October 2019: Naeema Rahim – Analyst at Goldman Sachs (Consumer and Investment Management Division)
I am a first generation university graduate and grew up on free-school meals. And, as of May 2019, I am an analyst at Goldman Sachs in their Consumer and Investment Management Division.
Now, more recently the question I get is, “But how?”
Here’s how; (grab a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive, this is a long one)
I have had by no means the traditional route into a bulge bracket investment bank, so when J2U approached me for this spotlight I was hesitant – I am not your archetypal candidate. I never had the best grades, I wasn’t a 10 A*s student, I didn’t go to a target university, I didn’t manage to secure an internship whilst at university, and I wasn’t one of those people that knew what they wanted to do (for example, my first UCAS application I had a firm place at St George’s University of London, but quickly realised that wasn’t for me either). Simply put, I struggled, and I guess that’s why doing this spotlight is important.
After I graduated, I worked in PR at a fantastic company, I got to work with great brands like Amazon, Disney, Warner Bros and Marvel – sounds great doesn’t it? Well, not entirely, I stumbled into the PR company’s finance department, and so the most glamorous thing I did was process an invoice on Disney letterhead. I wanted to do more, I knew I was capable of more and I had worked out that I did not want to be an accountant which was the route I was being nudged down.
This is the hard part, the figuring out what you want to be part – I was always so envious of my peers who knew what they wanted to be when they “grew up” – for some of you, you will know, for others like myself it will be a trial and error process, and you have to be okay with that, sometimes you really don’t know until you try.
So I started researching, and then researched some more. I reached out to peers from college and university that worked in the industries I was interested in and I went on a couple dozen coffee catch ups. During one of these catch ups, when talking with a friend I realised, I may not like accounting but I do enjoy some of the work that comes with it; I liked the analytical aspects of it, learning to build financial models, valuations, analysing PnL, there was one career path that offered this and the opportunity to further such skills; investment banking. Having little knowledge of this career path I started researching again and self-taught as much as I could to be sure this was the next step I wanted to take.
So, I had figured out what I want to do, now how to get there? I wasn’t naïve enough to think it would be smooth sailing, IB is a competitive space. Nevertheless, I applied unabashed with my non-standard grades and degree and braced myself for the wave of rejections I was about to receive – pessimism at its finest.
And boy did I receive rejections. I played a game where I would bet on how many e-mails I would receive the next morning starting with “Thank you for your application, unfortunately…” Feeling entirely dejected and sorry for myself, I complained to a good friend that I’m just not lucky like the people that have it all worked out and get those flashy jobs right out of university, when I got slapped across the face with “there’s no such thing as luck, you work harder than everyone else, and when you think you’re working harder you work harder than that!”.
With this is mind, I dusted myself off and tailored my CV to show how relevant I was to every job I applied to, I stopped spam applying and concentrated my efforts on the roles I was really suited to. I just needed to get my foot in the door, and I finally got the opportunity to after 6 months of rejections; I was invited to interview for a Client Onboarding role at Société Générale, a French investment bank. This is what I had been waiting for, an opportunity to be in front of these people to show them exactly how much I wanted to work in this industry and exactly how much I knew. Oddly enough I really enjoy and blossom in interviews, to me it’s my chance to show myself off and give all I’ve got. I have this joke with my friends that I interview better than I do the job I get! (It’s a joke – I hope!)
In July 2017, I started my role as an Analyst at Société Générale‘s Prime Brokerage, so not exactly IB, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. This was my first time working in a firm of this size and in the most cliché sense possible, I thrived off the pressure, pace and atmosphere. I worked with a variety of clients from hedge funds, investment managers to government institutions in my first year. In my second year, I supported the commodity business channel where I had the opportunity to work with grains famers, cocoa brokers to huge global energy clients – no day was the same and it was a challenge I welcomed.
As much as I enjoyed working within the Prime Brokerage, having been in this industry a while now I’d come to learn of other areas I believed I was more suited to, such as asset management. I came across an opportunity at Goldman Sachs and decided to try my luck. Goldman Sachs was my 10 A*s, it was my offer for engineering at Imperial, it was my “the best of the best” that I’d always wanted to achieve. I was more confident in applying to jobs this time round; I had that golden foot in the door and experience to back me, so when I received an interview I was in the true sense of it, ecstatic.
With a new found flair of confidence I sat 3 traditional Goldman Sachs super days; that’s 15 one-to-one interviews over 3 days – the modern Spanish inquisition if you will. I eagerly waited to hear back with “Congratulations! We’re pleased to offer you…” but to my dismay it was that familiar unwanted friend “Thank you for your application, unfortunately…” I was humbled, and if this spotlight wasn’t crammed full of enough clichés, here comes another one, fail to prepare, prepare to fail, and that’s exactly what I had done. I set my complacency aside, and polished my skills, soft and technical, and when I thought I was ready I would apply again.
To my surprise, 4 months later I received a phone call from a hiring manager at Goldman Sachs who was given my contact details from a colleague saying I came highly recommended. I was dumbfounded. I was offered a second chance to interview at Goldman’s and this time I was fully prepared. Having learnt from my mistakes, owning my past experiences and being honest about who I was and what I had to offer, in March 2019 I was offered a job at Goldman Sachs, my “the best of the best”.
To current students – stay foolish; stay hungry. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I love today.
Feel free to reach out to Naeema on LinkedIn quoting J2U (https://www.linkedin.com/in/naeema-rahim-profile/)
September 2019: Joht Singh Chandan – Public Health Registrar in West Midlands, Special Detective Constable, PhD student and Co-founder of JT Technologies Ltd.
Hi, I’m Joht from Birmingham and I’m a junior doctor working in the West Midlands along with several other titles I have picked up on the way. Thanks, J2U for inviting me to discuss my journey as to how I’ve got where I am. At school, I wouldn’t say I was necessarily the brightest, but I come from a typical Asian family where we have a high street shop, that has been running 7 days a week for 34+ years, so I am used to the idea of working! (A word of advice, if anyone wants to procrastinate less and improve their work ethic, just spend a week with my Dad at the shop!!). Throughout school, my best subject was actually Design and Technology. However, following GCSEs it came the real clinch point of what do I want to do.
I was in the same boat as probably many others, where I had no idea, and literally no idea how you are meant to choose at 17/18 years. So as with anything in my life, I liked to keep options open. I knew I wanted to do something that would help people but wasn’t really sure of the best way to do so. I knew I like being hands on but did like science and maths. So, I first thought engineering! Then swapped my thoughts to dentistry!
Then finally realised that actually medicine may be the best option here. The application process was challenging, I remember I made a right mess of my first interview and even got a parking ticket on that University’s campus before being rejected a couple of days later. I remember feeling distraught, as I then went into my second interview and got rejected again! At this point I was suddenly feeling like my life choices were wrong. The UCAS process can be hugely demoralising at times, but the key thing to remember is you are definitely good enough. You need to just reflect on what you can do better and keep trying! By the time of my third and fourth interviews came around there was more luck, before finally University College London let me into their shiny doors in the fun and exciting world that is London.
I started my degree straight after secondary school, hugely excited to move out for the first time, and I had a great time. However, it quickly became apparent that Medicine was no walk in the park and required a lot of hard work. Fortunately, I was in an environment with friends who pushed one another as we managed to power through the years. But there is one snag with going to London and as amazing as it is living on Tottenham Court Road, it is extremely expensive!! I realised working was then the way forward, and I knew I always wanted to do some volunteering where I could.
One thing I also very quickly realised during my time at medical school, is by the time you see patients who need the most help or have the greatest unmet need in a healthcare setting such as a hospital it is often too late to implement the necessary preventative measures or supportive frameworks. It is very obvious that individual’s mental, physical and social health trajectory are more often determined by what happens outside of a clinical hospital or GP setting but actually what happens in their day to day life.
So, what did I feel was the best way to address the need to volunteer, save money in London and also try to add in that extra bit of goodwill to aid the local community? Well this is why I started volunteering for the police. The role of the police is largely centred around interacting with society in their natural environment, the community they live in and their homes and in my opinion people who work in this public sector have one of the greatest opportunities to make a positive change in somebody’s life. This is why I chose to volunteer with the police in my first year at uni. A decision I do not regret till date. It has been extremely fun and a good part of my life building resilience through being exposed to a wide variety of different situations.
As time progressed through university, I picked up several other jobs including selling tickets for events and then becoming a warden at halls of residences for three years. Lots of people always said I was crazy taking all this on, but the advice I would give those going to Uni is push yourself! There is probably no better time in life, where you have the energy to try everything, and if it fails, keep trying, and don’t say no, as you have no idea where a good opportunity will lead. I would never have known in 2011 when I joined the police, that 8 years later, I would now be the first volunteer detective for the police, and also be undertaking a funded PhD alongside my day job looking at the outcomes of childhood and adulthood abuse. You are more capable than you think, and you will only find your limits when you push them! Good luck!
August 2019: Caitríona Bennett – Junior Doctor, and Prospective Psychiatry Trainee, in Yorkshire
Hi, I’m Cat and I’m a junior doctor currently working in mid-Yorkshire (something I still can’t really believe I’m saying!). I didn’t really know where to start with writing this but I guess I’ll give you a bit of my background and what helped me personally to get to where I am today.
I spent the first 15 years of my life growing up on a council estate and I went to a state primary and secondary school. Like everyone I’ve got bits that I loved and bits that I didn’t love so much about my childhood/teenage years but I wouldn’t change any of it because it has made me who I am today. I was always a bit of a bookworm at school and remember deciding when I was probably around 7 or 8 that I wanted to be able to go to work and enjoy what I do when I grow up. I worked out that if I try hard at school, I can hopefully have a better pick of jobs later…. So that’s what I did, and I was a bit of a nerdy and stubborn, but determined, kid as a result. I didn’t always initially want to do medicine. That was a decision I gradually arrived at through learning more about myself and what my interests were. As cliché as it sounds, I loved science and loved people. I had, and still have, a huge interest in how the human mind works and am fascinated by mental health and so during sixth form I decided I was going to apply to do medicine.
Being the first medic in my family I didn’t know the first thing about who to contact for advice on a career in medicine, how to sort out work experience, what I needed to do to apply etc. My family were all supportive in their own individual ways, as were my friends and I am very thankful for all of them. I asked my school in year 11 for work experience that would be useful for applying to medicine and for some reason I was sent to HMRC tax office for a week (I guess maybe the school were aware of what NHS payroll can be like and thought it’d prepare me well – so if anyone has any problems with tax codes on their payslips – I’m your girl haha).
I later found out about a work experience scheme my local hospital were running and decided to apply to that as well. I did some reading online and discovered Imperial College (the uni I eventually went to) required me to sit a BMAT – an entrance exam that the school must enter you for and provide you with exam conditions for. I remember going into school one day and asking to be entered for this exam, only to be asked “what’s a BMAT”- I found the website for the BMAT and explained it to the examination team. When it came to interviews, we had no practice interviews whatsoever for medicine so I remember going online and reading through forums on student room to try and work out what I should expect. Having said that I did find my school supportive and am grateful to the various teachers I had throughout the years who have always encouraged me; I’m particularly grateful to the biology teacher who took time to go through my personal statement with me.
In addition to that, a kind-hearted local man and woman decided to form the Sunderland Youth Engagement Group, in their own free time, to try and improve the lives of young people by looking for opportunities for us and helping us fundraise. I was fortunate enough through this to go on a foreign exchange to Sweden, go sailing around Menorca as part of the crew on the Tall ships and was able to complete my silver Duke of Edinburgh. These activities would have otherwise cost a fortune but, as a group, we applied to the council for funding and held events/fundraisers ourselves to raise the money to go. If it weren’t for this group and the dedication these two people had to improving the lives of young people I don’t know if I would have even gotten into medical school.
I was lucky enough to be offered an interview, followed by a place to study, at Imperial College School of Medicine. I absolutely loved my time there and met some fantastic people but I did have to work, at times multiple, jobs alongside my studies to be able to fund my cost of living there. In first year I got nearly the maximum student loan and I wouldn’t say I was well off but I was able to enjoy being a fresher, but in second year my student loan dropped dramatically due to a situation with my parents’ jobs (long story), and it declined further following that – by final year the government expected me to be able to survive on about £2.5k for the whole year in London.
My parents gave what they could but I found that I somehow had to juggle working until the early hours of the morning in a bar, with turning up to ward rounds first thing in the morning for my placement, with studying for my exams and with having a bit of a life as well. I worked hard to get myself into uni and I wanted to make the most of it while I was there. I needed my jobs and I did occasionally have to miss placements because of work but I made up for that by cutting down my shifts and hibernating in the library right before exams and then picking up as many shifts as I could just after. This approach did really burn me out at one point and, even as a doctor, I have never been as burnt out as I was after spending one summer in London working 5 jobs.
Not turning up until the afternoon (due to exhaustion from shift work) had been noticed by a few of the doctors on my placements as well. One of these doctors was a lovely elderly medicine registrar who took the time to sit and talk to me about why this was and (with my consent) wrote to Imperial, who then very kindly offered me a grant from the student hardship fund to reduce the number of shifts I have to do – so that I could get in for ward rounds and also have a bit of a break at times as well. Thanks to this, I still needed to work but I was able to get in for most of my placements and even join some clubs and societies and give a bit back to the life of the medical school. As a result I now contribute monthly to the university hardship fund as a way of paying it forward.
I joined J2U because I think it’s an incredible initiative run by some fantastic people and without the kindness and support of others I wouldn’t have the privilege of being where I am today, so I want to pay that forward. Whatever your background, you can make a better life for yourself (albeit not always in the way you initially imagine) and it is worth all the hard work in the end! Being a doctor is tiring at times but I wouldn’t change my job for the world.
July 2019: Saiam Ahmed – Research Fellow and Medical Statistician, Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at University College London
Hello! I go by SaiamUK or simply Sai if that is easier…
What do I do? I’m involved with mathsy, statsy medical stuff. Medical statistics is related to collecting, summarising, presenting and interpreting data from a medical setting, and using them to estimate the magnitude of associations and test hypotheses. I am a ‘medical’ statistician working in medical research. Currently, I am working on the design, conduct and analysis of clinical trials and other studies in infectious diseases at the Institute of Clinical Trials and Methodology at UCL.
What do I actually do? I am the trial statistician for a clinical trial called STREAM, being conducted in two stages. STREAM stands for ‘Evaluation of a Standardised Treatment Regimen of Anti-tuberculosis Drugs for Patients with Multidrug resistant Tuberculosis’, what a mouthful! The STREAM trials are addressing a huge global health issue, that is, the increasing burden of tuberculosis (and its drug-resistant forms) around the world (Yes, that’s right. TB still exists today and we are fighting to eradicate it.)
If we are successful, we would have the evidence required to adequately shorten a long treatment (often associated with poor patient outcomes) without compromising its efficacy. Furthermore, we are aiming to refine the treatment to improve outcomes in safety and toxicity, so that the treatment regimen can be used routinely by national TB treatment programmes in low middle income countries to treat and cure patients quicker.
Generally, my role usually involves designing the study and developing the study protocol, setting the research question/s and ensuring that we are collecting the correct and optimum level of data from trial participants. I conduct analyses on the data as the trial progresses and report data to various oversight committees and would also conduct the final analysis on the complete data at the end. Large confirmatory trials of this nature do take a long time to mature, so it can be many years before one has an answer to whether an intervention actually works or not!
How did I get here? Although I enjoyed maths and statistics (Yes, we did a separate GCSE in statistics in my day!) at school, I did struggle greatly in this subject and needed to put in extra hours at home to grasp certain areas – it paid off in the end…
During my A-levels, I looked into a ridiculous quantity of university courses as I was not sure what I wanted to do! It took me a while to realise that I wanted to do something mathematical in the area of medicine but was not sure if such a field actually existed! I realised that I wanted to be involved in a profession and have a career where my work would save lives, contribute to human knowledge and address health issues globally. I was torn between applying for Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science knowing that I actually wanted to do something ‘mathsy’ and be involved in medical research. In the end, I actually ended up doing Mathematics and Statistics at Queen Mary University of London and absolutely loved it! After securing various internships and work experience placements throughout university, I decided to embark on the Medical Statistics MSc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I heard great things about the course and the university from various professors who were working in health research at various institutions, and knew that this would be the next step for me following a visit for the open day.
During my time at QMUL and LSHTM, I was very fortunate to be involved in various extracurricular activities such as being the academic course representative for students in my department, PASS (Peer Assisted Study Support) mentor for first years and a mentor/tutor in local schools/colleges in the borough – I even ran in the Student Union elections at QM during my final year! I was also involved in various student union activities, from being a treasurer for the QM Bangladesh Society to being a student ambassador for the university’s outreach department. Some of these activities I am still involved with today, for instance, I am a volunteer at Islamic Relief, which sparked an amazing journey from the moment I heard about Krispy Kreme doughnuts on university campus with the Charity Week project. I would highly recommend to get involved in such activities as they supplement your current skills and make it easy for you to draw out certain traits or skillsets when you are applying for courses or jobs – I am able to use these opportunities as examples in my interviews and job applications and its always great to show that I am this ‘well rounded’ individual!
Takeaway key points from my journey? Research your choices and options extensively. Have a plan, but leave some wiggle room if you need to adapt to the surrounding environment. Do what you love.
Feel free to reach out to Saiam on LinkedIn (http://linkedin.com/in/saiamahmed)
June 2019: 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.”
May 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!”
April 2019: 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!!”
March 2019: 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. ✌🏾”
February 2019: 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.”
January 2019: 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.”
December 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!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYcyckYWhk8
November 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!”