Graduate stories: Alexandra Klein
I was an unusual Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences student, as from day one I was already adamantly declaring myself a Biology major.
The interdisciplinary nature of the degree seemed the perfect way to gain a firm knowledge of Biology, whilst allowing me the chance to explore other subjects in-depth that would otherwise be relegated to mere spare-time interests. A typical day at university for me would be attending a laboratory practical in which we were isolating and growing bioluminescent bacteria, and then heading to a seminar to argue about Gothic Literature, or spending the afternoon in the library reading up on Roy Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl” for my next History of Art essay. It was overwhelming at times, and I sometimes found it hard to juggle such contrasting subjects, but I can honestly say I enjoyed and benefited from every module I studied. If you’re a person filled with curiosity about the world then it really is the degree for you.
I’m grateful for so many things I experienced during university, but one of them is the ambition that the core modules instilled in me, often emphasising how important it is to supplement your time at university with internships and networking. Many people don’t realise these things until the end of their degree, when it’s too late. During one summer, I undertook an internship at the University of Manchester, sponsored by The Wellcome Trust. Here, I worked in a Cancer Biology lab, and started to put my Biology knowledge into practice. The following year, I was lucky to gain a place on the Amgen Scholars Programme, which allowed me to do a two-month internship at the Ludwig Maximillians University of Munich, sponsored by the biotechnology company Amgen. The internship ended with a presentation of our results at a conference at the University of Cambridge and lots of networking opportunities.
Whilst in Cambridge I fell in love with the city and almost immediately applied to do a Master’s degree in Biochemistry at the university. I couldn’t believe it when I was accepted, and also awarded a scholarship by the Newton Trust. I think my application was greatly helped by my internships, as this helped to prove the enthusiasm I demonstrated at interview. At Cambridge, I spent a year working on a full-time lab research project for a disease called African Sleeping Sickness. Despite narrowing into Biology, I still continually found myself using the skills I developed during my LANS degree, especially when I had to sit down and write a 20,000-word thesis in one month.
Another thing I am grateful for is the opportunity to study abroad for one year of the degree. I chose to go to Lund University in Sweden and it was definitely a life-changing and very formative year for me (as everyone who took a year abroad came back saying, no matter the location!) As well as developing a love for IKEA meatballs and ABBA club nights against my will, I also met people from all over the world, and lived in a corridor with people from Japan, Singapore, Germany, Canada, and Australia. I spent the weekends travelling around Europe on cheap Ryanair flights and the weekdays sitting in lectures learning about Swedish film and art. I also had the chance to do a three-month science project instead of taking normal classes. I ended up taking a project where I was training dogs to detect infrared radiation, and it is definitely the funniest and most memorable project I have been able to work on.
During my year abroad I started to feel guilty for only speaking one language, and upon my return to Birmingham I took a French course during my final year. It’s really amazing that the LANS degree gives you the flexibility to pick up a new subject in your final year! Then as soon as I finished my Master’s degree I ended up moving to Paris to really commit to mastering the language. I never imagined I would do something so adventurous! Now I’m taking 10 hours of language classes a week, and working as a tutor in my spare time. I really needed this small break from studying, where I’ve been able to spend my days roaming around art galleries, grappling with the subjunctive, and of course then going to bakeries and trying to order chocolate eclairs in broken French.
For me, the LANS degree has been a stepping stone into discovering what I’m truly passionate about, allowing me an insight into many different worlds and perspectives before I finally settled into my Biology major. It has helped me to confidently choose a career path, and encouraged me to find something interdisciplinary so I can continue exploring my interests.
Recently I found out that I successfully got a job working as a Publishing Editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry so I’ll be returning to Cambridge soon. I’m amazed that I’ve managed to find a job that so perfectly combines my love of writing with my passion for science – it really is the LANS dream!