From A Levels to a PhD at the University of Cambridge

January 30, 2018

“I’ve always hated the interview question ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ Your situation, personality and knowledge can significantly change within a year, so it is perfectly okay to answer this with ‘I am not sure’.” 

These wise words were offered by former A Level student Josie Christopher, reflecting on her time at College. She came to the previously known South Downs College nine years ago, and despite many obstacles in her path, she is now a Biochemistry PhD student at the University of Cambridge.

So, let’s skip back to 2009. What was it that kick-started Josie’s journey to lead her to where she is now?

“The environment College provided was an excellent transition between school and university, as it allowed me to feel more independent compared to school,” said Josie.

“This altered my stance on education, meaning I enjoyed being in education rather than viewing it as an obligation to get a job. The lecturers treated us as equals and provided not just brilliant academic advice but gave honest views and stories based on their personal career progressions. Some of this advice I still refer to now!”

But it wasn’t all plain-sailing for Josie – unsure with what she wanted to do after College, she was given an extra year to pursue more science-based subjects. More satisfied with her choices, Josie studied Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Psychology.

However, that wasn’t the only obstacle in her path. Josie explained: “Unfortunately, whilst studying my A Levels I had a continuous illness, which had a big impact on my attendance and potentially my final grades.”

Not admitting defeat, and with the unwavering support of HSDC staff, Josie kept going with her studies and her hard work paid off.

Josie said: “The support I received allowed me to do well enough to undertake my Biomedical Science BSc, with an industrial placement year at GlaxoSmithKline at my chosen university, the University of Surrey.

“It is madness that I have ended up in a fully-funded studentship at the University of Cambridge, working in collaboration with AstraZeneca. The three years I spent at South Downs College helped me discover what I truly wanted to do and sparked the cascade of events to get me to where I am now.”

Reminiscing on the highlights of College life, Josie said: “The staff were engaging and had a great rapport with their students. Despite the distance of the College campus from where I lived, it was a good atmosphere to study in, particularly with its many cafés that were a great place to socialise between classes.”

And finally, what advice would Josie give to future students? You don’t need a ‘big life plan’.

“It is great to have a plan, but it is also okay to take your time in finding out what you want to do,” she explained. “Also, apply for opportunities that interest you even if you think you are not qualified. I didn’t have the entry requirements for my bachelor’s degree but was accepted anyway and never expected to ever be accepted into Cambridge. It is always worth trying!”

In September this year, HSDC will be opening Hampshire’s new A Level centre of Excellence at our Havant Campus. The support, advice, independence and high standard of teaching that Josie has spoken about can all be found at our A Level-focused centre, where you can find your own success story.