We were pushed and exposed to a new branch of science on every university trip
Marcus Nelson, a Generating Genius ‘graduate’, reflects on his journey from an inner-city comprehensive to Bristol University biochemistry undergraduate I was brought up on an estate in south-east London. I lived with my mother, step-dad and five siblings. I didn’t have the best relationship with my father.
Due to a complex past, my sister and I would visit him in a contact centre once every few weeks. I remember feeling quite confused and upset during these times, but I used school as a haven for my mind to escape. I had a particular thirst for maths, where I excelled by always asking for more difficult problems to solve. I left with the highest results in my school and looked forward to learning more.
My fellow students at secondary school weren’t the best behaved. Most of my classes were disrupted and I found it hard to focus as I, too, began to fool around in lessons with my friends. But towards the end of my first year, I received an application form from my head of year for Generating Genius.
My dream at that time was to become a DJ, but after a period of reluctance I figured it was a great opportunity and decided to apply. Much to my surprise, I was short-listed to the interview stages, where 40 of us battled for a place on the programme. The interview felt more like an interrogation with four dragons breathing down my neck. I remember being asked very abstract and challenging questions involving science that I hadn’t yet encountered.
The process was rigorous and I didn’t feel very confident about claiming a spot on the programme as everyone there seemed so smart! After a long and anxious wait, I was over the moon to hear that I had been selected. Summer arrived and I was off to Jamaica for a four-week trip to the University of the West Indies. We stayed on the campus as if we were students and attended classes ranging from physical chemistry to marine biology.
It felt like we were on another planet for two reasons: we weren’t copying out of a science textbook and it wasn’t raining! It was the first time we had the freedom and equipment to actually see real science come alive. Although most people come to Jamaica for a holiday, we definitely did not. Every morning we were made to run for two miles and worked until 8pm some nights.
Apart from the beaches, my highlights were cloning a pineapple in biotechnology and watching live brain surgery. They were such enriching and invaluable experiences that your average 12 year old can only dream of. The project attracted a lot of attention. I remember my friends telling me that they heard me on the radio, and others saying they spotted me in newspapers.
I was recognised by everyone in school and by people on the streets. It was as if I had gained celebrity status based on my successes rather than faults or crimes, which is a nice change for a boy from Lewisham. Although it wasn’t cool to be a scientist where I come from, I was respected in school, possibly because I had a four-inch Afro! I do remember some friends being slightly envious of me as I had so much to write on my personal statement for university, whereas they had nothing.
Generating Genius has made me a more confident and well-rounded person. It definitely kept me from falling off the rails during my school career by giving me a goal and healthy competition. None of the boys on the project wanted to have to tell each other that they had failed an exam.
We became very competitive but maintained a strong relationship throughout the project. We visited several universities, including Imperial College London, Oxford and Leeds. We spent three weeks at Imperial College and looked at chemiluminescence, robotics and malaria. Each week we would have a task involving one of the three topics and put together a presentation based on our work to a panel of judges.
The highlight was working on malaria with actual postgraduate researchers, where we looked at real life solutions to malaria in Mozambique. I also enjoyed presenting my work and ideas on robotics and programming to the vice-president of Shell. Every week posed an increased level of importance and pressure. We also presented work at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Google and more. All of these experiences are important to me as I know not many people get such opportunities.
They have given me confidence and encouraged the attitude that I can achieve whatever I want in life. We were pushed and exposed to a new branch of science on every university trip. We developed our presentation skills and our ability to pitch ideas confidently and concisely. I became more and more interested in science and it quickly became my strongest and favourite subject in school. It was only natural that I would pick the sciences and maths for my A-levels.
My personal statement for uni was jam-packed full of extracurricular, science-related activities I had taken part in with Generating Genius over the years. I applied to study biochemistry at five Russell group universities and got an offer from all of them.
For further information, please contact:
m: +44 (0)7739 364 899
Dr Tony Sewell
m: +44 (0)7956 598 503