Monthly Archives: October 2015

‘Me, Myself & Eye: A Memoir’ by Dan Jeffries (Keynes, 1995)

Born with an incredibly rare eye condition and later diagnosed with a life-threatening tumour, Dan Jeffries (Keynes, 1995) has recently published a book about his experiences. Two years in the making, ‘Me, Myself & Eye: A Memoir’ charts Dan’s extraordinary journey from his early diagnosis through to his life as a student at Kent, and is accompanied by an App which includes videos, letters and music which are referred to throughout the memoir, adding an extra dimension to his written words.

In this week’s blog, Dan tells us a little more about his first publication, and what motivated him to write it:

I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at Kent between 1995 and 1999. Nothing particularly special about that, you might think. And you’d be right. But it’s what lies underneath that perhaps makes me a little different from most.

I was born with an incredibly rare medical condition called Wyburn-Mason syndrome. In simple terms, it has enlarged the blood vessels around my left eye and mid-brain, rendering my left-eye completely blind. No sight, no light. Nothing.

Growing up with such a condition was an interesting experience. Sport and physical activity was doable but hard work and it didn’t take long for me to gravitate towards the arts, and drama was where I wanted to be. And so in 1995 I was accepted to study at Kent, specialising in directing in my final year.

A few years after moving back to Bristol following my graduation, I started to feel some changes. I had no energy. I struggled to be creative. And then – through a chance comment made by some final year medical students – I discovered I had another extremely rare condition. And this one was life-threatening.

Three years ago I was telling my story over dinner and at the end of it someone casually remarked, “You should write a book!” and the rest, as they say, is history. I’d written plays and sketches in the past but never a full blown book. And now I’m a published ‘author’, my book went on sale on Monday 12 October, both as paperback and eBook.

With Kent being such a big part of my life, there’s quite a few chapters dedicated to the fine City of Canterbury. I talk about visiting for the first time, discovering Canterbury Rock and buying a record rarer than hen’s teeth, about working at Ricemans and various other locations, about getting arrested for non-payment of TV License fines (Oh the shame!), about my flat burning down and of course about undertaking my degree, the struggle to be creative and then directing my final year plays.

Being the creative type, I wanted to somehow include media that I had collected over the years: video, pictures, music, and – of course – medical documents. But I didn’t want the book to cost a fortune, which happens when you start including pictures. So one night – whilst I was cleaning my teeth (which is when I always seem to have the best ideas) – I thought…why not have an App? While you’re reading the book, why not use your phone or computer to look at the content? And so alongside writing the book I’ve been collating all the content and working with a web designer to produce the accompanying website. Those who work in the book industry tell me it’s a pretty ground-breaking way of telling a story. The eBook version has all the content automatically included and, for me, is a delight to read.

Since graduating from Kent, I’ve primarily been working in music and education, the past few years focusing more on Curriculum and Online Learning. I’m now the Head of Online Learning for a company that specialise in training Vets, so that’s an exciting new challenge. And the skills I learned at university, especially through directing, still help me out to this day: managing projects, managing people, meeting deadlines.

So if you fancy reading a true story about someone with a couple of incredibly rare medical conditions, a skewed sense of humour and some unbelievably unfortunate anecdotes, go and hunt down ‘Me, Myself & Eye: A Memoir‘. I’m also going to be part of a Channel 5 documentary airing early 2016, exploring my various conditions. Clearly there’s an appetite for my rather unique story, one that I feel almost privileged to be able to tell.

Alex Baker (Woolf, 2013) launches Sports Travel Guru Ltd

Alex Baker (Woolf, 2013), who graduated from Kent in 2014 with a Master of Science in Advanced Electronic Systems Engineering, works as a systems engineer at Thales Avionics. He has recently set-up his own online business, Sports Travel Guru Ltd, which specialises in offering advice and deals for people seeking to see live sporting events across the globe, and enables individuals to build their own packages and attend these events at a fraction of the cost that other major companies offer. The website includes free city guides to help people get the most out of their trip, a regular blog commenting on weekend games, and provides helpful tips on booking flights. It also acts as a community forum where people can comment and share their experiences.

What have you been up to since graduation?
Since I graduated from Kent I have been working for Thales Avionics as a systems engineer as part of their two and half year graduate scheme. During my first year I worked on numerous civil and military aviation projects ranging from the FSTA Tanker to satellite communications and in-flight entertainment systems. However, more recently I have transferred to Thales Ground Transportation Systems to work as an assistant project manager on the world’s largest rail signalling project (worth approximately £800M) known as 4LM or 4 lines Modernisation. This project involves installing Thales’ driverless train system, ‘Sel-Trac’, across the four major London underground lines such as Circle, District, Metropolitan, Hammersmith and city which ultimately will improve efficiency and passenger throughput.

What inspired you to set up your own business?
Even though I have always been keen to pursue a career in engineering and be at the forefront of technology, I have always wanted to own and run my own business. For example, with your own business you directly get out what you put in and therefore this makes for a very challenging but rewarding experience. The ability to encompass a business idea with your passion is always a very exciting prospect as you find yourself naturally spending hours a week researching or studying a subject which you love; therefore if you are able to monetise and share this passion with others then it is surely a bonus.

The reason I decided to setup Sports Travel Guru Ltd was because I love attending live sporting events, but when researching the best deals I found that a huge amount of companies were charging a fortune for their packages and that was ultimately due to the fact they were adding a huge profit percentage for themselves. At this period I was a student and money was inevitably tight, but not wanting to be discouraged I decided I would rather spend time researching and booking each component of my trip individually therefore bringing the cost down to a more manageable fee. Over time I became very good at finding the best ways to reduce cost or make trips more affordable and I soon found myself packaging deals for family, friends and the next door neighbour!

What is your ultimate goal with regards to the business?
The ultimate goal would be able to run the business full time by becoming a dedicated online sports travel operator. The dream would be able to offer sporting packages to any live sporting event in the world. However for now I just get a buzz out of people using the site and approaching us for advice. Recently I organised a stag-do for 18 in Dusseldorf with the main event being a Borussia Dortmund home game.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who was thinking of setting up their own business?

Firstly, I would say if you have a business idea and have done the necessary market research to see if the idea is feasible then definitely start up your own business and see how things go! At the end of the day you might become the next Uber or Snapchat! Although in order for your business to be successful you need to put in the leg work; don’t think you can just stand back and watch the money pile in without putting in hours of effort.

If you’re unsure on how to register a company or construct a business plan then I highly recommend The Prince’s Trust, which helps young entrepreneurs to get their business up and running. You will be assigned a mentor who will guide you through the important decisions and processes along the way, and the best of it is that it is completely free!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I have ever received was also probably the most simplistic. “Don’t ever think something is out of your reach, at the end of the day, if you want it that bad you will find a way to make it happen”.

What is your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement so far was being awarded a distinction on my University of Kent masters course which in turn helped me obtain a job working for one of the world’s largest engineering firms. However, in time I would like to top this achievement by pushing my career and business to the next level.

What are your favourite memories of Kent?
My favourite memory of Kent is the diverse international atmosphere which provided a fun and ideal learning environment. I was immersed in new cultures which I had never experienced before, which allowed me to form friendships to which I still speak with today. This also means no matter where I go in the world I’m not too far away from a sofa to crash on!

For more information about Sports Travel Guru, please visit their website, like them on Facebook and follow them @SportsTravelG

Alumna exhibition at the Gulbenkian

Alumna Inge Harcourt (Eliot, 1986) currently has an exhibition of her artwork at the Gulbenkian, titled ‘RESISTANCE  PROTEST  DEFIANCE’.

The exhibition commemorates and celebrates groups and individuals, some known and famous and others known hardly at all, who offered resistance to the National Socialists during the Third Reich, even in the face of death (1933-1945). ‘The paintings are abstract, but their dynamic character invites personal interpretation and an opportunity to identify emotionally, through free association, with the initiative, commitment and courage of the different groups and persons to whom they are dedicated’ explains Inge, as she describes the exhibition.

Born in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, Inge came to England at the age of 21, where she married and had a daughter and a son. She decided to study Politics & Government and Philosophy at Kent in 1986, once her son had started secondary school. Her degree awoke an interest in human nature, and she decided to continue her studies with an MA in Psychoanalysis in the Humanities in 1989. With a clear career path in mind, she was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy at Kent in 1995, and worked for a year at the University’s counselling service before becoming a Psychotherapist for various organisations.

Several additional courses between 2000 and 2013, which included diplomas in Hypnotherapy, Stress Management and Nutritional Medicine, convinced Inge of the strong mind/body connection, and that simply talking about how one feels regarding life situations might not be enough. ‘I believe that a holistic approach is more helpful for many people, including information on nutrition for the mind, the benefits of exercise, massage, meditation and mindfulness.’ explains Inge.

Inge became inspired to create her first paintings in 2000. ‘My involvement with Hypnotherapy and Reiki Healing and events in my own life brought me deeper personal awareness, which in turn led to spontaneous creativity’ says Inge. ‘It has always fascinated me how some people use art, literature and music as an outlet for their reactions to experiences in their inner and outer world. My paintings are never premeditated or planned on a conscious level, but created with much emotional involvement. There are several layers, and I intuitively know when they are finished. I suppose all of them contain some sort of conflict, but also suggest a resolution. They challenge the imagination to link with the energetic impulses arising from a variety of feelings we all share and into which we can tap, like frustration, sadness, but also hope and triumph.’

Despite having graduated from Kent some time ago, Inge maintains close links to the University. ‘I had a very rewarding time as a mature student at Kent, and made good friends’ she says. ‘Over the last 29 years, I’ve been sharing my house in Canterbury with students, postgraduates and visiting lecturers/professors from Kent. So, being able to have this exhibition at the Gulbenkian is a very important event for me.’

The RESISTANCE PROTEST DEFIANCE exhibition by Inge Harcourt will be at the Gulbenkian until 28 October 2015.

Kent saved my life!

Chioma Nnani (Rutherford, 2005) graduated from Kent in 2008 with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) in Law. She is now an award-winning author, who contributes to business, lifestyle and literary publications. She is a 2014 BEFFTA UK (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) Award nominee, who lives in Lagos and writes a ‘Memo from a Fearless Storyteller‘ blog.

I’m a proud Kent alumna.
I consider myself a walking advertisement for the University.

I made the decision to attend Kent without visiting the campus. I hadn’t attended a UCAS Open or Visit Day, which would have been the opportunity to visit the campus before making a decision. I’d been told when I was at college in Oxford, that Ian Grigg-Spall, who was at Kent at the time, was “one of the brightest legal minds in the country”. Unfortunately, he never taught me (when I did make it into Kent). But I was in awe of the guy.

I watched ‘Legally Blonde’, and was blown away by the fact that the characters could defend a real client, in a real court. And I thought, “Too bad they don’t do that at British universities.” Then I found out that Kent did. There’s a law clinic, that all students of the Kent Law School are welcome to join. And there’s an optional module called Clinical Legal Option – students on this module get to represent real clients in real cases, in the areas of Employment Law and Immigration Law. The students are supervised by qualified solicitors, who are staff of the Kent Law Clinic.

I didn’t get on the module – they do a ballot, as it’s usually oversubscribed. Many people who make it into the Kent Law School, want to be on that module. There were about 300 people in my class, and about the same number in final year. There were only 25 places on the module. Hello, ballot!

The other thing that makes Kent stand out is the fact that it’s a “critical law school”. So, there was a compulsory module we had to take, in first year. OK, in first year, ALL our modules were compulsory. We didn’t get to choose; we had to take (and pass!) what we were given. And there was this 15-credit module called A Critical Introduction To Law. The Convenor wouldn’t let you get away with being stupid, he would pick holes in your non-argument if you couldn’t defend what you believed. “Just because!” (in any shape or form) was not an answer. He would smile, while he decimated your non-argument. He would smile, while you exposed the fact that you hadn’t thought something through – before coming to (what you thought was) your conclusion; a sorry-excuse-for-a-conclusion, that was easy for him to destroy. Mainly because you didn’t know what you were talking about. And this was first year.

‘Critical Intro’ was the module that taught me to think for myself. And to be OK with holding an unpopular opinion that I’d reached AFTER thinking for myself. Classes and seminars were like overload of that scene in ‘Legally Blonde’, where the lecturer asks if Student A can stake Student B’s life, on an answer that Student A gave. And you see that total hesitation, because Student A is suddenly unsure of what they thought they knew.

At the time, I hated it because it made me question religious institutions and dogma – in other words, it tried to teach me to think for myself. It tried to get me to confront things that I suspected deep down weren’t right, but I was too afraid and/or indoctrinated to admit.

To decide whether what I said I believed, was really what I believed; or if it was something I’d been fed, and accepted because it was the comfortable thing to do. It didn’t happen overnight, though. Although I was more focused on trying to pass the module at the time, it sowed a seed; one whose germination I only realised long after I’d graduated from the University of Kent.

Kent gave me more than “multiple pieces of paper, by the end of my three years”. It wasn’t just about the curly fries from Origins Bar in Darwin College, or the Snakebite Cider from the Venue, either. Or the knowledge that money could really stretch on Monday nights in Nando’s – student nights. Or how that a night out at Wetherspoons is not ‘being cheap’. It was all of that, and so much more.

Kent made me question things; no matter whose cultural or religious sensibilities are offended. It helped me to loudly voice my discomfort with mediocrity. It’s the reason I can ask, “What are the real consequences of this or that decision? Am I really OK with dying inside, just so that I won’t be seen as ‘rocking a boat’?” It helped me to become able to unashamedly make a distinction between fact and fable, truism and theory.

Kent gave me an education.
Kent helped me find my voice.
And in doing so, Kent saved my life.