Partners: more than just a summer school

decorative header photo introducing foreword by Dr Damian Parry

I have been leading the Partners programme in the School of Biomedical Sciences (as it was then) since 2014 – and have enjoyed every moment.

In “normal times” it’s a great opportunity for students to come onto campus and experience university life in a “snapshot”. It’s my ideal that the experience will minimise fear of the unknown, seeing that Newcastle University’s School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences is a place where students can feel at home, see themselves thriving and anticipate a great 3 or 4 years ahead.

Obviously, last year and this year things have changed, and we’ve had to move the provision totally online, but hopefully there is still a chance to see what university life will be like, meet future colleagues in studies and members of staff, and get to know each other.

The School has an increasingly diverse student body coming from all sorts of backgrounds. Our aim is to build an inclusive environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to succeed regardless of who we are, and the Partners programme plays a key role in this. We all have hurdles in life which we need to navigate and it’s the job of all staff and students to make sure that everyone feels at home in the School.

For me, Partners has two main benefits: the most obvious is the reduced offer, but I think the most important is the removal of barriers. Enabling students to see the School as a place they want to be, where they feel they can belong and a place they can thrive.

Hear from some of our previous Partners, and current full-time, students below about how the Partners programme helped prepare them for university study. With bonus staff perspectives from Dr Geoff Bosson, Dr Harley Stevenson-Cocks and Dr Vanessa Armstrong on delivering the Partners programme in the remote world!

I have been involved with Partners for the last 2 years now and it’s something I really enjoy being part of. Although we were remote last year and will also be this year, we still managed to interact and discuss science over Zoom and on discussion boards, and I got to showcase just how important immunology is – especially mid-pandemic!

It was a very welcomed opportunity to interact with students again in the sessions we ran last year and COVID-19 seemed like an appropriate topic for the week where we could cover all of the subject disciplines we offer within the School. The feedback we received was really encouraging and I was grateful for my first experience of running a successful remote course all on a new virtual learning environment (VLE) platform (Canvas).

I’m passionate about supporting all students and encouraging uptake of opportunities to help develop new skills, support career progression and improve employability. I am the Academic Lead for Employability and also co-ordinate placement years with Harley. I was really keen to connect alumni from the School with Partners and to help insire.

Having had quite a convoluted career myself my motto is (sorry for the cliché!) “Life is a journey and not a destination”.

The Partners program opened a door to a university career I didn’t think I would ever experience. Coming from a lower-income background, without a perfect set of A-Levels, I had already accepted that I wouldn’t be studying at a first-choice university. When I noticed that Newcastle offered a program that specifically encouraged and facilitated the entry of disadvantaged students, I was sceptical at first. I thought, what’s the catch? 

Many universities offer foundation programs as a stepping-stone to their desired degree. However, those programs involve an extra year of university study, including the required funding. After attending the Partners summer school, I was very happy with what I’d experienced. The lecturers were welcoming, informative, and for once I was actually confident that I could attain a degree at a quality university. I’m currently in my second year of a (so far) successful Nutrition degree, and I appreciate the opportunity. 

When the Partners scheme had to be changed from an on-campus in-person experience to a virtual one at short notice, it meant that more academic staff could get involved…..and as I love to talk about science at any opportunity, I did not need asking twice if I would get involved!

As someone who did not enter academia through the traditional A-level route I am keen to support initiatives, such as Partners, that open educational opportunities to anybody who has the ability to reach their maximum potential.

Being able to talk about my favourite subject and explain the role that biochemistry plays in our understanding of the COVID-19 virus means I have had to keep up to date with the scientific literature. This thirst for knowledge is something I have always enjoyed and we want to ignite and cultivate in you during our Partners programme.

The sessions I enjoyed the most last year were the live online debates. The use of Zoom meant I was able to ‘virtually meet’ many of the students and engage in current scientific discussion. We will be including this successful format again this year as part of the week-long programme and I look forward to meeting you when you join in.

The Partners programme was thoroughly enjoyable and allowed me to meet new people, as well as giving me a head start on using Canvas. I found this really helpful, especially with changes to the way content is being delivered this year, as I had insight into how lectures would be delivered, enabling me to practice note taking.

Meeting people on my course was great, as it meant I already had people I could chat to about work, as well as being able to meet them (socially distanced) once we got to Newcastle, which helped me to settle in. Each day on the programme we studied a different aspect of biomedical science which I found very interesting, as this was a new level of detail compared to A-Level. The content was also linked to the SARS-CoV-2 virus which made it relevant and therefore more engaging.

The Partners programme for me was an exciting, educating and eye-opening experience. Having just taken my A-Level exams, attending the summer school was a small glimpse at my future.

The format of the summer school allowed for myself and future students alike to get a feel for the university; to get used to our soon-to-be new home. I had the opportunity to experience what lectures, seminars and labs would be like whilst also having the opportunity to be taught by our future lecturers, an experience I was particularly excited for.

My own mental health issues ensures that I have a bucket of worries about changing environments and the summer school allowed these worries to be put at ease. Even though I did not end up going to university until the year after, the experience still aided me and, if anything, only gave me more reasons to reapply.

I’d only been working at Newcastle for a few weeks when I was asked to help with the School’s Partners scheme last summer, so I must admit I felt like a bit of an imposter. I hadn’t even been on the university campus by that point!

Nevertheless, as the physiology specialist for the week, I was excited by the prospect of delivering a day of content covering the impacts of COVID-19 on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and so I jumped at the chance to get involved. If anything, I was probably a bit too excited, as I got carried away and ended up recording an 80 minute lecture on the subject…

For me at the time, it was a great opportunity to work with new colleagues and deliver something new and engaging in the remote format we’d been forced into by the pandemic. Getting the balance right was tricky, as we weren’t able to rely on ‘live’ sessions which is what we are more used to, so we had to ensure our asynchronous (non-live) plan was still coherent, informative, challenging, and most importantly interesting!

It was also nice to get some student contact in, as I’d joined the team right at the end of the academic year when teaching was winding down.

When the current academic year started back in September, I recognised a lot of students from the Partners scheme were now enrolled as full-time students here, so it was good to know we hadn’t put everyone off! Our opportunities to see everyone in real life are unfortunately still limited, but fingers crossed that all changes soon and we can start seeing people in three-dimensions again.

In the end we received some overwhelmingly positive feedback about the scheme, which was great and showed our efforts had been appreciated. I’m very much looking forward to getting involved again this summer and building on what we learnt last year with the next Partners cohort!

When I attended Newcastle Partners in 2019, I was extremely excited about being offered this chance to spend a week on campus to get a taster of Biomedical Sciences and also to meet new people! At the time I was very shy and was nervous to leave home for a week to be in Newcastle, however when I arrived I realised everyone was feeling the same, so friendships came naturally!

I would say one of the most useful things in Partners were the lectures. As the style of teaching was so different from my sixth form this allowed myself time to trial and error note taking and figure out which type was best tailored to my particular learning style.

Overall I think the social events, trial lectures and the experience on campus really helped me get an idea of what Newcastle University was all about and helped me make friends that I still have today!

My role as an EDI rep

By Alex Washington, MSci Biomedical Genetics

For a little while now I’ve been looking for ways to help the LGBT+ and disabled communities but was never sure where to go or what I could do. I do still want to find other ways to help, but I found my starting point as an EDI (Equality, Disability, and Inclusivity) representative in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences.

How I got the role

I originally applied to be the LGBT+ rep, thinking “well I’m really queer so that’ll work,” but Dr Parry, head of the EDI committee at the time, thought I’d be better suited for the marginalised genders role, seeing as I’m very vocal about being trans. I didn’t have much of a choice when I was 19 going on 12 but I’m still open about it now, when I easily pass as a cis man (not looking quite 20 yet but getting there).

I am also the rep for disabilities, which wasn’t a part of the plan, but I’m very happy how it turned out. I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and I know that it’s a serious disability, but a lot of times people brush it off and treat it as “not a real mental disability.” Because of this, a lot of the time I’m scared to speak up about it, in fear I won’t be taken seriously.

Me on my 19th vs me on my 20th (I had a cake, birthday bread was more iconic), thanks Puberty 2.0

At our first EDI meeting, it was mentioned our disabilities rep was a final year student, and so we’d have to find a replacement for when she finished university over summer. At that point I volunteered to be a co-rep with her until she left and take over the role afterwards if we didn’t have any other volunteers, and I’m really glad I did so. My fears of not having my ADHD taken seriously are very real, but they never reflected reality while working with the EDI team.

What I did with the role – it’s more than a way to get a free hoodie

Having worked side by side with the Faculty of Medical Sciences since February, I’m happy to say I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far in my time as a rep, as I managed to make positive changes both to school- and university-wide policy, and to specific students dealing with LGBT+ and disability issues. From simple things like ensuring the lecture slides are more accessible to students, to more serious matters like how DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) is addressed in placement talks. After an extremely homophobic survey got sent out to students, we even got the university to change how student surveys are approved to be sent out.

Talk to us

From my experiences I can say that the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences and Faculty of Medical Sciences are happy to support their students, but a lot of times issues can go unnoticed. Being a representative, I can highlight to the staff, at a professional capacity, any issues students bring up to me, and then address them. Once a solution is presented, I haven’t once seen excuses be made to avoid fixing the problem, no matter how big or small it was.

For this reason, I would urge any student that is having an issue adjusting to life at university to speak to either me or one of the other EDI reps – whoever is most suitable – so we can support you and help make the university experience more accessible.

EDI rep contact information can be found on the Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences Stage 1-4 Community modules on Canvas.

Dietetics at Newcastle: Our first semester

By Millie Elcock and Cerys Francis-Garside.

Hi everyone!  We are first year students on Newcastle’s brand new 4 year Masters of Dietetics programme. Hopefully, this blog post will help you understand what dietetics is all about, the application process and reasons to get excited about dietetics.

What a year to start university, with all our lectures and seminars online! We are yet to go on campus or meet our course mates in person but hopefully that will change soon. Learning virtually can be challenging and frustrating but as it is all we know, we are discovering there are actually many advantages to studying online and certain aspects that we would like to continue such as the recorded lectures that allow us to go at our own pace.

We end most our lectures in need of a snack… following the Eatwell Guide of course!

Before we talk more about what we’re doing now, perhaps we should take you back to the beginning and explain why we chose to study dietetics.

Firstly, one of the main reasons for choosing dietetics was a love for food and cooking, and trying new foods and experimenting with them. This love for food then developed into an interest around the effect of food on health; how food can be used to maximise health by focusing on the food’s macro- and micro-nutrient content. The combination of food and its relation to health is what a dietetics degree is all about, and translating the science into advice is a key role of a Dietitian.

Furthermore, there is an overwhelming amount of ‘nutrition advice’ on social media and online, which can easily be misleading, so having the knowledge and qualifications to be able to know fact from fiction is a huge advantage. Dietitians must cut through all of the misinformation on the internet, and work only with the facts. Even an interest in nutrition will lead family and friends to your door, asking about their diets!

This passion for food and health led us to apply for the course. The application process appeared daunting but, if you take it step by step, it’s not as bad as you may first think! Gaining work experience in dietetics was difficult as opportunities to get into hospitals were limited. We both had different experiences with this:

Millie – First year Dietetics student with an interest in diabetes, obesity and paediatrics.

I, Millie, managed to arrange an afternoon shadowing a dietitian in a hospital which was really insightful and allowed me to see how they deliver their care and how they convey information, that could be quite confusing, to patients in an easy and efficient manner. I also attended a dietetic awareness day which highlighted the different areas a Dietitian can specialise in.

Cerys – First year Dietetics student excited to explore the many paths a degree in Dietetics can open up!

Dietitians are always interested in getting more people into the profession, so for me, Cerys, having a conversation with a Dietitian really consolidated for me that this was what I wanted to do. Any experience you can gain in a health or social setting will be useful in applying, or considering whether you enjoy this kind of work.

The interview process was a good chance to meet fellow candidates and gave us one of our first opportunities to meet like-minded individuals, which was actually really enjoyable. The staff members interviewing were all very friendly and welcoming, which will help to make you feel more relaxed. The lecturers are just trying to see if you are the right fit for the course and the university. Don’t forget, you should also be seeing if you think it is the right fit for you.

Looking back now, it seems like a long time ago all of the panic in applying but it was definitely all worth it as the degree programme has been very engaging and sparked our interest in dietetics even more. We are currently in week 8 of teaching and we are doing 4 modules simultaneously which gives us variation in what we are learning from the Human Organ Systems to DNA to Macro- and Micro-nutrients. The first weeks of teaching have developed our interest and also reinforced the fact that a keen interest in science is just as important as an interest in food!

A degree in dietetics could take you down so many career paths; research, acute care, or in the community. Each of those areas are diverse and varied in their own ways too. Dietetics is an exciting field to enter, with so much to learn and our knowledge being able to help so many. After all, everyone eats!

Nutrition and Dietetics at Newcastle – A New Era! by Susan Lennie

Exciting times for the Nutrition and Dietetics team at Newcastle University!

As the new academic year is fast approaching, we prepare to welcome our first cohort of undergraduate dietetics students onto our new 4-year Integrated Master of Dietetics programme. The North East of England NHS departments have been asking for an undergraduate dietetics course for some time, so in the last year we have been planning and writing our course, successfully achieving Health and Care Professions Council approval and British Dietetic Association accreditation in January 2020.

Ms Susan Lennie, Senior Lecturer and Degree Programme Director – Nutrition and Dietetics

I suspect some of you are not too familiar with the work of dietitians, perhaps assuming that it’s mostly dealing with obesity, and telling people what NOT to eat. Well, I don’t quite see it that way. I’ve been a dietitian for over 20 years, in both clinical and academic settings, and I can tell you that dietetics is a really varied profession.

In the clinical setting, I worked in the Intensive Care Unit alongside anaesthetists, pharmacists, biochemists, and nurses. My role was to ensure that patients received good quality nutrition via tubes and intravenous lines that would meet their needs during serious illness. Patients were mostly sedated and ventilated so, often, my interactions were advising other health care professionals on adjustments to fluid volumes and rates of feed, as well as how to manage the timing and delivery of feed due to potential interactions with drugs. Reassurance to distressed family members was also important as most didn’t understand how we meet nutritional needs (without chewing and swallowing).

Susan’s experience in paediatric dietetics was varied and enjoyable (image from Pexels)

I also spent some time as a paediatric dietitian which was incredibly varied. Some days I was advising children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes mellitus (and their parents) on a healthy diet and the timing and dosage of insulin injections, as well as how to prevent (and manage) a hypoglycaemic episode.

One area I particularly enjoyed was working with children with cystic fibrosis. A large proportion of those with this condition have pancreatic insufficiency, where their pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes to help with the absorption of fat and other nutrients. There are pancreatic enzyme replacement drugs that can be used to help with that, but the dosage of those needs to be matched to the quantity of fat consumed with each meal.

I found it really rewarding to work with the children and their parents to educate them on estimating their fat intake at each meal, working out the correct drug dosage, and subsequently hearing how their symptoms of malabsorption had improved. These patients often struggled with a low body weight, so this was the opposite of managing obesity!

Take a virtual tour of the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building!

Our dietetics course will be sharing some teaching with the existing Food and Nutrition programmes as our students learn about the fundamental biochemical and nutritional sciences that underpin dietetics.  We are all moving into the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building in mid-October and I managed to have a tour of the facilities last week; they are fantastic!  The Food Handling Laboratory and Sensory Analysis Suite are really impressive, and I’m particularly looking forward to using the clinical consultation rooms for simulating outpatient appointments with students and volunteer patients.

2020 has been a challenging year for us all, but in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences it hasn’t stopped us forging ahead and creating new learning opportunities and facilities for our students.  We’re excited to begin a fresh chapter with the launch of our new Dietetics programme, so keep an eye out for future blogs to hear about what they have been up to!

In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about what dietitians do, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are hosting a Nutrition and Dietetics Career’s Open Day on 16th October 2020 which will be held virtually – see the document below, and please do sign up!

The day I was asked to poison someone

By Dr Sarah Judge

When I got a phone call out of the blue from a screenwriter for Hollyoaks, the popular Channel 4 TV programme, asking for help with one of their upcoming stories, I was intrigued.

Why ask me, a scientist at Newcastle University, for help?

Top secret

I wasn’t allowed to know who, but the screenwriter wanted me to poison and kill off one of the soap characters.

Continue reading “The day I was asked to poison someone”

NuMED to Newcastle – Back to the UK… After 7 years!

“Things don’t change. We change.”

By Sabrina Amran, Third Year Biomedical Sciences student

Flatmates and I (in middle) visiting (and posing!) the med school for the first time!

The UK was a lot different in my childhood memories compared to how I see it as of now. 

Sure, ‘Wilkinsons’ became ‘Wilko’, and everything was a couple pounds cheaper 7 years ago. The weather now seemed sunnier and hotter as well…but I’m not sure how long this will last.

Continue reading “NuMED to Newcastle – Back to the UK… After 7 years!”

Like to learn more about the exciting field of immunology?

By Gemma Vidal-Pedrola (3rd PhD student)

Join Immunology North East (for free!) to get involved in the immunology happening around you and in the world.

Immunology North East: you can’t have a society without a banner can you?

Continue reading “Like to learn more about the exciting field of immunology?”

My week as a student at the University of Padova: Views of a summer school student

By Charlotte Ripley – Food and Human Nutrition Student

A trip to Italy?! Yes please!

In June, I attended a Food and Health Summer School in Italy, mixing with students from the University of Padova and the University of Sydney.

The focus was on the effects of different food components on overall health and well-being, with topics ranging from the effect of soil on the micronutrient content of foods to the worldwide issue of obesity – so the week was specifically aimed at those with a medical or food science background. Thankfully, everything was taught in English, as even Duolingo wouldn’t have prepared me for terms such as ‘squalene’, ‘fetotoxic’ or ‘teratogenicity’.

Though the week was primarily lecture based, we visited 2 different food producers (Grandi Molini Italiani –  one of Europe’s largest flour mills – and Prosciuttificio Attilio Fontana Montagnana – a family-run prosciutto factory) and got to see some of Padova’s biggest attractions (Orto Botanica, Palazzo Bo and the Museum of History and Medicine). We even had our very own gala dinner to celebrate the end of the summer school – luckily, the lectures didn’t quite put me off the free wine on the tables.

Prata Della Valle – just a 5-minute walk from my hotel.

Continue reading “My week as a student at the University of Padova: Views of a summer school student”

My top tips for starting university when living with disability or long-term medical condition

By Caroline McKenzie

Moving to uni can be lots of change for anybody. When you’re also living with a disability or a medical condition, getting through each day, let alone being able to study can be a challenge.

I’ve just finished my first year studying biochemistry and living and learning with physical disability has often been hard! I thought I’d share a few things that have helped, and so here are my practical top tips for starting university for those living with disability/long term medical condition.

Me on my scooter outside the med school

Get a Support Plan

A Student Support Plan (SSP) looks at all aspects of learning and possible adaptations that you may need, you get these from Student Wellbeing. Meet up with your disability advisor as soon as possible, the sooner you get this in place the sooner adaptions can be made. They will be aware of things you can utilise that perhaps you didn’t realise- for me that included creating a Personal Evacuation Plan (PEP) for when there were fire alarms! Continue reading “My top tips for starting university when living with disability or long-term medical condition”

New year, new name, new state of the art facilities!

An exciting year ahead! By Dr Debbie Bevitt

It’s nearly the start of the new academic year and the School is buzzing as we prepare to welcome our new Stage 1 students – and of course to welcome back our existing students!

Dr Debbie Bevitt, our Head of School

We have an exciting year ahead, including a new name for the school and two major building developments which will provide much needed additional study space and specialist facilities for our students.

We have a new name!

Continue reading “New year, new name, new state of the art facilities!”