Abisola Barber, Global Chief Operating Officer at Barclays Investment Bank

This month we hear from York alum Abisola Barber. She tells us about her career in finance and her advocacy work for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Can you tell us a bit about what you studied at York and your time at the university?

I attended York from 2010-2013, studying my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE). I thoroughly enjoyed the course at York, as it gave the option to explore interdisciplinary modules in our final year and carve out our own unique PPE degree with the selected modules.

York had a strong ethos of volunteering and encouraging students to get involved in all things extra-curricular – ideal for my personality! I was elected Sports Representative for my college, Vanbrugh; and later represented it on the YorkSport Committee. I also played netball for the university, and was heavily involved in the Dance and Fusion societies. In my final year, I was elected Chair of All Performance Societies – a fantastic opportunity to be fully immersed in what York had to offer.

We love reminiscing about years gone by at York – what are your fondest memories of your time here?

Whilst I have many fond memories from my time at York, I have to highlight my involvement in the Fusion shows and the Dance Society competitions. These were a true melting pot of creativity, vision and passion; and we raised significant funds for charity over the years.

After leaving university, how did you make the move into the finance industry? What did the early stages of your career look like?

Prior to joining York, I was fortunate enough to have accumulated work experience at a range of financial institutions – this gave me a great insight into what was to come, and assisted my decision making regarding where I wanted to be. I completed a summer internship at the end of my third year, before heading off to study for my Master’s degree. Through my internship, I was able to explore the different teams and departments on offer; find out what I did (or did not) like, and again refine my options. After a successful performance in my internship, I was then offered a position on the graduate scheme, which I completed following my Masters, and have continued to grow and rise through the ranks since.

Is your career path as you originally intended? What challenges did you face in launching your career?

When I was much younger, I had initially wanted to be either an accountant or a politician! It was during my A-Levels as the global financial crisis was wreaking havoc in the world around me that my interest in financial services peaked. Particularly on internships and graduate scheme placements, one is offered the opportunity to rotate roles. This was really beneficial to me, as I then discovered new functions and businesses within the bank that I previously was not aware of. I could then pitch myself for more opportunities, and I was not being restricted to my limited knowledge of what was available.

Launching any career can come with its challenges, and global internships and graduate schemes are rife with competition. Finding one’s feet and establishing themselves as a strong, dedicated and accomplished worker may take some time. The environments are also totally unfamiliar to anywhere previously experienced, and you enter a role completely ‘green’ and must learn on the spot. That proved an initial hurdle to become accustomed to – but actually is one that doesn’t ever disappear! Any new role may seem like a baptism of fire at times, but you simple have to roll up your sleeves and get involved!

What is your current role and what does a typical day look like?

Currently, I work as a Global Chief Operating Officer / Business Manager for two bespoke trading desks in the markets division of Barclays Investment Bank. My desks are based across Singapore, Hong Kong, India, London, Dublin and New York; and given their unique positioning in risks and products managed, it is fair to say no two days are the same! My days can include meetings with my traders and desk heads to understand market colour and what is going on; to planning with technology on new system developments; to drawing up and presenting plans on a new product that the desk is keen to trade. I really enjoy the variety and exposure this role provides, it keeps me highly engaged!

What would you say are the best, and most challenging parts of your job?

One of the best (but also most challenging) aspects of my role is the global nature. I get to work alongside people from all different backgrounds and cultures, which makes the work more enjoyable. However, it can at times be challenging to have a very early start or late finish (or both!).

You have done a huge amount of advocacy and research into the area of diversity and inclusion and breaking down barriers in the workplace. Can you tell us a bit about your work in this area?

I have always been exceptionally passionate about ensuring the decision-making table is inclusive, and considers the voices of those it is due to represent. Since the age of 11, I have been representing and advocating for the views of children and young people – initially across my constituency, then at a County level having been elected onto Local Government boards, then at a national level. Particularly within financial services, the industry has long been synonymous with the ‘Pale, Male and Stale’ rhetoric; but more than that, the diversity and representation of black men and women has been shockingly poor – especially at senior management level. I am driven to change that, and ensure that everybody feels the industry is one where they are both accepted and can succeed; and no barriers on the basis of their skin colour or gender will be a preventative. I have chaired race and gender networks within my workplace, and host a number of mentoring and coaching session particularly for young people in their early careers interested in Financial Services. My work also extends to universities and external organisations, where I deliver lectures and host round table discussions on how to drive change. There is much to be done but I am excited for what is to come.

What would be your advice to anyone who feels they have hit a ‘glass ceiling’ in their career?

At times, it may feel as if one has reached or is hitting a glass ceiling: an intangible yet unbreachable barrier to advancement. That can indeed be difficult to navigate. I am a strong advocate for mentoring, which helps to offer a sounding board and often open doors for other chains of thought or potential choices of action. In addition, setting clear and measurable objectives and ensuring these are well known helps remove any uncertainty when deliverables are met. In that way, it also helps to shine a light on whether any unjust or unfair means are at play to prevent further advancement.

What would be your 3 top tips for alumni looking to have a career in finance?

  1. Be confident in your abilities. Channel your energies into supporting and developing yourself, putting yourself forward for opportunities, and speaking out.
  2. It is okay to not know what you want to do. We hear of 5-year, 10-year and 15-year plans, and idealised goals to achieve by certain ages. Often, life does not provide us with all the answers and opportunities when we want them; get comfortable with forging your way and learning what you do enjoy (as well as what you don’t enjoy).
  3. Own your personal brand, and own it early. Many professionals do not start to consider what their personal brand says until it may be too late. Remember that people are Googling you at every step of your career – from applying to universities to entry-level roles, and even when you look for senior roles. Have a strong, consistent message that is true to your values.

And finally – working in the finance industry must be very demanding – what do you like to do in your spare time to unwind?

Before the pandemic, I rarely spent evenings or weekends at home – I was often at a speaking or networking event, or attending gym classes or playing netball. Whilst it was indeed tricky at first, I have enjoyed learning new ways to unwind and relax. I’m fortunate to have the space to exercise in my home, and I (like many) have tried my hand at baking – I’m told I make a delicious lemon drizzle cake!

Supporting refugees in crisis

This month we hear from York alum Philip Worthington, Managing Director of European Lawyers in Lesvos. He shares the story of his work in Lesvos, Greece, where he has helped provide legal assistance to over 11,000 refugees on the Greek Islands.

I studied History (BA) at York from 2003 to 2006 and then qualified as a lawyer, working in a law firm in London from 2010 to 2016. In January 2016, I travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos, where I initially worked with refugees as a volunteer, and later founded the charity “European Lawyers in Lesvos” (ELIL). Our work is based on belief in the overriding critical importance of upholding the rule of law and defending human rights by providing meaningful access to free, independent legal assistance.

The Context: Refugees in Greece

In March 2016, the EU-Turkey deal created a legal crisis which, over the past five years, has stranded tens of thousands of people on the Greek Aegean islands whilst their claims for asylum are processed. They live in camps and reception centers in terrible conditions and with limited access to basic services. These facilities are almost always critically over capacity. Last year alone, over 74,600 people, the vast majority of whom fled Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, arrived in Greece after making the dangerous sea crossing in search of safety.

When refugees arrive on one of the Greek islands, they apply for asylum. The right to asylum is enshrined in international, EU and domestic law and the asylum process – which determines whether a refugee will be allowed to stay in Greece or be returned – is a legal one. However, there is no state-provided legal aid available for people before their decisive asylum interview, meaning that most attend without having spoken to a lawyer. The only way someone can receive legal assistance at this stage is through one of the very few NGOs on the islands. On Lesvos, there are only around 25 lawyers to assist over 10,000 people.

The already dire situation has deteriorated over the past months. Covid-19 outbreaks have restricted access to vital services and the fire that destroyed Moria camp (and ELIL’s offices) on Lesvos in September has resulted in the relocation of almost 10,000 refugees to a temporary new camp on the island.

Moria Camp, Lesvos

European Lawyers in Lesvos (ELIL)

The establishment of ELIL was motivated by two key beliefs. First, that meaningful access to legal assistance is a fundamental right. Secondly, that the situation in Greece is not just a Greek issue, but a European one. ELIL was set up in order to enable European asylum lawyers to volunteer on Lesvos and Samos and, working with ELIL’s Greek lawyers, provide legal assistance to refugees on the islands. Its creation represents the first time that lawyers from across Europe volunteer in another European member state in response to a humanitarian situation.  

Our main activity is the provision of one-on-one legal consultations to prepare refugees for their asylum interview, offering legal information, practical support and tailored advice at this crucial stage of the process. We also provide legal assistance in relation to family reunification applications. In addition to this, we provide support to unaccompanied children, particularly those incorrectly registered as adults. We have assisted over 650 unaccompanied children since 2016, but the need remains great – earlier this year, there were almost 1,100 unaccompanied children in Moria alone. This work focuses on family reunification and challenging incorrect age assessments, with our team also assisting children with asylum interview preparation where relevant.

My role is to manage the organisation as a whole, which involves organizing our teams in Lesvos and Samos, overseeing our day to day work and coordinating with our partners in Greece and across Europe. It also includes determining our strategy and areas for advocacy/awareness-raising (this year we have focused on pressing European governments to relocate unaccompanied children from the camps) and representing ELIL at events and meetings.

In summer 2020, after four years of successful work on Lesvos, ELIL extended its operations to the island of Samos, where 5,000 people live in Vathy camp, which has an official capacity of just 650. Our new project will contribute to considerably increasing the legal capacity on the island.

Along with in-person assistance, in recent months our volunteer lawyers from across Europe have also begun to provide consultations remotely from home due to Covid-19, ensuring that we are able to support as many people as possible despite lockdown restrictions and challenges to legal access.

ELIL team outside their offices in Lesvos

An Enduring Need

My motivation for establishing ELIL was to use my skills, knowledge and experience to help people. As a lawyer, I knew that access to legal assistance can be decisive to the outcome of a case. Nowhere is that more profoundly apparent than in the asylum process, where the support of a lawyer can make the difference between someone being granted protection or being returned to face the threat of persecution, war or even death.  

Our work demonstrates how important access to legal assistance can be for refugees. Of those we have assisted, 74.5% have been granted asylum (compared to an average of 46.5% in Greece). We have also helped over 1,500 people, including almost 900 children, be reunited with family members elsewhere in Europe.

ELIL’s legal assistance can be decisive. For example, in late 2019, an unaccompanied child was registered as an adult upon arrival to Lesvos and placed in detention. We liaised with the police and the Greek Asylum service, accompanied the child to their interview and obtained a postponement and a referral for age assessment. We then submitted objections against detention at court. The child was subsequently released from detention and moved to the children’s section of camp:

“I was so happy the day I was released [from detention] and taken to the children’s section [in the camp]. For me, this was the moment I knew that I was in Europe. I believe that my lawyer really helped me and cared for my life – they were there to advise me whenever I needed help. I really appreciated their support, and that of the whole organisation. I was lucky to have a lawyer. Many children don’t have one and they are confused and don’t know what to do.”

Legal support for family reunification applications can also be crucial. We assisted Ahmed, from Syria, who arrived on Lesvos in 2019 and has been on the island for over a year. With ELIL’s support, his family reunification application has been approved and he will soon join his wife in France, who he last saw over a year and a half ago:

“If a person is ill, they must go to a doctor. If a person has a legal problem, they have to choose someone who has this qualification, as is the case for European Lawyers in Lesvos. They gave me back hope when I was losing my hope. I thought I would never be reunited with my wife again. When I received the news [that I would be reunited with my wife], my wife’s and my own feeling were indescribable – like being born again.”

The past year has brought many challenges that have eroded access to legal support, which has been exacerbated by the implementation of an increasingly strict asylum framework in Greece. In this context, protecting human rights, upholding the rule of law and guaranteeing meaningful access to legal assistance is more important than ever.

For further information and to support ELIL, please visit www.europeanlawyersinlesvos.eu

To learn about the University of York’s support for asylum seeking students, visit york.ac.uk/york-unlimited/our-priorities/student-to-shine/eas/

Job hunting in a global pandemic

This month, we spoke to Tom Lovell, a York alum who has enjoyed a long and successful career at Reed Recruitment. He spoke to us about forging a career during this challenging time and reflects on how to improve your chance of securing that all important job.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you studied at York

I was at York from 1989 – 1992 and studied Politics & Philosophy.  It was a much smaller university back then, just over 3,000 students.  I was in Wentworth College.

Tell us about the career path you took when you graduated

Immediately after graduation I worked for a while as a painter/decorator and then in charity shops before I went travelling with my wife to be for six months.  On returning from my travels I wanted to knuckle down to something more career-focussed and secured a graduate training role with Reed, the largest family run recruitment organisation in the world.  I worked for two years for Ethiopiaid, a Reed founded charity where we funded and supported food, health and education charities in and around Addis Ababa before moving on to set up the graduate recruitment business. 

Moving from charity to recruitment may sound like a bit of a leap, however I discovered that there were a lot of transferable skills, particularly around communications, analysis and marketing.  The graduate recruitment role was great fun, working with universities and graduate employers all over the country and the innovative digital approach we took helped Reed move into online recruitment and to set up reed.co.uk.  After that I had a great variety of roles, ranging from working in prisons setting up work and education programmes designed to reduce reoffending, to setting up teacher recruitment partnerships with local authorities.  I always seek opportunities to help people/customers in any in new role and held numerous different jobs as I progressed through the business to become Global Managing Director. 

The COVID-19 crisis is going to present challenges for graduates and those job hunting. How do you see the next 6-12 months panning out and what sectors do you think will thrive and which may struggle?

The uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 is certainly providing challenges to future planning for organisations across nearly all sectors.  Where I see the greatest opportunities are in the Health and Technology sectors.  I think that demand for Professional Services, Management Consultancy, Legal and Accountancy will mean that there will still be high volumes of good entry opportunities across these sectors as well as across the Public Sector, in Education, Local and Central Government.  The hardest hit sectors are already well reported and include Leisure, Tourism and Retail. 

As we are going through a time of unprecedented change there will undoubtedly be new up and coming organisations that offer innovative solutions to the challenges we are currently facing in society, many of these will be relatively immature both as businesses and as graduate recruiters, and my view is that there will be some great opportunities to get in at the ground floor with these organisations.  These opportunities may not be easy to find, but well worth looking out for.

During your career, you will have worked through tough times and recessions. What do you think current graduates and those forging their career now can learn from those times?

I graduated during a recession and have certainly experienced tough times.  What I have learned from this is that some organisations won’t survive, this is usually because their products or service are out of date or irrelevant, these are replaced by more innovative organisations and whole new sectors can be created.  What I have also seen is that the fastest growth in the economy is usually in the period when you come out of a recession, business confidence returns, and plans that may have been put on hold are fast forwarded creating great opportunities for people and organisations.  In the words of Floyd Mayweather, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do”

How do you think recent graduates with little or no experience can improve their chances of securing a job when they may now be competing with more experienced candidates who have been made redundant due to the pandemic?

The jobs market is undoubtedly very competitive right now, however more than ever organisations need to find the best available talent, and you need to try to find a way to demonstrate that you can offer this.  I am a great believer in looking for any opportunities to gain experience and develop skills, demonstrating a growth mindset, i.e. a proactive desire to learn and gain new skills.  Recent graduates will need to be open and flexible to build new skills and should be well placed to compete effectively with others who may not be as adept at developing the skills needed to be successful in the workplace of the future –  jobs change all the time, but the requirement to develop new skills does not. 

To demonstrate your ability to learn and grow could mean volunteering, online learning, temporary jobs, internships, caring for others, all offer valuable opportunities to develop skills that will help you on your journey.  It may also be a good idea to keep notes/records of the skills and achievements you have gained so that you can demonstrate these confidently and succinctly when applying for the jobs you really want. 

Although the job market may be tough, graduates and alumni will secure job interviews over the coming months. What are your top 3 tips for performing successfully at a job interview?

–    Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.  There are lots of books and online articles about how to do prepare, read at least one or two of these and make sure you give yourself time to do it properly.  A google search on ‘James Reed – Fateful 15’ will give you access to some really helpful practical insight. Your Careers Service will also be able to point you towards some great resources.

–    Be your best self.  Easy to say, and less easy to do, you need to make sure that you promote your positive attributes – good preparation will help you to be able to refer to real-life examples that paint a picture of you in your best light and will help the interviewer gain more of an insight into who you really are, and what you can offer in the workplace – even if your examples are not work specific they should be relatable.

–    Don’t be afraid to ask questions.   A good interview should be a two-way street.  Research who is interviewing you, what the role is and come up with a well thought out question or two to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and that you’re interested. 

COVID-19 has forced the adoption of new ways of working. Which of these do you think are here to stay and how can graduates and job seekers use this to their advantage?

There can be great value in bringing teams together face to face, but there is also cost.  The technology that facilitates teams to work together remotely is much more reliable and effective now than it was even just a couple of years ago, and the pandemic has forced swift adoption by organisations.   Whilst there are differing views around how efficient and effective remote working is and can be, it is a change that is here to stay.  For graduates and job seekers this does mean that some opportunities that weren’t previously available as a result of job location will open up, though this also increases the competition for those roles.  With ever increasing reliance on technology in the workplace, being digitally confident should be a definite plus point for graduate job seekers.

And finally, what behaviours do you think people should work on to be most successful in their career?

I have given numerous presentations to graduates early in their careers, and the most common advice I give is to do your best.  There will be times in your career when you fail, it happens to us all, if you are able to award yourself 10/10 for trying it’s likely that others will do so too, and when a more achievable opportunity arises that your name is more likely to be in the frame.  You’ll also learn more when you really commit your efforts, enabling you to develop new skills and increasing your chances of long-term success.

A York Alumni Love Story: Daniel and Barbara

Introducing another York alumni love story, Daniel and Barbara. Who came together over their love for academia.

Daniel and Barbara are both from Mexico and met on their very first day at the University of York

Daniel and Barbara graduated in 2018. Barbara studied an MA in Women, Violence and Conflict and Daniel studied an LLM in International Human Rights Law.

Knowledge share

Barbara and Daniel are both from Mexico and met on their very first day right here at the University of York. Academia brought them together, Daniel explains, “I’m a lawyer so Barbara would ask me questions about law, and she is a psychologist and researcher, so I would ask her questions about methodology. We quickly became best friends.”

Barbara and Daniel exploring York Shambles

Library love

Their favourite place on campus was the University of York Library and they both have fond memories of studying there together.

We asked them, What do you miss most about your time at the University of York? Barbara says “The library! I loved being surrounded by the books and the feeling of companionship with people from all over the world” and Daniel agreed, “I’d have to say the library, too! It really became our second home”

Do you have a love story to share or want to tell us about your time at York? We would love to hear from you! Fill out our contact form here.

A York Alumni Love Story: Lauren and Luke

Introducing another York alumni love story from James College alum, Lauren and Luke.

Lauren and Luke met in Block C2, James College

Love in James College

“My husband and I have lived together since the day we first met. Our rooms were opposite each other in the top corner of Block C2, James College. Serendipity played its part from the beginning. As I had applied to a totally different college in a bid for an en-suite bathroom! Although initially “just friends”, Luke and I started dating in February 2007. Only a few weeks after signing the contract for an 8-bed house for 2nd year! A slightly risky move, but one which worked out well, to our housemates’ relief. University for us both centred on our close friendships with those original C2 members plus one or two others we adopted along the way. This tribe has often remained an essential lifeline for us all in the decade since.”

Lauren and Luke at a James College flat party – 2007

The Temple of Brew

“During our 2nd and 3rd year we lived in Heworth, in a house we all called the Temple of Brew. We continued a borderline nocturnal existence of nights out, binging on Breaking Bad (before it was cool), York’s yummy chicken, and too-frequent trips to Reflex. We sometimes threw in the odd lecture and all-nighter for good measure, resulting in a 1st in Mathematics for Luke and a 2:1 in English Literature for me. Since York, we’ve moved down South and resisted all acknowledgement of impending adulthood. We’ve learned how to snowboard and completed numerous triathlons. We’ve visited almost 30 countries together and attended 25 weddings. We are still guilty of wasting away a Sunday watching the telly.”

Lauren’s graduation day – 2009
Luke’s graduation – 2009

York nuptials

“After almost 13 years together, we finally got married in October 2019 – in York, of course. Serendipity struck again when we had glorious 25° sunshine, despite the nation and surrounding days being thrashed by Storm Callum. We had the most amazing honeymoon in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and continue to be very lucky; this year we returned from a five-week adventure along the east coast of Australia and Singapore. Returning only seven days before the UK went into lockdown! The pandemic has seen Luke and I 3D printing, assembling, and sterilising hundreds of face shields for vulnerable workers. All whilst I was job hunting for two months in a challenging market. Now both employed again, and with regular remote working becoming a business reality, it may be that the permanent return to York we’ve always discussed might happen sooner than we thought…”

Lauren and Luke got married in York in 2019

Do you have a love story to share or want to tell us about your time at York? We would love to hear from you! Fill out our contact form here.

Memories – 1965 to 1971

Tony Dobbs (1968), Chemistry, has shared some memories of his time at York.

At school, in 1964, I was considering different options for my UKAS application form. But it was pretty much a case of elimination. I was at a comprehensive school in Harlow, Essex. I had failed my German O level and Latin was not an option in my school; this took out Oxbridge from the list immediately. I wanted to study Chemistry and many Unis wanted a foreign language at O level as an entry requirement, so that removed another tranche. I had been in, just about, the first year of entry at my school and liked the idea of being ‘first footers’ in an institution, so York was attractive from that point of view, as was Lancaster. 

After putting in my application with its 6 possible Courses, I was offered an interview at York and can recall arriving in the town by train and standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to Heslington. It was my first trip ‘up north’ and I was shocked when someone spoke to me at the bus stop. This did not happen where I came from. My interview was with David Waddington, in what appeared an empty Chemistry department. I can recall that he seemed very relaxed and the interview must have gone quite well because I had an offer from York of a conditional place based on me getting 3 E’s or better in my A levels. This was a very good offer and contrasted with, if my memory serves me correctly, 2C’s and a D offer from Lancaster. I accepted the York offer and started there in 1965 doing a BA (an influence of Oxford, I think)!

After acceptance, I was told I could have one year out of the three on campus and decided it would be best for this to be my final year. I applied for digs and found some in Bootham Terrace with Mrs Moat. I stayed there for two years. Every Sunday, it was part of my rent that I was given lunch with the family. This was another cultural shock because the first course was Yorkshire pudding with gravy, followed by roast beef with veg. Mr Moat was an ex-Rugby League player with bad arthritis and their son, still at home, was about 5 years older than me. To start with I took the bus. I think it might have been a 9A to and from Heslington, later I used a bike. My grandfather had been a postman in Southend all his life, except for service in WW1. When he retired he kept his bike and somehow it came into my possession in York. It was a real ‘sit up and beg’ style, no gears and rod brakes. There were no bike helmets in those days but I did find a bowler hat from somewhere and wore that sometimes. I wish I still had the bike, it was a classic. During the day, I used to leave it in the car parking area beneath the Chemistry labs.

I was assigned to Langwith College, at that time the only other college was Derwent. The lake was under development and Barry Thomas, a post doc in Chemistry, was active in populating it with ducks, I believe. My tutor was Bruce Gilbert. I suppose Bruce was only a couple of years older than me. The department was all new and felt it. When not at lectures, practicals, tutorials or seminars I would hang around in the common room or bar and sometimes use a vacant seminar room or visit the college library to complete an essay (the main library was built later). At the weekend and/or during the week we would visit pubs in town and a friend, Mick Shearer, set himself the challenge of visiting every pub in York; at that time I believe there were several hundred. Another friend, Jim Forsyth, and I started a frequent “Granny takes a trip” group pub crawl some weekends and most terms ended with a ‘pub walls’ pub crawl. As numbers of students increased during my three year undergraduate years, the dances were able to attract bigger names bands and I can recall the Who, Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Nice all appearing at dances. Until recently I had an unused ticket for Cream, a gig they never made, because they suddenly succeeded in the USA and went there instead of York. I played rugby for the Uni, second or third team only, changing rooms were below the Chemistry block and I started a water polo team using the Councils’ pool by the Cattle Market. It did not take us long to discover that pubs near that Market were open all day on Market days. This was in the days of strict licensing hours. During my vacations I worked in a steel pressing mill, the post office and an employment exchange. I had a government grant but this was not at the maximum and had to be supplemented by money from my parents. All fees were paid. In term time I had to manage on about £10 per week but £1 was enough for an evening out in pubs with enough to end with fish and chips, invariably from Petergate chippy. When I was first in York it was not uncommon to find pubs with men only bars and sawdust on the floor. There were also some no-go areas in town for students. A special treat was tea cakes in Betty’s or a meal in Dirty Dudley’s in Bootham Bar.

In my third year I had a room in college and Alcuin and Goodricke colleges were opened and I believe the Central Library. I can recall evenings in Langwith bar, where White Room by Cream seemed to be endlessly on the juke box. There was even the odd excursions to Alcuin and, more rarely Goodricke bars. All the bars had dartboards, bar billiards and table football. The “foam in” night in the quad of Langwith was a quite bizarre and memorable experience. On occasions, Chemistry dept lecturers would have a pint with us in the Charles X11th and we would give feedback about their lectures. My practical partner was John Fuggle. He was a skilled worker but often we did not agree on the best approach so would work individually and share results. This suited us both very well. I can still recall going to finals in Central Hall. It was a tense time. Even after all these years, I still sometimes have dreams (nightmares?) about them and trying to do last minute revision.  

After I graduated, with a BA in Chemistry, I was offered the chance to do a doctorate (a DPhil) in York with Bruce Gilbert and Richard Norman as my joint supervisors. I had ambitions to become an academic and this sounded perfect. I was awarded the John Rex Whinfield Medal for my finals result and this gave me sufficient money to take my new wife on our first skiing holiday, as a honeymoon treat, in the winter of 1968. 

When we first moved to York we rented a three bedroomed, three-storey terraced house in Avenue Terrace, Bootham for a weekly rent of £4 10 shillings. It was so cold there in the winter that the toilet and water pipes regularly froze and we sometimes woke to find frost on the bed spread. I can recall, while there, we rented a TV specially to watch the first moon landing. Later we were lucky to be able to move into a flat in Heslington, 1 Peel Close. This was great for my work but not so good for my wife Linda who worked for WH Smith in the city centre. It did give us easy access to the social life of the University and we specially enjoyed the films shown by the Film Club.

My research work went reasonably well although I was working fairly hard; I can remember working late into the night and being last out of the lab. A friend from undergraduate times, Mike Chiu, was doing research with Brian Sutcliffe and he managed to get a computer programme from the US to do molecular orbital calculations on the University mainframe. The program came on IBM punchcards and we had to rewire a card copying machine to convert the card format of every, and there were hundreds of them, card. It was an exciting and rewarding time workwise but I managed to keep sporting, with rugby and squash, and social interests going.

The best years of my life? Quite possibly but certainly fondly recalled. 

Do you want to share you memories of York with us? Contact us to share your stories.

What do you do?

Meet Dr Jess Walkup Station Leader for the British Antarctic Survey, BSc Biology, 2009. She proves that the world really is your oyster when her studies and time at York has taken her all the way to Antartica. We caught up with her to find out more. 

What do you do? 

I work for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) where I am the Station Leader of Rothera Research Station in Antarctica. I am responsible for the day to day running of the station that is home to up to 170 scientists and support staff as well as the safety and welfare of everyone on site. 

How did you get into this role? 

I started in a science role with BAS working as a Zoological Field Assistant at Bird Island Research Station spending 16 months on a remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic monitoring albatross colonies. I have since spent over 3 years on the Antarctic continent in leadership roles during polar winters and summers.

I am the first woman to have wintered at 3 of the 4 BAS stations.

What do you love most about the work you’re doing now and why? 

The favourite part of my job is the unpredictability and need for quick thinking and decision making and of course the location. I can plan my day in detail but normally something else will come up that will need to be addressed immediately. The weather is always in charge in Antarctica so logistics often change last minute with knock-on effects. 

I can see humpback and killer whales from my office window and regularly get distracted by penguins on my way to lunch.

How did York prepare or help you in following your chosen career path? 

My time at York definitely built the foundation blocks of my current career. I took a year out to work in industry where I gained skills in wildlife monitoring and tracking, along with a first class degree that experience allowed me to go straight from my Undergraduate course to a PhD. I realised towards the end of my degree that I didn’t feel like I had finished learning and was inspired by the fantastic lectures and academics that I had been tutored by at York. 

Away from the Biology department my time in the caving club gave me a grounding not only in team work but also a good understanding of safety and keeping your head in times of stress. 

York is a great city and the University itself exceeded my expectations. The teaching fuelled my interest in learning and pushed me on to further study. The pastoral system gave me the personal support I needed to succeed academically. And away from my studies, the University Caving Club gave me the self-confidence and the sense of adventure that carried me all the way to Antarctica. 

Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney, London

A couple of months ago, we caught up with Fleur Anderson to hear about her time at York and life since leaving university. This interview was conducted in February 2020, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Tell us a bit about your time at York and what you studied

I was in Goodricke College and I studied Politics between 1990-1993. Then I stayed on for a year to be President of the Students’ Union. My degree opened my eyes to all sorts of thinking about different issues. Politics is really wide ranging, from philosophy to American politics, to the politics of fiction. It was a really varied degree and I really enjoyed that.

I was very inspired by Harriet Harman, who is an alum herself. Her writing about the numbers of women in politics really inspired me then. Not that I wanted to be an MP particularly, but I was just very interested in politics. It’s not as if I was sat there thinking about being an MP, things happened along the way and now I am!

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

Great parties! Apart from that, one interesting memory was when I was President, it was Professor Cooks first year and we wanted to demonstrate against student fees being introduced. So we had a demonstration in Central Hall, which was overtaken by others and became an all night sit in (he wasn’t happy at all!) It became a big protest – quite a few demonstrations were held in Central Hall back then. 

Continue reading Fleur Anderson, MP for Putney, London

Hackney’s Pop Harpist – York Alumna Olivia Ter-Berg

To entertain her neighbours during lockdown, Olivia Ter-Berg, a University of York Music Department graduate, decided to put on a concert from her doorstep when she was passed by a journalist. Watch her interview and concert below.

On Monday, I decided to put on a concert for my street, playing the harp and singing pop songs, to try and cheer everyone up. I’ve been playing music everyday inside and I thought why not take this outside so other people can enjoy it too.

Olivia Ter-Berg, Graduate, 2018.

Olivia is also taking requests for songs, so if you would like her to do an arrangement of your favourite song get in touch with her on her social media: Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Take a tour

As people around the world stay indoors, many York alumni are thinking back to happy times spent exploring this beautiful city. In this alumni magazine article from 2018, alumnus Matthew Greenwood from Exploring York gave his insight into the city of York and his work as a tour guide.

What is the most enjoyable thing about being a tour guide?

I would say it is the expression on people’s faces when they’re surprised by learning something new about York, or when things piece together and they make connections between things.

What is your favourite place, area or building in York and why?

Well actually, it’s quite appropriate because it’s Kings Manor, which is a University of York property. I would say because it’s such an understated building in terms of its history – the fact that it was the council of the North for a period, so therefore it was parliament for the North of England, essentially. And that’s not a well-known fact outside of York. And for the fact it is such a beautiful building! A mini palace in York.

Tell us a weird fact about York which not many people would know.

Continue reading Take a tour