Become a Bristol Volunteer: Current Opportunities

At the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) we work with departments across the University to match alumni volunteers with relevant and rewarding opportunities. There are so many different ways to get involved as a Bristol Volunteer and all of them make a huge difference to our community. Whether you give your time or expertise, you’ll be helping to enrich the lives of students and graduates alike.

We’ve rounded up some of our volunteering opportunities below so that you can find the programme that suits you.


Bristol Connects: Share your Bristol experience as a Career Expert

Bristol Connects is an exclusive, online space for alumni, which enables you to connect digitally with your alumni community. The Bristol Connects community is growing all the time, especially now as communicating and connecting online are becoming so important in our daily lives.

We are looking for alumni to sign-up as Career Experts and lend their experience and knowledge to our current students. Share your career insights and advice to support students in their studies and careers.

Simply:

  1. Register for Bristol Connects
  2. Update your details – download our guide to getting started on Bristol Connects 
  3. Activate your Career Expert profile so that students can access your details and contact you for advice

If you would like to find out more information about becoming a Career Expert, please contact the Volunteers team at alumni-volunteers@bristol.ac.uk.


Bristol Mentors applications are open

We are now accepting applications for Bristol Mentors 2020/21. Becoming a mentor is a great opportunity to share your valuable career insight and help students from underrepresented backgrounds reach their goals. Our alumni mentors support students for a couple of hours per month from October to June.

To apply, please complete the Bristol Mentors application form. For more information about the Bristol Mentors programme, please get in touch with the Bristol Volunteers team at alumni-volunteers@bristol.ac.uk.


Connect with alumni groups and networks 

Working in partnership with the University, we have alumni networks, professional groups, Halls Associations, sports groups and groups in many places around the world. These groups help members to gain new social and professional contacts, benefit from advice and expertise and gain access to exclusive activities.

To find out how you can connect with our groups, or for more information about starting a network, please contact the Bristol Volunteers team at alumni-volunteers@bristol.ac.uk.

Join the Midlands Branch

The Midlands Branch is looking for alumni based in the area to join as members.

The branch enables Midlands based alumni to connect with one another, meet locally and keep in touch with the alumni community and the University. The branch organises events and activities throughout the year to keep its alumni community connected.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a member, please contact Tim Drakeford at timdrakeford@btinternet.com.


To keep up to date with our latest volunteering opportunities sign-up to Bristol Volunteers digest, or explore our ongoing volunteering opportunities online.

COVID-19 appeal launched to overwhelming support from alumni

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, a group of researchers at the University of Bristol has united to collaborate on finding ways to overcome the disease. An appeal for funding to support this work has been met with fantastic support from alumni.

The University’s COVID-19 Emergency Research Group (UNCOVER) are addressing a wide range of areas as a priority, which are explained in great detail on our main website.

In particular, Dr David Matthews and Dr Andrew Davidson, who have been working on the human coronavirus since 2002, have mobilised their teams to scale up their research. Their work on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is focused on understanding the pathogenesis of the virus. Their work is taking place in Bristol in one of only two specialist university labs in the whole of the UK and is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, alumni donations have procured critical equipment and resources, including a new incubator for Drs Matthews and Davidson’s laboratory. Additionally, donations have funded the preparation of another high-security laboratory, suitable for handling SARS-CoV-2, to allow the expansion of this fundamental research. And alumni have matched the funding offered by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, enabling research into testing and vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers around the University are now looking to quickly scale up our research on COVID-19, which includes: growing the capacity of our secure laboratories and providing our researchers with the equipment they need; early tests on vaccines that could be capable of combatting the virus; and tapping into our unique ‘Children of the 90s’ cohort to track the factors that impact susceptibility to infection and understand the true frequency of infection.

So far hundreds of alumni have donated to this vital research and for this we say a resounding thank you. We know that unfortunately many of our alumni are facing financial hardship as a result of this pandemic, but for anyone who may be able to support the research you can read more and donate online.

Bristol medical students lead the way on nutrition for health benefits

Ally Jaffee and Iain Broadley founded the Community Interest Company (CIC) Nutritank in 2017 while studying Medicine at Bristol. Jaffee is currently in her fourth year and Broadley is a member of the cohort who have graduated early [April 2020 instead of July 2020] in order to quickly support the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis.

Described as ‘an innovative, informative hub for food, nutrition and lifestyle medicine’ Nutritank is a one-stop shop for students of medicine, current medical practitioners and anyone interested in food for health. In a world where many widespread conditions such as heart disease and diabetes have contributory dietary factors, the founders are passionate about advocating healthy eating for all, promoted by those working in the health sector.

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Bristol Voices launched to support students through COVID-19

The first wave of Bristol alumni and staff have already volunteered to support remotely – via phone or messaging services – current students affected by social distancing as a result of COVID-19, through our just-launched Bristol Voices programme.

The University is home to many students and this is a particularly difficult time for them. Whilst the University has comprehensive support available, a lack of regular contact with friends, colleagues and classmates can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Bristol Voices is our response to supporting students during this uncertain time. Through Bristol Voices, we are connecting students remaining in Bristol with a dedicated member of the Bristol community for enhanced, one-on-one interaction to support their social wellbeing. Bristol Voices is a collaboration between the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) and the Student Services team and is part of the University’s wider response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The University of Bristol already has a dedicated support system in place with free services for all students. Bristol Voices is an additional programme established with our alumni community in mind, to offer extra, informal social support for our students during COVID-19.

Our volunteers have a wide range of experience and backgrounds, and knowledge of student life at Bristol. We have alumni signed up to volunteer who studied an array of subjects and work in many different fields, including teachers, managers and researchers. But what they all have in common is a willingness to help and lend an ear to these students who may currently be struggling with social isolation.

We are very appreciative of the alumni who have put themselves forward during these difficult circumstances, and we welcome them joining the hundreds of volunteers we currently work with across a wide range of programmes.

Read more about alumni volunteering opportunities.

Alumni interview: Ai Ching Goh, Piktochart Co-Founder

Co-founded by Malaysian-born Ai Ching Goh (BSc 2008), Piktochart is a visual communication tool that allows users to create infographics, posters and more – without the need for design experience.

Ai Ching Goh launched the start-up alongside her partner, Andrea Zaggia, a few years after graduating from the University of Bristol with a degree in Experimental Psychology. Since then the business has seen tremendous growth and is now used by more than 20 million people worldwide.

Last month, Ai Ching Goh was recognised for her achievements when she won the entrepreneurial category of the prestigious 2020 British Council Alumni Awards. Here she talks about her time in Bristol and her path to entrepreneurial success.

Congratulations on your recent award! How did it feel to be recognised for your entrepreneurial achievements?
Very unexpected. So grateful! I never thought that my journey as a student at Bristol would have led to this.

You co-founded Piktochart with your partner, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Ten years ago, it was the golden age of click through rates – meaning adverts at that time received a far higher number of clicks per view than they do now. As time went on it was becoming increasingly apparent that companies would have to ‘pull’ their customers to them through interesting and valuable content. We predicted that this trend was only going to get more visual, which is why we started focusing on infographics. They really help to communicate complex information that otherwise would not be as easily understood. That’s how we got started with Piktochart!

We believe that effective, great communication is essential to every business. Every role (not just the CEO, HR or PR person) needs to be really good at it. It helps the company to represent itself in a very clear way to its customers and stakeholders and expand efficiently by being one single cohesive unit.

You’re passionate about creating a positive working culture at Piktochart. Can you tell us a bit more about why this is so important to you?
The first company I joined after graduating was a big corporate. I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed – ready to take on the world. I was sure I was going to make a great impact. But instead, I learnt a series of lessons that would forever change my point of view about ‘work’.

I was hired as an Associate Media Manager, managing a $14M portfolio of radio, TV, magazine and newspaper expenditure and often networking with the celebrities of Malaysia. It was a glamorous job, but I encountered difficulties in the workplace. I became quieter and more lacking in confidence until I withdrew into my tortoise shell. I had a lot of ideas, but I worried so much about whether I sounded stupid that I just stopped asking, stopped doing and tried to guess what was wanted from me.

I was so affected that every weekend, come Sunday, I would start crying because on Monday I had to go to work. I was only in my 20s but I was so burnt out and stressed that eventually my physical health took a toll and I was hospitalised. It took me three months of resting to get better. I spent my days with my iPad, reading about life and thinking about what kind of future I wanted for myself. The biggest thing I learned was that I couldn’t work in an environment like that again.

When it comes to the workplace, you’ve got to get the people and culture right. You can build a successful and enduring corporate business, but if the employees are crying on their Sundays, it’s not a business that I want to be part of.

Example of a Piktochart Instagram template

How do you find balance outside of your working life? What do you do to wind down?
I spend time with my daughter and at the moment there’s very little winding down! My daughter, who is almost three, is a ball of energy. Her nicknames are ‘tornado’ and ‘earthquake’. So as you can imagine, I usually feel like I’m working harder over the weekends – but no complaints! She’s been one of the best things that has happened to my husband and myself. We love cooking, going to the parks, exploring and trying new things, reading the bible, singing.

What kind of student were you?
I was outgoing, took on multiple part time roles, I didn’t do very well in my studies during the first and second years but caught up in the final year. I spent a lot of my time in AIESEC, mingling with the Europeans, and checked out a lot of bars when I was there.

Where was your favourite place to spend time in Bristol and why?
Clifton Hill. I had multiple favourite places but I think this one would top it all. It’s such a pretty place to go for a walk, especially because of its quaint little shops. I also loved the farmers’ market, whenever they had one on!

How did studying at the University impact you as a person?
It made me think more critically which came in handy for writing essays etc. Apart from that, it constantly forced me out of my comfort zone. I took on multiple roles in AIESEC, travelled for conferences and built some of my most enduring friendships. I also was part of the Telethon team at the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO). I had to survive not being at home for more than three years, but all of it really shaped me to be someone who dared to take chances.

What advice would you give to Bristol students who might be hoping to start their own businesses?
I think that work experience is important. However, if you’ve been entrepreneurial throughout your life, then find a way to quickly validate your ideas and fail fast. The path of an entrepreneur is filled with failures and you would be wise to find ways to “shortcut” it, for example by learning from books, by getting a mentor, by building prototypes and not being afraid to fail.

Alumni interview: Sam Rowley, Wildlife Photographer

For many of us, choosing what we want to be when we ‘grow up’ can be a life-long mission, but not for Bristol alumnus, Sam Rowley (Bsc Biology 2016). Since the age of ten he’s known exactly what he wants to do: travel the globe capturing some of the world’s most beautiful animals on film.

Now, Sam works for the BBC’s Natural History Unit and since graduation he’s photographed and filmed animals in countries such as Ethiopia, Madagascar and India. But his most recent achievement took place much closer to home, when Sam won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Lumix People’s Choice Award for his depiction of mice fighting on a London tube station platform.

We caught up with him to chat about his recent win, Bristol wildlife and top tips for aspiring photographers.

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Your University’s reponse to COVID-19: a message from Professor Hugh Brady

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol, has a message for all our alumni and friends.

The impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt profoundly around the world. Today, I would like to update you on how Bristol is protecting its global community of staff, students and alumni. I also want to share with you how, with the support of our alumni community, our researchers are working to understand COVID-19, and combat this pandemic.

Caring for students and staff

Last week, in common with many UK universities, we took the difficult decision to end our Easter term early. This should play a part in reducing the speed of COVID-19 transmission, and it gives our academic community time to prepare for a full transition to online learning and assessment for our students from the start of next term.

We are acutely aware that for many students, this decision poses significant challenges. For some, returning home or leaving campus is not an option, while for others, learning online next term will only be possible with access to the University’s computers and internet. As many of you will already know, a lack of regular contact with friends, colleagues and classmates can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.

The University remains open, with core facilities, staff support and regular communications available to students and staff who need them. Our Student Hardship Fund, to which alumni have generously given in the past, will be used to provide financial support to all students that need it in these unprecedented times.

Alumni events

This week, we also made the decision to postpone our programme of alumni events for the remainder of the academic year. Again, this decision was not easy for the University: our alumni events are some of the highlights of our calendar. But as with the decisions we have made to protect the wellbeing of our students and staff, so with these and other University events we are following the latest advice from the UK Government to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Staying connected

During these times, when many of us will be using digital tools to communicate and interact more than ever before, I would encourage you to join us on Bristol Connects. If you haven’t yet set up your account for this online Bristol community, it’s quick and simple to do so. Within the space, you can connect with other Bristol graduates and current students, either to offer or benefit from careers advice; find old friends; and make new connections in your professional sector or area of the world.

Bristol’s fundamental research into COVID-19

I’d like to close by highlighting some of the critical research into COVID-19 that is taking place at the University of Bristol, and the impact that your generous support is already having on this work.

Dr David Matthews and Dr Andrew Davidson of the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine are one of just two University research teams in the UK who are working with Public Health England to grow SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. You may have seen the work of their team covered recently by the BBC on Newsnight on 5 March. Their work to understand the pathogenesis of the virus – how it causes disease, and how it interacts with our bodies – is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to gifts from Bristol’s alumni community, we have been able to provide immediate funding for a new incubator for Drs Matthews and Davidson’s research. In addition, your generosity has enabled the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, based at Bristol, to act rapidly in providing funding for new research into COVID-19 that is taking place across the University.

Supporting our research and students

We are so grateful to count on the support of our alumni for this critical work. If you would like to donate to our research on COVID-19, or indeed to help students experiencing the financial impact of the pandemic, you can do so by donating online, or by contacting Rob Grimes in the Development and Alumni Relations Office.

Here at Bristol, we are thinking of you all as you and your families face this unprecedented challenge. I know that you will also be thinking of the friends that you made during your time here at the University. Please keep in touch with us and with each other, and I look forward very much to seeing you in the future.

Why I’m running the London Marathon in support of student mental health

This April, third year History student, Bethany Marris, will be taking on the London Marathon in support of the University’s Healthy Minds programme. Here, she talks about her marathon journey and explains why she was inspired to raise funds for student mental health.

Bethany (right) with her friend Katie (left) after last year’s Bristol 10k

“I’m from Yorkshire and where I live it’s very, very flat,” said Bethany, “so training for the marathon with Bristol’s hills has been interesting! I really like running around the Downs up in Clifton. They’re not too far out of the city and you don’t have to dodge past lots of other runners when you’re out there, although there’s still a big hill to conquer before you reach them!”

22-year-old Bethany from Hull took up middle distance running as a teenager – a hobby which became even more important to her when she began studying at the University of Bristol.

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In celebration of our fantastic Bristol scholars

On Tuesday 25 February the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) hosted our inaugural Scholarship Celebration in the Great Hall of Wills Memorial Building.

The event brought together students who have benefitted from scholarships with some of the donors who made it possible. Celebrating with our students and donors was a poignant reminder of the significant impact scholarships have on our whole University community, as well as the individuals who receive them.

My story is one of the many lives you have touched and on behalf of all the scholars, we are eternally grateful – Omolola Funsho

Omolola Funsho, spoke about how receiving the Futures Scholarship eliminated her financial worries in her first year of studying Physiological Science:

It has also allowed me to completely immerse myself in university life. I have made many friends from different backgrounds, courses and walks of life. I’ve joined the African and Caribbean Society, I joined a dance class, I’ve joined the Neuroscience and PhysPharm Societies and I’ve been able to attend many talks led by professors at the University, quiz nights and Christmas balls.

Thanks to the scholarship, Omolola has been able to focus on her studies (rather than working multiple part-time jobs to support herself), join societies and purchase a laptop which has allowed her to study flexibly.

James Watts, whose PhD scholarship was funded in honour of Dr Ian Keil, an alumnus who had also benefitted from a studentship in the 1950s, also spoke about the difference a scholarship makes.

The support of Dr Keil’s family, given in his honour, has enabled James to further his career by supporting his research in an area where funding is scarce. If you’d like to find out more about our scholarship and PhD programmes, you can read about some of them in our latest impact report.

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).