From a young age, 26-year-old Amy King was fascinated by science. But she was told by her school that "science isn't for girls" and by a traditional university at interview that she was "too glamorous to be a scientist".
But she proved them both wrong, and is on track to achieve her dream of a science degree with The Open University. But she's gone further too, setting up a charity - GlamSci - to encourage young people from all backgrounds into science, and taking up the role of STEM ambassador for the Government educational charity STEMNET.
Facing barriers didn't put me off
"I was told at school that there are two science careers if you're a women - a doctor if you're smart, a nurse if you're not. During my A-levels, my school said I wouldn't achieve them, and I should leave. So I went to my local Adult Learning Centre for two years. I then decided that I wanted to specialise in sciences. I went to Bromley College to study Sciences and, two years later, achieved straight As.
"My college tutors suggested that I consider a degree so I started applying to traditional universities. But I still faced the problems I faced at school – one university said I was too glamorous to be a scientist and wanted me to recite the periodic table to prove I was qualified, which I did. I was put off by the experience. I wanted to study somewhere where the only important thing was what I could achieve.”
Lenny Henry inspired me to try the OU
“I was originally at a traditional university doing my Masters in Medicinal Chemistry but I ended up leaving there after a couple of years due to health issues. I have a condition Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and my course was very much that you had to be there; you had to be in lectures all of the time. If you missed lectures, you missed a huge chunk of work. Basically, I was keeping up, but I wasn’t happy and I just thought, I can’t carry on, I need another option.
“I’d been watching a documentary with Lenny Henry, a graduate of The Open University, and as soon as I’d watched it, I ordered a prospectus from the OU. I spoke to my family and said, “You think I could do this?” and they said, “Just give it a go.” I was enamoured by the way Lenny put the OU across; how he was able to work and study, and I thought, perhaps I could too.
“I signed up for a Science Degree at the OU in January 2014, finished my first year, and, after taking a break for health issues, I am halfway through my second year.”
Giving others the confidence to pursue science
“I started a charity, GlamSci, in 2013 because of the experiences I had as a young women trying to develop my career in science; over the last two years it has progressed into a national charity. I travel throughout the country to colleges and schools to provide others with the confidence to become whatever they want to be.
Finding a place where everyone is excited to learn
“Studying with the OU is really flexible; it enables me to study whilst I’m travelling or study when I’m not working. It really works well with my job. I actually meet lots of students from the OU and they have all had amazing experiences.
“Every experience I have had with the OU has been fantastic. I rave about it at every single school I speak at. I say to them, you can attend a traditional university if you want, but if it is not for you, there are other options available. The OU is that perfect combination of being able to study and also do the other things I enjoy.
To anyone debating whether to study as a mature student, I would say, if you have any inclination, just go for it. I’ve been pushed back in life again, and again, and again, and had so many people not believe in me; the OU was a place where everyone was excited to learn, you have fantastic support from module tutors, and you realise that it is not just a particularly type of person who is able to study.
“I’ve regained my confidence again; with everything that I experienced with other universities, I was at a low point. The OU gave me the opportunity to be able to start again. Just go for it, it will completely change your life.”