Mohammed Elyass spent his early childhood in the Netherlands, his parents having fled the conflict in Sudan. Aged seven, he moved to England and attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. In his third year at Sidney, studying Medicine, he ‘intercalated’, taking the opportunity to spend the academic year studying Linguistics.
So, when did you first think that Medicine might be what you wanted to do?
“Well… probably from Year Six onwards I was dead set on a career in medicine.”
Year Six… you would have been 10 or 11?
“Yes, I think there’s a quote in my end of primary school thing: ‘I want to be a doctor so I can help people,’ or something like that.”
That’s quite early…
“Yes, quite early, quite early.” (laughs)
So, at school, was Science your focus?
“Yeah, I loved Science. I still have an encyclopedia next to my bed, it helps me get to sleep. It’s always been there (laughs). So, yes, Science was definitely the subject I loved the most at school.
So you came to choosing a university. Did you visit Cambridge?
“Yes, I did. Through school, we had the option of either going to Oxford or Cambridge for the Open Days. So, I looked at the entry requirements, and I looked at the two processes, and I saw that Cambridge favoured the interview. So, I chose Cambridge.
“To be honest, I don't remember much of the Open Day. Cambridge seemed really big, it was like a whole different world. Now, I can walk around the whole place in 10, 15 minutes.“
And did you apply directly to Sidney?
“No, I did an open application. I was focusing on A levels, and I didn't really have time to research the colleges.
“An open application means that instead of applying directly to a college, you leave it to the University administrators to put you forward to one.
“I interviewed at another college and received an open offer. They didn't have space for me at the college I interviewed at, but the open offer meant I had a guaranteed place at Cambridge. It was just up to a college that had space for a medical student to take me basically. Sidney took up the open offer, so I came to Sidney.”
And how have you found Sidney?
“To be honest, I love Sidney.
"I really love Sidney and I feel like I've developed this kind of loyalty over the past couple of years. Everyone says it's friendly and it's really nice and that is true, but it's also just got this unique character. It just kind of grows on you. And I think that's what draws me to it.”
If you had to explain to someone else what that unique character is, how would you describe it?
“It's quite difficult to do that. It's a feeling you have, but it’s difficult to put it into words.
“Outside you have these urban streets and stuff, but when you come inside, you have Chapel Court and the clock, the gardens… you step inside and your world is completely transformed.
You’re at the end of your third year. How has Medicine been?
“So, for me, first year, second year, was a bit of a transition from school. I found it challenging, adjusting like that, but I really enjoyed the course.
“In third year, you follow a pregnant woman through her pregnancy. You track her pregnancy and then you meet the baby as well. That was eye-opening – you realise how much actually goes into bringing a child into the world. It was really interesting, and I felt quite privileged that I was able to follow this woman and see how the pregnancy developed from the first visit to the last. It was quite special.”
Have you had good academic support in College?
“Yes, I have.
"The supervisions have been really useful, especially in first and second year - they really helped ease the transition from school into university and they also helped in making us more independent, giving us other angles that we might not have got from the lectures.
“And then, at the end of second year, when I was interested in intercalating to Linguistics, I found the Sidney Director of Studies in Linguistics. I spoke to him and he was really supportive. He's been a really friendly face, and someone I could speak to during the year about all sorts of things.
“So, yes, I think the teaching at Sidney has been really, really good.”
As you just mentioned, you have been intercalating. For those that aren’t familiar with that term, what does it involve?
“So, in a broad sense, it's about stepping away from Medicine and choosing a different subject to do in your third year.
“So, most people when they intercalate from Medicine, they specialise in one of the areas they have already studied, like Pathology, Physiology, Development, or Neuroscience.”
“But you can also switch to Humanities. There are students that do English Literature, or History of Science.”
How does a medical student benefit from stepping away like you describe and studying another subject?
“I think it’s about gaining a different perspective, and picking up extra skills, skills you wouldn't get from a pure NatSci (Natural Sciences) course. With Humanities subjects, you’re encouraged to do a lot more reading, and you read from a different angle, I think. You can then use the extra skills you have gained in your clinical practice.”
And you chose to study Linguistics. Why?
“Well, I've always really liked languages and I’ve also always been interested in the broader questions around language, so that drew me to Linguistics.”
And have you enjoyed it?
“I have, yeah. I have really enjoyed it. I’ve found the last year really rewarding, just having that different angle on things, and also a different view of Cambridge student life. I've really enjoyed having that experience.”
In terms of what's involved in Linguistics, are there elements there, maybe areas like language acquisition, that are relevant to Medicine?
“Yeah, definitely. Some of the psychological and neurological stuff, there was quite an overlap from second year Medicine. For one of the (Medicine) modules in second year, we looked at language and the brain and how neurologists think language is structured, how it operates within the brain. That was one of the main reasons I chose Linguistics actually. I found that really interesting.
“With Linguistics, I chose a Psychology module. We covered language acquisition, neurology and also some other stuff that isn't related to the brain, like the developmental issues that you can get. We looked at cleft palate, for example, how it affects speech and how you can treat it. What we know about language acquisition can help us to tailor a rehabilitation plan for children that are affected by things like cleft palate so they can make themselves understood, which is really important. That really interested me.”
So, going into your fourth year, I guess it'll be exciting to have more direct contact with patients?
“Yes, I mean, I think it'll be a big jump. You need to be quite confident with people, which is something that I've struggled with in the past, but hopefully I’ll get better at being able to express ideas and talk to people. Their wellbeing is in your hands, so there’s a real sense of responsibility. I'm excited to be going into the clinical placements and just learning as much as I can every single day. It’s something I'm really looking forward to.”
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