Your stories: Autumn 2020

Where did your Birmingham education take you? Share your updates with us or tweet us @birminghamalum using #wearebrumalum

  • 1957

    Derek Cooknell (MSc Thermodynamics, 1957)

    I am grateful to the University, and in particular to Professor Kenneth Bannister, late of the Mechanical Engineering department, and sadly long-gone. In offering me a place on his MSc course, and obtaining a scholarship for my living expenses at Chad Hill, he was instrumental in my life taking a completely different course. I would in all probability have remained at the same motor company where I did my apprenticeship, had a small brochure not crossed my desk advertising Professor Bannister's course.

    After graduation I worked in nuclear power for several years, and taught part-time at a local technical college. I went on to work as a lecturer at two other universities. I still look back with great pleasure on my time at Birmingham, which was one of the happiest years of my life. It has been my pleasure to have made several donations to the Mechanical Engineering Department, as some small recompense for my happy time there.

  • 1966

    Charles Harris QC (LLB, 1966)

    Birmingham's LLB took me, via the Bar, to become England's longest-serving civil specialist Judge, with claims from medical negligence to the sale of the Ritz. Trial and Error (2020) describes a calamity of complexity – English law is now too difficult to understand and too costly to use. But the book is also a light-hearted memoir: Black Country childhood, some education, standing for Parliament, Indian ballooning, African adventure, Alpine and Highland sport, fireworks and family life in Oxfordshire.

  • 1967

    Christopher Stockdale (MBChB, 1967)

    After embracing a surgical career in Birmingham for four years I became a Family Doctor in South Birmingham. Through the good grace of my partners I was able to continue my surgical interests first in the Renal Unit at Heartlands Hospital and latterly in the ENT department at both Solihull and Heartlands Hospitals. I retired in 2013.

    I decided to attempt to swim the English Channel in 1977, my first open water swim, and succeeded after 17 hours 30 minutes. Four other Channel attempts realised two more successes and I became the Medical Officer to the Channel Swimming Association for 20 years. The door of the international swimming world was really opened when I came a victorious last in the Capri to Naples World Championships in 1982. I have swum in Europe, America and Canada and I am so fortunate to be able to enjoy my sport to this day. My greatest strength has been my determination and finishing a long swim has always been my greatest goal. I treasure many memories of my swimming adventures, amongst them becoming the first person to swim 32 miles along the length of Lake Garda, a world record for swimming down the Bosphorus and a gold medal in the World Medical Olympic Games, my only victory! In 2005 I cycled solo from London to Athens and in 2009-10 the 3,600 miles around the coastline of England, Scotland and Wales; only interrupted when I was hit by a car and required reconstructive surgery to my right shoulder.

    My autobiography, Swimming with Hero, shares my experiences and describes how, through extreme sporting endeavour and dedication, we can further fulfil our lives, transcend our apparent physical and mental limitations and realise our inherent ability to achieve the 'impossible dream'. The recurrent theme is endurance sport and supreme effort, but this is also a love story about my wife, Margaret, who had breast cancer at the age of 38, and is a testament to the meaning of friendship, loyalty and the treasured values of life.

  • 1989

    Liza Ramrayka (BA English and French, 1989)

    After graduation, a journalism postgraduate course in London led to positions as reporter, editor and commissioning editor in the UK, most notably with The Guardian and The Times. I specialise in social justice stories, influencing research into migration, women's issues and housing insecurity. Now in San Francisco, I cover social justice stories for The New York Times, HuffPost and more. I'm also a journalism mentor and industry awards judge.

  • 1996

    His Excellency Mohammed Akteruzzaman MBE (MBA, 1996)

    Since graduating, I have set up my own charity 'Dolhen A Wahid Memorial Trust' (DAWMT) in a remote part of Bangladesh, where I was born. As Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Trustees since inception, I am proud to have helped deliver help, support and services to a destitute community, including a care home for older people, mosques, a Cyclone Centre, research facilities for Islamic cultural development, technical schooling for the long-term unemployed, a pilot scheme for interest free loans for Micro Enterprises, cataract operation facilities in collaboration with a Government-run Eye Hospital and more.

    DAWMT is a unique charity that will provide absolutely free furnished accommodation to all residents including free food/drink, clothing, Primary Healthcare, Funeral services, Annual Festive meals (Two Eids), use of other amenities, tender loving caring and sharing by well-trained carers with a touch of welcoming home environment. My charity is based on a self-financing scheme. Running costs will be met by self-generating income. It means there would be no dependence on External Fund Raising. DAWMT is funded solely by every penny of my life’s savings plus some support from my family.

  • 1999

    Maisie Chan (BA American and Canadian Studies, 1999; MPhil American Literature and Film, 2004)

    Growing up, I had only ever read one British novel featuring Chinese people. I became a writer to change that. There are very few British-Chinese creatives creating work in the mainstream media or publishing. My books for children range from Stories From Around the World to reading books for primary schools. Read my blog at

  • 2009

    Zee Dinally (BSc Biological Sciences, 2009)

    Zee Dinally (right) with team in front of immersive domeAfter graduating, I founded a dynamic company providing immersive planetarium experiences (Immersive Theatres and Immersive Dome Experiences Ltd). Our award-winning programs and services cater for over 250,000 people a year in the UK alone, including 150,000 children.

    With over 200 programs, 15 subject themes, fully accessible to special needs and multiple languages, we have seen huge demand not only from our UK customers, but clients worldwide now asking for our award-winning British planetarium services and products.

    When COVID-19 hit, we placed our experiences on pause, and began working with partners to help deliver over 8,000 face masks for free to those in urgent need. Our teams were able to donate free clothing to those sleeping on the streets, grant support to schools so they can keep their children learning whilst away from school and provide free learning to the children of NHS staff with 1-1 learning across multiple curriculum subjects.

    Finally, since March 2020 we have developed a comprehensive, online virtual learning program, including our virtual in-school planetarium lessons, historical learning workshops and 1-1 tuition for students keen to keep on top of their curriculum learning during lockdown. I'm so proud of my team and to be a Birmingham University alumnus!

  • 2012

    Teyen Widdicombe (MSc Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors, 2012)

    Since 2012 I've flown around the globe twice, published a couple of short notes on robotic probes for Titan and, thanks to a contact made whilst doing my MSc project at Birmingham, am now on a PhD (nuclear engineering) at the University of Idaho. So far I've delivered an online course in nuclear science, investigated the environmental impact of the Dragonfly spacecraft's radioisotope generator and worked on nuclear rockets for Mars as a Centre for Space Nuclear Research Summer Fellow.

  • 2013

    Kayla Herbert (English, 2013)

    Looking for your next book? My debut young adult novel, The Book of Moons, has made it onto multiple Amazon bestseller lists in Canada. Set in Ireland in the 1970s, it follows the story of 16-year-old Kathy, who is on the run from a convent orphanage and finds herself in a camp of Irish Travellers. It was a pleasure to research and write. It means a lot to share this with the University of Birmingham community.

Win books by alumni

To win Kayla Herbert’s The Book of Moons, Maisie Chan’s Stories From Around the World and Charles Harris’s Trial and Error, answer this question:
Which hotel sale did Charles Harris offer legal advice on?
Email your name, address and answer to us by 31 March 2021. Check our competition terms and conditions.