A little while ago I entered an essay competition which asked students to explain why they love university. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but in case anyone fancies a read, here’s what I wrote.
Don’t forget to check out the winning entries on the link, too!
I normally get into some interesting conversations about how I ended up studying medicine. Before coming to Durham University to start my training as a doctor, I had in fact graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing and English literature. Medical school certainly wasn’t something I had in mind from an early age.
So why change? I made the jump after a lot of soul searching. I’d always had an interest, but I felt I’d never have a hope of getting in. During my first degree, however, I happily stumbled across widening access routes such as the National Extension College. Through them, I studied biology at home – sieving pineapple enzymes through nylon tights and measuring broad bean roots in the airing cupboard. Age and past qualifications have never been less of a barrier to university.
Now, having finished my first year at medical school, I constantly think about how lucky I am to be here, and how much I enjoy the subject. What makes me love learning medicine is that it blends science and art. I can jump from heart valves to ethical principles in the space of an afternoon. It also has huge personal satisfaction: the reward of one day helping people.
I was drawn to Durham for its focus on developing medical students as individuals – mainly by letting us loose in the local community. This year, I’ve been on placement volunteering at a primary school in a deprived area, and performed house visits to a family to explore the arrival of a new baby. Higher education throws you into new situations like these and lets you grow. It also gives you huge independence. You manage your education, and if you have a question, you have top people around to help. If nobody knows the answer, you can even find out yourself. A conversation with a tutor last term ended up with me putting forward a research proposal!
Could I have done all this without university? Unlikely. To develop and learn, you need to interact with people – and a university is, at the end of the day, a community. Studying for a degree puts you in a melting pot of different lifestyles, outlooks and beliefs. Sat beside me in lectures, there’s an ex-banker, an ex-estate agent, postgraduates and foundation entry students, as well as traditional school-leavers. This diversity, strengthened through societies, clubs and tutorials, enriches learning by making you consider different viewpoints.
Does the degree subject matter? Having experienced both the arts and the sciences, I think both cultivate you as a person. Whether you study sonnets or spines, all degrees are alike in that they plunge you into a culture of like-minded people who will help you enjoy learning. There’s only one thing you need to bring: a genuine interest in your subject.
The take-home message from me is not to worry about barriers, because there are none. As the late Alan Whicker said: ‘find something that excites you and follow it with passion’.