Your stories: spring 2022

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

  • 1959

    Allan Williams (BSc Geology, 1959)

    My geology studies have taken me all over the world. Five years teaching in Ghana helped me obtain a Commonwealth Fellowship to Hong Kong University to study for a PhD, focusing mainly on coastal issues. Some 400 authored/co-authored publications later, after Professorships held in the USA, Canada, China, New Zealand, Iceland and the UK, I was awarded a DSc degree.

    Aside from academia writing, sports and music fill my life. I have published several thriller novels (including Nemesis in 2021), children’s books, poetry and short stories. I have coaching qualifications in swimming, badminton, cricket, athletics and judo, and have run a dozen marathons. I have played for many years in samba and ukulele bands.

  • 1960

    Janet Beat (MA Music, 1960)

    At age 83, I have finally released my first album of electronic music. I began making musique concrète in the 1950s; before Delia Derbyshire's Doctor Who theme tune introduced electronic music to a bigger audience.

    The album, Pioneering Knob Twiddler, brings together my work dating back to the 1970s and 80s, featuring compositions made on synths, tape machines and other acoustic instruments. It has been covered in the press from the USA to Sweden, including the UK's famous magazines NME and Mixmag.

    As a female pioneer in music, I didn't receive much support from home or male colleagues early in my career, but recently was awarded the first Scottish Woman in Music Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, later renamed the Janet Beat SWIM Lifetime Achievement Award. I am so glad to be able to bring my music to so many more people now.

  • 1963

    Dr Michael Eskin (BSc Biochemistry, 1963; PhD Biochemistry, 1966)

    After completing my doctoral research, I accepted a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba, Canada. I am now a Full Professor in my 54th year, having served as Chair and Associate Dean. I played a key role in the development of canola oil and I was awarded the Order of Canada in 2016 and the Order of Manitoba in 2021. I also received the Supelco AOCS Research award in 2020, considered the world prize in lipids, and was just elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

    Besides being recognised worldwide for my 17 Food Science books, over the past decade I found fame through my YouTube rap videos about my area of research, lipids. Becoming a rap artist was somewhat of a surprise but fun; I am so glad to see them used in universities around the world. I even wrote a short item for Sesame Street Canada and last year wrote and performed a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in Canada for the Virtual Annual Conference of the American Oil Chemists' Society. This year’s video will celebrate Louis Pasteur’s 200th birthday. I have also released an album, available on iTunes, that brings well-known biblical stories to life for children, including The Pesach (Passover) Rap.

  • 1965

    David Eagar (BA Geography, 1965)

    My dissertation survey of the vegetation on my native Holy Island, Anglesey, led me into an Ecology Masters and countryside planning. By 1966 I was, sadly, sure that national politics were not going to take sufficient account of the environment, a belief that the current nature and climate crises have reinforced. 

    I began making a difference locally by managing a county's countryside service, then implementing a tool called LANDMAP in Wales, which records the geological, habitat, visual, sensory, historical and cultural aspects of our landscapes. LANDMAP aims to ensure our land management, development policy and decision making is sustainable and transparent. 

    In retirement, after doing a British playwriting MPhil inspired by a Birmingham meteorologist's book on Constable’s sky paintings, I am promoting a new woodland park for Holy Island. A relevant and practical full circle.

  • 1982

    Jack Pokoj (BSc Physics, 1982)

    After a career in telecommunications and IT, working for companies including BT, Siemens and my own energy efficiency consultancy, I decided to 'retire' in 2014 and add some adventure into my life.

    I moved to my wife's home in Dauin in the Philippines, a key centre for "muck diving". Muck diving involves underwater photography in silty water with limited visibility, discovering amazing creatures right on the seabed. Capturing the weird underwater life in photos and documentary style videos has become a passion of mine as it is so fascinating and varied!

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, diving was restricted, so my wife Shiribelle and I started hiking, camping and climbing local volcanoes, such as Mount Talinis and Mount Kanlaon. Now restrictions are easing, we continue to seek new and strange underwater species and plan to climb Mount Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines.

  • 1993

    Simon Jewell (PhD Physics, 1993)

    I went from watching the stars to crafting them (and rivers and leaves) as part of jewellery boxes. I use intricate marquetry to make cabinets and custom boxes. I am sure that my success as a craftsman and cabinetmaker is due, at least in part, to the intellectual rigour and discipline of studying astrophysics at Birmingham. I left the city with very fond memories, having very much enjoyed my time there.

    I have shown my work across the UK in exhibitions and finally got the chance to present a show in Birmingham itself last year, at the RBSA gallery in the Jewellery Quarter. Over the last 20 years, working from my studio workshop in the Kent countryside, I've become a fellow of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and my customers include the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  • 2006

    Dr Maria Bealby (MA Practical Archaeology, 2006; PhD Ancient History and Archaeology, 2015)

    After moving from Greece to the UK in 2004, I chose the University of Birmingham for my postgraduate studies. Best decision ever! I completed a Masters degree in Practical Archaeology in 2006 and a PhD in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology in 2015. I have participated in several archaeological expeditions in England, Greece and Egypt, and given over 50 public lectures globally.

    I currently serve as a Department Chair of General Studies at the University of the People in the United States. In addition to my leadership role, I have taught thousands of undergraduate students so far, on topics related to my studies at the University of Birmingham. My tutors and professors at the University of Birmingham were role models to me, taught me, inspired me and motivated me to achieve my wildest dreams!

  • 2009

    Amjad Awwad (MSc Occupational Safety, Health and the Environment, 2009)

    I have no doubt that my graduate studies at the University of Birmingham propelled me to success in my career. My goal is to reduce deaths and injuries in the workplace, sparing both employees and their loved ones. I champion initiatives that make sense both at work and in employees' personal lives. After completing my MSc, plus my internship as a Project Officer with the Birmingham City Council, I embarked on my career and never looked back.

    During more than a decade in the oil, gas and energy industry, I have worked on three continents and in extreme climates from hot deserts to freezing winters. I have grown both personally and professionally, and I am now the HSE and Sustainability Manager for a major sustainability initiative across the energy and industry sector.

  • 2013

    Madeleine Levy (MPhil Playwriting, 2013)

    My book When I grow up I want to be a cat grew out of blogs I wrote as a student for Birmingham's mental health support website. Subtitled Surviving the education system with Asperger's, the book is my honest account of what it is like to go to school with Asperger syndrome. Interviews with nine others on the spectrum show how autistic individuals can achieve great things in society. The title is inspired by my response to my teacher, who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up: a very different reply to my classmates.

    While I studied at Birmingham, I wanted to support other people who had encountered difficulties at school. I worked as a peer mentor for students with disabilities, supporting individuals with learning needs to access University societies, facilities and manage their time and workloads. I was part a couple of societies myself including the University's mental health society DAMSA (Disabled and Mental Health Students' Association) and we met weekly to give individuals with disabilities and mental health conditions a voice on campus. In my spare time I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the University's historical re-enactment society Bat Soc. I am due to graduate from an Occupational Therapy degree to support my work in the care sector, and I work collaboratively with the Open Theatre Company Coventry and Birmingham to champion alternative voices in the arts.

  • 2015

    Baljinder Singh Atwal (LLB Law, 2015)

    I made a big change in my career during the pandemic: moving from a global law firm to working with a police force. I wanted to discover what life as an in-house solicitor was really like. Working at West Midlands Police has given me a variety of new skills and abilities. The change in environment and ethos has led me to winning prestigious awards including the Future Face of Legal from the Future Faces Chamber of Commerce.

    My role ranges from traditional commercial property work to major national and international events, such as operational and contractual matters for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The work is exciting and varied, from confidentiality agreements and collaboration agreements to media agreements and ad hoc legal advice.

    This allows me to fulfil my drive to make a positive difference by working for an organisation which has the community at the heart of everything it does. I am proud to be part of several local and national groups that are supporting people from a wide range of backgrounds to get into the legal profession and flourish.

  • 2016

    Andrew Colley (MA Education, 2016)

    Since graduating I have been researching how to support young people living with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). I recently co-authored Enhancing wellbeing and independence for young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties – lives lived well with fellow Birmingham graduate Julie Tilbury (MA Education, 2016).

    In the book, we explore what wellbeing, community participation and independence mean to young people with PMLD, sharing many innovative ways in which schools are working to ensure the lives of young people with PMLD are as rich and meaningful as possible. Our goal was to provide a guide, resource and inspiration for practitioners and parents, based on an extensive survey of over 200 schools.

  • 2016

    Caroline Summerfield (MRes Playwriting, 2016)

    As a former City lawyer, I switched careers and undertook my postgraduate degree in the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts. I now write for the stage and radio, am a full member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and am the resident playwright and artistic director of the award-winning Natura Contemporary Theatre Company. We have produced 60 episodes of the radio drama The Gardening Times for internet radio broadcaster, the Birmingham Hospital Broadcasting Network; my response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Listen to Yet More Gardening Times at 11.25am on weekdays or come to the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham during September for the premiere of the stage version.

    My last stage play Jane Austen and The Cheltonians (or Emma Part II) was nominated this year for the 29th Writers' Guild of Great Britain Best Stage Play Award and my first novel Letters of Junius was long listed (top 16) for the Peggy Chapman Andrews First Novel Award in 2016. I am now a PhD research candidate in the English Department of Manchester Metropolitan University, where I am examining the biographical novel and the life of the chemist who discovered photography, Elizabeth Fulhame. As she had links with Birmingham's Lunar Society, expect to see me back at Birmingham too.

  • 2018

    Juliet Edjere (LLB Law, 2018)

    I am the CEO and co-founder of a startup called Maze, which is supported by the University's B-Enterprising incubator programme. Maze helps people who are moving home to connect with service providers and reduce moving costs.

    Each member of our team of three has moved internationally quite a few times, so our goal is to reduce stress for people by providing the all-in-one tool we wish we had had. We launched our website in February 2022, designed and built entirely in-house, operating out of The Graham Turner Entrepreneurship Centre in The Exchange in Birmingham’s Centenary Square.

    Alongside my day-to-day management of the company, I work as a Content Marketing Lead and Technical Advisor. Our blog offers people advice on student visas, work permits, travel rules, UK-style CVs and real-life stories from people who have relocated to the UK.

  • 2019

    Valentina Chirico (MA Egyptology, 2019)

    During my last year at Birmingham, I had the pleasure of working as a department ambassador for Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, writing some inspirational pieces for the Postgraduate Recruitment Blog.

    I recently found the last article I wrote, when I was finishing my Masters and feeling the pressure of looking for a job. While following your passion in life is so rewarding, it can be hard, so I wanted to share the top tips I wrote then, in case they can help anyone making a big change in their lives today.

    • I am not Wonder Woman (no one is), so I must accept my weaknesses

    • I am not alone (no one is), there is always someone for me

    • I am not perfect (no one is), but I can improve

    • Stop over-thinking and get started: everything begins with a small step

    • Nothing is too hard: but if it feels so, be humble and ask for help

    • Get out of the comfort zone: great experiences and people await beyond that

    • I share my space with others, so I must be understanding

    I am currently working in London as the Italian senior writer for a digital marketing company. I am thrilled to be curating and localising the content of some global client brands for my local market. Previously, I covered the role of editor-in-chief of a fashion e-magazine, another exciting experience that allowed me to attend London Fashion Week and support volunteer contributors.

  • 2020

    Elizabeth Conway (MA Modern Languages and English, 2020)

    When I was 17, I wanted to be a sports presenter, so I wrote to Gabby Logan for advice. Her best tip was to cover sports for my University, so at Birmingham I took advantage of every opportunity on offer, joining student media groups and getting work experience with Burn FM and student newspaper Redbrick.

    I knew it was an incredibly competitive area and when the global pandemic hit, I began to explore other career options. Yet, seven years after writing that email to Gabby, I am completely thrilled to have been chosen as to the BBC Sport Trainee on the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme.

    Though it has been far from an easy journey and at times I never thought I'd get there, I have finally achieved my dream graduate job and I'm so excited to move to Manchester to begin this new adventure! I am so grateful to everyone who has given me advice, opportunities and experience so that I could achieve this ambition.

  • 2020

    Hamaad Karim BEM (LLB International Law and Globalisation, 2020)

    The Tazil Foundation started as an idea on the back of a menu nearly three years ago, created with my friend Andriy Zapotichny. Our vision was simple. We wanted to help people from underprivileged backgrounds get access to market-leading firms by breaking down hidden barriers to the corporate world. Today, we've helped over 310,000 people through our workshops and mentorship programmes, and 100 have already secured internships and graduate jobs at Google, Amazon, KPMG, Clifford Chance etc.

    We know there is still an immense amount of work that still needs to be done, so I was surprised and thrilled to be awarded a BEM by the Queen in the New Year Honours List 2022 for services to students and the wider community. In addition to The Tazil Foundation, we were proud to be recognised for our second charity, WeCreateChange, a hub founded with our friend Michael Adebiyi to offer people the resources to educate themselves and fight against the racism and injustice that black people face every day.