Melanie Wheeldon
Access to Biological Sciences
At the beginning of 2012, my life was so different than it is today. I worked full-time as a credit controller for a brewery where I had worked the same job for ten years and a mother of a 3-year-old and pregnant with twins. In February, only 10 days after my twins were born, I received the news that I was being made redundant. This was not too bad as it meant I could take a few years out to bring up my children.

Fast forward 2 years and it’s time for me to look for a job. Looking for credit controller jobs disheartened me so much. My dream job had always been a Forensic Scientist but without a degree there was not much point in me looking. I didn’t even have the qualifications to get onto a degree course. I looked at the local college’s website to see how much it would cost to sit some Highers. It was there I saw the SWAP Access to Biological Sciences course. It was perfect for me! Specifically designed for adults who have been out of education for at least 3 years (it was 15 years since I was at school) plus, after only one year, I could go to university!

I applied for the course along with applying for many, many jobs. I didn’t expect to get a place on the course, I mean… come on… a mum with 3 kids and no qualifications and no job. I had never even been inside a science lab! But I did get on the course. SWAP gave me a chance and I have never been so grateful.

The year was hard, but I was surrounded by people who had the same ambition – to go to university to get their dream job. The support from the teachers was amazing; if my kids were sick they would allow me to come in at other times to catch up on studies. I learned so much that year and I surpassed my own expectations leaving college with three A’s in my profile grades.

I went on to study a degree at Heriot-Watt University in Cell & molecular Biology and in my second year I was awarded the Athena Swan Scholarship which allowed me to work in the Nanosafety research lab over the summer working with some top-class scientists. During my final year I was approached by one of the researchers in the lab to ask for my help with something that was similar to the work I had completed during my scholarship as well as my final year project. My work on this project resulted in me being co-author on a scientific paper that was published in November 2019. I graduated from Heriot-Watt in 2019 with an honors degree in Cell & Molecular Biology.

I took a year out to do some voluntary work in labs around Edinburgh, I worked with researchers in the NHS as well as the University of Edinburgh and I even worked a few months as a science technician at a high school. Doing all this work confirmed to me that I belong in a research lab as it is the place where I enjoy being the most. It is now 2021, we are in the middle of a pandemic and my career choice could not be more relevant. I have decided to continue my studies and I am now studying a MSc in Drug Design & Biomedical Science at Edinburgh Napier University. I still can’t quite believe that I am here – I thought I would be a credit controller forever yet here I am with a degree under my belt AND I’m a published scientist! The best part of this journey? My children are starting to have their own ambitions. If you ask them what they want to be when they grow up... their answer - a scientist – like Mummy!
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