Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Muhammad Umer

I would strongly recommend Biomedical Sciences to any aspiring medic due to the course being very broad and having a unique medical component that not many other institutions can offer. I secured my place at Queen Mary via clearing and it has been the best experience of my life.

(Biomedical Sciences BSc, 2020)

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Why did you choose to study BSc Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?

I originally applied to study Medicine but was fortunately rejected from all four places I applied. I say fortunately because the last three years at Queen Mary studying Biomedical Sciences has been the greatest experience of my life and I would not want to change anything about it. With regards to Queen Mary, I was actually on work experience with the Barts STAR program run by Prof John Marshall at the Charterhouse campus during the summer of 2016 (a year before I started university) where I learned the basics of working in a laboratory and was exposed to the world of Biomedical Sciences. I felt at home during the week I spent in the lab and the atmosphere created by the staff was incredibly supportive. I knew from that moment that if Medicine did not work out that, then I would definitely want to study Biomedical Sciences; when it came to results day and clearing opened, Queen Mary was the first place I called to secure a place.

I was also aware that Queen Mary was one of only a few universities who support their top ranked students getting into Medicine by offering guaranteed interviews at the start of their final year and so I felt the option to go back to studying Medicine was always there if I ever wanted to.

What did you enjoy most about studying Biomedical Sciences and were there any academics that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?

There were quite a few things that I enjoyed about my degree and one of them was the range of content that the curriculum covered. The broad aspect of learning about histology, pharmacology, physiology etc and then also being able to relate it to clinical cases meant that there was always something for everyone. My personal highlight was Human Anatomy during my first year which was taught by the late Steve Le Comber who delivered the module in such a way that I still retain key information today. Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary was also a very unique experience due to the Problem Based Learning sessions we had which closely mirrored the work that medical students covered. It allowed us to cover a particular topic in depth and discuss in detail the wider impacts of science in society through the lens of a patient.

I feel as though every lecturer provided a unique experience and shaped me in different ways, however the biggest impact came from Dr Jayne Dennis, the program director, who I worked closely with during my time as Course Representative. Her passion for science and dedication to making the course the best it can be was inspiring. I know I can speak for my peers when I say it was such a great feeling to have someone who truly listened to the feedback we gave and reassured us constantly, especially during our final year which was disrupted by the pandemic.

As a Class of 2020 graduate, you completed your studies in unprecedented circumstances; what kept you motivated throughout the coronavirus pandemic?

The final semester of university is well known as one of the hardest but having to do a dissertation in the midst of a pandemic is something nobody could have prepared for. My main source of motivation was from my peers and close friends who could understand the obstacles that I was facing as they were in the same situation as me. I think it was also inspiring how everyone reminded each other how far they had come. I would also like to acknowledge the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who were very supportive of the students and the faculty who adopted the ‘best 90 credits’ rule which went a long way to ease our worries about graduating with the grades we needed.

Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary was a very unique experience due to the Problem Based Learning sessions we had which closely mirrored the work that medical students covered. It allowed us to cover a particular topic in depth and discuss in detail the wider impacts of science in society through the lens of a patient.

How has your degree in Biomedical Sciences prepared you for the Medicine degree that you are currently studying? Have you found any similarities between the two courses?

My degree in Biomedical Sciences has undoubtedly given me an advantage. In fact, the course structure of my first year has been very similar to my first year at Queen Mary and that is credit to the Biomedical Sciences program being comprehensive and clinically focused. I have found that I can skip through some of my current lectures because the spiral curriculum at Queen Mary has allowed me to develop a strong understanding of key medical concepts. The fact that some modules were also delivered by the School of Medicine and Dentistry at Barts also provided a unique medical insight which I have taken advantage of now that I am studying medicine.

At Queen Mary I further had multiple opportunities to develop practical skills and so when I began my studies in Medicine, I found myself teaching others the principles behind the use of basic laboratory equipment. I would strongly recommend Biomedical Sciences at Queen Mary to any aspiring medic due to the course being very broad and having a unique medical component that not many other institutions can offer.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Do any moments stand out in particular?

One of the most memorable moments during my time at Queen Mary was my very first Education Awards where I received an award for my contribution as a Course Representative. The ceremony was unlike any award ceremony I had been to and it is one that I will never forget. Another has to be going to the Pakistani Society boat party with my friends and ending up on national television because the media were invited to cover the event. It was such a surreal experience for me and my friends.

I think most of the memorable events have occurred spontaneously without any prior planning. This is summed up perfectly when I recall meeting my closest friends in moments that have ranged from asking for directions to a lecture hall, to having debates during small group seminars. I think that is what made my time so special at Queen Mary because I knew every day was going to be different.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at Queen Mary, such as sports or societies? If so, what did you gain from them?

The majority of my extra time was spent being involved with community projects. One of the best experiences I have had was with the Teddy Bear Hospital society which allowed me to deliver workshops on healthcare and important topics in local primary schools. Working to educate younger children in the Tower Hamlets community was extremely rewarding and allowed me to make new friends who had a similar passion to give back. Additionally, I took part in the Islamic Society, which was involved in fundraising for Charity Week, a global initiative to raise money for charities that provide aid to those in need. It was always very heartwarming to work with people towards a common goal and many of these people have become friends beyond university. Along with the experience and self-development that I gained from being involved with a range of activities, I also gained the opportunity to meet and learn about different cultures and backgrounds which has definitely opened my eyes to the world around me.

The majority of my extra time at Queen Mary was spent being involved with community projects. One of the best experiences I have had was with the Teddy Bear Hospital society which allowed me to deliver workshops on healthcare and important topics in local primary schools.

What advice would you give to prospective students who are considering studying the same degree as you based on your experiences?

I know there are a group of individuals who are studying Biomedical Sciences that were first focused on Medicine. To those individuals I would like to repeat the same piece of advice I received on my very first day which is to enjoy and focus on the degree that you are doing now. There is a natural tendency to be anxious about starting university for the first time and the best thing you can do is to embrace the different opportunities this degree will provide for you.

To prospective students I would say that this degree has something for everyone. The broad course structure has given me a wider understanding of the field and great staff have supported me in delving deeper into niche areas I had a great enthusiasm for such as cardiac physiology and targeting cell receptors in diseases. I would encourage any student to make the most of the world class lecturers and to always let your scientific curiosity lead you in searching for the answers to your questions.

What are your hopes and plans for your career once you finish your medical degree?

My ambition is to eventually qualify as a consultant in General Practice and work in primary community care. I think this was consolidated through various community projects that I was involved in at Queen Mary. I also plan at some point to undertake a masters in Exercise Medicine as it was the subject of my final year dissertation and I would love the opportunity to research the field further. Queen Mary has a great master’s program and I am open to returning one day after gaining a bit more working experience.

I also gained a keen interest in technology and the digital world through my summer internship at Barclays during my time at Queen Mary. I have met with various General Practitioners who are involved with companies that offer digitally based consultations and have helped bridge the gap between patients and doctors. I am extremely excited about the prospect of one day contributing to the field of digital medicine.

Furthermore, I want to continue helping mentor students from disadvantaged backgrounds on their journey to higher education. The plan is to maintain a relationship with local schools in my own capacity or as a part of a larger organisation to provide support to those who are in a position I was once in. I also hope to regularly travel to medical conferences that I have been unable to attend due to current restrictions whilst contributing as a practitioner to improving community-based work.

Outside of your current studies, what are you most passionate about and do you have any outlets that allow you to exercise these passions?

The main hobby I picked up over the last few years has been writing and creating content for my blog. It initially started by photographing the scenery in Scotland during a trip to the Field Studies Centre which the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences organised. During that trip I began journaling and taking photos for memories, but I continued doing so even after I had come home. I realised that I enjoyed writing about my experiences, and it gave me an opportunity to mimic the writing styles of my favorite authors. This hobby has really helped me develop my literacy and I have gained enough confidence through positive feedback to submit my very first poem this year to a university poetry competition.

I also enjoy taking time out to go to the gym and take care of my physical health. If there’s one thing I can take away from my degree in Biomedical Sciences, it is that our body is capable of remarkable things and we need to take care of it. Although many students in the field of science will tell you there is never enough time in the day, it has been extremely rewarding to take a part of my day for myself and balance work with play. I highly advise all future students at Queen Mary to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. Having such hobbies alongside your academic studies enriches the university experience and develops you as a person for life after graduation.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Franck or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk.