I attended Durham University to study Anthropology from 2015 – 2018. I was the first person in my family to go to university, I came from a working-class background and I had to do a summer school to get into the University. At first, I found the transition from sixth-form to university quite difficult. My friends that I met at University mostly came from quite affluent backgrounds which was an interesting change for me but sometimes I found that they couldn’t relate to me or understand parts of my life, like money struggles, the stress of having a part-time job, or why I wasn’t at the same academic level as them.
Support from my college
I reached out in my second year to my academic advisor and the Principal of my College and I broadened my friendship group to include people who I had a lot more similarities with. I felt a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. Finding people to talk to who understood my situation and gave great advice really helped me thrive in my final year at Durham. I graduated in June 2018 with a 2:1 in Anthropology. I am grateful for everything I have learnt at Durham and all the experiences that I have had. I think they’ve made me a much more well-rounded person. I’m now very aware and proud of my capabilities and my strengths instead of being conscious of my background or my limitations. In the end, I graduated with not just one, but two graduate jobs. One in the Anthropology Department at Durham and another at Nissan Technical Centre Europe in Milton Keynes.
Learning from my experience
I wrote a paper in my role as a graduate researcher for Durham on first-generation students and their experiences at university. I gathered the voices of Durham students who were having real experiences, struggles and achievements. I worked with my supervisor Dr Hannah Brown on proposals for how the University could best support all students so they can enjoy every day at university without feeling like their backgrounds limit them in any way.
Although my degree was in Anthropology, I now work as an engineer at Nissan which is something I never thought I would be able to do. My work is mainly customer-focused engineering and I do a lot of software validation and testing. I get to travel overseas for work and I love my job. I’m also working hard to expand female representation in a male-dominated sector like automotive engineering. I’ve learnt a huge amount since starting my job in January and I feel like I’ve really grown up in the last nine months. My degree has been really useful in bringing a fresh perspective to my department and the experiences I’ve had at University, it challenged me and has meant that I now work with a very determined and resilient attitude and am prepared to work with people from all different backgrounds.
Take your opportunities and try your best at university. You never know where you will end up in the future but you will definitely use the skills you learn here, in and out of your degree.
Durham University has set up The First Generation Scholars Network which aims to celebrate and promote the achievements of people who are the first generation in their family to go to University. The network also provides extra support for First Generation Scholars who need to negotiate University life and get the most from their time at Durham.
Cover photo image credit – Catherine Helen Perkins