After four years leading up to that morning, it was a shock for me to wake up on results day and find out that I hadn’t achieved the grades to study Medicine. I knew almost as soon as I opened my eyes, discovering an email in my inbox stating that my offer conditions had not been met, though at that point I knew nothing more. It felt like a long car ride to school as my dream career dissolved before me while I didn’t even know what my A level results were – or if I could get into any university at all.
I had wanted to be a doctor since before I even started my GCSEs, attending medical school open days years before I was eligible to apply just because I was so hungry to reach that goal. I did well in my GCSEs, finishing with 8 A*s and 5 As, making it into the local newspaper with my picture beside smiling faces from grammar schools and ambitious kids looking to get into Oxbridge. But the transition to A levels hit me hard, and while I maintained my vision of studying medicine, my motivation waned, and my focus scattered. Again, I did well during the application process and many thought I had it in the bag – of 4 medical schools, I got 4 interviews, followed by 4 conditional offers. I was in a strong position to choose where I wanted to go, and my choice was Plymouth. Its modern ethos appealed to me, and I could see it would best prepare me for a world of research and evidence-based medicine.
After experiencing 2 years of A levels, not to mention the exams, I think part of me was unsurprised by the result. My results day morning was frantic and worsened by the fact that I had become “the future doctor” to both students and teachers, and I could see it was difficult for them to know what to say. I had achieved A*BBB – in hindsight, a good set of grades, but at the time nothing more than “not good enough”. I started to discuss the options, vaguely praying for a miracle but mainly just hoping for a solution. That solution came over the phone from a clearing advisor at Plymouth University – I could study Biomedical Science, a more purely academic subject with little to no clinical aspects, but which offered me options and career prospects in line with my interests. It was a degree I hadn’t even considered, but nevertheless I felt that it fitted me, and I accepted.
Four years later, I have followed up my degree with a masters, also in Biomedical Science, and have developed an interest in infection science. In October 2018, I’ll be embarking on a PhD, also at Plymouth, in microbiology and nanomaterials – combining my love for infection science with an unexpected mix of engineering and materials science. At the end of my PhD I’ll have several paths open to me: academia, industry, jobs in the NHS or in Government. Plymouth University has given me options, the opportunities I’ve needed for progression, and ambition for a career path I never saw myself following. In my mind, the future is bright, and I don’t regret my choices one bit.
My one piece of advice would be to embrace the opportunities that come your way; life rarely plays out the way you expect and of course it’s difficult to come to terms with what you perceive as failure. More than anything, I think I’ve learned that if you have a drive to succeed, to push through difficulty, and a willingness to work hard, you’re already halfway to reaching your goals. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve arrived, or ‘succeeded’, but I think it’s a major victory to know that you have a long career ahead of you – and for that to be a source of excitement!
Read my very professional, serious tweets: @JMButlerSc