Kane Smith, a first-year PhD student who grew up in the care system, has created and is leading a new internship initiative at Queen Mary University of London for BAME care-leavers in Tower Hamlets, providing vital research skills and fuelling their passion for science and health.
The two-week project, delivered with support from University staff, creates a much-needed opportunity to access the university and its resources, a proven driver of improved life conditions and social mobility.
Around 43 per cent of young people experience higher education by the age of 30, but this figure drops drastically to just 6 per cent among care-leavers in Tower Hamlets. The scheme aims to address this inequality and is part of Queen Mary’s collaborative approach to education - ensuring students are involved in co-creating their experience, so that the educational environment reflects a diverse student body and their needs.
The Queen Mary interns will be supervised by experienced scientists, across fields such as cancer and human disease, genomics, bioengineering and material sciences. Placements are designed to give an insight into what academic research is really like through training, data generation and scientific contribution to the research field. The scheme also provides mentoring from both scientists and social services teams before, during and after the internship, to ensure the experience is the best possible springboard to help participants set and reach new life goals.
Having grown-up in the looked-after children system, Kane’s career in science and research now has the potential to touch the lives of millions. He is developing a non-invasive blood test to identify bowel cancers at early stage and avoid the need for invasive colonoscopies. Knowing that many young, bright people within the care system are held back from reaching their potential, he set out to try and change this within his local community.
Kane Smith, a student at Queen Mary University of London and founder of the scheme, said: “I know from growing up in the care system myself that those within it are at an almost immediate disadvantage compared to others. They can miss lots of school for example and can often struggle to catch up after being left behind. It’s like a domino effect from such an early stage.
“I was very lucky to have had a lot of people in my life who pushed for extra support for me. I don’t know where I would be without them, and I really want to do the same for others who have so many barriers to overcome.”
Stephanie Marshall, Vice-Principal (Education) at Queen Mary, said: “I am delighted to see one of our students launch such an innovative scheme that could be a real turning point for those joining Queen Mary from our local community. It is a perfect example of why we believe students’ role in co-creating the educational environment within universities cannot be underestimated.
“There are lots of young people who do not always realise just how far they can go and how high they can aim, despite their talents. Kane’s scheme will help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their skills and build networks and confidence to propel them towards the careers they deserve.
“We applaud Kane for his work in this area and advancing the University’s vision – opening the doors of opportunity. At Queen Mary, we are committed to supporting all of our students to reach their full potential.”
Five individuals will be accepted onto the programme, with the aim of securing further funding to expand this in future years. It will be running in July, and open to students aged primarily 18-25, both current undergraduates and those who have not gone to university in any form. The work is funded by the Research England Policy Support Fund, awarded following approval from Queen Mary's Research and Innovation Board.
Queen Mary’s Strategy 2030 outlines its aim to be the most inclusive and diverse Russell Group University and ensure that anyone who is able to flourish can join the University, irrespective of their background. Last year, the University was ranked top in the country for social mobility.
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