Dr Madhu Bhabuta (MEng Computing 1994, PhD 1998)
Dr Madhu Bhabuta is Non-Executive Director of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the driving force behind the South West Alumni Group (known as SWAG). Finding the time to organise alumni events is a challenge for Madhu, but she believes that "some of the most rewarding things are the things you don’t get rewarded for" - and she would encourage her fellow alumni to consider volunteering too.
How did the South West Alumni Group come about?
My husband, Jason, and I are both Imperial alumni and for a long time we were conscious that there’s an alumni network everywhere in the world but here in the UK. A couple of years back, we thought maybe we should do something about it. So I met with Alex from the Imperial alumni team to discuss it and it all started from there.
How did you get people interested?
Imperial held an event at Bristol M Shed; about 60 people came but only three of them put their names forward to get involved and of those, only two turned up to the first meeting. Fortunately, Rob Bracken (Mechanical Engineering 1976) and Graeme Cook (Mechanical Engineering 1983) are both amazing. We met a few times to make a plan, decided to aim for four meetings a year and talked about how we would make things happen – without a venue or any funding.
Luckily, my husband has a share in a tech company which offered use of their small auditorium; then a few more stars aligned, and we got a fantastic speaker from the Department of Aeronautics. This gave us confidence and we haven’t looked back. We’ve had a really good turn-out, with alumni from the age of 22 to 78 and everything in between. We ran three events this year, including a visit to the Rolls Royce Heritage Centre, which was really popular, and we are aiming for four in 2019, including a dinner.
What have been the highlights for you personally?
Being able to approach people like Professor William Knottenbelt who came to talk to us about Bitcoin and electronic currency. I knew William because we shared a room when studying for our PhDs. But if it wasn’t for setting up this network I might not have had the pleasure of inviting him to to my city or the chance to enter into his work in quite the same way.
What motivates you to do all this?
"I have a great sense of gratitude to Imperial. I entered as a feckless 19-year-old and came out with a PhD, a husband and some of my best friends; I have huge love and affection for the place."
Two things really. First, I have a great sense of gratitude to Imperial. I entered as a feckless 19-year-old and came out with a PhD, a husband and some of my best friends; I have huge love and affection for the place. Second, I have always seen people in my family volunteer.
It could be in my blood; it’s certainly been in my view since I was a child. My in-laws also give up a lot of their time to help other people, so it’s not unusual for us to be handing out meals-on -wheels on Christmas day before we sit down to dinner. I find doing something for the greater good is really satisfying; everyone should try it.
If you’re inspired by Madhu’s story and would like to start your own local network, or get involved with an existing group, we can help. As a first step, please contact Eilidh Campbell, Alumni Engagement Officer, at email@example.com.