The majority of people who go to university have some sort of idea of what job they want at the end of it. These people might have dreamed about a certain career since they were very young or they might have only just figured it out. Either way, university is supposed to help aspirational individuals on their path to achieving their career goals.
Biomedical Sciences graduate, Simon Stones, had plans to become a secondary school science teacher when he started at Manchester in 2012. However, one course change and one extra year later, it’s fair to say his plans have changed somewhat. Here he is to explain why it’s okay to change your mind at university and to reveal what he’s turned his attention to since realising teaching wasn’t the career for him…
Reflections: My journey since graduation in 2016
I remember my first day at Manchester in September 2012 like it was yesterday! I came to University filled with a multitude of feelings – mostly excitement, but an equal amount of nerves too. Some years previous in high school, I remember one of my teachers saying that your time at university will be the best years of your life – a time where you discover yourself, and where you’ll find your lifelong friends. How right she was. It was with that attitude that I walked into Stopford on day one, ready to accept the challenges and opportunities ahead.
While I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Sciences with Industrial/Professional Experience after four years, my starting point was quite different! I went to Manchester on a three-year Biology degree, with every intention to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) the year after to enable me to become a secondary school Science teacher. Yet here I am, six years later as a second year PhD candidate in child health. I could never of predicted the journey that I have taken, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s so important to keep your options open – you never know what may spark an interest within yourself to help you realise what you are destined for.
It’s okay to change your mind
I’m one of those people who tends to feel guilty if they change what they’d originally set out to do or achieve – like it would make me a fraud if I decided to change the focus of my degree, or if I went into something that wasn’t in the lab.
As I transferred from Biology to Biomedical Sciences at the end of my first year, I also decided to transfer to a four-year degree so that I could complete a placement in my third year. At this point, I was still set on seeking a laboratory placement, that was, until I applied for a placement with a medical communications consultancy called Complete Clarity (now Consulting at McCann Health). Looking back, this was one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
A placement is no easy exercise, and it will certainly stretch and challenge you – but the outcome is really worthwhile. I can’t begin to describe the amount of knowledge that I gained over that year, not to mention the network of contacts that I developed. This opportunity also enabled me to think about where I wanted my career to go, making me realise that I didn’t want to be based in the lab – and that was okay!
Anything is possible
Alongside the fun and challenges of my degree, I had a few extra things to manage – including arthritis, Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia. Living with long-term, chronic health conditions like these while studying is difficult at times – but it isn’t impossible, nor should it be. Having the right support in place from the outset was so important, such as being in contact with the Disability Support Office, and having good support from my personal tutor.
If that wasn’t enough, I also worked in a voluntary capacity during my degree – for 18 months as a marketing officer for a local secondary school, and for most of the four years as a patient research ambassador. While managing all of these different aspects of my life was challenging, and I often placed extra pressure onto myself, I’ve got to say that it has been worth it.
In October i started a three-year PhD in applied health research at another institution. It’s safe to say that my time at Manchester, combined with the voluntary work I completed alongside it, equipped me with the skills to be able to ‘jump’ from a Bachelor’s degree to a PhD – though nothing could have prepared me for the ‘imposter syndrome’ that I felt during the early days of my PhD (and every now and again still!)
Alongside my PhD, I have continued to advocate on behalf of patients and their families, using my experience of chronic health conditions since childhood. I was recognised last year as a patient leader when I was awarded an international WEGO Health Award for ‘Patient Healthcare Collaborator’.
Finding your niche
Over the last few years, I have certainly discovered my niche – both what I’m good at, and what I’d love to do. Combining my research experience and training, alongside my experience as a patient and patient advocate is something which I’ve fallen into by accident, but I couldn’t be happier! Earlier this year, I established my own consultancy business, working with clients in industry to build and sustain the way in which they engage, involve and communicate with patients, carers and members of the public. It’s exciting, terrifying and rewarding – all at the same time, but very much worthwhile.
If I was to offer a single piece of advice, then I would say to make the most of every single opportunity that you get while studying for your degree. Rarely will you have the flexibility to be able to try new things and meet new people other than when you are at University, and you never know what may lead to the best days of your life in the future. I always think it’s better to look back without wondering ‘if only…’