At time of writing this post, I have just arrived back in the office at my industrial placement based in Hull, UK, which, after the events of the past weekend, feels very surreal! Myself and two other Leeds scholars had the pleasure of attending this year's North American Laidlaw Scholar's Conference at Tufts University in Boston, MA. This experience has been a major learning opportunity for me, one such point being the importance of avoiding all meat options on long haul flights! I would firstly like to thank all the organisers and the Laidlaw Foundation for making this event happen (and giving me the chance to finally leave Europe!).
After overcoming our first challenge of making it from Leeds > Dublin > Boston without losing any belongings or missing connections (although both of these were close calls), we arrived at our hotel and headed out to downtown Boston, which despite the rain and lack of waterproof clothing - mental note to listen to my mother next time and check the weather forecast - we had a lovely evening at Citrus and Salt, highly recommend the birria tacos! We spent our free time on Friday touring the various campuses in Boston, my favourite being Harvard but the architecture down at MIT overlooking the Charles River was also impressive.
As part of my placement role, I work for Reckitt under the Mucinex brand which is cold/flu medicine sold only in the US so I had not yet had the opportunity to see the products I work on in "the wild". I think the CVS employees were understandably confused by my impromptu photoshoot in the aisles, but it was interesting to see them IRL (and a reminder to be thankful for the wonderful NHS - my thoughts are with the US scholars having to pay these prices).
My favourite part of the whole experience was getting to meet all the other scholars. Everyone was so friendly, and I learnt something new from every conversation I had. Getting to speak to like-minded young people was actually pretty inspiring. It has given me a lot of motivation to keep reaching for my personal goals which has been something I have struggled with keeping my focus on over my second year at university. It's insane how much just someone saying "Hey, you are actually doing amazing, and you deserve to be here" can do for your self-image.
I particularly enjoyed listening to the global keynote speaker Gina Miller (one of the few reasons I wish I could have been in London and Boston simultaneously in order to get the chance to meet her IRL!). As a woman in a STEM field, I have experienced barriers to my success due to my gender identity and have been labelled "bossy" and told to "be less opinionated" amongst other misogynistic labels. Therefore, it was encouraging to see and hear from a strong woman in her power fighting for the causes important to her, in spite of a fiction novel's worth of discrimination, hurdles and even death threats.
As cliché as it sounds, I have truly learnt a lot about myself, my goals and the opportunities out there from this trip. My first major travel experience abroad has shown me I am actually a capable adult (terrifying thought still though). This time last year I would have done anything to get out of going abroad for the Leadership in Action component of the scholarship, Now, I am brainstorming ideas to go as far away from England as possible! During the collaborative exercise on the impact we can have on the world (which was the theme of the conference), I got to share my ideas on a new LiA in the field of global healthcare access and even find others who shared the same passion for addressing maternal mortality and the empowerment of women in the context of their own health. Without that experience, I probably would have talked myself out of trying at risk of failing and not believing in myself and that impact that we can have, however small.
And then it was all over. I found myself walking out of Leeds Bradford airport at 8:30am on a random morning in October thinking 'is this real life?' (Maybe my first thought was actually how long is it until I can go to bed but this is meant to be an inspiring reflective post ok?). My biggest takeaway is to take every opportunity offered to you and actively seek out those who can push you up to whatever it is you want to achieve.
Finally, thank you again to the Foundation and Tufts University for organising this event and Lorna and Becky at Leeds for helping me get there. To the scholars I had the pleasure of meeting - I wish you all success and I look forward to seeing what you all get up to!
P.S. open invitation to visit us in Leeds - promise it'll be life changing!