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Abbie’s Newcastle University

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Abbie is the owner of Cooper King Distillery which she established and runs with her partner, Chris.

She went to Newcastle University from where she graduated with a First Class Honours in her BSc. in Biomedical Science in 2008.

The yin and yang of decisions: art or science?

My first choice of career was medicine, specifically pathology and I’m now a distiller of fine gin! At school, I was excellent at art and science. In everything else I was on average grades, but those were my two strongest subjects. When I asked my science and art teachers for careers advice, my art teacher obviously pushed me for art, saying that I had enough talent and passion to make a go of it, and the science teacher said that science was where the money was and that I’d have a better chance of making a living! My careers teacher told me that I had to choose one or the other – that nothing could bridge the gap – so I chose science. Almost a decade later I discovered the field of medical artistry which does bridge the gap. This would have been perfect, but not even my careers advisor knew art and science could be so beautifully combined!

My art teacher obviously pushed me for art and the science teacher said that science was where the money was and that I’d have a better chance of making a living! My careers teacher told me that I had to choose one or the other – that nothing could bridge the gap – so I chose science. Almost a decade later I discovered the field of medical artistry which does bridge the gap.

After being rejected entry into medical school, I accepted a place on a Biomedical Sciences degree because it was closely related and allowed students to side-step into medicine after the first year. I chose Newcastle because it had a highly rated medicine faculty, and I fell in love with the city when I visited on a university open day.

The chemical attraction: my degree and I

I loved the course and threw my heart and soul into it. I was good at the biology and anatomy-related subjects, but my weakest topics were chemistry and physiology: they were so complicated and in depth, but I loved learning about the process of disease and their treatments. I came out with a first, so I was obviously very dedicated to it!

I had some fantastic lecturers. The physiology lecturer, Dr Tim Cheek, had a real skill for turning an incredibly dull and monotonous topic into an exciting story that would keep us all enthralled for an hour. His lectures were full of drama as he paced back and forth across the lecture theatre, and he had this amazing skill to command a crowd of hung-over, sleepy students straight after lunchtime. So even though the subject matter was rather dull and boring, I really enjoyed his lectures and they always stuck in my mind. Throughout my years of public speaking I try to embody his persona and maintain an on-stage energy to keep my audience engaged.

The physiology lecturer, Dr Tim Cheek, had a real skill for turning an incredibly dull and monotonous topic into an exciting story that would keep us all enthralled for an hour.

Life expectations: turned upside down

Apart from the course, my time at Newcastle completely turned my plans and life expectations around. Meeting Chris there, my fiancé, was a big part of this. We are now running our own distillery in Yorkshire, making gin and whisky which is a long way from being a medic!

I joined the university’s Latin & Ballroom Society in my second year, and within six months I was up on stage performing at the big annual International Grand Festival. I had danced at school many years prior, but being on stage at uni was a pretty key moment because I was quite a shy person before that.

In an attempt to overcome my fear of heights, I completed my first tandem skydive in my second year, raising money for charity at the same time. This was the start of my adrenaline addiction, and was shortly followed by a bungee jump by the Tyne bridge. I also took up running, something I had been strongly averse to in the years prior!

In my final year I volunteered for a local charity, Comrades of Children Overseas (COCO), and with them I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, reaching the summit and raising £2,500 in sponsorship.

Whilst in Tanzania, I took part in several COCO volunteer projects such as building a Vocational Training Centre and living with an indigenous Maasai tribe for two weeks teaching maths, English and Swahili to nursery children. It was a thrilling and wholesome end to my undergraduate life.

I took part in several COCO volunteer projects such as building a Vocational Training Centre and living with an indigenous Maasai tribe for two weeks teaching maths, English and Swahili to nursery children.

My Top 4 for Newcastle University

1. The atmosphere and the diversity: the university was a kind of melting pot and I met many people from different backgrounds who I would never have come across in my hometown. There were many international students, which was a big plus, as you encountered and learned from people with different cultures, lifestyles and backgrounds. Becoming friends with people that you perhaps wouldn’t normally have got together with can start whole new chapters in your life. If you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the familiar, you can be anybody you want to be, and no one holds any preconceptions about you. That was a great opportunity for me as it enabled me to shed my shy persona and grow into the person I am today.

2. The societies: being able to tap into so many different things: dancing, art, music, sport, adventure – it was so accessible and exciting. Having access to those unexpected experiences was a real plus.

3. My degree course: it was brilliant partly because it was such an interesting mix. It covered everything, with modules on physiology, pharmacology, tropical diseases, parasites – all kinds of stuff. There was lots of choice and options to swap to a different course. Having that kind of freedom was brilliant. The facilities were also fantastic. It was extremely modern and had a lot of money invested into it. In fact, that was one of the reasons why I chose that university: the faculty’s new buildings with state-of-the-art facilities.

4. The Union: it was known to be one of the best in the country and offered a plethora of events, great gigs, memorable nights and social events. I remember seeing Goldie Lookin Chain perform – my first experience of Welsh comedic rap!

My Top 3 for Newcastle City as a Study Location

1. The welcoming vibe: as an area for student living, it has a real buzz and great mix of styles, with stunning architecture, both old and new. Before I went, someone had told me that it was a fantastic party city: whether you’re seven or 70 there’s something for you. There’s always a friendly, welcoming vibe in the city that makes you feel safe and instantly at home, as I did when I first visited on a uni open day.

2. The social life: the city boasts an abundance of superb bars, cafes and music venues. My favourite haunts were Blackfriars restaurant, the nightclub World Headquarters and the real ale pub the Cumberland Arms: many great memories were forged here.

3. The beaches: the city is a mere stones-throw from the sweeping sandy beaches of Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. We often went there to escape the city, breath in the sea air, eat local fish and chips, chill with friends and relax in a beautiful environment. The city’s big parks are also great zones for summer barbeques and soaking up the Northern sun.

No other city boasts Newcastle’s vibe and energy. Whether you love food or music, city streets, green spaces or beaches, everything is at your fingertips. It’s an affordable, accessible, safe and friendly place in which to begin a new chapter in your student life. It certainly changed mine for the better.

No other city boasts Newcastle’s vibe and energy.

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