The Manchester Access programme (MAP) is a widening participation scheme at the University of Manchester designed to inspire those from underprivileged backgrounds in Greater Manchester to consider higher education. Essentially, it helps to create a level playing field for all teenagers when it comes to applying to university, regardless of their background. One person who has benefited from MAP is Charlotte Mellor, a Medical Biochemistry graduate. Here, she explains what it’s like for someone who isn’t ‘supposed’ to go to University and talks us through her path through university and beyond…
Work? Medicine? History? Chemistry? Biology? Back in sixth form, the options felt expansive and scary. For someone who can barely choose which type of juice they want on the best of days, having to pick my entire future was terrifying. Very few of my family had gone to university and they certainly hadn’t been interested in science like I was. University was something others did, people who were more successful or who had families who had been. How was I supposed to navigate all of that?
The answer came when my sixth form was visited by the Manchester Access Programme. It seemed like the perfect solution, a try-before-you-buy experience of university. I applied to MAP and getting accepted onto it is probably, in hindsight, where my university education really started.
MAP was potentially the best thing I ever did. It really made me think about my future options. As part of the scheme, we were encouraged to choose degree programmes we were interested in, so we could write an assignment linked to an area of interest. At this point I was sure that Biology was my favourite subject, but having spoken to a couple of teachers who had done Biochemistry, I thought I might enjoy that.
Facing the list of degree programmes available, I once again felt overwhelmed. Biomedical Science. Genetics. Molecular Biology. Biochemistry. Medical Biochemistry. Wait, what? I paused. Medical Biochemistry. Nobody had told me about that course before, yet there it was jumping out of the screen at me. A search through the prospectus and other similar courses on UCAS told me one thing: Medical Biochemistry was the degree for me and Manchester was the best place for me to do it. Suddenly, the difficult choice I had been faced with had made itself.
Having decided on my first choice, I was single-minded in my pursuit of it. Nothing other people – be them family, family friends or teachers – said could dissuade me.
“Medical Biochemistry’s a small course, you might be better picking something more well known.” Wrong, I love my small course and the teaching structure at Manchester means I have friends from all kinds of SBS degree programmes.
“Living at home while you study means you won’t enjoy university life, move away!” Wrong, I love my commute and the fact I can have the best of both worlds – staying in a city I love doing the things I love whilst still getting to live with my family (and cats!).
“You’re picking Manchester because it’s the easy option.” Wrong, Manchester is a world-class university and I’m not going to lie and say my degree is easy because it’s far from it. But I am surrounded by a fantastic support network (family, friends, my personal advisor, student support, the MAP team who still look after their graduates).
I applied for a Medical Research Council summer studentship at the University last year and was lucky enough to get it. Spending my summer doing real scientific research is something that Year 12 me would never have dreamed of. Getting into a genuine research lab was something that I thought was beyond my capabilities – you had to know scientists or be extraordinarily clever to do that, right?
My degree has equipped me with confidence and belief in my own worth. Yes, I may be from a disadvantaged area, but that doesn’t mean I am worth any less in the world of work. My degree is not just helping me learn about cutting edge medical research but it’s providing me with opportunity. For a person who still struggles to choose between orange or apple juice, it has been surprisingly easy to make the important choices. I ignore everyone else and choose the option which is best for me. Be that an optional module, applying to a summer placement, or partaking in extracurricular volunteering (e.g. being a Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) leader).
My tip for a student at any point in their academic life (be that first year, third year or still in school) is the same: Make your own choices. It sounds cliché but sometimes I get little reminders of how different my life might have been had I done what others had told me they thought was best for me. Saying that, don’t completely ignore the advice of your family or your teachers because they do mean well. But don’t let them make the final decision. Your education and your future are just that. Yours. Putting yourself in charge of them seems scary but I’ve found that actually, the important choices are actually the easiest ones to make.