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Tracey Brown

BSc (Hons) Human Biosciences

What appealed to you about Northumbria University / studying in Newcastle?

I am local, and needed to stay that way for my home and family (children & partner).  Northumbria had an excellent reputation for its acceptance and incorporation of mature students like myself.

What was it about the course / subject area that particularly appealed?

I had taken an adult education class at Kenton School in Human Biology, and although I had hated science at school, I found myself really buzzing about the subject.  My college tutor insisted that I was far too talented at the subject to do nothing else with it, and I had always liked the idea of teaching but didn’t have a specialist area in which I would be sufficiently enthusiastic.  I could see a clear path to gaining a teaching position in Sciences and decided to investigate further.  

What qualifications did you have?

Not many that were relevant to the course!!  I had taken Physics at O level (yes, I’m THAT old!!) and then had attended the second semester of the HEFC in Human Biology.  However, I had an appointment with a lovely advisor at the University and she seemed confident that I would be accepted, as I had shown talent for learning before (my A levels in Geography, History and English) and was clearly still able to learn (my HEFC).

How did you feel during your first week at Northumbria?

Very nervous, and a bit like a fish out of water, as so many of the students were fresh out of sixth form and I was returning after nearly twenty years away.  However, I stuck in there, and I didn’t just stick to older people on the course to talk to and make friends with – I felt it important to have a broad group of influences and peers.  It takes a while to make new friendships that are the life-long type, but they do happen and everyone is in the same boat!

What do you like most about the course?

The variation of the teaching, the subject matter, especially the optional modules available on the Human Biosciences.  I took the nutrition-based ones for my first two years, but there were others based on bioinformatics and other areas of interest.  In my final year, I was able to undertake a teaching module, called Students into Schools, which gave me the invaluable experience of working in a school helping to deliver classes to the age group that I wish to teach.

The lecturers are all very approachable and will give you help wherever they can, though they obviously will not do your work for you!  The course was extremely well-structured and had excellent continuity of subject matter and learning – each year consolidated and built upon what you had learned in the previous year.

Can you give an example of a piece of work you’ve been involved with recently and what it involves?

I have completed my final year, which means my project.  Originally I had opted to undertake a ‘dry’ project subject, which would mean no lab work (I didn’t think it was my strong point).  However, I was allocated my third choice of topic, and I am very pleased that I was.  The work in the lab allowed me to plan and progress my own research, and made me think about the results I was obtaining, and their relevance to my project overall.  My supervisor was always available for guidance and help, but overall I was able to plan my own day and it gave me a confidence, and enjoyment, in the lab that I had not had in the more structured sessions.

The project was assessed by a seminar in semester one, followed by the project report in semester two. My supervisor also had an input via his assessment of my attitude and work throughout the year.  The course IS hard work, and you only get out of it what you are prepared to put in, but if you are willing to give that commitment then the feeling of achievement at the end is fantastic!

Do you have the opportunity for any work placements during your course?

Yes, there was an opportunity for placement, but I decided against a placement as my final intention was to teach, and this would require a further year’s training upon completion of my degree.

What do you do when you’re not studying?

I continued to work in what had been my full-time job prior to embarking upon my degree.  I was a personal account manager for a high-street bank, and was a regular port of call for enquiries about everyone’s student overdrafts.

I also have two children, so a lot of my spare time is taken up with family activities – we like to ride bikes and swim, as well as trips to the cinema.  I was a student rep for the course throughout my time at University, and also undertook student mentoring, helping out at open days and even helping organise the Graduation ball!  If there was something to get roped into, you can guarantee that I would be!

I have lived in Newcastle all my life, but have seen many other places.  I love the vibe of the city, the pavement cafes and the beautiful quayside area.  And no-one does a night out on the town better!

What would you like to do when you graduate?

Well, as I said, I had plans to teach, but now I think I have caught the ‘bug’ and have been accepted onto a Masters programme to research into the body’s immune response to vaccination.  

How do you get on with your tutors?

Excellent!  I think the tutors made the course for me, though some more than others!! I found them all easily approachable, and always there if you needed to be guided in the right direction.  They know the boundaries of what they can, and will, do to help for assignments etc, but if you have obviously put in the work and are struggling to make sense of something, they help all that they can.  

Have you used Student Services during your course?

Yes, I used the help available in Maths tutoring early on in my degree, just to get my head around all the equations and conversions required.  It really helped build my confidence and to make sure I was ready for the more complex stuff!

Do you have any advice for anyone applying for your course, or for university in general?

Don’t be put off applying to University because you are worried that you won’t fit in, or don’t have the knowledge.  The first year is very much a ‘levelling ground’ where everyone is brought up to speed, so as long as you are prepared to ‘dig in’ then you will be able to catch up with all the people who think that they already know it all!

Your degree is based upon your performance in your second and third year, but working hard in first year puts you in a great position to cope with the increased level of difficulty involved.  The University has advice centres for pretty much everything – use them!

What three words would you use to describe your time at Northumbria?

Fun, life-changing and rewarding!

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