The University’s 300,000th student will graduate this summer and join our alumni community. To celebrate this occasion we asked staff and students to nominate a student to become our symbolic 300,000th alumnus. Due to the volume and quality of nominations we chose an additional 11 students to form our 12 alumni to watch. Final year Physics student Matt Harrison was one of those and we will be following his journey into graduate life. Here Matt discusses some of the highlights of his time at Birmingham and his post-graduation plans.
With four years of higher education behind me - three at University of Birmingham and one (my ERASMUS year abroad) at Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier in France - I feel ready to enter the real world. My time at Birmingham has been nothing short of fantastic, with vastly more ups than downs. Birmingham has given me not only the skills to begin a career I will thoroughly enjoy but also an alumni network of which I am proud and privileged to be a part.
In first year I moved into Elgar Court halls and instantly fell in love with both the Vale and the university campus. I felt extremely lucky to be beginning my degree in such a beautiful setting. The red brick buildings surrounded by such pleasant, open, green spaces actually made going to campus for early lectures - and staying late to study - a real pleasure. From the first day in halls, and the first week of my course, I made some wonderful friends, many of whom remain friends even after I left for a year - and even though they finished while I was away and went off on their own paths.
In second year I joined the University's Archery Club on a whim. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made during my four years; a decision that I regret not making sooner! I made the performance team and attended several legs of the Midlands BUTTS League (winning a couple of medals and the Novice Team Trophy), BUCS Indoor and Outdoor Championships, and an external West Midlands competition, plus a friendly BUTTS League tour to Amsterdam. Social events throughout the years are some of the highlights of my university experience, and the opportunity to be a part of the working party for an international para-archery tournament at Stoke Mandeville was incredible. The coaches and the experienced members of the club, in particular the alumni, were brilliant mentors, and I am so grateful to them for guiding me in the first sport I have truly loved doing.
For my third year I spent the academic year in Toulouse, continuing to study physics (yes, in French), as well as Spanish (also in French), but also making the most of being on mainland Europe, only two hours away from the Pyrenees for skiing, Spain and the Mediterranean Sea, and even closer to some excellent tourist destinations such as the medieval city of Carcassonne. I fell in love with Toulouse and French living, so much so that I now plan to move back there at the end of this summer. I met students from around fifteen different countries all over the world and in true "Brit abroad" style, ended up spending most of my time with other English people!
I returned for my fourth year to find a large portion of my friends graduated and gone, and those who remained on my course were now in the year above me, as I came back into the third year of my Bachelor's degree. I grew closer with fellow year-out course mates in the same situation but also formed great friendships with the other members of my Group Studies team, with whom I worked on a significant project analysing data from stars and exoplanets. I am so proud of the work we did as a team and the report we produced that I had a copy printed and bound for myself! During this last year I also took up the University's offer of a free language course and studied beginner's Japanese, which fast became one of my favourite modules. Finally, I made it through my (hopefully) last ever exams and I was over the moon to finish with a first-class degree.
Graduation was the culmination of four wonderful years here. The excitement and joy and ceremony brought four unforgettable years of hard work and amazing experiences to a perfect close. That being said, I sincerely hope and firmly believe that this is not the end of my time with the University. Being a part of the celebrations for the 300,000th graduate is a huge honour and a great opportunity to continue to be involved with the alumni community. I hope to be back later this year to help the Archery Club celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (in which English archers famously demolished the French army) and beyond that I can't wait to have a chance to see all the exciting new campus developments completed.
In September I will be returning to Toulouse and I hope to live and work there for a few years before applying to enter the diplomatic service. Nothing is set in stone yet but right now I can think of no better job than one which allows me to work abroad, experience new cultures, and learn new languages.
I may be moving a thousand kilometres away to another country (with only vague plans for my future), but the University of Birmingham has been a very important part of my life and I look forward to it remaining so.