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 over 2000 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 few hundred devices with them, and send packages of the devices to pre-planned stops along their route. 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.

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.

Outside the Sciences Po main building on my last day.jpg

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: 

To Graduation and Beyond

As Graduation Week 2018 comes to a close and the University sends over 2000 graduating students out into the world, it seems like the perfect time to reflect upon the week’s events. From prestigious speakers and ceremonies to Balls, Bops and Garden Parties, Graduation Week 2018 was not to be missed. Development Summer Intern, Rosie Catcheside, takes us through the week from her perspective.

This year saw our largest ever graduating class cross the stage at eight ceremonies over four days. The Scottish weather was on the new graduates’ side and it was great to see the town sunny and bustling with student life again. The first graduation day was a perfect start to the week, with a large graduating class including students of English, Mathematics, Theology and Divinity.


One aspect of St Andrews graduations which parents and students particularly enjoy is the tradition. Ceremonies take place in Younger Hall, where graduates cross the stage and are capped by the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor before being handed their degree certificate. After the ceremonies, they join the academic procession along North Street and into the Quad. As a spectator, it is easy to imagine the generations of students who have taken part in these traditions over the years.


As an intern with the Annual Giving team in Development, my main role in Graduation Week was helping at the Garden Parties. I had never attended these events before and was thoroughly impressed by what I saw, from the marquees to the food (mini fudge doughnuts!), drinks and atmosphere. Graduates, meanwhile, enjoyed the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate their success.

The most enjoyable aspect of the week for me was the opportunity to chat with students and their families. Students pinned luggage tags on our maps to show where they were going after graduation, and this proved that St Andrews’ graduates are both international and adventurous. With locations ranging from London, to New York, to Hong Kong, South Africa and even Antarctica, the world really does need to prepare itself because there is nowhere that St Andrews graduates aren’t excited to go.


It was also exciting to meet Family Programme Members and graduates at the Parent Cocktail Receptions at MUSA. With MUSA preparing to close for its extension and refurbishment, the cocktail parties gave parents and donors the opportunity to look around the museum and mingle with fellow parents, the Principal, and other University staff. The impact of donations to the University cannot be overstated, and it was great to chat about projects in the pipeline, and to thank donors for their impact.

Whilst parents particularly enjoyed these more ceremonious aspects, many graduates were especially excited for the final celebrations of Grad Bop and Grad Ball. The Bop included a glass of prosecco on entry and songs from the last four years and gave our newest alumni the chance to let their hair down on a St Andrews night out for the final time.

The big event, however, was the Graduation and Summer Ball on Saturday night. From the illuminated St Salvator’s Quad to the marquees on Lower College Lawn, the ball was set up in true St Andrews style, combining elegance with great fun. Graduates were dressed to impress and ready for a wonderful evening, and a fantastic final St Andrews’ memory.


I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Graduation Week from the inside this year. As a member of the Development team I was able to appreciate how much work goes into graduation, and as a student watching friends graduate I was also able to see how much the week meant to new alumni and their families. Now our 2018 graduates venture outside of the Bubble and join almost 60,000 fellow alumni all over the globe, and I am confident that they will continue to do St Andrews proud, wherever their adventures take them next.

You can see more photos and videos from Graduation 2018 on the University’s Facebook ( and Instagram ( pages and more stories from the week on the Alumni Network Facebook page (

Magical memories of the Gatty


Elspeth Smith (BSc 1968) and her sisters Frances and Christian spent idyllic childhood holidays in St Andrews, exploring the rock pools in the East Sands and carrying specimens to the Gatty marine laboratory, at that time unaware that their great grandfather James Gillespie had designed it! Here she describes her memories of the old Gatty and how delighted she is about the construction of the new Scottish Oceans Institute.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of days spent in the late 1940s and early 1950s on the East Sands in St Andrews. Granny Tetlow (my father’s mother) lived on the Grange Road, and my sisters and I would often run down the farm road – sometimes barefoot and already in our swimming costumes – and onto the beach!  Then, more often than not, we would head for the rock pools where, with a bit of luck, Mr Patrick would be. We knew him as ‘Pat’ or ‘Mr Pat’, and he worked at the Gatty.

Pat always took the time to answer our endless questions about the crabs and limpets and seaweed or whatever else we could find. He showed us animals such as lug worms and live razor shells that we would never have spotted for ourselves, and he explained what mermaid’s purses and whelk egg cases were.

He also allowed us to carry buckets of specimens back to the Gatty for him. Once there, we went in through a small back door, past a tiny office and into a magical room smelling of the sea and containing huge tanks full of a wonderful assortment of marine life including sea anemones, urchins, crabs and molluscs of every size and shape, and a variety of fish. Some of them seemed huge at the time, but that’s probably because we were very small!

I always had a love of nature study and that was probably partly inspired by these wonderful early experiences, so when I came here to study Zoology and then Biochemistry, I already felt at home.

It was while I was a student at St Andrews that I became aware that my great grandfather James Gillespie of Gillespie and Scott Architects had designed the Gatty building. It has certainly changed a lot since then!

In 2012, when I was President of the After Many Days Club, it was my great pleasure to welcome the Director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit as one of our speakers. New facilities were already being discussed at that point to enable the work of the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) to be continued and expanded.

Christian and I were therefore delighted to be invited to look round the Gatty again recently by Deputy Director Dr Dave Ferrier, and to hear of all the wonderful plans afoot for the new SOI. The building designed by our great grandfather has served its purpose well and it is fitting that some of the stones from the original structure will be incorporated into the wall alongside the public pathway: the spirit of the old will live on in the new.

I hope that students and townsfolk will form as many happy memories of the new building as we have of the old.


Blanket solutions


Current students Alice Bugeja and Alex McGregor, both studying Management, founded their own unique St Andrews-focused company – selling custom-made, St Andrews themed blankets. Our intern, Francis Newman, interviewed both of them to see what the business is about.

What made you decide to start this project?

We started this project as part of our second year Management module ‘Enterprise and Creativity’. We wanted to create a unique product that St Andrews students could treasure while at university and then take away to remind them of their memories of St Andrews. Our project was very successful so we decided to rebrand and relaunch St Andrews Blanket Co. We expanded and developed the company to reach a broader range of people. As well as our original saints/sinners design we now have a “town” design for people that don’t have a relation to the University, but who have a love for our historic town.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve come across and how have you tackled them?

This was our first time setting up a business which was a challenge in itself. Everything was new for us and so we had a lot of queries regarding the branding, marketing, production and funding. Our main difficulty was sourcing the blankets and getting them printed to the high quality we wanted. After finding a company and placing our order we were informed the blankets were out of stock and it would be over a month before we would receive them. Sourcing the blankets has continued to be a challenge however we have changed supplier which has been very beneficial to us as they are more communicative, enabling us to ensure we have appropriate stock levels.


How has St Andrews helped with creating the company or knowing what to do?

The Enterprise and Creativity module allowed us to bring our idea to life. It gave us the opportunity to trial our idea and conduct market research. We both learned a lot from this experience which has enabled us to successfully continue and run St. Andrews Blanket Company. Other Management modules (including Accounting and Finance) have been very beneficial to our business, giving us the knowledge we need to successfully manage our finances.

What are your plans beyond St Andrews?

We are both in our 3rd year at St Andrews. Alice is studying Management and Spanish and is on her year abroad in Spain interning with Nissan Motor Cars. She has learnt a huge amount working for an international company and loves using her language skills, so hopes to return to a similar organisation after her degree.

Alex is currently studying Management and after university hopes to go into the financial business sector.

What’s your favourite place in St Andrews?

We both absolutely love the coastal parts of the town – West and East Sands are our favourite places to go for a walk or a run. We have had a lot of fun taking photos at these locations for our business and we have even been lucky with some sun!

Find out more about St Andrews Blanket Company!

Award-winning medic, championship-winning dancer


Lindsey Karmen (BSc 2017), who won the Principal’s Medal on the day of her graduation, won the award for Best Undergraduate in Scotland at the British Education Awards ceremony in Manchester in January. Our intern, Francis Newman, spoke with her about the award and her experience at St Andrews.

“I loved being at St Andrews,” Lindsey says. ‘The degree structure, the town, and all the activities you can get involved in make it a really special place.”

Lindsey’s academic record is stellar and her list of non-academic achievements continues to grow, but her enthusiasm for St Andrews is very evident.

Last year she won the British Dance championships with St Andrews’ dance squad, the Blue Angels, and then won the Principal’s Medal in June 2017 when she graduated from the St Andrews leg of the Scottish-Canadian Medical Programme. This year she’s won the award for the best undergraduate in Scotland at the prestigious British Education Awards, which recognise student achievement at every level.

How did she end up with the award? “The St Andrews Alumni Association nominated me for this award. I was selected as one of three finalists in Scotland and was invited to attend the awards ceremony gala in Manchester.

That ceremony was a special occasion in itself. “It was great to be in a room with such accomplished people from all types of educational backgrounds. The awards are special because they recognize vocational, and co-curricular successes alongside academic achievements.”

Winning the Principal’s Medal was also a major highlight of her last year. “It was a wonderful endorsement of the work I’d done, both for my degree and within the community,” she says. “I was lucky enough to do be part of some special activities in St Andrews – able to participate in so many different societies – and it was awesome to have that recognised.”

She retains fond memories of her time with the Blue Angels – especially their competitions. “When we won the British Dance championships, we first had a long trip to Loughborough. When we got there, no-one there had heard of us, we were complete underdogs – and yet we won, thanks to all the hard work that everyone had put in, including freshers who’d come in that year.

“What was most important about it, though, was that it was about having fun, working together as a team.”

I ask what her favourite place in St Andrews was.

“This might sound a bit sad,” she chuckles, “but in the Medical building there are a load of tutorial rooms on the ground floor and before exams a group of us would often use them for ‘revision’. We ended up ordering pizza to tutorial room 4! During revision, St Andrews essentially shrank from three streets to one tutorial room.”

Since graduating last year, Lindsey went on to Edinburgh for the next stage of her medical training. She works at the Royal Infirmary, visiting wards, speaking to patients, and learning from doctors. She’s building up towards a career in medicine, though she’s not sure at the moment what specialism she wants to head towards.

“The three years of BSc Medicine training at St Andrews were outstanding. Initially  we thought our education was good. Now, I know that the foundational knowledge from St Andrews is so good that it sets you up for success in your clinical years – it’s better than the training at this level from many other universities.”

It was more than good academic foundations that she gained from the University, however.

“I matured a lot in St Andrews,” she says. “Being an international student, coming to a different country – it was a  great stepping stone.

“Also, I made friends who I know I’ll keep forever. Our class scattered across the UK, and I’ve seen so many of them since. It’s amazing how when you leave the Bubble, you keep the connections with people.

“Being in St Andrews was probably the best three years of my life – it will always hold a special place in my heart.”