Paying it forward

Requirements for bound copies of the thesis

I submitted a physical, bound final copy of my thesis.

Once the corrections to my thesis had been approved by my examiners, I ordered copies bound in regulation purple and submitted one to Imperial College Library. As of March this year, a purple bound copy is no longer required – students submit their final copy electronically and their thesis is made available in Spiral instead. I submitted my thesis for examination in January, so fell under the “old” rules.

Bound thesis

Obligatory photo of the final product.

In July, I received an email awarding me my degree. I was told my degree certificate would be in the post “within three months”. So I was excited when a letter arrived from Imperial College London, addressed to Dr Erika Cule. However, the letter contained not my degree certificate but a mailshot promoting Imperial Alumni Office’s 2013 fundraising campaign.

The alumni office emailed me to apologise for this mishap, an apology I accepted. It was clear to me that it was hardly their fault! Moreover, the 2013 campaign will raise money for a Very Worthy Cause which I will be happy to support: the campaign will raise funds for the Rector’s Scholarship Fund, which gives undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships. I feel I curious affinity for my alma mater and would be proud to support the campaign. Imperial certainly gave me a great deal, even if it hasn’t given me my PhD certificate yet, and when I get the phone call I feel inclined to donate, so that other students might have the chances I had.

I had the opportunity to pay it forward in a more immediate and practical sense last week when I went back to Imperial’s South Kensington campus to attend a “Careers speed dating” evening. This event was organised by the Department of Life Sciences for current Biology and Biochemistry undergraduates. I felt nervous, being such a newly-minted graduate myself, but when I turned up on the day I was the oldest alumnus of the undergraduate degree who had volunteered – the other alumni who volunteered had graduated from the BSc between 2009 and 2012.

So many degrees, they wouldn’t all fit on the nametag.

Despite the economic downturn in the intervening years, we alumni covered a range of careers between us, from current PhD students to a teacher and a management consultant. As the name suggests, the format of the evening was modelled on speed dating (I am told, having never been speed dating). Each alumnus talked to a small group of current undergraduates, and every seven minutes a bell sounded indicating that the group should move on to the next alumnus.

It was exhausting! I don’t think I have ever talked about myself at such length. By the third or fourth group of student questioners, I found myself unable to remember whether I was repeating myself or talking to a new group of students, as naturally the students had similar questions for me. I directed a few of them to this blog to read about my PhD experience, so if you are reading, hi! I hope I was positive and encouraging even when I was recounting the difficult bits of my career journey.

At the end of the evening, alumni were given a thank-you gift.

“Don’t be a mug. Go to Imperial.”


I certainly wasn’t expecting to profit from the evening.

It was a pleasure to spend time with interested students, and to find out how the course I started back in 2005 has changed over the past few years. Hopefully I either answer the students’ questions or, where I couldn’t, pointed them in the direction of someone who might be able to. Thanks to Anita Hall for organising the event. As the evening drew to a close, I felt I had “paid it forward” in a practical way – something I would recommend and would do again. And I still feel I owe something to the alumni telephone campaign. This year, the value of an Imperial College mug, at least.

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14 Responses to Paying it forward

  1. Perhaps it would have been nice a mug with your name.

    • Erika Cule says:

      To be honest, Alejandro, I wasn’t expecting anything at all, so I thought the mug was a lovely gift :)

  2. cromercrox says:

    My alma mater is the University of Leeds, and although I’ve never sent them any money, I have written for their alumni magazine a couple of times. And then they pay ME money.

  3. John Gilbey says:

    This might amuse – and if the writing style seems oddly familiar… :-)

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/the-fact-is-marketing-wont-let-us-off-/311006.article

    Cheers, John

  4. Hm. I am somewhat of a curmudgeon I suppose, but I feel no debt of gratitude toward my alma mater (BSc and PhD, same place). They took a lot of money off me, and generally I felt exactly like one of the other 60,000+ students who were there when I was. Following graduation, I could have paid for an alumni membership and a perpetual institutional email address… but elected not to.

    Friendships, yes. Great experiences with peers, mentors, faculty – yes. Enduring gratitude to the institution because of how well-treated I was, with wonderful personal attention, and a warm fuzzy feeling thereafter – not even slightly.

    I’m glad your experience was better, even if they have rules about what colour cover you can bind your thesis in. ;)

    • Erika Cule says:

      It;s not the sense of gratitude towards Imperial that motivates me. I am particularly grateful for the opportunities I was given. The alumni donations go to the scholarship fund, which gives scholarships to future students. If I can go some way towards giving future students the opportunities I had, that is something I am be proud to do.

  5. I will start sending money to my undergrad alumni association (Newcastle) on the day they stop sending three copies of the same newsletter to three people with the same last name living at the same address.

    (My parents are both also Newcastle alumni – my Mum from undergrad, and my Dad from his Masters*. I’ve updated my name and address in their database, and I do get the newsletter delivered to my current address under my current name, but they continue to send a copy to 2001 me, too).

    My PhD alumni association (Glasgow) have never contacted me once that I can remember. I did my PhD at an affiliated research institution on the vet school campus, away from the main campus, and never felt like a “proper” University of Glasgow student – I feel a much stronger affinity with the research institution, which is too small to have an alumni association.

    *As were both maternal grandparents, plus my mum’s sister and her husband

    • p.s. forgot to mention – your purple thesis looks much better than my boring black thesis. I could have paid extra to have my personal copy bound in a different colour, but I was running out of time before emigrating to Canada and just went with the easiest option.

  6. Stephen says:

    Sorry Erika – I missed this post when it came out. But THANKS for taking part in the speed dating event. This was new this year and was a big success with the current undergraduates. Sorry not to have seen you when you were on campus.