In support of student employability and wellbeing, six alumni speakers returned to campus on 20 March 2018 in order to share their career insights and talk from their experience about the impact and importance of good nutrition and mental health support to overall wellbeing.
Beginning with a careers-based session, over 80 students gathered to hear Phil Benson of Xing Smoothies, Jonathan Madden of Middlesborough Football Club, Katie Barwood of Spin Shed and Tom Roberts of GlaxoSmithKline. Phil Benson opened the session with a precis of his career since graduating from the business school in 2005. From sampling his first smoothie to founding Xing, Phil has combined hard-work with risk-taking and instinctive decision-making in order to found three successful businesses and diversify his portfolio to meet changing market expectations. Next up, Tom Roberts, spoke about his circuitous route from studying drama at Hull to his current role as a Category Manager in ‘Big-Pharma’, positively linking the skills and confidence that he gained from a drama degree at Hull to his ability to succeed in sales roles (a gateway for his current role). Katie Barwood of Spin Shed recalled a beginners’ cycling trip to France with friends where she first realised that clothing for cycling was almost exclusively focused on the professional cyclist and had limited practical or aesthetic appeal to the beginner. Spotting a gap in the market, she founded Spin Shed and began to stock a stylish online range for the beginner or intermediate cyclist. The session concluded with an equally heartfelt account from Jonathan Madden of how his time in Hull shaped his outlook and paved the way for a career journey which has established him as the Sports Scientist for a major Championship football club.
Following an informal buffet-lunch where students had the opportunity to network directly with our alumni guests, we reconvened for an intimate Wellbeing Session focusing on nutrition and mental health. Our very own, Sandra Tramer, a food blogger provided some delicious blueberry muffins for attendees and outlined a number of ways in which students could eat healthily on budget, providing links and recipe sheets for all her recommendations.
Volunteers from the University’s Student Wellbeing Team spoke with great pride about their work in support of students experiencing mental health difficulties and this provided a perfect lead-in to author and marathon runner, Rachel Cullen whose session was presented in conversation with John Watson (Co-Head Student Support/Disability and Wellbeing Adviser at the University of Hull). Rachel spoke openly and with great emotion about her experience of the onset of mental illness during her time as a Law student at the University of Hull and her mixed feelings about returning to campus. She also reflected on the many deeply unhappy years that she spent trying to project an image of wellbeing and fulfill her own and others’ expectations for her life and career, whilst barely managing her body dysmorphia, eating disorders and clinical depression. Rachel explained to John and the audience that she had established a long-term dependency on SSRI anti-depressant medication which lasted for over 12 years. Although the medication had been necessary and helpful to begin with, a psychological dependency was quickly established and Rachel spent many years believing that her ability to function on a day-to-day basis was underpinned by medication. This cycle of dependency was broken initially by pregnancy which forced her to discontinue, and later by discovering the anti-depressant effects of exercise and fitness. Her recent book ‘Running for my Life’ captures stage one of an ongoing journey through which Rachel has found a better way to manage her mental health and suppress the “Bastard Inner-Chimp” – a name that she uses to characterise the part of her which seeks to counteract wellbeing.
Above all, this was a session that inspired hope. Rather than provide practical self -help and guidance, Rachel offered a personal testimony which spoke to a belief in the resilience of people, their ability to change and the importance of a person-centred approach to psychological wellbeing.
We’d like to thank all our speakers and attendees for supporting Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing Alumni Day, we hope that the day was helpful on both a practical and motivational level. It certainly reminded us that we have some incredibly inspirational and knowledgeable alumni and former students who have a huge amount to offer to current students and to the wider institution.
If you are a student or Alumnus(a) and require further support with careers advice, employability or professional development, our Careers and Employability service are here to help and can be contacted on 01482 462222