topics relevant to my course. Some of these are in London so I’ve been able to afford to travel down there so I can attend.

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‘It’s opening so many doors for me, thank you’

Praxciana dos Santos is a first year studying Psychology. Her Futures Scholarship helps her balance her studies with her caring responsibilities.

I’m the oldest of three children. My brother, who’s a year younger than me, has cerebral palsy. Because my mum is a single mum, I like to think I’m kind of a second parental figure for my siblings. My other brother is only 12, so if mum needed someone to be in the house while she took my brother to the doctors then I would usually take on that role. As she’s a full-time carer herself, my mum can’t really have a job, so I used to do waitressing work as well, which meant that if my brothers needed anything they could let me know and I could buy it for them.

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Alumni Interview: Rebecca Hellen (BA 1994), Specialist Advisor for Paintings Conservation at the National Trust

As final-year Bristol students prepare to mark the end of their time at the University through online ‘Summer Celebration’ events, we caught up with Bristol alumna Rebecca Hellen (BA 1994), to reflect on her own time at the University. A graduate of the Faculty of Arts, Rebecca worked as Senior Paintings Conservator at Tate for 18 years, and has recently taken up a new role as Specialist Advisor and Paintings Conservator at the National Trust. She shares her career story and lends some tips for how to stay creative in lockdown.

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World Book Day 2020: Alumni Authors

As part of a special new feature celebrating amazing alumni authors, we explore three recently published books penned by talented Bristol graduates.

From bringing up teenagers in today’s challenging world, to children working in mines and a family saga that plays out on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, these authors present some compelling new narratives for your bookshelf.

How to Grow a Grown Up 2019
Dr Dominique Thompson (MBChB 1995) and Fabienne Vailes

Whether you are supporting a young person struggling with academic pressure, school or university life, or you are curious about what lies ahead for your child, How to Grow a Grown Up will help you to build your child’s confidence and resilience, so they can become a strong, happy and independent adult.

Co-authored by Dr Dominque Thompson (MBChN 1995) and educational expert Fabienne Vailes, How to Grow a Grown Up reveals the ways parents can help teenagers and young adults navigate contemporary pressures. The book gives invaluable insight into the challenges facing this generation of young people – from the all-pervasive nature of social media, to the pressure of constantly living their ‘best lives’. How to Grow a Grown Up offers a refreshing and practical new take on mental health, exploring pastoral care in universities and workplaces and giving advice on how to recognise signs of mental health distress.

Dominique is an award-winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students. She was most recently Director of Service at the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service and was named Bristol Healthcare Professional of the Year in 2017.

Fabienne Vailes is French Language Director at the University of Bristol and is an educational expert who coaches teachers and students of all levels. Fabienne has 20 years experience teaching.

How to Grow a Grown Up is published by Penguin.

Bearmouth 2019
Liz Hyder (BA 2000)

Newt works in Bearmouth, living a life of strict routine and submission as a child worker in the mines. Characterised by oppression and quiet acceptance, Newt’s life changes dramatically when the mysterious Devlin arrives and starts to ask questions.

Written phonetically, Bearmouth is an original exploration of the power of reading, language, creativity and gender amidst a dark and claustrophobic setting, centred on a protagonist who hasn’t seen the light of day since the age of four. As well as examining the issue of child exploitation, this book celebrates the power young people have when they dare to challenge the status quo and is a bold new story for all generations.

I am different see. I am not one thing or the uvver. They call me YouNuck for I am not a boy nor yet a wimmin an they hold no truck for gels down here.

Liz Hyder is a writer, creative workshop leader and freelance arts PR professional. She graduated from the University of Bristol with a BA in Drama in 2000 and worked in BBC publicity for six years. She is on the board of Wales Art Review and is currently Film Programme Coordinator at Hay Festival.

Bearmouth is published by Pushkin Press.

Beautiful Place 2019
Amanthi Harris (BSc 1992, MA 1994)

As a young girl, Padma is sent by her father to live with an elderly Austrian architect, Gerhardt, at Villa Hibiscus on an exquisite patch of Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Growing up in a spectacular tropical landscape, she learns to love her seaside home.

Failing her university exams, Padma decides to open a guesthouse at the villa, introducing her to all sorts of weird and wonderful visitors. Inspired by her new vocation and the friendship and love of her guests, Padma’s world turns upside down when her father, Sunny, arrives to reclaim his daughter.

A novel about leaving and losing home, family, oppression, ambition and the struggle for independence, Beautiful Place uses a global cast of characters to explore the intricate ways individuals and communities build a sense of belonging.

This novel began after a holiday to Sri Lanka some years ago, when I travelled along the south coast, staying in rural guesthouses by the sea. My long restful days were reminiscent of my childhood home. I was keen to explore ideas of community, family and belonging, and to reflect on how friendship can arise among strangers.

Amanthi Harris was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Colombo. A student of Chemistry and Law at the University of Bristol, Amanthi then studied Fine Art at Central St Martins and has since practised as an artist and author, living and working between the UK and Spain. She won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions award in 2016 with her novella Lantern Evening and has recently completed a book tour in India to celebrate the publishing of Beautiful Place.

Beautiful Place is published by Salt Publishing (UK) and Pan MacMillan India (India and Sri Lanka).

Be a part of our photo wall with #BristolAlumniForum

Our upcoming Alumni Forum on Friday 24 April 2020 is a fun conference-style event that celebrates all things Bristol and gets alumni involved in the conversation.

This year it’s taking place in Bristol… long way, huh?! If you can’t make it, we’re asking our international alumni to join this special project to help bring the Alumni Forum to life. We’ll display photos of our alumni from around the world on the day so that a part of you can be with us in person, and so that Bristol’s global reach and impact is proudly on show.

To take part
Ask a friend to take a photo of you, or send us a selfie, with something ‘Bristol’ – a colour, a piece of clothing or something that reminds you of your university city AND a word that best describes your Bristol experience.

Send your photo, along with your name and degree information, to alumni@bristol.ac.uk or use #BristolAlumniForum to share your photo on Twitter.

Not sure what we mean? See the photo of our Engagement Officer and Bristol graduate, Ann O’Malley (BSc 2013) above. We look forward to seeing your smiling faces!

If you are able to join us, you can book your place at the Alumni Forum here.

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