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Mature student tackles a series of obstacles to graduate in Biological Sciences

When Jenna Neil left school in 2005, she went to work in a local pharmacy followed by a Doctor’s Surgery.

After her son was born in 2012 with special needs, Jenna swapped her daytime job for evening shifts in a supermarket so that she was able to care for him during the day as well as look after her four-year-old daughter.

She had always wanted to return to education so the first step was passing her GSCE maths and leaving her job to take up a place on a Biological Sciences access course.

Jenna said: “It was at this point I decided to study microbiology as I found it very interesting. In my younger days at school, I was an average student and never got grades higher than a C so getting accepted into Queen’s was something I never thought would happen to me.”

Jenna knew that the degree and working around the needs of her children would not be her only challenge during her time at university. Seven years earlier, she has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia which can cause widespread pain and exhaustion.

She said: “Fibromyalgia which can be debilitating at times with chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain. It did make some days difficult - managing workload, assignments and practicals was very difficult with family life especially with my son's extra care needs - but I tried not to let it get the better of me. Thankfully I never missed a deadline because I always started my assignments as soon as I received them to allow myself time to work on them and have a break when I needed.”

Life became more challenging during the second semester of first year as Jenna’s son began to experience seizures. Months of tests and scans followed to assess how to control the seizures and Jenna almost dropped out as she was unable to focus on her studies. She kept going though, and her son’s epilepsy is now controlled with medication.

In second year, Jenna was thrown yet another challenge when she was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 34.  She said: “I always had trouble with my handwriting and spelling, but it was significantly impacting my ability in taking notes in lectures. I was spending so much time trying to spell different words when making notes that I was missing information during the lecture and I was writing so fast to keep up that I couldn’t make out my own handwriting. I contacted disability services to see if there was extra help available for note taking and explained my concerns and they suggested a getting an assessment.”

The diagnosis meant that Jenna was allocated extra time in exams and was able to type her notes on a computer which was particularly helpful.

Jenna now plans to take some time off to spend time with her family and get a laboratory-based job in the next couple of months.

She says: “I am so thankful for the support of my husband, parents and friends throughout these three years. It has been a long journey filled with different obstacles and plenty of self-doubt but I'm glad I saw it through to the end.”



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