This week we meet UCL Medicine student George Barker, who shares with us some of the secret passageways hidden around UCL and his experience volunteering for and later leading national charity Sexpression:UK.
What are you studying and when do you graduate?
Medicine MBBS BSc, having intercalated with Physiology BSc. I’m set to graduate in 2021.
Why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
Medicine at UCL Medical School is a unique blend of core science and clinical application. It’s challenging both academically and practically as we navigate vocational training to ultimately qualify and practise as a doctor. The course is challenging and there is a significant workload and some difficult days on placements, but it is also highly rewarding and satisfying.
Whilst I’m not set on a specialty yet, there are a number of avenues that are appealing. I certainly enjoy the acute side of medicine but having only just finished fifth year there are plenty of areas I haven’t properly explored yet. That said, I want to ensure that I’m able to continue research activities in the future and I’d like to be more involved in LGBT+ public health policy and practice.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
During the first year of the course we choose a Student Selected Component, which provides an exciting opportunity to explore a topic in depth. I chose ’Sexpression:UK’, which is a volunteering programme also available via the Students’ Union Volunteering Service to all students at UCL. It involves training to become a peer educator in relationships and sex in secondary schools across North London.
The sex-ed I’d had at school wasn’t relevant or useful and I wanted to make sure that others wouldn’t have to experience this. There is currently a review that we are feeding into at the Department for Education on updating the guidance and for the first time, in 2020 schools will have to teach relationships and sex education as it becomes statutory.
The national charity has over 25 branches at universities all across the UK and we cover sessions on topics ranging from consent to contraception, from homophobia to healthy relationships to provide an inclusive and comprehensive programme in the community. After enjoying it so much I decided to join the committee at UCL, and later the national committee.
I’m now the National Director of the charity, overseeing its day-to-day running and representing the charity at the Houses or Parliament, working with partners such as Brook and the Family Planning Association and publicising our work on social media, radio, and recently BBC One! It’s been an amazing experience and I have learned so much over the year and gained a variety of new skills. It’s certainly not where I expected to be when I was picking my options back at the beginning of my course, but I’m so glad I ended up here!
Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL? (Quiet study spaces, coffee shops, shortcuts around campus, interesting events, gigs, pubs)
The Bloomsbury campus has a number of passageways such as the Medawar Gardens that are rarely explored and are surprisingly quiet given their location not just in London but at the heart of the campus. I enjoy finding these places - sometimes whole buildings - that I’ve been walking past over the past four years - it’s nice to take a little diversion and have a look.
However my favourite secret gems are the underground tunnels that connect a number of UCL and UCLH buildings together. They’re a very quick and efficient way to navigate the campus and enable you to avoid crossing Gower Street during rush hours... if you can find them!
Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:
I definitely recommend exploring London’s hidden gems, and the architecture and infrastructure of the city, such as disused tube stations. Taking behind-the-scenes tours of what makes London tick is very interesting too - the Thames Flood Barrier is a good example. The complexity behind what we take for granted every day is truly astounding. The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton is a particular highlight that opens a few times a year and is well worth a visit.
Visiting different parts of the capital with friends, getting lost and then going to see a show at the West End is great too. One of my favourites over the last year was ’The Inheritance’.
So much of London is available to experience for free. There are brilliant museums, exhibitions and parks just waiting to be seen. London’s green spaces are great for taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, offering some fresh air.
If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
Mental health is as important as physical health. We have the UCL Student Psychological and Counselling Services, though there is a great demand for this provision and more people than ever are seeking help. Therefore, I believe it would be ideal if the provision could be extended further with larger purpose-built facilities and an increased staff size to match demand.
Who inspires you and why?
The answer to this question has changed many times over the course of my life depending on the situations I have found myself in. A key figure for me however was the television character Kurt Hummel from ’Glee’. Seeing this character on screen as an openly out teenager really helped me through some difficult moments at school. It made me feel a little more confident about being ’me’ and less afraid of what others might think.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
Aviation and Space Medicine is the newest officially recognised specialty in the UK, and encompasses the physiological, pathological and clinical basis behind altitude and microgravity effects. It’s a rapidly growing field with more and more research emerging as space flight is gaining further traction and more people are venturing off-world. The area is fascinating and I recently studied this on a course at the European Space Agency!