After dropping out of my PhD, I decided to focus on an exciting new project in healthcare, education or a related field. However, a big project would incur a big risk, so decided that it made sense to start smaller. I already had TAB up and running, and it was becoming more popular. A perfect opportunity to work on, and grow, something that already had a strong foundation, before embarking on a riskier endeavour.
So I spent 6 months working every day and weekends with the exception of 1 week holiday in the middle, writing every single A level biology topic. In every single UK specification (there are 6). Mad I know, but I did it. I also only realised halfway that I had totally forgotten about the Scottish Highers!
The PhD was a mad ride with a million things, a million people, a million new ideas, so much learning and so many new experiences. If what you’re about to see seems like a lot, let me tell you this wasn’t even half of it…
Taking part in another Co-Lab workshop between Norwich and Cambridge
I loved taking part in many extracurriculars. The Co-Lab workshop was one of them, and I attended almost all Co-Labs organised at UCL, University of Cambridge, UEA and even out in Lausanne (Switzerland). I gave UCL student radio and website interviews, attended countless lectures and events, and that was outside of normal PhD engagements like poster and presentation days, programming workshops and – of course – my lab research.
Quick pic on a sunny day after seeing a student’s PhD viva public talk at UCL
I mingled across multiple faculties across UCL, Birkbeck, King’s College London and others. From the much loved Royal Free hospital in northwest London (near Parliament Hill) as part of the UCL Medical School, to the newly built Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine on the 28th floor of Guy’s Tower next to the Shard.
The view from the side entrance to the Royal Free hospital where I worked on 3 different projects over 2 years
Memories of patients smoking outside despite the no smoking signs, and the gorgeous M&S baked goods.
3D-printed artificial bone scaffolds for my stem cells and tissue engineering PhD rotation project
Presence-awareness exercise at Hive Leadership Programme in San Francisco.
Hive packed so much in just 3 days. From finding your true mission, to connecting with people and scaling a company past $100 million in revenue. Some serious lessons.
Presenting our “mushroom-embedded plastic” project at Co-Lab in the UCL Institute of Making
Meeting new people and bonding over nerdy things, basically.
Christmas at the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine (King’s College London)
Nobel Prize-winning stem cell researcher gives UCL Prize Lecture
John Gurdon discovered that developed cells may be reverted back to a stem cell-like state, spawning the huge field of iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells).
Special screening of the PhD Movie 2 with the creator of PhD comics website!
A little graduation drink!
After commuting from Norwich to London during the first year of my part-time evening degree, this finally felt like I had accomplished something worthwhile.
Presenting our project on the iGEM stage in Boston, US
iGEM stands for the international genetically engineered machine competition. Hundreds of schools and universities worldwide take part to experiment with genetic engineering to solve diverse problems, and gather for the annual Giant Jamboree event in Boston.
In the lab at Birkbeck working on our iGEM project
Photoshoot by Microsoft featuring their smartphone in my lab.
I was on the Microsoft website alright? 15 minutes accomplished.
Networking after the European Healthy Ageing symposium in Brussels
Walking uphill to the castle in Heidelberg
I was a DAAD RISE scholarship holder which basically means I did a cool bioinformatics internship in Munster, Germany. All scholars (mostly from the US, Canada and the UK) got to visit Berlin first for a language course and tourism, and then halfway through the internship, meet each other in Heidelberg for a 3-day event.
Posing for the scholarship-holders’ meetup in Heidelberg
Resting by the Berlin Wall
Selfie with a “bottle lady” in Alexanderplatz in Berlin
My reflection in the door of the entrance to the Institute of Biotechnology
I finally (after writing thousands of words in applications) got an internship offer via SRF (SENS Research Foundation) to work on an anti-ageing research project in the US. Some visa problems meant that I “only” ended up being able to carry a different project out at the University of Cambridge. Mingling at the highest level of research with scientists and PhD students as an undergrad still was… something.
Catching shrimp in a Devon stream in the first year of uni field biology trip
Those were the small steps
What happened was I ran away from home to live with my girlfriend at the time due to my father becoming violent after finding out I was gay (way before I actually came out as trans). It was the last year of A levels and an extremely stressful time for a million reasons. I felt kind of shitty for all those reasons. I thought, what can I do to feel a bit better about myself? I figured, I’d always wanted to create a website, and biology was what I was good at. Thus The A Level Biologist was born. In a bedroom, in the middle of the night, as I played around with some ridiculous graphics on the (slightly rubbish) Google Sites host.
The stress was real and so I missed all my UCAS offers. Whoops. I had applied to a part-time evening degree at Birkbeck in London as a backup. After some hectic Clearing calls and some soul-searching, I settled on doing the Birkbeck course. And the rest, as they do indeed say, is history
Catching some rest in the coach after facing the Welsh rain on the A level biology field trip!
Look, me as a baby.