I’m not really one for sharing a personal story online. I’m more one for pretending everything is okay all of the time (something I’m learning isn’t a good thing.) One of the attributes of Laidlaw scholars is being brave, so I’m going to do just that and share my reflection on not only my LiA, but my reflection on the Laidlaw Scholarship as a whole.
On Thursday the 29th of October 2020 (I still have this email archived and checked the date) I received an email from the Leeds law school explaining our eligibility as first years to apply for the Laidlaw scholarship. This e-mail included a brief description of what it meant to be a Laidlaw scholar and a date for an information session. The UK was on the brink of the second lockdown and the first information session was on the 11th of November. I thought to myself it wasn’t like I was particularly busy, being practically locked in my first-year halls and it couldn’t hurt to go. All I had to do was listen with my camera off. I attended the information session and quite honestly was overwhelmed at how impressive the scholars at the time were, and quickly decided I wasn’t going to apply because I didn’t think that was me. I didn’t believe I was anything out of the ordinary. But just in case I stuck the application opening date in my calendar and thought nothing else of it.
Then came the third lockdown. I was bored one night at home and had seen the applications and thought that I’d have a look. I scrolled through the research projects and one (the one I’d go on to work on) really hit home. It was looking into the experiences of Autistic girls in secondary education. Special Educational Needs being something I was particularly interested in, after having my own negative experiences with SEN departments through my time in education, and how difficult it was to get my own Dyslexia diagnosis as I wasn’t deemed to be “struggling enough.” Something to this day I still grapple with as the problems I faced were often invalidated because I achieved my target grades throughout school. It wasn’t until I reached university that I realised you shouldn’t have to plan for every question and memorise all of these plans for the English Language A-Level out of fear of not being able to finish the paper. To this day I still don’t think I’ve ever finished a timed exam.
This was the first time I’d seriously considered applying. Reading the full application also made me begin to think about the future. I knew I wanted to be a commercial solicitor. A profession as notorious for its difficulty to get into as it is for its perceived lack of ethics. But I also knew I didn’t have the skill set. I got nervous going out with my friends, never mind speaking in public on behalf of clients.
This was my motivation for applying – but at this point, I had a serious lack of confidence and didn’t think I would get it. If it hadn’t been for that third lockdown, I don’t think I would have applied.
Later in 2021 I was accepted to the assessment centre and viewed this as an achievement in itself. I personally thought that it went awfully. During our group presentation I was that nervous I forgot what I was saying and froze. I think I stopped speaking for about 40 seconds, but it felt like an hour. Again, I compared myself to everyone else and found the whole experience intimidating. I shut my laptop after it was over and accepted defeat.
The e-mail inviting me to an interview came as a total surprise. Even more so did the e-mail congratulating me on my place on the scholarship, and even at this point I still didn’t think I deserved it. Joining the first zoom call my imposter syndrome was through the roof, but I’ve learnt over the last 2 years that this is something everyone deals with at some point in their career.
The first time I met some of the other scholars was at our first residential in the Yorkshire Dales in June. I think I did a pretty good job of hiding it but the entire time I was so nervous. In all honesty, the biggest takeaway from this was that I actually could make friends with strangers and was impressed with myself for making it through the two days.
Next came the research summer. Working on my research project was one of the most incredible, interesting and rewarding things I have ever done. I actually felt like my research was going to help improve the educational experiences of autistic girls in secondary education. This also really sparked my interest in diversity and inclusion, and I’m now actually a diversity and inclusion assistant in the law school at Leeds, and I’m hoping to write my dissertation on inclusive education. This experience developed my transferable skills immensely. My ability to research had improved (evident in my second-year coursework results) my communication, creative thinking and the ability to work in a team and the confidence to work independently. I even learnt how to write a professional email.
I was starting to feel like things were coming into place with the help of everyone involved in the scholarship.
And then came 2022.
The start of this year was probably the toughest time I’ve ever had. And at the end of February, I was five weeks behind on my university work and had a lot of mental health issues. I wasn’t even sure I was going to finish my degree. For the rest of the semester, I was completing two weeks' worth of work every week trying desperately to catch up and acquired a giant whiteboard, on which I wrote everything I needed to do and ticked it off. I would drag myself (when I just wanted to stay in bed) to the library, determined to finish it and would look forward every night to going home to tick the things I'd done off. I'll never forget the feeling of finishing the last lecture and managing to complete my whole semester along with all my reading (which in a law degree is an awful lot) in five weeks.
Also, at the end of February, I attended the cultural capital weekend the Leeds Laidlaw team had organised. We went to the Bronte Parsonage museum, the Opera and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, our bus also got stuck in the snow. It was such a different weekend and it totally distracted me from everything else I had going on. This was the first time I bonded properly with the other scholars. Some of them became, and still to this day are my best friends. Growing up, going to a prestigious university like Leeds to study Law was practically unheard of. Throughout school and college, I’d often been made to feel different for being motivated to work hard. At this cultural capital event, I felt like I’d met 20 other people, who in this respect were like me, and that I fit in.
I formed such tight friendships with some of the other scholars that eight weeks later we went on holiday together. I’d also say this was very brave.
Throughout the year we had other residentials and events with the other scholars. During these events not only was I learning about leadership and developing academically but I had been introduced to people that made me feel I could be myself. We helped and encouraged each other, and without the Laidlaw scholars I might not have even finished my year, never mind done so well in my final exams. I felt back to being how I was a year earlier and was really happy about it.
Then came the experience I did not know I needed - our Leadership in Action.
For six weeks from the 18th of July to the 26th of August, I worked with Make Sense as part of their reaction for climate change programme, and the app Widu. An app which aims to tackle the climate crisis by providing people with individual and community actions.
I’ll never forget joining the zoom call on the first day. Sat in complete darkness with the curtains shut to try and keep cool on one of the hottest days of the year. We spent the first two weeks working online. The main focus of the sessions was on the design thinking approach to problem-solving. A methodology which centres on empathising with the people who are affected by the problem – an approach that I think will be useful to take forward and utilise in the world of commercial law. I also spent a great deal of time in these first 2 weeks getting to know my project partner, whom I actually almost met a month earlier in Greece. But that’s a long story.
On the 29th of July, two other Leeds scholars and I began our journey to CDMX, and the 1st of August was our first day in the office. I was still very nervous having actively avoided leadership and project management roles in the past. But I couldn’t have asked for a better organisation or group of scholars to be working with.
The four weeks we spent in Mexico City flew by. We spent the first two weeks working with Widu, planning our reaction, and recruiting our volunteers. The second two weeks implementing our plans and leading our volunteers, which involved creating social media content and planning an in-person event – cleaning the canals of Xochimilco. The last sentence regarding what we achieved may only seem short, but to list everything would make this (already way too long) post even longer.
In our team, we encountered various problems – the main one being our volunteers’ availabilities. And one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt about project management from this is being adaptable and being creative with solutions. I’ve also learnt that it’s more important to focus on what you have achieved, rather than what you have not.
From my leadership in action, I also learnt things about myself.
- To have confidence in my ideas – they are actually better than I give myself credit for
- That I do have the ability to go on to do great things, like all of the scholars in that first information session, and that I can be an ethical leader in the corporate world (it really needs it)
- And as cliché, it is to admit I think after all of the mental health struggles I’ve had this year, I’ve finally learnt to be happy again. And not just in a superficial way, but to be grateful and appreciate the little things
I will forever be in debt to Make Sense for the incredible experience I had over the summer. I will also forever be in debt to the Laidlaw foundation. Being part of the scholarship has truly changed my perspective on the world and myself. It has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.
Mexico City, the other scholars, and my project partner will forever hold a special place in my heart for teaching me these lessons.
Looking back, it’s difficult to reconcile the version of myself who didn’t have the confidence to apply in 2020, who wanted to drop out of university at the beginning of the year and the version of myself now. That version who has just returned from solo travelling in Canada and has a 4 am alarm set to travel to London tomorrow to do work experience with one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. But I guess it’s all part of my journey and led me to become who I am today.
And I still cannot quite believe how far I’ve come in the last two years and the effect putting one date in my diary has had on my life.
I'd just like to say at the end of this post a huge thank you to everyone that has supported me over the last two years. You never really know what anyone else is going through and I genuinely don't think I would still be going into the third year of my degree without the support of the people I have met through this programme.
Here are some of my favourite photos from my time in Mexico.