Category Archives: Science

Never betray your dreams, they are yours!

Aygun Badalova recently graduated with an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology. This is her #BBKStory of growing up in a low-income family in Azerbaijan, and how she taught herself fluent English to fulfil her life-long dream of studying in England.

Aygun Badalova

My desire to study abroad in England started when I was studying at school in Azerbaijan in a small, tiny town called Lerik. It is located in a mountainous region where there are only three secondary schools, and there were families around us whose children could not go to school at all. At that time, many girls in our district only went to school until aged 15 or 16, because of financial issues and social and cultural problems – most parents are still reluctant even now to let their girls leave for university. However, despite all the challenges, my mind was different and I always believed that I didn’t belong there. I had only one goal and mission: to study hard and leave my hometown for a better future.

Coming from a low-income family struggling with financial issues and hardships, my dream to leave felt impossible. There were days we couldn’t even have dinner. We used to wear our relatives’ clothes and when my father could buy something that was celebration for us. Because my father was our only breadwinner, he used to work all day and night just to cover our basic needs. My mother was brilliant housewife, despite our poor lifestyle she always taught us how to be brave and encouraged us to keep our heads high no matter what happened. Because I had four younger siblings, I knew I had to be their role model and I was like another parent to them. I am truly happy that I had a great family and a strong belief in a better future!

When I used to say “one day I will study in England”, everybody around me smiled at my naive desire. But there was a feeling deep-down in my heart which made me work very hard. My passion for England and the language made me study English – no one could believe that I became fluent by myself. I still remember the hard days: on the cold winter nights, with the dim light of a lamp, I used to open my books and believe. Believe in my dreams…

After finishing high school I left Lerik to study at a university in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan. At university, my love for the English language presented many fantastic opportunities for me. I worked as a translator for many important events and internatonal companies. Later, I taught English to professionals and I even wrote an English book for self-learners when I was working at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS) as a research assistant and interpreter.

Years passed, and many things changed, but my desire was always the same. Two years ago and after hundreds of struggles, I finally arrived in the UK to pursue my dream. It was a period of my life when I was working back at home and my family did not want me to go away. They thought I didn’t need to go, and they also were not comfortable that I’d be alone and far away from them. It took a while to make them agree to my decision.

Studying for a Master’s degree in the UK and getting my degree was not easy. My field of study required strong mental and physical strength and there were financial needs which I needed to fulfil by working. Learning about how the brain functions and how it changes in different mental disorders was really breathtaking and interesting. I also worked in healthcare settings and got a chance to see patients who suffered brain disorders. Moreover, I made many great friends who always supported me.

During my studies I met a lot of experts, amazing people and the great environment at Birkbeck has made me who I am today. Our professors’ approach to us was really impressive – they explained everything and were always willing to answer questions. My supervisor Dr Eddy Davelaar was one of these people who always supported me. I have been influenced by such great people and have become a better listener, as well as kinder and less judging.

After lots of research, unfamiliar topics, sleepless nights, weekend library days and assignments I have finally graduated! I would like to thank Professor Nazanin Derakhshan who constantly motivated us to achieve. One of her favourite quotes was: “Don’t look at where you are, look at where are you came from. Then you will see how far you have come.”

My aim for the future is to be a well-known neuroscientist and neuropsychologist and contribute to the treatment of Alzheimer’s and anxiety disorders in future. I am living in London now, doing my research and working in healthcare settings. I am also a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Counseller, working with people with different mental problems and I love my job. I’m also pleased to say that all my siblings went on to achieve degrees from prestigious universities.

I’d encourage others to never give up on their dreams! Don’t let anyone or anything make you to feel that you are not enough. Believe me, if I can pass thousands of miles and come for my dreams, you also can. I am just at the beginning of my amazing life.

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“Doing this degree has completely changed my expectations of what I can do in the future”

Isabella Ghawi faced challenges during studying, including a brain tumour diagnosis, epilepsy and dyslexia. With the help of Birkbeck’s Disability Department and her steely determination, Isabella founded the Birkbeck Biological society and graduated in November with a BSc Biomedicine degree. Here is her #BBKgrad story.

Isabella Ghawi

What made you decide to study at Birkbeck?

I did a lot of research because I left school quite suddenly without A levels as I started to have epileptic seizures.  After a long time, I decided I wanted to go back to university and study to be a neurophysiologist after my experience of working in a hospital.

I was searching for a good access to university course and chose Birkbeck as it had the best one. Unlike all the other places I looked at, it taught actual science. I knew that I wouldn’t just come out with a piece of paper, but I’d actually come out with real knowledge. After undertaking the Higher Education Introductory Course I decided to continue at Birkbeck to study a BSc in Biomedicine.

Did you face any challenges during your time studying? How did you overcome them?

I had a huge challenge in my first year. I already had epilepsy from the age of 18 and I had dyslexia. On top of that in my first year of biomedicine, I was diagnosed with a most likely cancerous brain tumour which meant I had to have a serious operation.

I overcame it, with the help of my family, my church and the people around me, but also with the support of Birkbeck – I’m especially grateful for the help and support I received from Dick Rayne, Mark Pimm and Jackie Saunder and many others. It was a learning curve for all of us, as we implemented new changes that were best for me at the time. So, with the help of all those people, I was able to continue and not just able to continue, but to really excel and exceed my expectations despite many difficulties.

Did you receive any additional College support whilst at Birkbeck and if so, how did this help you?

Birkbeck staff were a huge driving force because they were very understanding and supportive. The lecturers and the administration staff really helped me to develop resilience within myself and I kept going because they were so supportive. I also received a lot of help from the disability team. I received extra training on my computer with programmes that helped me with my dyslexia. There were a lot of assistive technologies that I was given, as well as a support tutor who was great and again, a real emotional rock. I also received a note taker and had extra time in exams which was helpful. Unfortunately, in a couple of my exams I had seizures, which were quite distressing. As a result, towards the end of my studies my exams were split, and I did them in smaller chunks which was extremely helpful. By the time it got to the last year, we had figured out what worked best.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

Doing this degree has completely changed my expectations of what I can do in the future. Before doing this degree, I didn’t think I would be able to do much, but it’s made me really open to new opportunities. I really hope to continue to work in research, which is something I’d never dreamed of. I had never really done any lab work before this degree, but by the end of three years I was leaving the lab sessions thinking that if I could go back to the lab every day for the rest of my life, I’d be a very happy person. So, I would really love to work in a scientific laboratory.

This degree has also made me think that maybe there could be other things out there that I would be good at that I haven’t experienced yet. Now I’m looking for a job, hopefully in research, to gain more experience and then perhaps go back and do a PhD when I have more experience in the field, because I feel I really need more hands-on experience.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

I would say go for it and give it a try, you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve. If you have any doubts or problems, there is so much help and support out there. I would also strongly suggest being open about your difficulties from the beginning with the staff.  If you do have a busy life and lot to cope with, for example if you have children, work commitments, health problems or caring commitments, the opportunity of doing part-time is well worth taking.

Studying at Birkbeck is a truly great experience, I would strongly recommend others go for it and give it a try. I don’t think you’d regret it, I certainly haven’t.

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Struggle and Strife pave the way for Success

Demelza Honeyborne was born in Wales, taken to Liberia, West Africa aged 2 years old and survived a 10-year civil war, physical assault and years out of education to go on to recently graduate with a degree in Psychology. This is her #BBKgrad story.

The early years in Liberia, ongoing conflict and the battle to stay in education:

My mother was from Liberia. She and my Dad had separated, so she took me to her home country when I was just two years old. Liberia’s 10-year civil war started in 1990 when I was 13 years old and my mother died that same year. My father had left when I was about four, and I had no contact with him so I effectively became like an orphan during the war. Schools were closed due to the war for a few years- I can’t remember the length of closure…probably till 1996, but they reopened at points where there were cease fires so I missed a massive portion of my junior and senior schooling.

At 18 years old, I got pregnant with my twins and attempted school again. I would study during the day and work at a nightclub from the evening until 4am and then start all over again with classes at 8am. I did this for a year or so. I later got a day job which meant I had to go to night classes. My children were taken away from me by their dad’s parents when they were one as they deemed me unqualified to be a mother due to my circumstances (having no parents, being unmarried). However, I got them back when they turned five.  This meant I could work, study and stay off the streets.

A chance reunion with her father and return to the UK:

I had sent a letter to my old neighbourhood in Wales (I could only remember the first line of the address) to see if anyone knew where my dad might be. I didn’t think I’d have any luck but in 1999, the British Red Cross found my father and reconnected us, which is a totally miraculous happening on its own, hence I returned to the UK in 2000.

I worked for a year upon arriving to the UK- two jobs, seven days a week- until I saved enough money to bring my children over. A friend of mine, Brenda, had encouraged me to get back to study but I still had the mentality that I couldn’t dream and achieve. But I had a strong faith…I always remember my Mum would drop me off at Church when she was alive then would come back and get me.

Study goals in sight and enrolment at Birkbeck:

Transport for London, which is my employer, offers free courses; and working full-time with kids meant it was difficult to study outside of work, so I enrolled onto one of the courses. I did my GCSE English and passed with a B grade. The following year I did my Math GCSE and passed with a C. That was around 2014 -2016. During this time, I became a Station Supervisor which meant a change to my shift pattern. I then enrolled at West Kensington and Chelsea college in 2016 and studied Access to Psychology while working at night.

This then led me to join Birkbeck where I studied BSc Psychology and achieved a 2:1 degree whilst still working full-time, including night shifts. My professors were all super-amazing especially Gillian Forester who is super-awesome. It was very difficult but rewarding to know that at my age (43 years old), I could still achieve my dreams. Birkbeck is amazing!

I am currently doing my master’s in Health and Clinical Psychology with Birkbeck. My aim is to go into counselling and volunteer in helping people who have experienced traumatic situations as myself. During the war I was subjected to the trauma of sexual assault which became a norm. There was a war and being alive was most important, with the belief that once I had another day it was okay. I was a survivor.

Counselling and a mission to help others:

I have had different forms of counselling and I have spoken at length to trusted friends and my pastors, so I believe I can better manage my trauma and live a productive life. However, not many of my friends or those who experience similar situations can. Additionally, before coming to the UK, counselling wouldn’t have been something I would use.  As most Liberians even today still believe, to admit any mental illness is a sign of weakness and you can’t tell the world you are hurting, or you will appear weak and a failure. Additionally, people in deprived counties like Liberia do not have access to counselling facilities, so once I qualify, I want to look into offering virtual counselling or volunteering overseas, perhaps attached to a charity.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Study Psychology at Birkbeck.
Learn more about the Health and Clinical Psychological Sciences Master’s degree.

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