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A letter to my favourite lecturer

17 May 2017

Honorary Bristol graduate, Nelson Mandela (Hon LLD 1996), once said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Alumni spanning the decades got in touch this month to thank the Bristol teachers who changed their worlds. Here's what they had to say:

Dear Mr Pinsent,

Your lectures in large animal medicine were always absolutely mesmerizing. When you stood at the front of the room - a huge man gesticulating with wicket keepers' hands and voice rising and falling like a Welsh minister at the pulpit - you could create an image of Blodwen the cow with Milk Fever, or a fat lamb with Pulpy Kidney, with perfect eye for detail. Those descriptions remain crystal clear in my mind to this day.

It is over 30 years since I left Bristol and much has changed in that time. Today's veterinary students would be stunned if they could see our final year group sitting at desks in the classroom in Langford. There was a blackboard and a stand with flip paper at the front of the room. I am so impressed nowadays by Powerpoints and video clips and interactive models. But you did not need these accessories.

You gave us many sound maxims. Phrases like:
"Common things are common."
"Look at the whole animal before you examine it close up.” 
“Never dismiss what the owner says - he knows what is normal for that animal."
Sometimes we needed a healthy dose of common sense mixed into the endless science and that you gave us with abundance. 

You always had confidence in the ability of students and that instilled us with self-confidence. From you we came to appreciate that veterinary medicine is both an art and a science. Past students would regularly telephone to ask for your expertise on problem cases, which you would offer without making anyone feel ignorant.

When we graduated, you showed genuine interest in where we went. I saw you a few months into my first job and must have seemed full of enthusiasm, for by then I had seen a good number of the conditions that you had so vividly described to us as students. You wrote to me afterwards, saying that you were pleased to see how much I was enjoying practice. I still have that letter.

So what I would really like to say to you is thank you; thank you for the memorable lectures you gave; thank you for encouraging and believing in your students; and thank you for sharing with us your pride in our profession.

Helen Lewis (BVSc 1983)

Dear Dr Mike O’Mahony, 

Your lectures were exceptional - inspirational and funny. Thank you for making me fall in love with the subject even more. 

Olia K (BA 2006)

Dear John 'Breathless' Betts

You were my elementary Greek lecturer in my first year. Three sessions a week at 9 am. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You were always the last to arrive, always late, always out of breath, hence the nickname. Even when we all agreed to start at 9.15 and go on till 10.15, mainly for your benefit, you were still the last to arrive, and still breathless.

For those of us with little or no Greek, in a year you pushed us to a level where we could cope with the Greek the full Classicists did in subsequent years. You were kind and generous. There was one day, when we were going through our prepared translation of the opening of Aristophanes 'Frogs' and all but one of us was laughing away at the filthy jokes. One girl sat, looking more and more upset. We thought it was the humour she didn't like.

Finally she interrupted you almost in tears to say she was useless because her translation was nothing like the rest of us. Ever sensitive to your students, you stopped, looked at her work and then asked for her text book. It was then that you pointed out that her translation was almost perfect, but she had bought an old bowdlerised version that cut out all the rude bits, reducing the Greek text almost by half. The student quickly returned to her normal high spirits and she soon joined in laughing with the rest of us.

In my third year I took your comedy option in English, Latin and Greek. It was a brilliant choice, and luckily for you this time lectures started at 11. It re-instilled in me a love for English literature that my A Level teachers had managed to destroy. I still think fondly of your lectures when I sit at the RSC watching the English plays we studied with you. Your Bottom in a university production of Midsummer Night's Dream is still one of the best I have ever seen.

Subsequently when I became a Latin teacher and you took on your work with Bristol Classical Press, I had occasion to write to you on a professional matter, but you still remembered me after all the years that had passed.

Thank you.

Trevor A Bishop (BA 1975)

Professor Andrew Nix

Dear Professor Andy Nix,

You were THE BEST lecturer I had through 4 years of my education at Bristol University's department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. And although I went on to work in the field of semiconductors, I still cherish my (Advanced) Mobile Comms lectures.

Kind regards,

Yasin Elgabrun (MEng 2012)

Further information

Thank you to everyone who sent us their stories! Sorry we couldn't feature them all. For more, see the comments on our Facebook post.

Do you have a favourite lecturer? Let us know, we'd love to hear from you.