MP member for Ilford North
Oxford and Cambridge were a world away from the London council estate I grew up on. When I was a teenager I thought that studying there was just for kids from private schools. But I got good grades in my GCSEs and a teacher told me to apply to a Sutton Trust summer school. I didn’t realise it then but that advice changed my life.
I got a place and spent a week in the summer of 2000 living as a Cambridge history student. I went to lectures, wrote essays and met some great people. It was just the confidence boost I needed. When I got home I knew that I was going to apply to Cambridge.
The summer school made me realise that I had just as much right to go to a top university as anyone else. Not only that, I had a good chance of getting in. I saw that Cambridge wasn’t the stuffy institution I thought it was. I knew that I would fit in, make friends and have a great time.
The Sutton Trust has had a massive impact on my life. If I hadn’t spent that week in 2000 on their summer school in Cambridge, I don’t think I would have so much confidence to apply. It has certainly changed my life and given me opportunities that led to my election to Parliament at the age of 32.
Going to university opens so many doors. If you have the grades and it feels like the right choice for you, my advice is to go for it!
The Summer School inspired me to sign up as a ‘CAMbassador’ at Cambridge – a student ambassador supporting outreach events and initiatives. I’ve enjoyed helping at several events, and in August 2017 was able to a lecture about my PhD research at a the Cambridge Geography Summer School – completing a circle which started with me being given a lecture on glaciers in 2011.
My advice to anyone thinking about embarking on a career in research is to develop your personal interests during your undergraduate years. Read deeper into your chosen subject and develop your own niche area as you go on to write your dissertation.