Profile: Leenah Abuelgasim
Leenah Abuelgasim is a medical student at Univ who has just finished her third year. In this profile, she talks about her doubts over applying for medicine and how she manages singing with studying.
How did you decide to apply for medicine?
My decision to apply for medical school was not an easy one – I think it’s very rare that anyone knows exactly what they want to do when they have to decide what to study at university, effectively aged 16. I suppose I’ve had a lot of exposure to the medical field, since my family background is very doctor-heavy, but I think if anything, this put me off more than it encouraged me.
Ultimately, there were perhaps four main factors leading to my pursuing medicine in spite of the difficulties I could see in my family life: first, one of my major university-course criteria was to minimise risk and choose something with a well-defined path. Secondly, I enjoyed the sciences and (importantly) didn’t love any of my other A level subjects to the point where I wanted to study them at university – if I had, I’d have probably elected to study what I loved the most. Thirdly, being a doctor was in line with what I considered important life achievement goals at the time; as a doctor, no one can doubt that you’re doing something fulfilling and, at risk of sounding cliché, genuinely helping people. This might sound a bit deep, but I think that through seeing the more corporate avenues sought after by many of my peers, and the fact that doing good by people in other spheres, such as in politics, seems to have become more difficult and convoluted (I find myself getting frustrated just reading about it, let alone being a part of it), I’ve come to value studying for a career which is so deeply rooted in respect for human life and for other people.
Why did you choose Oxford? Why Univ?
At the time of applications, I wasn’t comfortable enough with committing myself to an intensely clinical course, since I wasn’t 100% sure that medicine was the right decision for me. One of the main things directing me to Oxford was the course design; a minimally clinical first three years after which I’d gain a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Sciences seemed a good way to make use of my time if I ultimately decided that medicine wasn’t for me. I’d still get a degree, but it wouldn’t exclude me from a medical career if and when I decided that I was excited about being a doctor. So far it seems to have worked out. I’m very excited to go on to clinical school (yay!) but maintain that if I’d gone straight into the hospital aged 18, I’d probably have gotten spooked and it would not have ended well.
There were some general logistical reasons that I liked the look of Univ (location, size, pay-as-you-go meals, kitchens), but truth be told, my decision was mainly driven by anecdotal experiences. I had a friend who studied Law here, a couple of years ahead of me at school, and she seemed to really enjoy it. However, he real clincher was on an Open Day in July 2015, when a medical student at another college (which I won’t name) essentially told me that I wouldn’t have a life if I studied medicine at Oxford because I’d spend all my time working, which really put me off, but at Univ, one of the student helpers reassured me that I could pretty much do any extracurricular activities I wanted, as long as I was smart with my time. This, it appears, was more than enough to switch my allegiance to Univ, and I’m always careful to tell future medical students that I would actually encourage them to pursue non-medical activities to keep their sanity!
Was there a particular area of your subject that you were interested in before you applied? How did you explore that area further?
Not really, I wanted to keep an open mind, so I tended to just read things that I found interesting, which ended up being a range of things without a central pattern. There was one book in particular which I really enjoyed: Susan Greenfield’s The Human Brain: A Guided Tour, which I initially started because I felt like I should be reading something rather than because I wanted to. I was pleasantly surprised though!
Do you think you have changed since walking through Univ’s doors as a fresher?
Definitely! I don’t think I was ever not confident, but I think I’m now a lot surer of myself and my decisions. It’s a work in progress, but I’m learning to put less pressure on myself, to be kinder to myself, and, crucially, I’m learning not to place too much emphasis on academic achievement; there are so many other life lessons you learn at university, which are just as important as your grades on paper.
How do you balance singing with your studies?
Time management! I don’t like the stress associated with time pressure, so the thought of middle-of-the-night essay crises makes me wince internally – I learned to get good at planning when I’m going to do things, which has really helped keep me on top of things while trying to factor in singing. I’m really lucky with my band in that we only rehearse once a week, which leaves me plenty of time to do my work. Gigs during the year can be variable – sometimes we might have two or more in a week, and other times we might have none – and we have a big spreadsheet where we put in all of the gigs, soundchecks, and extra rehearsals. Knowing about all these things in advance is super helpful because I can factor in how much time I need to allocate to an essay, or to tutorial preparation, and make sure that I have that time.
How do you feel about the celebration of 40 years of women at Univ?
I think it’s fantastic! It’s interesting that women have only been at Univ relatively recently – 40 years is not long at all. The fact that now it’s a given that you wouldn’t be disadvantaged, or the odd one out, if you’re a woman at Univ speaks to how quickly institutions can adapt, as I’m sure it raised a few eyebrows at the time of implementation. The celebration of women Univites and their achievements is lovely to see and really important, but I think it’s still a starting point.
I’d love not just to see more women in high academic positions, but also for this to be the norm, and not newsworthy or extraordinary. The lack of a female presence precludes a host of different views and experiences, which I think limits the richness of academic discourse. I can’t speak for other disciplines, but my experience of medicine has been surprisingly male-dominated, especially given that there is no shortage of female doctors!
Even more importantly, the power of representation should not be underestimated. I think that, as a woman, seeing more women in prestigious and esteemed positions makes an enormous difference to what you can see yourself achieving and what you aspire to, and affirms that you can get there too. There is obviously still work to do in a lot of STEM fields in particular, with the number of girls doing physics, maths, or engineering still shockingly low. This is also a broader societal issue, not necessarily a problem with the University itself, but a little bit of encouragement and showcasing of how wonderfully talented women can be in these areas can go a long way.
Describe Univ in three words.
Growth, safety, smiley.
Women at Univ 2019. Celebrating 40 years of achievement by women students, academics and staff, and recovering the history of women in the College from 1249 to the present day.
Published: 15 July 2019