Reunited: 'the smell of chicken dissection is the same'

April 9, 2004

Tim Haines studied zoology at Bangor from 1978-81. He has worked on BBC programmes and produced Walking with Dinosaurs.

I always imagined it was one of those midlife crisis things - buying a sports car, wearing inappropriate leather trousers and going back to your old university. So when I was recently asked to return to my old college in Bangor, North Wales, I must confess I was more than a little self-conscious.

It is 24 years since I walked away from this remote outpost of higher education with a zoology degree, and my only recent experience of educational establishments has been visiting potential schools for my children. I decided to adopt the same state of mind with Bangor and try to judge whether I would like my children to follow in my footsteps.

The visit started with a lecture. In the 1970s, that usually involved a man in a jumper, with long hair and a long beard, trying to introduce us to the alien delights of subjects such as genetic drift and allele frequencies.

And that is exactly what I got this time. However, I did find the whole thing fascinating.

Did you know that in 1930 there were only 30 elephant seals left in the world and there are now 150,000? This is a conservation triumph, but one that has left the seals with dreadful inbreeding problems.

Across the whole day there was much that reminded me of my time there. The facilities had improved, but the smell of chicken dissection was the same.

The biggest single difference to the life of the student seemed to be the computer. In 1979, computers lived in the "computer labs" and, except for a few compulsory courses, I generally tried to avoid them. Now it seemed as though I was never more than 5m from one and, by logging on to the intranet, students could chat with friends, check the state of their loans or catch up on missed lectures. The computer seems to have become the conduit through which most social and academic life flows.

Bangor remains very strong in the biological sciences and, as such, is at least partly responsible for the world glut in zoology graduates. But in an attempt to help these poor souls find work, it has strengthened the molecular aspects of the degree and grown a whole new Institute for Molecular Cancer Research.

As a parent I was interested to know why the students I met had decided to come to Bangor. I remember many years ago choosing Bangor first and being scoffed at by some lecturer in Durham. It turned out in my small sample that most students were at Bangor because they, too, had chosen it. They had researched the courses, visited the campus and made the choice themselves. There was also a sense that they had been put off bigger-name universities because a carefully cultivated reputation was not really high on their agendas.

So, as a parent, would I recommend it to my children? Well, I would be delighted if they did go there, but it really is none of my business. It is their choice. My only hope is that they get the most out of it and stick at the course until the end, but in countryside as beautiful as north Wales'

that cannot be too hard a task.

Tim Haines runs his own independent company, Impossible Pictures. He is executive producer of The Legend of the Tamworth Two , starring Kevin Whately, which will be broadcast on BBC1 on April 12.

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