Alumni gather at the House of Lords

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Alumni and guests listen to Lord Darzi in the House of Lords

200 alumni and guests joined Professor the Lord Ara Darzi of Denham, President Alice Gast and new Provost Ian Walmsley for a sold-out event in London.

Lord Darzi, Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation, was host for the evening. Lord Darzi also holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial, The Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Welcoming guests, Lord Darzi acknowledged that while “sadly not an alumnus”, he was proud to have been accepted into the Imperial community. He described the decision to leave a comfortable appointment doing something that he loved, caring for patients, to turn to research.

“I was fascinated by what Imperial did in technology. It was in 1998 around the time of the merger of the medical schools, and some of us wandered across the park to see what was happening at Imperial. The talent that I met there – some of them would have been your teachers – was absolutely mindboggling. The translation of opportunities in technology into medicine was what attracted me when I had the privilege of joining Imperial as a Chair.

“I decided to do medicine despite coming from a very strong engineering background but I thought I should do something different. I always describe myself at Imperial as ‘the failed engineer’! That’s why most of my research has been with some exceptional engineering and science talent at Imperial.”

Much to celebrate

President Gast took the opportunity to thank alumni for being incredible supporters of the College, highlighting that 1,400 alumni had volunteered in the last year, and 4,000 were donors to Imperial. “It means a tremendous amount to us”, she said, “at a time when a place like Imperial has never been more needed or more important”.

She shared some of the latest research from the College, noting that Imperial has recently been named a top UK university for innovation, and won the most research council funding in the UK last year.

Professor Gast also mentioned that Imperial is the UK’s most international university and referred to the recent graduation of the first cohort of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (a partnership between Imperial and Nanyang Technological University), and a flagship partnership between Imperial and Technical University Munich.

She explained: “We are building more and more bridges with our European colleagues because, as we go through Brexit, it’s very important for us to keep those collaborations going, to find like-minded institutions all over the world and make sure those collaborations are supported at an institutional level.”

Professor Gast introduced alumni to Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Tom Welton, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Professor Nigel Brandon, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and Professor Francisco Veloso, Dean of Imperial College Business School, as well as Professor Ian Walmsley (Physics 1980), who joined Imperial as Provost in September.

Transforming public health

President Gast also spoke passionately about the College’s ambitious plans for a new School of Public Health at the White City Campus, a state-of-the-art hub for health and wellbeing research, outstanding education and community engagement. She stressed that “Public health is not just an academic discipline, it’s an academic discipline that matters for people, for populations, for whole communities”.  

An Imperial romance

It was a special evening for Gareth Tear (PhD Physics 2016) and Rebecca Pearson (MSc Life Sciences 2010) as they prepared for married life together. They met in the Holland Club (now h-bar) at Imperial and after five years together, married on the Sunday following this event.

The couple both work at Imperial too – Gareth as a Research Associate in the Department of Physics and Rebecca as a Lab Manager in the Department of Medicine, currently on secondment as a Biological Safety Officer in the Safety Department.

Joining forces to save lives

Miles Payling (Medicine 2011) and Bhavagaya Bakshi (Medical Sciences and Management 2009) met whilst working as junior doctors at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

They saw the life changing effects of cancer not only on patients but on their loved ones too. When diagnosed early, cancer patients have an average 80% chance of survival, which can reduce to 20% if the illness is caught late. Miles explained that a GP might see only six or seven cases of cancer a year, but can see around 30 or 40 appointments each day. Amazed that more wasn’t being done to help GPs identify the signs of cancer earlier, self-taught coder Miles explored his fascination with the role of technology in medicine and together they created C the Signs, a multi-platform tool for healthcare professionals to support early identification of patients at risk of cancer

The tool received very positive feedback when it was piloted in the East of England and has now been commissioned for use in some London practices. C the Signs recently received a £1m award from NHS England which Miles and Bhavagaya will use to develop and improve the predictive modelling within the tool to save even more lives.

A different direction

Eline Van der Velden (MSci Physics 2008) is a writer, actress and producer. She has starred in and directed various series including Putting It Out There, which was shown on BBC Three.

She remembers her time at the College: “Imperial was tough, but I loved the camaraderie. I am still in touch with so many people from Imperial. We have a very tight group of friends and we still meet up every month.”

Eline studied performing arts before coming to Imperial and after graduation she founded Particle 6, a media production company based in London.

So, what does she prefer – in front or behind the camera? “I like a little bit of both. They’re very different! I like to bring the science and some education into my shows and this week we won a pitch to produce a series of shows for BBC Bitesize.”

Queen of Jezebel

Xandria Williams (Chemistry 1961, DIC 1968) has enjoyed a varied career. First, as an exploration and research geochemist in the mining industry, spending a number of years in New Zealand, Fiji and other Pacific Islands. Then, she changed profession and turned to biochemistry and medicine.

She is back on campus regularly for Imperial events and has fond memories of her time here: “I was at the Royal College of Science (RCS) and I lived in accommodation near Beit Quad. I was the only scientist in the accommodation as we shared it with the Royal College of Music. I used to go to a lot of these lunchtime meetings and at one of them, I was made Queen of Jezebel! It didn’t involve too much but one time, I was kidnapped at the boat race by some City & Guilds students - great fun!”

In pictures

A full gallery of photos can be found on the Imperial alumni Facebook page.

  • Alumni chat in the House of Lords
  • Alumni chat in the House of Lords
  • Dean Franciso Veloso talks to alumni and Lord Darzi
  • C the Signs founders
  • Alumni admire the view from the terrace
  • Alumni making new connections


Dan Warren

Dan Warren

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Jenn Rowater

Jenn Rowater

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6697

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Development, Strategy-alumni, School-of-Public-Health, Alumni
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