Overcoming barriers to further study - Kerry's story

MSc Public Health student, Kerry, shares the challenges she faced during her education, including being care experienced and considers how this has shaped her academic and personal development. She gives advice on the support systems that have helped her.
A photo of Kerry Littleford

Where and what did you study before joining LSHTM? 

My bachelor’s degree was in History from the University of Sheffield which I completed in 2008 and I also undertook an MA in Environment and Development in 2009.

What barriers have you faced during your education?  

I grew up in quite severe poverty and although education is free in the UK, my access to books, computers and educational support outside of the school system was non-existent, as was the ability of parents/carers to nurture me. This made it more difficult for me to learn beyond the statutory curriculum.  My chaotic childhood also meant I missed chunks of school, particularly when I was very young and would often be brought to school late. Later on in life, when I was able to take myself and my siblings to school I had more control over my attendance although when we were all placed in care in my teens, this took a toll on my education. I was however very lucky that I felt naturally able at school and it became a sanctuary for me outside of my home, so I made sure I attended as often as I could.

What advice would you give to someone to help them overcome a similar challenge? 

There are support systems available outside of what is considered your typical ‘system’ i.e. parents/carers. I found support and solace in teachers in particular, who I would talk to about my interests. The engaged and inspiring teachers always knew how to provide me with the extra things I needed like books, intellectual conversation or time in classes using computers etc. Sometimes it feels like you need to do things on your own, when there aren’t people around you can rely on, but support can be found in unlikely places. For me, my friends became my family and those who I trusted, I confided in. They also became a great source of support for me.

Look into resources and support for care-experienced people too, there were lots that I had never heard of that my after-care worker made me aware of – for example when I did an MA, I was able to secure funding from a charity to pay for my London tube pass for a year. Also, check with your local authority about what support is available for care leavers accessing higher education.

'It took me a while to realise that my differences from others were actually my strengths, and I now make a point of including them in applications and personal statements'

How did you make your application stand out from other applicants? 

It took me a while to realise that my differences from others were actually my strengths, and I now make a point of including them in applications and personal statements. Being different doesn’t feel great when you’re younger, because you just want to feel like everyone else. But actually, your hardships and challenges often make you a more emotionally intelligent, resilient and stronger-willed person, and these are all great qualities when you want to succeed in education or careers. Using my experience and outlining the strengths I gained from it always gives the admissions staff a new perspective to consider, and they helped me accept myself too.

How have the barriers you’ve faced shaped your academic and personal development? 

I have some unique skills that have come from the challenges in my life, including being extremely resourceful (especially in a practical sense but also emotionally when I need it), being autonomous, and not taking rejection personally. When I am faced with rejection or negativity I decide whether I want to learn from the experience to develop, or whether that particular experience needs to be left in the past so I can move on. This particular skill has served me well both in my academic and personal life and freed up so much time from criticising myself! 

Why did you choose to study your particular programme and what appealed about LSHTM?  

I have worked in Public Health for 10 years now and in 2021 was successful in joining the Public Health Specialty Training Programme. It took me 4 attempts to join the programme (which is 4 years)! – and part of that programme includes doing the MSc Public Health.

How are you finding your MSc so far? 

I feel immensely privileged to be sponsored to study full-time again, and am loving learning the foundations of a career I have worked in for 10 years and want to continue to work in. The breadth of modules you can choose from is great and I am making connections to people from all over the world.

What are your plans for after your MSc? 

I will continue on with the training programme which will lead to me becoming a Consultant in Public Health. Ultimately, I want to work in Public Health policy, and in particular on tackling inequity at the very root causes including poverty, housing, employment and education (the social determinants of health).

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for your course at LSHTM? 

Just go for it! Be bold and brave in your application, and use your experiences as ways to demonstrate your strengths. This MSc is enriched by the variety of people on it, and public health should always look to represent the communities it serves. I want to see more people from care experienced backgrounds leading the way in public health. We are the ones who truly understand the impacts of health inequity and our voices are important.

  • Find out more about the new Widening Participation work at LSHTM.
  • LSHTM has launched 10 new widening participation scholarships to tackle barriers to further education for students from underrepresented groups in the UK. Find out more.