Grit, Adversity and University
(Ha, proud of the rhyming title.)
Okay, so in recent news… this week I graduated from the University of Sheffield with an undergraduate BSc (Hons) degree in Biomedical Sciences with Employment Experience.
I still can’t quite believe that I did it. It’s been quite a ride, I’ve loved it, hated it, wanted to quit so many times but kept at it. Seeing my parents light up in pride on the day, made it so worth it.
- In my second year, I had the chance to show off my web-development skills on a project. This was the first time I’ve ever really demonstrated my coding interests in public – quite honestly I was terrified. But I ended up with my first professional experience with Diva Creative that was a step forward from my part-time jobs in retail. I had the opportunity to see the value my hobby could bring into the real world. I wasn’t ashamed of my skills anymore!
- Scoring my first 95% in a project in my second year relating to Careers (of course!) This didn’t contribute too much to the overall grade but was I happy.
- On a recent module where I felt like I was most certainly going to fail, I achieved higher than expected. All those TED talks about cancer biology helped. 🤣
- I passed on what I knew and brought a community to life. Yep, you know it: #ShefCodeFirst. This let me practice my teaching abilities, communicating complex concepts to others, improve my teamwork and leadership skills. I wrote a whole post about what I got out of building this community, my little “baby” at University – I can’t say enough how it truly changed my life.
- Being recognised for my “outside-academia” work by being listed on a number of lists including the Future List (Northern Power Women), Top 25 Under 30 Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship (Code First: Girls), 5th most influential woman in the UK (J.P Morgan and the Tab.)
- Getting up to speak at University conferences and seminars e.g. the Teachers Conference and SchARR: Communicating for an Impact event.
- Being the University’s “Vlogger” where I had the opportunity to share my interests in tech e.g. hackathons and coding courses. This aligned with my own goal of wanting to publish more videos in 2018.
- In one semester, completing the “Skills for Work”, “Sheffield Graduate Award”, “Skill Build: Entrepreneurship Focus” and “Academic Certificate” part-time courses and recognition schemes.
- Working at nearly every aspect at University: as an ambassador, as a catering assistant, as a shop assistant, as a remote developer, as an enterprise intern, as a Communications placement student. I learned SO much from working alongside studies including how to manage my time effectively.
- Organising a hackathon
- Meeting the most amazing, ambitious people who I can now call my closest friends forever.
But it hasn’t been all rainbows.
There have been countless times during my whole academic life where I wanted to give up. At school, at sixth form, at university (especially) because a multitude of reasons but for me, the most significant reason was belief.
Not only did I not believe in myself but the important “figures” in my life didn’t believe in me either. And that had such an impact to me.
There have been some truly defining moments where my confidence in academia took a beating.
🙍🏻♀️Going back to school days, teachers always predicted me to fail.
- I was called dumb by peers for scoring 3/40 Science paper in Y9.
- I was laughed at and whispered about when I got an E in my science subjects.
- Teachers raised their eyebrow when I applied for Triple Sciences for GCSE’s and put me on foundation paper even though I said I wanted to give it a go anyway. They didn’t let me so I had to get full marks on the foundation paper to be considered.
- On my GCSE results day, my Chemistry teacher asked what I had gotten, I told her I got an A. She said to me, “I’ll have to check that myself.” I think she – along with others – were shocked when I got into A Levels because I was always told that “college is an option, BTEC is an option” I understand that it was, but it wasn’t an option I wanted but I was somehow pushed this label on throughout my years prior Sixth Form.
👩🏻🔬I chose Biology and Chemistry for A Levels.
- Much more confident with my abilities at this point, I did my first AS Level Science exams and… got E’s. My teachers advised me to drop Sciences because “Sciences just isn’t for me.”
- I persisted and blocked out everything that wasn’t A Level related. I soley focused on studies; I’d go to school, come back and revise until I had to sleep. I repeated until it was all over. Despite this, I came out of my first year of A Levels with low grades.
- Then came the time to start applying for University. I put in an application for Biomedical Sciences and was told by my Biology teacher at the time during parents evening, “I just don’t think you should do Biomedical Sciences. Your grades…” It’s true, they weren’t the best but I made a choice and hated how that wasn’t being supported. “Sciences just isn’t for some people.”
- I went ahead with my application and worked my butt off that year. There were constant moments throughout where that “label” from people tried to push me away from my goal and put me in a box I didn’t want to be in.
- I re-did all my Science AS Level exams that final summer in an attempt to bump up my grades. Teachers told me not to, so I paid the fee to do it all anyway. 😆
- Then this happened…
😅It is going to get easier from here…
Or so they said.
- I was overwhelmed by how much smarter everyone around me was, it felt like I was at Oxbridge or something. There was a lot of pressure and competition to do well, we are ranked, we were future scientists or maybe medics if you wanted to do that.
- My first and second year honestly was a blur of just trying to do my best but never being good enough. It was a chase on doing well academically because it felt like that was the only thing that was important for the future. And you know what? I was so tired of it.
- So I went on a placement year, to get away from it all. Little did I know that that year was going to change my whole perspective on University, my career, interests and open up a different world at university. I had the most successful year and was my favourite year to date.
- Upon returning to my final year after passing my placement year, I faced the bane of my life once again: academia. I tried to be much more positive towards it (something I practiced a lot during my break), only to be shot down all in an hour meeting.
- I was back to square one – feeling dumb, anxious, an imposter, confused on what I was truly good at, being pushed into a box I didn’t want to be in.
- But after a good month of feeling sorry for myself, I realised that nobody was going to create my future for me. This adversity which was quite familiar to years of the past was just another barrier I had to get across.
- And then… I graduated. Finally. Not only did I obtain that piece of paper, I also curated unfortgettable experiences of which I truly made the most out of my university life outside academia with a belt of awards of recognition and life-long connections.
💪🏼The main message
The one thing I learnt throughout the years? Grit, perseverance and persistence is the most powerful thing in life. There are going to be people who won’t support you, believe in you and laugh or roll their eyes at your ideas and ambitions – trust me, I know 🤷🏻♀️ – but never let it get to you. Use the energy for fuel to improve and go beyond your abilities.
Don’t focus on necessarily “proving them wrong” (even though it does feel good 😆) because this will come naturally when you focus on yourself (plus it’s a self-development journey too!) Fail your exam? Didn’t get the job? Can’t get funding on your idea? People keep trying to shape your own life? Keep persisting folks, even through adversity and failure – it honestly is the key to success. Talk the talk, walk the fucking walk.
💜A bunch of thank yous
I couldn’t have done this without:
- The support from my family. My parents’ grit through adversity gave me and my siblings an opportunity not many people from third world countries have so, I am entirely grateful. I hope I’ve made them proud ❤️
- The support from bae. He honestly changed my life, I won’t be flooded with opportunities without his encouragement. “You have so much potential.” Won’t and can’t forget it.
- The support from my colleagues. Everyone I have ever worked with – in my retail jobs, my catering jobs, my placement year and internships – for the constant morael boost at the toughest times. “You’re Pauline, Powerhouse Pauline.”
- The support from my community. Coding, tech, online, local and global. The daily fuel pushed me further than I could ever imagine.
- My University environment for helping me bloom. I can’t explain how The University of Sheffield opened doors for me, just by having support when I needed it from taking care of my mental health to reliable service whether that’s careers or just food when I needed it 😆I’m thankful.
It’s been a good one, academic life! Thanks for all the lessons, resources and tools, I’m ready to take on the world now. 🌍
🎬 Graduation and final year video
Watch my special day and some of my key highlights of my final year at the University of Sheffield!
Every post about my University life can be found here. Keep an eye out for more reflective posts about getting the most out of your University life as possible! Coming soon ✨