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Sannia Farooque
Sannia Farooque

PhD student, Sannia, returned to education through an Access to Higher Education course after years of running the family business in Pakistan.

Sannia was born in Islamabad, Pakistan. Growing up, chemistry was always a subject that both challenged and fascinated her. She explains:

“I was one of those children who kept asking ‘why?’, I wouldn’t just take someone’s word for it. My father would tell you that I gave him grief over it, but then I found chemistry. It gave me a platform to ask questions and work to get the answers. It was colourful, challenging, exciting and satisfied my intrigued mind.”

Despite her natural curiosity and enthusiasm, Sannia was not able to study chemistry until years after she left school.

Overcoming obstacles

Sannia completed her secondary education but, when her mother fell ill, she took on the responsibility of running the family business with her sister. She worked for her mother’s company for four years before relocating to England, where she got married and had a child. After facing some difficult personal circumstances, Sannia decided to go back to education and there was no doubt in her mind about what she should study. She signed up for an access to higher education science course at Leeds City College before securing a place to study chemistry at the University of Leeds. Despite Sannia’s love for the subject, she found the transition to university challenging. One of the main difficulties she faced was trying to balance university with raising a young family:

“Raising a child whilst completing a chemistry degree isn’t the easiest thing but it’s definitely worth it. I didn’t have any help towards childcare financially or otherwise – I didn’t have any family members who could help me. I had to run to pick my daughter up from nursery after getting out of lectures. It was challenging and exciting at the same time.”

She struggled so much at the start that she called her sister for encouragement when she was planning to leave – she recommends for anyone in a similar position to call on their friends and family for strength and support. Despite initial problems, Sannia flourished at university. She worked hard on her course assignments and threw herself into the wider activities of the department, volunteering on UCAS days, the Peer Mentoring Assisted Learning Scheme, the Student-Staff forum, Leeds Chemistry Industrial Advisory Board and in local schools throughout her degree. Her efforts did not go unnoticed and Sannia was awarded the Adult Learner Award 2013 and the Peter and Barbara Gray Prize 2015 for her academic and personal achievements, and for making the most outstanding contribution to the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds.

A balancing act

Sannia at poster presentation During her time at university, Sannia also secured a Research and Leadership Scholarship that allowed her to work on two research projects in her university summer holidays. Working with Professor Rayner, she investigated the biochemical activity of compounds in mulberry extract, a topic that appealed to her interest in natural product chemistry. Having recently started her PhD, also with Professor Rayner, Sannia is now investigating the reactivity of anthocyanins. She is enjoying the flexibility of working in research as it allows her to balance caring for her daughter with her studies. She even brings her love of chemistry into her home life and she enjoys learning with her young daughter, “We look at big chemistry books together with fascination; she is solely responsible for wearing out my organic synthesis book. We were practically fighting over a chemistry modelling kit at one point…she won!”

Sannia also continues to engage with charitable activities outside her PhD programme. She plays a key role in raising awareness and finances for charities that focus on supporting underprivileged children, those with autism and victims of domestic violence.

Finding inspiration

While Sannia feels that more support should be available for mature students, she hasn’t let her busy family life hold her back and even draws inspiration from her daughter:

“You have to look at the bright side of things if you want to succeed. I have learned to multi-task through this experience. I try picking up the best things from anyone that I can, especially children. They are such go-getters, they don’t fear anything. As we grow up we lose that kind of attitude.”

Words by Eleanor Hall
Images courtesy of Sannia Farooque
Published October 2015

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