Students and alumni from the Biology department at Staffs share their stories and their greatest achievements to date. #ProudToBeBlack
Thanks to Trust Diya for collating these stories.
Senior Biomedical Scientist (Betsi Cadwalar University Board)
Alex Makanga is one of our illustrious alumni who finished his MSc in Molecular Biology with a merit. He was in the department of Biology and Biomedical Science in the school of Life Sciences and Education. His research project at Staffordshire University was on Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), a subject that is making headlines in the field of Biomedical Science.
Alexander Makanga is now a Senior Biomedical Scientist in Imunohistrochemistry (IHC) and Special Stains working for Betsi Cadwaladr University Board (BCUHB) Histopathology Department.
He began his Biomedical Science career as a trainee BMS at Sheffield teaching hospital (Royal Hallamshire) and later went to work for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (Regional Neuropathology Service), followed by North West Wales NHS Trust (NWWT) and Wales Cancer Bank now BCUHB. During his time with NWWT/BCUHB, Alex was involved in the amalgamation of histopathology service across the North Wales region.
He currently participates in research and the lecturing of biomedical science students at University of Bangor. His main research interest is Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) and pancreatic adenocarcinoma. The main goal is to improve efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs in TNBC thereby improving patient care. Alex is passionate about molecular genetics and introduction of new immnohistochemical markers, reducing turnaround times while maintaining quality and accuracy of Immunohistochemical stains. In addition he actively seeks to foster environment which values learning and collaboration between institutions.
I studied a Biomedical Science degree at Staffordshire University. Initially, I found it difficult to find my feet, but I soon did with the help of my tutor & colleagues. There was a huge group presence on my course, which really helped me gain confidence as I felt supported and included. During my studies at staffs, we were often required to complete presentations as part of our assessments. This is a skill that I still use today as we’re often required to present patient case studies within my degree as a medical student.
After graduation, I managed to obtain a band 4 post as an associate practitioner in the NHS. This was a major achievement for me as positions within the laboratory are usually very competitive. Within 8 months, I had gained my accreditation as a multidisciplinary biomedical scientist. This was a really challenging time for me as a black female trying to break into the biomedical scientist world. I overcame this by working harder than everyone else. Usually, only trainee Biomedical scientists are entitled to completing the training portfolio. However, I approached my employer & promised that I would complete my training portfolio by coming into the lab after my normal working hours. Completing the portfolio wasn’t difficult as I sought guidance from fellow alumni who had gone through the coterminous route. I also kept in touch with my university peer mentor who supported me in completeing my portfolio.
A year later, I got accepted onto a medical degree programme in Bulgaria. Staffordshire university prepared me for this moment because we were always encouraged to be self-motivated, overcome obstacles and lead with confidence. I carried this lesson with me, and it gave me courage that I needed to pursue medicine. I am currently in my 5th year and using knowledge that I acquired during my first degree at Staffs. The solid science background makes it easier to understand things.
Every aspect of my training to become a doctor requires good listening skills. I’ve found myself being very good at listening to patients, particularly when taking patient history. I believe that I naturally developed this skill at Staffs Uni as I had a module that equipped us with life skills, teamwork and professional attributes of the field.
Through study group discussions at Staffs, I developed & realised the importance of social networking skills. A transferable skill that has enabled me to build healthy colleague relationships in the workplace. Additionally, I’ve been able to use this skill in order to connect with & meet doctors & consultants who ultimately have given me work experience opportunities. My personal life is filled with many highlights and moments that have also aided me in developing my career. One of those moments is summing up the courage to move to a foreign country by myself with no friends or family around. However, this experience was made easier as I had previously moved away from home to peruse my 1st degree at Staffs. I suppose this gave me the practise of independence that I would need in future.
I graduated from Staffordshire University in July 2017, with an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science. During my time at Staffs, I always intended on working within the healthcare sector, whilst helping to save and change lives. As beautiful as being a Biomedical Scientist sounded, I wanted to be more, and so I worked towards becoming a clinical healthcare scientist. After Staffs Uni, I went on to complete master’s degree in Clinical Embryology and Assisted Reproductive Technology.
I have recently just finished my master’s course at Leeds, with a projected grade of a distinction. However, whilst studying, I was approached by a team of vets that had just finished setting up a brand new, state-of-the-art bovine IVF facility and wished for me to come on board as the head embryologist, I accepted! This centre is only one of two in the whole of the U.K., and I get to be at the forefront of it all with a very dedicated team. This is a great achievement to me because I have broken into a field where few members of my ethnic background have had opportunities to break into.
Even though I am currently not working in a human IVF laboratory, I am still utilising all the skills I learned from my time both at Staffordshire University and the University of Leeds. Not only this, but I get to perform sophisticated techniques such as ovum retrieval, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and my favourite – embryo biopsy for genetic analysis. I am immensely proud to be part of the team I work with and performing IVF on cattle for both herd expansion and genetic recovery. However, one day I do hope to eventually work in a human IVF clinic, and if it was not for my varied undergraduate degree from Staffordshire University, I would not be where I am today. Not to mention the support I received from the staff which was integral to my studies at Staffs. Being a student at Staffordshire university helped me fall in love with Science all over again, but it also helped me learn the professional etiquette that the profession carries. Staffs helped me realise my dream.
I have had a bit of experience in laboratory work as a laboratory technician back home (Nigeria). When I arrived in UK, I started applying for medical laboratory assistant jobs but couldn't succeed, this was because I did not have any UK experience. That is when I decided to do my studies here in UK all over again- Starting from Access to Higher Education in Science at Stoke on Trent college followed by my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at Staffordshire university. In my first year at Staffordshire University we covered modules that prepared us for professional practice of biomedical science. This helped me to get one of the few coveted placements in hospitals to earn me an applied biomedical science route. With this, I completed my professional portfolio which led to HCPC registration.
After my studies and HCPC registration (thanks to Ian Davies), I started working as a medical laboratory assistant with agencies which gave me the opportunity to gain a bit more experience. I made a lot of applications for BMS jobs and attended a basket full of interviews, but all came back pointing out that I did not have any UK experience. After loads of perseverance, I finally got an offer to become a Biomedical scientist in Haematology and Blood Transfusion.
Reflecting on my experiences at Staffordshire University, I realised that there are challenges associated with African males in terms of acquiring a voice and breaking into fields that are typically Caucasian dominated. The university, however, has many positive initiatives and role models that attempt to bridge the gap. The fact that I was one of the few people that got the opportunity for a university driven hospital placement where I got my professional registration gives evidence to the level playground the university endeavours to give.
This article is part of our Black History Month Game Changer. Join the discussion on social media using #ProudToBeBlack and #WeAreStaffs.