Keeping it in the family: three generations of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews fosters an ethos built around the ideals of family and community. The academic family, occupying a sacred place in the lives of students, becomes a second set of parents and siblings, helping freshers happily settle into university life. To have your biological family so heavily linked to the university, though, is a rarer fortune which is enjoyed by Jacqui Kelly, a First Year Social Anthropology student from Canada, whose father and grandmother are both alumni of the University. 

We interviewed the three family members to find out a bit more about why they all chose St Andrews, how their experiences compare and what this legacy has brought to their family.

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With two generations before her having studied here, when asked if she had ever felt a familial pressure to come to St Andrews for her university education, Jacqui said that, although never forced, she knew that she had to apply:

“Having my father and grandmother as alumni, I knew that I definitely had to apply! I wanted to get the grades to be able to get in here, and whether or not I came here I wanted to say that I could have gone there, to keep up the family tradition”.

Of course, Jacqui did get the grades and decided to leave her home in Vancouver and come to the north east coast of Fife.

A decision that, undoubtedly, would have overjoyed grandmother, Isobel, and father, Neil.  Isobel graduated in 1961 in Physics and Astronomy and her son, Neil, graduated with a degree in Management in 1990.
3 generations 2.jpg

St Andrews is a special place for the family. Isobel tells us of how she brought Jacqui to the town for the first time when she was just six years old: “I walked her around St Andrews and we stood on the doorstep of McIntosh and John Burnett Halls and I told her how much I had enjoyed my time at the University.”

Little did she know that years later she would be dropping her off in the town to start her university career, just as she had done with her son. Both Neil and Isobel came with Jacqui to St Andrews in September and the two generations reflected upon what has changed and what has remained the same. For Neil, much has remained the same: “I see many of the same things – the Old Course, the R&A Clubhouse, the Dunvegan, the Vic, Fisher & Donaldson…There are new stores and buildings but, in many ways, it looks very similar to when I was there.”

Isobel, however, naturally notices a few more differences: “The old part of the town is just as I remember, and I still avoid stepping on the PH!  However, the Student Union is unrecognizable.  My biggest disappointment is the loss of students in gowns walking the streets on a daily basis.  My gown was very important to me and I was proud that Jacqui was able to wear it on her first pier walk – despite the fact that it was a bit worn after travelling around the world with me as I followed my husband in his occupation.  In listening to the voices and accents around town I hear many more American accents.  In addition, there are certainly many more restaurants.”
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After her first semester in St Andrews, Jacqui feels she has settled in well, having made friends with her flatmates and found an academic family with parents who, on Raisin, dressed her and her siblings as superheroes, carrying a pumpkin as her receipt.

Raisin as a celebration has certainly evolved over the years, as Isobel tells us about her rather more anxious experience of the tradition:

“In my day the senior man [academic father] was obliged to write a receipt in Latin upon my receipt of a pound of raisins or a bottle of wine.  On Raisin Monday I was obliged to carry this receipt and could be accosted by any senior student who would either examine the receipt for mistakes or produce a flawless rendition of Gaudeamus igitur…This was quite a different experience from Jacqui’s, which was all about fun.”

Isobel also talks of how academic life has changed in St Andrews, whilst also highlighting some important benefits of coming to such a university, in a small town in Fife:

“No attendance records were kept at lectures or tutorials.  I remember a lecturer telling us that one in three of the entering class would not be graduating.  That is so different now.  It looks like this difference is due to closer attention to the students by the faculty.  I feel a major part of a university education is obtained from rubbing shoulders with your talented peers, and St Andrews offers great opportunities for this interaction due to the residential lifestyle, the concept of academic families, and the fact that everyone lives in close proximity.”

Neil has also noticed this impressive increase in support.  His strongest memories consist of the friendships made from meeting people in accommodation, studies and other areas. “The fact that St Andrews is small means that you can bump into people on a regular basis.  There was a real sense of community,” he says.  A keen golfer, Neil was on the University’s team.  Other societal commitments included membership of the renowned Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society.

It is exciting, even from an outsider’s perspective, to think that the traditions which Neil partook in 32 years ago and the balls and dinners of 60 years ago which Isobel frequented, are now going to live on through Jacqui’s time in St Andrews.  Literally walking in her family’s footsteps, wearing her grandmother’s gown along the pier was a fitting nod to the past at the beginning of Jacqui’s own St Andrews experience.  This story reveals just some reasons why the University of St Andrews frequently appears at the top of student satisfaction surveys, and it seems this is result that has traversed the generations.


CAPOD’s Employability Boost for Alumni

The working world for a graduate is a competitive and potentially intimidating prospect. To ensure that our alumni have every chance at success, CAPOD (The Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development) have released a programme for recent graduates, to boost employability and furnish them with the desired skills and competencies to help them land their perfect position.  Rebecca Wilson, Student Developer at CAPOD, told us a bit more about the Professional Skills Curriculum and just how it is helping our alumni.

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What is the Professional Skills Curriculum?
The original Professional Skills Curriculum (PSC) is a programme open to all University of St Andrews students, which focuses on the top 11 skills graduate employers value. These skills include: communication, organisation and leadership. A certificate can be achieved through attending 8 of the online workshops, lectures and practical skills sessions. The certificate is recognised on a student’s transcript.

What is the PSC Alumni programme?
For the graduating class of 2018, the ‘PSC Alumni’ is a new strand of CAPOD’s Professional Skills Curriculum aimed at recent graduates of St Andrews who did not complete the PSC while at university. This programme will suit those looking to boost their professional skills in the workplace or someone who is still looking to get their ideal graduate job. Applying the same principles as the ‘PSC’, the ‘PSC Alumni’ gives you the chance to improve your graduate skills. You may have graduated from St Andrews but CAPOD is still here to support you.

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How does it work?
PSC Alumni offers you the chance to engage in professional skills at your own pace through online workshops. A unique aspect of the PSC Alumni programme is that you will first complete a DiSC workplace preference profile (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness). This will allow you to understand your personality and behaviour which will help you to choose the graduate skills you would like to develop. You will be paired with a coach and have up to 6 virtual meetings with them to help steer you towards your employability goals. To gain the PSC Alumni award you will have to complete 8 online workshops and write a short reflective essay about how the programme has developed you.

What do you gain?
By taking part in the PSC Alumni programme you will gain knowledge in the skills you choose to work on. Which will lead you to feeling more confident about how to apply these skills in the workplace or talk about them in applications and interviews. Your coach will help you set achievable goals for you development.

The PSC Alumni programme is a watertight solution to greatly increase your employability and your confidence in job applications. Even better news is that it is completely free of charge.  Above all, it is reassuring to know that CAPOD,  alongside the rest of the University of St Andrews, is there for you after graduation.

If you graduated in 2018 or will be graduating this winter and would like to apply, please write a short application outlining why you think you would benefit from the programme, and what your career aspirations are, and send to

More information can be found at

A Raisin to Remember

Raisin Weekend is an annual event at the University with the 2018 edition taking place in mid-October. Development intern, Daisy Sewell, blogs about her take on an ancient tradition. 

Unique, beloved and a little bit mad, Raisin is a St Andrews tradition like no other.  Today it is regarded as a means of forming a supportive and caring circle of friends who become your academic family, and an excuse for a weekend’s worth of town-wide celebration.  After scavenger hunts and family games on Raisin Sunday, first-years awoke on the Monday and prepared to take part in one of our most famous traditions.

To celebrate Raisin 2018, we thought it would be suitably nostalgic and entertaining to take a look into our archives at the Raisins of years gone by, the changing rituals, the infinite creativity in costume design and the continuous hilarity of this cherished tradition.

The weekend was given its name as academic children traditionally gave their ‘parents’ (or Senior Man/Woman) a pound of raisins, as a token of thanks for welcoming them into St Andrews. Originally, the Raisin Receipt was a letter written, usually in Latin, by the academic parent, testifying that their ‘child’ (bejant or bejantine) had paid them the required pound of raisins.  Today, the receipt can be anything that you and your siblings can carry to the Quad before the foam fight, another marker of the evolving nature of events.

My Raisin receipt was a can of diet coke.  This year, I watched a parent be carried to the Quad on a sofa.

Here we see the traditional raisin receipt, dating back to 1946.

Raisin receipt .jpgCourtesy of the University of St Andrews Library: ms38585-1-C-11-11 

Raisin Monday in 1954, the bejants with their parents.

Bejants 1954 in the quad.jpgCourtesy of the University of St Andrews Library:GMC-20-11-5 

Over the years, Raisin Monday has become an incredible display of fancy-dress, with the creativity of attire never ceasing to amaze. This photo from 1971 shows the beginnings of this element of Raisin.

Raisin Monday, 1971Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library: AGC-51-60

Two Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers, ready for the Quad in 1999

Imacon Color ScannerCourtesy of the University of St Andrews Library: PGA-7-51 

Over the years, the foam fight has become a quintessential component of Raisin Monday, as this photo from 2012 shows.

raisin 2012 (2)Credit: University of St Andrews

2017 saw the Loch Ness Monster take a trip to the foam fight

2017 nessieCredit: University of St Andrews

This year, costumes and Raisin Receipts were bigger and more impressive than ever.

raisin 2018 (2).jpgCredit: University of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews is well known for upholding century-old traditions, no matter how bizarre they may appear to the outside world.  Raisin weekend is no exception.  The University’s alumni will surely remember their Raisin weekend and the chaotic hilarity they shared with their academic family, one bizarre weekend in an autumnal St Andrews.


Join in the conversation and share your photos and memories of Raisin Weekend on our Facebook page

Want to know more about the history of Raisin?  Click here for more information. 




Sharing memories; shaping futures

Every year, a number of students take up a role with the Development Office to call alumni, parents and supporters of the University as part of our Telephone Campaign. Here, Izzy Turnbull (MA 2017) blogs about her experience on the campaign and why she has come back to supervise the Autumn 2018 campaign.



My name is Izzy and this year, I’m the callroom supervisor for the telephone campaigns. My role is to support our student callers as they phone alumni and parents and tell them about the amazing things that are happening here at the University of St Andrews.

As an alumna I have many fond memories of my time at St Andrews, so it’s fantastic to give back to the University in this way! My degree is in Art History, and I really enjoyed my course. I studied everything from classical art to surrealism, and I found it extremely interesting to explore all the different concepts and ideas involved.

My dissertation was about Alphonse Mucha and Czech history and I thoroughly enjoyed a more in-depth analysis of this topic. I also studied modules in Medieval History and Classics during my first two years, which has broadened my general education.

IzzyBlog2I stayed in Albany Park during my four years here, and it absolutely made my St Andrews experience: the community was so friendly and welcoming and the beach was on my doorstep and was the perfect place to unwind and have an occasional bonfire night! I was on the committee for two years and organising the end-of-year hall ball is one of my standout memories. Another memory I will treasure is helping out with the On The Rocks Festival.

Working at The Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) during my third and fourth year was something I will never forget: I loved being in a museum environment and gaining such fantastic work experience, as well as learning a lot about the history of the University!


St Andrews is so unique and I loved my time here, so it’s fantastic to be able to come back and work with the University on the telephone campaigns this year! I hope you feel just as enthusiastic as me about supporting St Andrews and that you will give a little of your time to speak to current St Andrews students, and offer your support.



The Autumn 2018 Telephone Campaign takes place from 3-18 November. Our students are looking forward to hearing about the experiences our alumni have had while studying at St Andrews, and the path they have taken since leaving. They will also talk about some of the ways in which alumni and parents can get involved with the University through attending events, volunteering and donating. 

Find out more about some of the callers and read about our priority projects.


Searching for Sisu in St Andrews

Geordie Stewart conquered Everest while he was studying at St Andrews.  Having graduated, and become the youngest person to reach the highest summits on all seven continents, here he tells us more about how life at St Andrews and the friendships he forged whilst at University helped him achieve his goals.

Aged 17, despite no climbing experience, I read a book about Everest and decided I wanted to climb the Seven Summits ­­– the highest mountain on every continent.

Everest Summit

Geordie and the University of St Andrews on the Summit of Everest

Prior to starting at St Andrews, I had reached the highest point in Europe, Africa and South America. My naïve optimism and ambition had thankfully aligned successfully.

Old Course

With friends in St Andrews

In my first year I booked to climb Denali in Alaska, a famously demanding and unpredictable mountain. To prepare for the sled-pulling requirements of Denali, I rigged up my harness to the front of a small wooden sled and got friends to sit on the back while I dragged them up and down West Sands. For them this entailed the relatively simple task of staying still, putting on a set of headphones and enjoying the view of the Auld Toon as I toiled away up front. Unsurprisingly I got some very odd looks from locals who, however accustomed they were to erratic student behaviour, had probably not witnessed this sort of thing before.

Sisu is a concept at the core of Finnish culture and roughly translates as grit, perseverance and resilience. It is the strength within all of us to push beyond our comfort zones and endure when the situation dictates. We all have sisu but do not always require it.

Sisu was turning around 150m from the summit of Everest aged 21 when I realised, as a relatively inexperienced and young climber, it wasn’t safe for me to make the top and descend alone.

Post-Everest 2010

After 2010 summit attempt

Sisu was the psychological battle I had in my own mind when I returned to the UK having not summited but got so close. It was trying to battle with the decisions I had made and trying to use that failure as motivation to continue with this ambition.

Vinson Summit

Vinson summit, Antarctica

After successfully reaching the summit of Vinson (Antarctica) and Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia), I returned to Everest in 2011 sponsored by St Andrews. I reached the summit and became the Youngest Brit to climb the Seven Summits and the Youngest Scot to climb Everest.

It was one of those very special moments that I never thought would materialise after years of fluctuating emotions and whimsical ambition. I unfurled a University of St Andrews 600th Anniversary banner, a proud moment as a third generation student at our wonderful university.

I spent over an hour on top of the world with my wonderful Sherpa and had a surreal satellite phone conversation with my parents before heading back down again.

Everest Northeast Ridge

Everest North East Ridge

The years of looking for sponsors, of ignoring the doubters and making sacrifices thankfully came to a successful conclusion. Those four years were about searching for sisu at different times for different reasons. It was as much the mental struggle away from the mountains as it was the physical hardship in the thin air of high altitude. Through amazing friendship and support by the University, my dream became a reality.

In Search of Sisu Front Cover

You can read more about Geordie’s journey in ‘In Search of Sisu: A Path to Contentment via the Highest Point on Every Continent’, available via his website,

It records Geordie’s record-breaking journey and has been endorsed by Bear Grylls, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Professor Louise Richardson.

“I will always remember the moment I learned that Geordie Stewart had successfully reached the summit of Everest. It was an extraordinary achievement from an exceptional young man, and St Andrews rejoiced in his success.

 “In Search of Sisu is a blisteringly honest account of what it took to make it to the top. Inspiring and surprising by turn, each page bears testimony to Geordie’s courage, determination and resilience.”

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford
(Previously Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews)

Two Boys on a Bike for Sight

Two students at the University of St Andrews, Merlin Heatherington and Alex McMaster are soon to embark on a unique challenge: cycling from Cairo to Cape Town on a tandem bike, distributing life-saving medical devices along the way. They are looking to alumni to support their journey by providing places to where they can ship maintenance packages, a friendly face along the way, and through donating  to the project.


The ambitious and admirable project, entitled ‘Arclight Tandem Africa: Two Boys on a Bike for Sight’ will take them on an eight month, 10,000km journey along the River Nile, through the Ethiopian Highlands, across the plains of the Serengeti and through the Namib desert, traversing 11 countries, including Ethiopia, Malawi and Namibia.


The inspiration for their adventure came when medical student, Merlin, heard Dr Andrew Blaikie’s lecture on eye-care and diseases of the eye, in which he spoke about the Arclight, a device carefully designed by the Global Health Team here at the University of St Andrews. Merlin was particularly interested in the topic, and used his medical dissertation to investigate low-cost tools to help people use the Arclight.

The Arclight itself costs just 1% of traditional tools used for the same purpose, and is lightweight and durable, as well as being solar powered, making it perfect for low-resource environments. Furthermore, it takes only one hour to train a group of 20 people in diagnosing the main causes of blindness and deafness in such settings.

Merlin and Alex have therefore dreamt up a project in which they will distribute these Arclight ophthalmoscopes along the length of the African continent. They plan to carry a number of devices with them to distribute. They also have extensive plans to educate and train health workers and medical students who will receive an Arclight.


According to the World Health Organisation, 80% of blindness is preventable, and the boys are therefore determined to reach some of the most medically deprived regions in the world with this life-saving tool. Alex and Merlin are seeking to make an impact on the provision of eye-care in the areas that they visit, contributing to the Vision2020 goal to end preventable blindness worldwide.

The boys have planned visits and distributions in advance and also aim to obtain feedback and follow-up after they deliver training to the medical students and health workers.

Tandem-Africa Route

The route Alex and Merlin will take

Both Alex and Merlin admit that there will be challenges along the way, and that spending eight months camping and sleeping under the stars, or in difficult conditions in densely populated cities will not be easy. However, the pair are driven, excited and optimistic about the trip: because they have already shared a flat and completed tandem adventures across Spain and Scotland, they know that they can work together to successfully overcome any challenges.


Alex and Merlin have a huge support network that includes the University of St Andrews, Saints Sport, the University’s R&A International Scholarship, the Scientific Exploration Society and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Merlin was awarded the Scientific Exploration Society Gough Explorer prize for 2018.

In addition, the boys have been receiving mentoring support and advice from Scottish endurance cyclist, Mark Beaumont, who holds the world record for solo cycling the route from Cairo to Cape Town in just 42 days, and cycling around the world in just 79 days.


You can follow Alex and Merlin on the lead up to setting off on their adventure in October at:, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

How you can help?

If you are St Andrews alumni and live along their route, Alex and Merlin would be delighted to hear from you. They would love to be able to meet along the way – should their schedule allow it. They are also interested to hear if any alumni who live along the route may be willing to take in packages of equipment and supplies for them.

If you would like to support the project, Alex and Merlin are raising funds on SaintsFunder, the University’s new crowdfunding platform. You can support them at

Good luck Alex and Merlin!




How scholarships transform lives III – Georgia Spencer-Rowland

Margaret F K Fleming graduated from St Andrews with an MA in French in 1933, and a Bursary was established in her name in 2010 for students of French to enable them to study in France. Georgia Spencer-Rowland received the Bursary in 2015, and she describes here the wonderful opportunities it gave her.

Thanks to the Margaret F K Fleming Bursary, I was lucky enough to spend six months in Paris studying International Relations and Humanities at Sciences Po University.  I lived in the heart of the 2ème arrondissement from August to January and my time in the city was simply wonderful: I made friends for life, was challenged academically and seized every opportunity both inside and outside of the university environment.

My first day at the Embassy.jpg

My first day at the Embassy

I attended the University’s invaluable week-long Welcome Programme. Here we learned a completely new approach to research, presentation and in-depth data analysis and critique, without which I would have been lost once term began. My classes and professors were extraordinary and I feel privileged to have been included in what was, to date, the most intellectually stimulating environment I had witnessed outside of St Andrews.

I studied a range of subjects – all in French – from Terrorism and Asymmetric Warfare, to Ethics, French Philosophy and the Literary Culture of the Middle East.  Unfortunately, my study of terrorism changed from the abstract to a real-life experience after the attacks on the city that November. However, well-rehearsed security measures and the positive attitude of professors and students meant that evacuations and false alarms did not impede our learning, nor our desire to attend classes.

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Outside the Sciences Po main building on my last day

Classes not only developed my language skills, but also influenced my choice of International Relations modules on return to St Andrews: studying an introductory course to Ethics at Sciences Po led me to take the Ethics and the Use of Force module in Senior Honours. I remain in touch with my professors from Sciences Po, all of whom have kindly written references for when I apply for a Masters course at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA).

Outside the classroom, I took advantage of the unparalleled cultural opportunities on offer around Paris by visiting museums, art exhibitions, jazz shows and countless other unforgettable activities. The Bursary also enabled me to enjoy university sports classes, including swimming and weekly pilates classes. This provided a much-needed break from the library and allowed me to meet other students, who introduced me to debating and to foreign affairs and film societies – all of which I subsequently joined.

View from Le Ponte des Artes taken on the walk to my first classes on my 21st birthday.jpg

View from Le Ponte des Artes taken on the walk to my first classes on my 21st birthday

Alongside my studies, I managed to get a job in the British Embassy in Paris.  Having originally applied for diplomatic work experience, I was then offered and accepted a job as a server and interpreter.  It was incredible to go straight from lectures to serve at state functions where guest lecturers from Sciences Po would often be dining. The extra travel costs associated with this were covered by the Bursary, meaning that neither my academic nor social time in Paris were compromised.


I cannot thank the donors of the Margaret F K Fleming Bursary enough for the astounding opportunities it afforded me. Not only was I able to engage fully in the academic rigours of such an incredible institution, but the analytical and critical research skills that I learnt there will serve me for the rest of my academic life. I was able to participate fully in all aspects of student life, from sports to the arts, all of which would have been financially inaccessible without the assistance of the Bursary.


If you would like to know more about the range of scholarships and bursaries available at St Andrews, you can find out at: 
You can support future generations of students to fulfil their potential by giving to one of our scholarship programmes at: