Lesley took part in one of our UK Summer School programmes in 2007, and it opened her eyes to the path she wanted to take – and made applying for an elite university seem within reach. We spoke to her and heard about her schooldays in Scotland, and the career path she’s taken since, leading her to her current role at the BBC.

Tell us a bit about your background

“I loved learning and was always academic, but no one in my family had ever been to university or had ever been academic really. My mother went to nursing college, and then specialised in midwifery and my dad is a plumber who only had two O-levels. My younger brother is also not interested in academia at all.

I didn’t have pushy parents – my parents let me forge my own path. I was reading already when I went to primary school and was quite advanced at that point. I had a really positive experience in school and was allowed to progress at my own pace before going to secondary school.

My school was not really focused towards getting the top grades, so if you were wanting to go to university, you kind of had to push yourself and be self motivated. I found that some subjects, e.g. English, there wasn’t a focus on how to get that top grade – it was all about getting as many pupils as possible to pass. If I had been given more support I probably would have had even higher grades at 17.

What do you remember about your Summer School week?

“I remember it really vividly, I remember being really nervous! When I turned up everyone was really nice – I still keep in touch with lots of the people I met. I stayed in close touch with a few of them.

It was a really positive experience – I didn’t end up going to Cambridge but it firmed up in my mind that going to an elite university was what I wanted to do.

The summer school was really intense but it really opened my eyes to what university would be like. I had no experience in my family circle of what it would be. It was such a convivial atmosphere – the mealtimes really stuck out to me, everyone sat together and chatted about their day and what they’d learned. That made me choose catered halls when I did then go to university.

I remember being asked to read more challenging texts, and scrutinized in a seminar – I’d never been asked to do that at school, it had never been expected of me before. It really prepared me for university. I would really recommend it to everyone! I also remember thinking ‘why am I the only Scottish person here?!”

Did you know what you wanted to do before university?

“My mum would have wanted me to do dentistry or law, because you know what the career path for that is. Something that is more abstract such as the arts / languages – my mum was less convinced that it was a good idea! When I went into the Summer School programme I already had the idea I wanted to study languages in the back of my mind, but the experience really cemented that.”

Can you tell us how you got into your career now?

“Journalism isn’t the easiest career to break into if you’re from a working class background!

I was involved in the first evolution of podcasts in 2005 – I met a mentor who was involved in Apple products and learning, and I was involved in a french language podcast and various projects he was doing while I was at school. On my year abroad for my undergraduate– at Sciences Po in Rennes, and Granada for the second half of the year – I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I had really enjoyed making podcasts and I always really enjoyed English, so I thought of journalism.

I found a Master’s course at Glasgow Caledonian University in Multimedia Journalism – and I was able to get a loan from the Scottish government for half the cost. I applied and got in, and started in 2012, after doing some work experience at a press agency over the summer. It was a really nice but intense course – like a full time job. As soon as I finished there I applied for loads of jobs and got a job at STV, and they hired me. It was terrible pay but I was able to live at home and borrow a car to commute. It was a really good way to get in.

I was promoted and stayed for 3 years, left in 2017 and got into BBC Scotland, I was in the newsroom during the general election and that really established me. So then I applied for a job at network news and moved down to London to work for the BBC News at Six and Ten in 2018 and I’m based in New Broadcasting House.”

Every story we collect from our alumni as part of our 25th celebrations, helps inspire the next generation of students to aim for careers they might never have thought of. If you, like Lesley, want to share your story with us – just get in touch with the alumni team via [email protected].

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