November 2018: Shuaib Choudry – PhD Candidate, University of Warwick
“Hi, I’m Shuaib and I hail from Stoke-On-Trent and I have just started a PhD at the University of Warwick concerning the science of cities. I never would have imagined the future that I have experienced and the opportunities that I have been granted when I opened my GCSE results all those years ago with some disappointment. Though I did well comparative to my peers at my comprehensive school, on a national level my GCSE’s were just above average (I achieved more A*/As at A level then in my GCSEs) and I felt they were not indicative of my potential. This gave me a wakeup call to work harder during A levels and I experienced some scepticism about my aim to do physics at a high-ranking university because of my GCSE results, but my AS results were a positive sign I was heading in the right direction. So, with an encouraging physics teacher this gave me the confidence to apply to study theoretical physics and I obtained a place at Imperial College London.
That results day feeling, when I opened my envelope and I knew I achieved the grades required for my offer, were euphoric and seeing my parents’ reactions and their happiness is unforgettable. I graduated with an MSci in Theoretical Physics in 2016 and along this university journey I’ve helped raise £70,000 in one week, made my first film, helped to develop a fluid dynamical theory, worked at Teach First, completed a summer internship at a global consulting company, visited New York, Toronto and Boston and worked on a project related to black holes trying to advance the work of great scientists such as Stephen Hawking. The incredible people I met during my time here had inspired me to work harder to achieve even greater heights.
After I graduated I worked for a while in consulting, but I was sure of my next step and that was to do a PhD in quantum information theory, a subject I thoroughly enjoyed during my undergraduate study. I got offered an amazing opportunity to carry out a PhD down under in the fabulous city of Melbourne and I jumped at it even though initially my family were apprehensive, and this is one of the many minor obstacles we all experience coming from a lower income background.
Coming from this background it can be a struggle to convince parents for some of the opportunities you want to take and it can also be scary for oneself as you’re most likely the first in your family experiencing new things: like being the first to go university, moving out of home for university, being the first to move abroad and so on and so forth. I can safely say now looking back on all the things I pushed for with my parents, they have been incredible learning experiences that have enriched me and improved me as a person. I would encourage all of you to snatch opportunities that come your way with both hands and dive head first and don’t let fear of the unknown and lack of confidence dissuade from following your hopes and dreams. You may not get it right the first time but that’s okay and never be afraid to fail as long you’re applying yourself to a venture you’ll always learn from it regardless of the outcome. This is something, especially coming from a low-income background, we need to be reminded of, as the fear of failure is greater and the room for error smaller.
My year and half in Melbourne has been extremely impactful and I have grown immensely from it but sadly it’s coming to an end as another opportunity at Warwick came up for me and this one lies more with what I see myself doing long term as well as a bit of a childhood dream/hobby of mine. Ever since I was a young age I have always had a fascination with cities and urbanisation. As a child I wasn’t able to travel much, being from a low income background, so we just stayed local but I would always look up cities, read their history learn the current scenario and be amazed about the endless possibilities and cultural experiences present in the world’s cities. I vowed once I was old enough I would make it my life’s mission to visit as many cities as possible. Reading about cities and the urban planning that goes behind them is still very much a fascination today as it was all those years ago when I was dough-eyed child looking at pictures of gleaming skylines and obviously I’m still currently pursuing the aforementioned goal and every new city I visit I approach it wanting to experience the local life, the transport patterns, the nodes of influence that anchor the city and so much more.
Since growing up my interests have always been very wide ranging and I try to read as widely as possible from economics to politics, architecture to sustainability and science to arts and this PhD through the study of cities will allow to me to combine all these interests of mine and distil it into the study of a city as the city is hotspot of all these activities and I guess this is why I have always kept that fascination of cities growing up, as the childlike curiosity become a deep seated attempt to understand all.
Now I get to apply physics, computing and economics, my favourite topics, to my favourite subject the city. Well that’s been really long, I hope it’s been useful and I’ll end with the best piece of advice I can give: Be willing to learn from different people no matter their background but also keep in touch with your roots, be proud of them and as Malcolm X said ‘All of our experiences fuse into our personality and everything that has ever happened to us is an ingredient.’ Realise your own unique life experiences are just as impressive as other peoples which may seem more impressive. And no matter your situation, always believe with hard work you can achieve anything you set your mind to, with hard work being the critical ingredient here.”
October 2018: Mehwaish Zulfiqar – Year 1 Graduate Entry Medic at Swansea University
“Hi, I’m Mehwaish and I’ve just started graduate entry medicine at Swansea! I finally managed to secure a place in medicine on my third attempt and genuinely I couldn’t be happier with how it all panned out, so I’ll try to explain why.
I realised I wanted to go into medicine through the humanitarian work I was involved in; I wanted to do something with my life which meant I was helping others (cliché, I know). My view was that people in conflict or poverty didn’t do anything to deserve the situations they were in and I didn’t do anything that made me more deserving of a privileged life, so I wanted to use my privilege try to balance the scales.
So I applied to medicine during my A-levels and was met with one interview which initially resulted in a rejection, which then miraculously turned into an offer later down the line, and then I just missed the grade! After that emotional rollercoaster, I decided to take a gap year to recuperate and make sure medicine was for me. During this time, I forced myself to half-heartedly applied again. This time I was met with four rejections, the final of which came when I was actually helping to deliver aid in Jordan. Ordinarily the news would have broken me, but being surrounded by people who had extremely limited opportunities for the future and were struggling to even survive, made me aware of just how enclosed I was in my own world. It also reminded me that I definitely wanted to keep pursuing medicine and help those kinds of people with things that they would not be able to easily access.
So I started my degree in biomedical science, aiming to stay at my local university through a guaranteed-interview scheme in my course. I also took the dreaded GAMSAT exam (6 hours of comprehension, essay-writing, physics, chemistry and biology) and the UKCAT, just in case. After my guaranteed interview I realised that graduate medicine was no joke and people had WAY more experience than me in both academics and work experience. I was rejected from three universities (including the one that I’d studied biomedical science at) and placed on the waiting list for Swansea. I stayed hopeful until about May. I then decided it was just wishful thinking and that I would apply for a masters after I had received my degree results.
A few days after I’d gotten my results I went into uni to help a friend and start working on my masters application. It was then that I received a call from Swansea telling me that they wanted to offer me a place! A few days after that, I found out that my abstract for my dissertation was accepted for an international conference and, after going to Rotterdam to present it, I actually somehow won an award?? Anyway, long story short is that everything happens for a reason. Biomedical science allowed me the opportunity to realise that I enjoy clinical research and hopefully I’ll carry on pursuing it (and my experiences will no doubt help with my CV in the future) and not only is Swansea an amazing medical school, but it offers placements in developing countries, so I’ll definitely be applying to do those!”
September 2018: Josie Price – Junior Doctor (FY1) Working in Respiratory Medicine
“Hi, my name is Josie! I’m a junior doctor currently working in Birmingham, and originally from Bradford. I’d never really thought about medicine at school – I’d just assumed it was ‘above me’ due to my background (parents didn’t go to uni, mums a cleaner, didn’t go to private/grammar school etc). When I was 14 my dad pointed out I was doing well at school so why not consider medicine, and it kind of grew from there!
I worked really hard to organise my own work experience/voluntary work, get the grades and very luckily secured a place at med school. Unfortunately due to personal circumstances and mental health problems I ended up burning out and so took some time out of med school after my 4th year. Time out was good for me, but I underestimated how hard it would be returning to studying. I wasn’t the most confident to start with but the whole experience really knocked my confidence – I thought I’d never be able to finish the course and graduate!
Somehow, with a lot of support from family, friends and my boyfriend, I managed to get through! I was ashamed and embarrassed for a long time about having taking longer than others to graduate, but since I’ve been working this has faded. It’s made me realise that it may take you longer to achieve your goals but that doesn’t lessen your achievement or even make you less of a person! I also felt quite ashamed about having experienced mental health problems. However, having met so many inspiring people from all walks of life, who have also suffered with mental illness, it’s really opened my eyes that this can happen to anyone!
It doesn’t define you or make you less worthy! In some ways for me personally, it has actually been a positive thing as I can understand a little more where patients with mental health difficulties may be coming from. In summary, it’s ok if things don’t go to plan and it takes a bit longer to get where you want. It’s ok to not come from the same background as your peers. It’s ok to struggle with your mental health and to take time away from work/studies for this. Keep pushing, you’ll get there!!”
August 2018: Idrees Khan, Year 1 Pharmacy Student at UCL
“Hi! My name’s Idrees and I’m currently in the middle of 1st year uni exams :'(. I grew up in a low-income community in Birmingham’s inner city, got into a grammar school for secondary and achieved respectable GCSE grades.
At the start of AS I knew I needed to do well in my exams but throughout the year I was just lazy and had no focus. As expected (lol), I failed my exams and ended up with CCCD. This was the first time I saw grades C’s or D’s in my life so was still kinda shocked (which made no sense because I did no work).
As Year 13 rolled on I was determined to do well in my A levels, but I soon discovered… this would be the first time I would properly revise for an exam and I didn’t know how to revise 😂😂. I tried various revision methods; wrote notes, drew diagrams etc (none worked for me lol). Halfway through the year it seemed like I had been revising but I hadn’t really learnt anything. Exam season dawned upon me once again, but although I had worked a lot harder than I did in year 12, I again failed miserably.
I already knew I was taking a gap year, but at this point I thought I would have good A level grades. Instead, I had no idea what I was going to do and had bad A level grades. Retaking was inevitable and now I would need to decide what I am going to do with my future. I still had high ambitions but at times I thought maybe I’m not as smart as I thought, and maybe I couldn’t do this.
…Now comes the UCAS application process. When selecting my university choices, I still wanted to go to a prestigious university but after failing my exams twice I thought to myself: “am I being ambitious or am I being unrealistic”. I really wanted to apply to UCL or King’s College London. Coming from a low-income community, not many people go to prestigious institutions like these or higher education for that matter so choosing options like UCL or kings seemed like a long shot (especially as they were asking for AAA-AAB). With the support of family, I went for it and put down both options.
Long story short (cuz this is quite long rn) I got all my offers. I studied hard, believed in myself and can now say I am a student at UCL (still sounds really weird). I guess in short, don’t define yourself by your circumstances (grades, where you’re from or life in general) and whatever your goal may be, no matter how outrageous it may sound… just go for it! Regardless of who puts you down (family, teachers etc), only you really know what you’re capable of. ✌🏾”
July 2018: Zarah Sultana, Lobbyist at MEND UK (NGO)
“Hi, I’m Zarah and I currently work as a lobbyist for a prominent Muslim human rights organisation.
Growing up I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to go into (update: I’m still not) and I had phases of wanting to become a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist and a teacher (I haven’t completely ruled out the latter two if I’m being honest!).
When it came to applying to university, my dad spoke really passionately about studying International Relations and convinced me to choose that as my discipline (and he went on to study it himself at my university whilst working full-time: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/11/father-daughter-class-of-2016.aspx). My late granddad also wanted me to stay in my home city of Birmingham so while I applied to universities outside of Birmingham (Nottingham, Bristol, etc), I had no real intention of going to them but UCAS asks for 5 options so I thought, “why not?”.
At first I had fears that I would “miss out on the university experience” by living at home, but I quickly learnt that university is literally what you make of it and in hindsight, it was the best decision because of the people I met and the opportunities that I was able to pursue. After visiting Palestine during my Freshers’ Week with my dad, Students for Justice in Palestine was the first society I joined at the University of Birmingham along with Kashmir Awareness Society and BEMA (Black & Ethnic Minority Association). I also decided to jump into the deep end and ran for a university-wide election for First Year Guild Councillor in my first term (I lost but it didn’t discourage me from running in over 7 more elections during my student career #keeno).
As a student, I have held a number of elected positions both within the National Union of Students (NUS) and on the Young Labour National Committee. This has meant that over the years, I have been involved in some incredible campaigns – from co-organising the Black Lives Matter (BLM) UK tour when we hosted the co-founder of BLM, Patrisse Cullors-Khan, campaigning against Prevent and organising the #StudentsNotSuspects tour to electing the first Muslim President of the NUS, and so much more. It was in these spaces outside of the formal university setting that I was able to develop and explore what was important to me and the work I want to do with my life. Making life-long friends was a cool extra.
Since graduating, I have worked abroad (through the British Council), in FinTech, grassroots community organising and also the charity sector. While I’m unsure about what the future holds, I’m incredibly lucky to be currently working at the intersection of my political interests and serving my community. If I had to give some pearls of wisdom, I’d say: get involved with all aspects of university life – especially with the Students’ Union and campaigns on campus – and it could leave a lasting impression on your life and its trajectory.”
June 2018: Afrah Al-Saadi, Year 1 Medical Student at Barts (London!)
“Hi all! My names Afrah! And I guess here’s my story and tings. So basically I first applied to 3 universities to study Medicine and didn’t score any interviews. I figured let’s just work hard to get the grades and then I’ll re-apply on my gap year. Now that I had the A-Level grades, I put down 4 universities in my second UCAS application. I got 1 interview and a rejection after that. The other 3 were all pre-interview rejections scattered across the year, and it just happened that one of these beautiful rejection emails would appear on my 18th birthday lol. I was determined more than ever to keep at it so started looking for places through clearing. Sheffield university came through. They invited me for an interview but guess what happened after that?? Yup, another rejection. Apparently, I wasn’t enthusiastic enough about their university. Lol ok so things were looking a bit crap.
In case you lost count that was now 8 rejections from 6 different universities. I knew my next decision was going to be a big one. Would I take a second gap year? Would I decide to do something else at uni? Or should I just bun it all and live the rest of my life on the couch? (Real talk.) So I had an offer to study pharmacy (my 5th choice on UCAS) and I decided to go to the offer holders day. But it just wasn’t the career for me. So I decided to wait for the next academic year and send through my 3rd UCAS application. And here’s how it went…4 universities. 3 interviews. 2 offers. 1 very excited human. I’m now a first year Medical student at Barts and the London and absolutely love it. 3 UKCAT, 3 BMAT and 3 UCAS applications later I can now officially say: man made it. Moral of the story and tings is if you’re sure that Medicine is realllly what you want to study then keep at it. Where there’s a will there’s a way. The odds may very well not be in your favour (yes I’m quoting hunger games) and you may have to work harder to get there than others, but you’ll just appreciate it more once you’re there. There isn’t one set way to go about it, explore your options and see what best suits you. Oh, and don’t let any snobby high school Biology teacher say you can’t do it. Have faith, keep at it and prove ‘em wrong.”
May 2018: Efi Andah, Junior Doctor in Yorkshire (newly graduated!)
“Hi! My name is Efi! I knew towards the end of high school that I wanted to pursue medicine. Life threw me a bit of a curveball when I didn’t get the A-level grades that I needed, however, I knew I couldn’t give up! I applied to study Clinical Sciences at the University of Bradford, which offered the opportunity to transfer to medicine at the University of Leeds after the 1st year. However, I was really disappointed when I didn’t get through again. At this point, I did start to really question whether it was worth it. Thankfully, with the support of family and friends, I was able to dust myself off, get back up and continue working towards my goal of being a doctor. I completed my degree and applied to graduate entry medicine courses, and I was delighted when I was offered a place to study at Imperial College London. I have now graduated and I am currently working as a doctor in Yorkshire! It’s been a crazy long journey but so worth it! Through this process, I have found that it’s totally normal to feel disappointed and fed up if things don’t go to plan. Give yourself that moment, but don’t stay there too long! Dust yourself off, get back up, look at areas you can improve on, and keeping working hard towards your goal whatever it may be! It will all work out in the end! All the best and God bless!
PS: If you’re interested in hearing a bit more about my journey to graduate entry medicine, I made a video about it last year. Feel free to check it out!”
April 2018: Lydia Babawale, Year 1 Medical Student at UCD
“Hey! My name is Lydia. I’m currently studying medicine (graduate entry) at University College Dublin. It was my dream to be a doctor from a young age. I grew up in Nigeria where healthcare was not readily available. I moved to England when I was about 12 years old. I completed my secondary education at Rainham school for girls in Kent. I was able to get into a grammar school for A Levels, but I really struggled and was unable to get the grades required for medicine. I went on to study pre-med at UWL and, then, a degree in medical physiology. I worked as a respiratory and sleep physiologist at Imperial College Trust afterwards. During this time, I gained valuable clinical experiences and was able to build up my personal statement. I sat the GAMSAT and applied for graduate-entry medicine in Ireland and got in! It was easy for me to give up on my dreams especially after getting a good job, but I didn’t because I knew where I wanted to be and I knew my dream is worth fighting for!”