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Welcome Week 2015: a letter to my student self

Tim Charsley (BSc 1964)

Natalie Jester (BSc 2011, MSc 2013, PhD 2013-) and Nicholas Phan (BSc 2010)

Joan Fletcher (née Dobson) (BDS 1962)

16 September 2015

From finding their voices to exploring trap doors, alumni look back at their own experiences at Bristol and let us know what they wish they’d known before starting.

Dear Tim,

Do just as you did, but keep a diary from day one and continue forever (I only started eight years later). Take photos of ordinary things which won't be ordinary in 50 years, like daily life, shops, streets and so on. And, of course, work hard when it matters but relax more and enjoy making friends and joining in.


Tim Charsley (BSc 1964), studied geology at Bristol before becoming a geologist for the British Geological Survey (BGS).

Dear 18-year-old Nat,

I have so much to say to you. Firstly, Grandma Maureen would be so proud of you for getting into this University. She died the week before your A-level exams, but in one of her last lucid moments you told her that you'd received your results and had already got in. The good news is that, up to now anyway, this is the hardest thing you’ve had to do in life. Grandma BJ is also so very, very proud that you are attending the same university that she did in the 1950s (please ask her about it - she's amazing).

The second thing I want you to know is that everyone else is as scared as you are, even if they all do a good job of hiding it. Most people won't know anyone else either, and one of the great things about university is meeting new people. Everyone makes friends in different places - in classes, halls, societies - and that's OK, you just have to find your own place (hint: Fairtrade Café is pretty fantastic). I'm sure lots of people have fleeting thoughts of 'I can't do this, I have to leave!' but trust me, it gets much better very quickly. 

Don't feel left out because you chose to live at home, in the city you were born in. You're very lucky to have a family that cares so much about you, and the money you save up will pay for your Masters degree. It's wonderful to have a taste of independence, living away from the family home but on the other hand, lots of your friends will put up with bad accommodation and weird flatmates (please, please tell them to go and speak to the Students' Union - I know you won't discover how great it is for another couple of years, but they can help you with lots of important stuff, including housing).

On the academic side, while you won't be the smartest person in your department, don't be afraid to make yourself heard in classes. Although some people may be better at expressing themselves, you have just as much right to be there as them, and you will find your voice eventually, I promise. 

Finally, I should probably warn you that you're currently in the third year of a PhD, which has enriched your life in so many ways but is a little daunting at times. If 35-year-old Nat gets in touch could you send her advice my way? It would be nice to know how the writing-up year goes...

Love, 25-year-old Nat

Natalie Jester (BSc 2011, MSc 2013, PhD 2013-) has been studying politics at Bristol for seven years.

Dear Nick

You don’t know how unique and rare it is to have the plethora of opportunities that you’ll be presented with at Bristol.

You’ll sign up to all kinds of societies and attend lots of events. But do even more. It's very easy for that first-year enthusiasm to die down as you get comfortable and start to focus more on academic coursework and exams. It seems sensible. However, university really is the best time to do many other things as well. So say yes more often and get out of your comfort zone.

Love, Future-Nick

Nicholas Phan (BSc 2010) studied economics and management before founding Biju Bubble Tea.

Dear Joan,

Be more mature and take more of what is offered. You’ll have great memories of going down through a trap door in the common room floor in Goldney. Be sure to explore the cellars, the silver strongroom, then on under the paddock to behind the grotto. Take the time to talk to an old gardener who will teach you about the plants.

You may not be happy that your father decided you should go to university. But you will love the formal dances and dinners, the music, and dancing on Green Park station at 4 am before returning on the train for breakfast. You will remember the stature of George Odlum, Union President, the grace of Fleur, and making your own ball gowns on your friend’s machine. They will be some of the happiest days of your life.

You really should choose a different course, although it won’t be easy, and I wish you would keep in touch with more good friends, especially Charmian Fryer, Jill Smith, and Nhat Tran, who will cook the first prawn cracker you will ever see, let alone taste.

When studying, try sitting in a cold room sitting in a sleeping a bag to keep warm. And don’t be in a rush to get married.

Love, 76-year-old Joan

Joan Fletcher (née Dobson) (BDS 1962) studied dentistry.

Further information

What would you say to your student self? Let us know. We'd love to hear what you would say.