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!

Mary Seacole: A Scientist by Nature

In October, as part of Black History Month in the UK, we ran a competition asking students to submit blog posts showcasing the contribution of scientists of African and Caribbean descent to the scientific world. In the run-up to February’s Black History Month in North America, we are delighted to share the winning blog by Cerys Francis-Garside, Stage 1 Master of Dietetics student.

Mary Seacole: A Scientist by Nature

Perhaps on first hearing her name, you would not choose to label her a scientist. Perhaps you might think “Oh I’ve heard of her… who is she again?”. To me, the story of Mary Seacole is one of the most important in science as it is one we can continue to learn from again and again.

When I was about 8 years old I was given an assignment to complete about Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. It is true that the effect that Nightingale had on modern nursing could not go unrecognised, particularly her work in sanitation. In fact, to this day we still recognise her importance by naming conference centres-turned-hospitals “Nightingales”. Furthermore, I do not wish to make it a habit to bring one woman down in order to build another up, but in this case, there is more to the story than my primary school curriculum covered.

Mary Jane Seacole

In Victorian England, a biracial black woman enters the scene. Half Scottish, half Jamaican; a time of desperation would be required to allow Seacole to fulfil her aim for which she travelled across the world. I would have thought that the Crimean War would have been enough, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Seacole was turned away. Although historians can only speculate, it was not so cut and dry as solely being an issue of skin colour; in contrary to popular assumption, black people did live in Victorian London. Seacole was turned away for having received no British Nursing training and it is here that I would like to draw the first parallel to the 21st century, as this distinction did not mean that Seacole was unqualified.

Sketch of Mary Seacole by William Simpson, c. 1855

In Jamaica, her mother – a free woman – had taught her an invaluable trade. Like many doctresses in the West Indies, she had excellent knowledge of diseases, herbal remedies, midwifery, and nursing; much of which had been learnt whilst nursing the injuries of fellow slaves. Importantly, in Seacole’s own autobiography, she stated how in the late 1700s these Jamaican doctresses were already practicing a high standard of hygiene.

Seacole’s father was a lieutenant in the British Army, and this link made it possible for her to spend time observing military doctors healing soldiers recovering from prevalent diseases at the time. A reflection of biracial privilege perhaps? The military had a large presence in the West Indies at the time, and a lack of preparation for tropical diseases led them to Seacole’s door. She was also on the front lines of the cholera epidemic in 1850s Jamaica, and again in Panama in 1851, where she successfully treated the first person to fall ill from the disease. So here we have a highly qualified, educated, empathetic nurse, but a widowed woman, yes “only a little brown” [1] by her own admission, and not British by training.

In case I have focused too much on the side of her empathy, in writing this piece I have made the claim that Seacole was a scientist. During the Panama cholera outbreak, Seacole personally performed autopsies; studying, hypothesising and drawing conclusions from each patient she treated. She completed minor surgeries and avoided the use of opiates and lead(II) acetate (now known to be toxic), instead proposing alternative remedies in their place with mixed success which she would later reflect on. I hope this is enough to convince you.

The Start of the Crimean War

With decades of experience under her belt, the Crimean war began. Hundreds of soldiers were dying from cholera, many in cramped, unsanitary hospitals. As previously mentioned, Seacole was laughed away from joining the nurses going to Crimea. It is hard to imagine that the colour of her skin played no part in this, as the death rate of soldiers soared from a variety of complications.

As each route Seacole attempted to take to Crimea was blocked by prejudice of some description, we find ourselves back with Florence Nightingale. I would not be able to explain Nightingale’s issues with Seacole better than she did herself:

“I had the greatest difficulty in repelling Mrs Seacole’s advances, and in preventing association between her and my nurses (absolutely out of the question!)… Anyone who employs Mrs Seacole will introduce much kindness – also much drunkenness and improper conduct” [2]

Again, we can only speculate the truth behind her opinion. Nightingale would go on to express gratitude and fond views of Seacole, despite wishing her nurses had no association with her. Eventually, Seacole found passage to the front line, and nursed many soldiers with her knowledge of disease, military injury, nutrition, and empathy.

Seacole’s nursing activities in the Crimean War were downplayed by the satirical magazine Punch in 1857 – vivandière is the French name for “canteen keepers”

Her Legacy

The life of Mary Seacole is one that continues to divide. After her death, she was forgotten for a century. Historians can claim that she only served “tea and lemonade” [3], or that she merely comforted those as they passed away, but I find her legacy far greater.

One American soldier described her as “so many shades removed from being entirely black” [1], which does not only read as an indication of her skin tone, but also a slight to characteristic perceptions of black people. Regarding the issue of colourism, it is likely that Seacole was seen as more acceptable. To this day, mixed race and light-skinned black people continue to be seen as the “moderate” choice in a world where diversity is foremost a buzzword.

Mary Seacole’s experience as a single biracial woman will always be relevant during this current time. Whatever it is that you draw from her story, I hope you do infer something. We are scientists, after all.

Interested in reading more about Mary Seacole? Check out the following sources cited in this blog!

  1. Seacole M. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands: Edited by W. J. S With an Introductory Preface by W. H. Russell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1857.
  2. Chang T-F. Creolizing the White Woman’s Burden: Mary Seacole Playing ‘Mother’ at the Colonial Crossroads between Panama and Crimea. College literature. 2017;44:527-557.
  3. McDonald L. Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth. Toronto: Iguana Books. 2014.

Why Study Abroad?

By Dr Carys Watts

Going abroad may be a week’s holiday, or to some it’s going global or for longer, but have you ever thought about studying abroad as part of your Newcastle University degree? You could study abroad for a few weeks or up to an entire year, and it could change your perspective forever.

‘I can honestly say it was the best time of my life’– Eleanor (semester at Monash University, Melbourne)

Did you know you can study language modules for free at Newcastle?

I’m not sure it is for me

So you may think of reasons why not to do it, but there are loads of great reasons to give it a try: Continue reading “Why Study Abroad?”

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”

STEMtastic 2019

What an amazing day the SOLAR outreach team had teaching 365 very excited primary school children all about STEM…..it really was STEMtastic!

Our Team

Our SBMS students, Gokul Krishnan, Sophie Amato, and Molly Johnson joined Dr Vanessa Armstrong and Dr Beth Lawry at the Centre For Life to inspire the next generation of scientists at STEMtastic 2019.

Our fantastic scientists, Gokul, Sophie, Molly and Vanessa all set to teach the children about the heart and exercise

Continue reading “STEMtastic 2019”

Student Enterprise Ambassador’s #EntrepreneurshipDiary: #1

Introducing our Student Enterprise Ambassador, John.

Hi, my name is John and I am a 3rd year Biomedical Sciences student with a business idea that I am pursuing while completing my degree at Newcastle University.  I was consequently nominated to be the Student Enterprise Ambassador for the School of Biomedical Sciences (SBMS). Continue reading “Student Enterprise Ambassador’s #EntrepreneurshipDiary: #1”

STEMtastic!

Inspiring the next generation of scientists is fun but not always easy, especially when they haven’t even decided to become scientists yet!

Our SOLAR outreach team engaged and inspired primary school children at the recent STEMtastic event, organised by the West End School’s Trust (WEST) and held in the Discovery Museum‘s Great Hall. Continue reading “STEMtastic!”

BMS3016 TakeOver // Old wives’ tales to cure your cold

It’s a BMS3016 Science Communication Takeover! This time, Stage 3 Biomedical Sciences student and  BMS3016 Science Communication module alumnus Willow Hight-Warburton is investigating the truth behind old wives’ tales!

It’s that time of year again – fresher’s flu has descended and we’re all feeling a little under the weather. As a result, I’ve decided to investigate the science behind some of our favourite home remedies.

Continue reading “BMS3016 TakeOver // Old wives’ tales to cure your cold”

PARTNERing up for a great summer!

Another hugely successful PARTNERS project has just been completed within the School of Biomedical Sciences. Will our potential future Stars of Bioscience make the grade? We certainly hope so!

Each summer, we invite a select group of students to take part in a summer project designed to help them succeed in securing a place studying at Newcastle University. As part of the project, the participants work alongside academics (this year PARTNERS was lead by me, SJ Boulton and my colleague Damian Parry) and their team to undertake a piece of scientific research and communicate their findings through an ongoing scientific record. Continue reading “PARTNERing up for a great summer!”