You shouldn’t limit what you can achieve because of your background - Matt's story

Challenges pave the way for triumphs. Matt from the UK sheds light on his journey in this blog, highlighting the transformative power of scholarships and the supportive environment at LSHTM. Join him as he shares his past experiences, his current academic journey, and his aspirations for the future.
Matt Harvey

Tell us more about your academic journey before you joined LSHTM?

I studied BSc Biochemistry at Imperial College London, graduating in 2017, and worked until joining LSHTM in September this year.

What barriers would you say you have you faced during your education?

As a student from a low-income background, the most obvious barrier I’ve faced is the financial challenges this has presented; not being able to rely on family income has meant that I’ve had to seek financial support to afford the high living costs associated with studying in London. Another less obvious barrier I’ve faced is imposter syndrome, something I only became aware of when I left home to start my undergraduate studies. At school, many of my peers came from similar backgrounds, however when I arrived at university in London, I was suddenly surrounded by people from much more privileged environments, and at times I felt like I didn’t belong there. I knew I was there on merit, but I found it difficult to fit in, this affected my confidence and had a negative impact on my university experience.

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

The barriers I’ve faced have given me a strong sense of perspective; in many societies, access to even basic education is limited so I’m very fortunate to be a postgraduate student at LSHTM. During stressful times, I find it useful to reflect on this privileged position I find myself in. Academically, I credit my work ethic for a lot of what I have achieved, and I believe that this is derived from witnessing how hard my parents worked to provide for my siblings and me when we were growing up. However, it’s important to get the balance right; at times in the past, I’ve overworked myself to the detriment of my wellbeing.

What advice would you give to help someone overcome similar challenges?

I think it’s important to remember that where you come from shouldn’t limit what you can achieve, try to see the challenges you’ve faced as a source of motivation rather than something that holds you back.

From a more practical point of view, if you’re concerned about funding your studies, keep an eye out for sources of financial support – many institutions, LSHTM included, have funding opportunities available for lower income students.

As a scholarship recipient, how would you describe the impact this has had on you?

Despite working to save money for the past few years, funding my living costs as a full-time master’s student in London without working alongside my studies would have been very difficult. Being awarded a scholarship has allowed me to fully focus on my studies and make the most of my year at LSHTM. For example, it has helped me to afford living closer to the university, so I don’t have to spend much time commuting and have more free time to study or unwind.

Many of our scholarships are kindly funded through philanthropy – what message would you like to share with someone considering contributing to our scholarship programme?

I’d like to highlight that donations to scholarship programmes really do make a difference – without financial support, I would have had to consider giving up my place at LSHTM. Donations help to remove the barriers experienced by people like me who come from lower income backgrounds and ensure that access to higher education is not reserved for those who can afford it.

How are you finding your programme so far?

I’m really enjoying my MSc Medical Microbiology programme so far and feel that I made the right decision in choosing this course at LSHTM. It’s very challenging, with an intense timetable and regular assessment, but the content has been interesting and well delivered. I’ve recently chosen my modules for next term and am looking forward to exploring my interests in more depth.

What has surprised you about LSHTM?  

The atmosphere at LSHTM is very different to what I experienced as an undergraduate. Perhaps because of its small size and postgraduate-only student body, there is much better integration of students and staff, and it feels like a community of people with shared interests. I also knew LSHTM was a diverse institution, but I didn’t fully appreciate the extent of the diversity of backgrounds and life experiences here - even within the small cohort of fourteen students on my course, seven different nationalities are represented!

Have you accessed any of the Student Support Services?

I attended a talk from the Student Support Services team during Welcome Week and was impressed by the range of services provided by LSHTM to support the mental health and wellbeing of its students, and the resources available to help students settle into life in London. I’m yet to access any of these services but it’s reassuring to know that they are available should I need them.

What are your plans for after your MSc degree?

I’m currently considering applying for a PhD, ideally in London and if possible, at LSHTM, but I may look at other locations. If I’m unable to gain a place this year, I’ll look for a job as a research assistant to build my research experience before re-applying.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for your programme and/or the Next Generation scholarship at LSHTM?

I’d highly recommend my programme to prospective applicants, but I’d advise them to be prepared for the intensity of the course and the amount of independent study required. As for the Next Generation Scholarships, if you’re eligible then just apply as you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain – I never thought I had a realistic chance of being awarded the scholarship but here I am!