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Press release

  • 26 January 2007

Students celebrate success at Winter Graduation 2007

Around 1,800 students will be awarded their degrees at the University of Sussex Winter Graduation at the Dome, Brighton, on Tuesday, 30 January.

Students, together with their friends and families, will attend two ceremonies, presided over by the University's Chancellor, Lord Attenborough, and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alasdair Smith.

Two honorary doctorates will be presented this year. Sussex businessman Michael Chowen, formerly owner of Sussex Stationers, will be made Doctor of the University in recognition for his charity work. Professor Robert Chambers, whose work at the Institute of Development Studies has focused on development issues in Asia and Africa, will be made Doctor of Letters.

Among the students graduating are:

  • Tasha Sims, who is awarded a DPhil in biology and environmental science for her studies on the wild boar of Sussex. Tasha found that while boar are demonised for damaging farm grazing land and digging up bluebells in their search for food, they have a more positive effect on woodland ecology.
  • John Hostettler, who has achieved his third DPhil in law, at the age of 81. John worked as a solicitor until returning to academic studies in retirement.
  • Gillian Carpenter, who underwent treatment for breast cancer while studying for a MPhil in biochemistry
  • Astrophysicist Payam Davoodi, who followed his father's example to study for a DPhil at Sussex.

Michael Chowen, Doctor of the University

Sussex businessman Michael Chowen, who is being made Doctor of the University at today's graduation ceremony, has worked with and supported local charities for a number of years.

Born in Birmingham, Mr Chowen attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Edgbaston and went on to study civil engineering at Birmingham University.

From 1961 until 1970 he was employed by Gross Cash Registers Ltd in Hollingbury, Brighton. In 1971 he bought a shop, trading as Sussex Stationers, in Haywards Heath and built up the company, with his brother Jonathan, until they had 50 outlets, employing more than 1,000 people.

The brothers sold the company, renamed British Bookshops and Stationers, in 2005 to Easons of Dublin.

Mr Chowen's interest in supporting health and education led to him donating monies to the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in order to establish a new imaging department, opening early this year (2007). The donation will also help to create an important new department in clinical oncology.

Robert Chambers, Doctor of Letters

Professor Robert Chambers is a research associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex. His main operations and research experience has been in East Africa and South Asia.

Educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, he joined IDS in 1972 and has worked extensively with development organisations both here and abroad, including membership of the Band Aid/Live Aid Project Committee and the Advisory Panel on Agriculture, Forestry and Environment for the World Commission on Environment and Development.

His work has included aspects of rural development, public administration training, seasonality, irrigation system management, agricultural research and extension, perceptions of poverty, professionalism and participation. His books include Rural Development: Putting the last first (1983), Challenging the Professions (1993), Whose Reality Counts? Putting the first last (1997), Participatory Workshops (2002) and Ideas for Development (2005).

He is currently working mainly on participatory methodologies, how we know, do not know, and get it wrong in development, community-led total sanitation, and personal and institutional learning and change.

Tasha's taste for wild boar earns her a DPhil

Tasha Sims

Tasha Sims

Hated by farmers, feared by the public, snared and shot by poachers - the boar, one of our biggest native mammals, has not had the best reception since returning to the wild in the UK after an absence of at least 300 years.

They're even blamed for vandalising areas where Britain's best-loved flower, the bluebell, grows, because they love eating the bulbs in their woodland habitat.

But it is precisely this activity that has led research student Tasha Sims,37, to champion the much-maligned porkers. Tasha's scientific study of the wild boar population living on the Sussex and Kent borders has revealed that the digging, scraping and rooting they perform has big benefits for our fast disappearing woodland.

Tasha, from Brighton, who graduates with a doctorate in biology and environmental science today (Tues 30 Jan), studied the biggest population of wild boar in Britain - an estimated 200-400 beasts covering an approximate 30-mile radius of woodland, grassland, scrub and woodland rides on the East Sussex/Kent borders around Peasmarsh and Beckley - and analysed soil turned over by the animals while rooting for food on the woodland floor.

She found that while boar are demonised for damaging farm grazing land and digging up bluebells in their search for food, they have a more positive effect on woodland ecology.

Tasha says: "Rooting results in significant increases in plant species richness, plant mass and biodiversity by aiding decomposition of leaf matter and the turn-over of soil nutrients, which significantly alters the structure, dynamics and performance of the woodland community. The boar act as gardeners, keeping the forest in peak condition, helping to preserve the richness of our woodland. This activity can damage bluebell sites, but when rooting is suspended for a relatively short while, they recover quickly, particularly as the soil has been processed by the rooting activity.

"Proper fencing designed to keep boar out of farmland or bluebell areas, although expensive, would offer significant protection."

Tasha is also keen to dispel myths that have grown up around the wild boar. She says: "Wild boar are extremely shy and intelligent creatures. They are scavengers, not predators. They do not attack other animals unless cornered and threatened. They don't attack people's dogs, as has sometimes been reported. This is a sizable population, but the truth is that there isn't that much left of their preferred habitat of woodland anyway, and their spread is prevented by civilisation and motorways.

"My study shows that there is room for both man and boar to live side by side, if we are prepared to be a bit more accommodating. Since humans are responsible for the dramatic decline in woodland and the former extinction of wild boar in Britain, it seems appropriate that we embrace the re-establishment of this fascinating animal into Britain."

Tasha, who worked as a health and sports therapist as well as being a singer and songwriter in her own band before taking up biology studies at Sussex, is now considering a career that combines conservation, wildlife and the media. She says: "I love large mammal ecology and animals. I lived in the area where the boar are for 20 years. I was one of the first people who noticed their arrival, so this study has personal significance for me.

They really are AMAZING animals - they are TOTALLY fascinating, and you can see the great intelligence in them. It's wonderful to think that there is a big mammal like this living wild in this day and age."

The re-emergence of wild boar in East Sussex has been put down to several causes, including animals escaping from abattoirs or from commercial farms in Kent where they are reared for meat. But their return from extinction, having been hunted down the centuries, may be short-lived. Tasha says: "There is something about boar that brings out the hunter's instinct. Poaching and hunting is big business. In this country, poachers and hunters can make around £300 for a boar carcass. They will often use snares. Sometimes the animal can be snared and left in extreme pain for days before it is found and slaughtered."

Dr John at 81

John Hostettler

John Hostettler

Six years ago, at the age of 75, retired solicitor John Hostettler went back to education. His passion for law and history led him first to do a Masters degree at the University of Sussex, followed by a doctorate, followed by ANOTHER doctorate.

At today's winter graduation ceremony, John, who lives in Rustington with his wife, Joy, will be awarded his second DPhil from Sussex - to add to the DPhil he obtained at London University in 1983.

John, who worked as a solicitor in London for 35 years, initially took up studying to help with writing his books. Both his Sussex DPhil theses have subsequently been published as books: The Criminal Jury Old and New: Jury Power from Early Times to the Present Day (2004), and Fighting for Justice: The History and Origins of Adversary Trial (2006). His MA dissertation was also the basis of a book, Law and Terror in Stalin's Russia.

John says: "I decided to study at Sussex later to obtain a Masters Degree in History as I am deeply interested in history as well as law. Then I went on as I thought courses at University might give more structure to my books."

He admits he worked very hard, but still found time to play tennis, go swimming and have holidays. Althoug he has no further plans to study, he hopes to write another book about legal history.

John's supervisor, law lecturer Dr Richard Vogler, says: "John is a model doctoral student, always on time with his submissions and leaving his supervisor little work to do but to admire his professionalism. He has been an inspiration and a great encouragement to his younger colleagues on the DPhil programme in Law and, of course, a pleasure to supervise,"

Gill triumphs over cancer to gain a MPhil in biochemistry

Gill Carpenter

Gill Carpenter

Lab technician Gill Carpenter overcame breast cancer and the demands of juggling work and her studies to earn her place at today's University of Sussex graduation ceremony (Tuesday January 30).

And it was thanks to the support and encouragement of her supervisors, says Gill, that she was able to complete her degree studies.

Now Gill, 49, from East Grinstead, will be watched by her mother and husband Clive when she receives her MPhil in Biochemistry. Also cheering her on will be the academics who inspired and encouraged Gill during six years of hard work - among them Dr. Simon Morley, who was one of the academics Gill worked for, and who co-supervised her research project.

Gill says: "What really impressed me was that my professor, Jenny Pain, came to see me while I was signed off from work for my breast cancer treatment. She suggested that I should start writing up my research. It would give me something to focus on. She gave advice on how to access research papers online from home and I was able to use email to complete my work. Studying helped me to cope with what I was going through."

Gill, who had previously studied agriculture, decided to pursue her interest in chemistry after working for a spell in the water industry. She gained new vocational qualifications so she could work as a lab technician at the University of Sussex, preparing materials and running experiments for research scientists.

However, Gill decided she wanted to understand more about the science behind the experiments she prepared. Inspired by the Professors and other academics for whom she worked, whose projects included investigations of growth hormone, the evolution of diseases such as meningitis at molecular level, and the aspects of control of protein synthesis in higher organisms, she began an MPhil in Biochemistry in 2000.

"I felt very fortunate to work in this kind of environment - but I found it hard to progress further without the knowledge and understanding a research degree would give me," says Gill.

Gill was taking time out from her degree in order to overcome technical problems with her everyday experimental work when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.

Gill says: "Jenny Pain and Simon Morley were both wonderfully supportive, allowing me to send drafts of chapters to them both to check. I cannot speak highly enough of them both for the way they looked out for me."

Her MPhil thesis describes her study of a protein complex known as eIF4F, at the molecular level, and the role of this complex in the first (initiation) stage of protein synthesis in higher organisms.

Graduation Day is very much a family affair for the Davoodis.

Payam Davoodi

Payam Davoodi

DPhil astrophysics student Payam Davoodi, 26, was very nearly born at the University's Falmer campus, where his parents were living while his father Hassan was studying for his own DPhil in Geopolitics in 1980. When he was three, Payam saw his father awarded his degree at a University ceremony at the Brighton Centre in 1983.

Now proud father Hassan, wife Betty and brother Nima, also a Sussex student, will see Payam graduate at the University's Winter ceremony today (Tuesday, January 30).

Hassan, a university lecturer until an accident in 1985 left him paralysed from the neck-down, is now a journalist and campaigner on disability issues. Living in Brighton, they are delighted that their children have kept up the Sussex connection since then with such distinction. Both sons already have First-Class science degrees from Sussex and Nima is due to complete his doctorate next year.

Hassan and Betty were living in Park Village residences on campus when Payam was born. Hassan remembers the day vividly: "I didn't know what to do. A porter called the Sussex County [hospital] for me. It was very emotional."

Payam spent the first three years of his life on the Sussex campus with his parents, and was a regular visitor to the University library with his brother Nima when they were children. "This was in the days before the Internet," says Hassan.

"This will be the fourth graduation ceremony for my family," says Betty. "I still won't know whether to cry or take photos."

Payam's doctoral research involved working for the Spitzer Wide-area InfraRed Extragalactic survey, the largest infrared survey undertaken by NASA's Spitzer satellite, which was launched into space in August 2003.

Payam used data from Spitzer to study the characteristics of galaxy populations. He says: "Infrared astronomy is considered an integral part of studying the formation and evolution of galaxies, since a large fraction of the starlight emitted by galaxies is absorbed and re-emitted by dust. Therefore, my study gave a new insight into various populations of galaxy found in our universe."

Payam, who is currently considering career options, says: "Studying a DPhil at Sussex has given me the opportunity work in an exciting environment, alongside some of the top scientists from around the world. It has also allowed me to develop a range of skills, therefore widening the career opportunities now available to me".

Notes for editors


The University of Sussex winter graduation ceremonies begin at 10am and 3.15pm at The Dome, Brighton, on Tuesday, 30 January, 2007.


For photographs and interviews, please contact the University of Sussex press officers, Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, tel: 01273 678888, email:,



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