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New Year Honours for Edinburgh graduates

The New Year Honours list has recognised 13 Edinburgh alumni working in industries as diverse as marine biology and researching the causes and effects of loneliness. We spoke with four of them about their work and how their time at the University has influenced them.

Laura Alcock-Ferguson

Laura Alcock-Ferguson

Laura graduated in English Literature in 2000 and is Founding Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. She receives the MBE for services to people experiencing loneliness in later life.

"I chose to work in the not-for-profit sector to help address social injustices. My work as a campaigner is important to me because I believe one of the most long-lasting ways of improving social justice is by harnessing the energy and actions of thousands of people to create behaviour change at multiple levels.

Loneliness is simple in one sense - we all understand it, we have probably all felt it. But to address the underlying societal, community and personal-level factors that can cause loneliness requires a systems-approach. Many factors were combining to create a complex societal breakdown of connections. And this needed to be transformed into a clear vision for a different way of being together. The articulation of this vision and the opportunities to achieve it had to be put as succinctly and attractively as possible to people with the power to change policies, budgets, business practices and health priorities.

It means a lot to have the work of the Campaign to End Loneliness recognised in the New Year’s Honours as our work pushed policy and practice boundaries and created massive social change. Loneliness is now acted upon as a policy issue across national and local governments, businesses take action for their employees and customers, and the wider public are more aware of how to support each other through times of change that can lead to loneliness; and as a result, the UK has led the world on how to support people experiencing loneliness through policy and behaviour change.

The honours system leaves some divided, and for many reasons. Healing divisions and creating connections were what we aimed for at the Campaign to End Loneliness. And I thought hard about what it means to accept this honour, particularly this year, following the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of the attributes I learned from others during my time at the Campaign to End Loneliness could, I think, help in these times of division, challenge, and change: collaboration, standing up for difficult and unpopular issues, offering ego-less leadership, belief in a better future and, critically, self-care, self-awareness, and being honest about our emotions."

On Edinburgh...

"My time at Edinburgh was magical - the history, green space, proximity to the sea, the mist of the Old Town in winter. 

Yet probably the biggest influence on my life and career from my time at university was playing sport at Edinburgh. Almost every job interview I’ve had has asked me about my rugby playing (representing Scotland's under 23s). Ultimately, the discipline, team-work, determination and drive and reflective practice to improve my own performance all came from my rugby playing. And these skills stayed with me in my drive, determination, collaboration and reflective practice at the Campaign to End Loneliness."

Campaign to End Loneliness (external website)

Christine Campbell

Christine Campbell

Christine graduated in Bacteriology in 1979 and is Culture Collection Manager for the Scottish Association for Marine Scientists. She receives the MBE for services to Marine Science.

"I have grown to love algae! I have been culturing them for over 30 years now and have learned how important they are to the environment, producing more than half of the planet’s oxygen. Biotechnological research and applications are having a big impact and there is scope for so much more, and at mostly <0.1mm in size, algae are incredibly diverse and are so beautiful when examined microscopically.

The Scottish Association for Marine Science is a small research institute based near Oban with around 160 staff. Everyone who works here or even visits get the warm,  family feel of the organisation. This extends to the small team I manage who are dedicated, reliable and loyal. I hope my MBE will reflect on the whole organisation and help promote it as a place where people can thrive."

On Edinburgh...

"My first 18 years of life were in a working class household in a council estate in Glasgow and I attended a comprehensive school, so one thing my time at Edinburgh gave me was the chance to meet and learn from people from all over the world and from a wide spectrum of backgrounds.

One memory seared into my brain is my first biology tutorial class in 1976 when the tutor (an eminent professor) for an icebreaker session asked us all, not just where we came from, but what schools we went to and what our fathers’ jobs were. Most of the class were from professional middle class families and had attended private Edinburgh schools and I felt very small indeed! I now appreciate that this was not an inclusive thing to have asked and it took a long time for me to feel that I was fully part of the University community. I’m confident that this would not happen in 2021 – some things have changed for the better."

Scottish Association for Marine Scientists (external site)

Hermione Cockburn

Hermione Cockburn

Hermione graduated in 1993 with a degree in Geography, and went on to take the subject to PhD level, earning her doctorate in 1998. She is Scientific Director at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, and receives the OBE for services to Public Engagement in Science.

"My work is about inspiring and engaging people with science, and promoting this as a serious endeavour that can help create a sustainable future for humanity and our planet. My OBE came as a great surprise and I am so pleased that it was “for services to public engagement in science” as it feels like recognition of this whole field, not just for me but for everyone who strives to make science accessible and meaningful."

On Edinburgh...

"When I was an undergraduate I loved the variety of subjects in my Geography degree and I think this helped develop my curiosity about the world that has influenced everything I’ve done since. I’ve been lucky to have worked with inspirational scientists over the years and could never have received this honour without their help or the support of many colleagues!”

Dynamic Earth (external website)

Judith Halkerston

Judith Halkerston

Judith is a 1976 Arts graduate and Chair of Symphonic Software. She receives the OBE for services to the Digital Economy.

"My career has been working for IT services companies including what is now Fujitsu, SopraSteria, Serco, CGI and BT Global Services, and have worked in, or had responsibilities for businesses in the UK, Europe, North America, India, China and Australia. Over 40 years in such businesses, from the early punched cards days to todays AI, cloud and IoT, brings with it lots of experience, and I wanted to use this wealth of knowledge to help start-up and growth companies flourish in the fast-paced sector where change is the norm. I am continually learning and I find the experience with such companies immensely rewarding. Over the past few years I have been working with Symphonic, OnGen, Ntegra, Welltime and Taranata Group.  I’ve been lucky to meet some very bright, talented people during my career and bringing some of these connections together in order to help businesses achieve their goals is something that I love doing and hope to continue to do in the future.

The recognition is important to me because it acknowledges the significance of the digital sector, the innovation that the start-ups bring, and the creative and groundbreaking work going on in Scotland. In addition, there aren’t many women in senior positions in this sector - it would be great to see more. Perhaps this honour will encourage some women to enter and stick with the sector through their careers. I am incredibly honoured and humbled to be given this accolade."

On Edinburgh...

"I started my degree course at Edinburgh doing Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Computer Science in 1972.  While I discovered that university level Maths and Applied Maths were not for me, I was fascinated by computing.  After my first year I took a year out to rethink my studies at a time long before gap years were popular, and I re-entered the University of Edinburgh to complete my degree taking subjects which meant a lot more to me. I am forever grateful for the University’s flexibility and belief that I would graduate, and for allowing me to accelerate my course so that I could graduate in 1976."

Related links

Staff recognised in New Year Honours 2021

The New Year's Honours list 2021 in full (external website)