X Close

Discover UCL


UCL Access and Widening Participation


WPeople: Jenny McGovern

By Amalia Mihailescu, on 19 September 2019

In retrospect of our Summer Challenge programme, Jenny McGovern, now a Postdoc in the department of Immunity and Transplantation, has shared some thoughts on her experience with our Widening Participation team, from school student to UCL academic staff.

In the summer of 2002 I knew I wanted to go to university but I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what to expect when I got there. My parents had never been to university and didn’t have much advice to offer; I was worried that the work would be too hard, the other students far too clever and that no one else would be like me. So, I went on the UCL widening participation summer school and I LOVED it. The work was stimulating and my cohort were a group of fellow nerds who asked even more questions than me!

Fast-forward to summer 2018, I was now six years post-PhD and more excited than ever about science and research. So, I turned to UCL Widening Participation to see if I could run a course like the one I had done all those years ago.

I opted to run a Summer Challenge programme over six weeks and I corralled some PhD students to help me out (the lovely Francesca Sillito and Gabrielle Ferry). The experience has been amazing and the students are, unsurprisingly for a bunch who self-elect to have two extra hours of school each week, incredibly bright and keen to learn. Any doubt that we’re boring them or going over their heads has been dispelled by the enthusiasm and ability they show when completing worksheets or doing presentations. When you put so much time into planning something it’s great to have a receptive audience!

Now I’ve come full circle; I’ve been both student and teacher. To any prospective students thinking about the programme I would urge you to give it a try. You just have to show up and engage – there’s no homework or unnecessary pressure AND you might just surprise yourself. To any prospective organisers, I hope that my path from apprehensive 18-year old to PhD and beyond demonstrates that being exposed to experiences like these can change your whole outlook on the future. So, what are you waiting for?

A word from the writer: 

My love of complex systems led me to study Anatomical Sciences at the University of Manchester. After my first year, I was encouraged to enter a four-year programme with a year in industry. Spending a year in the lab built my technical skills and was my first introduction to the power of manipulating the immune system for therapy – I was hooked! I took up a PhD at UCL to study immune regulation in disease settings and have spent the years since investigating mechanisms of immune regulation and trying to understand how these can be applied to treat a range of diseases. Most recently, my research has focused on genetic engineering of immune cells with features that make them better at controlling immune responses.


Leave a Reply