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Melville Nyatondo graduates from Ulster University this summer with a degree in Personalised Medicine.

Melville moved to the UK from Zimbabwe with her family in 2007 when she was just seven years old. They settled in Luton, England, and when the time came for Melville to head to university, she moved to Bradford where she undertook a foundation degree in Clinical Sciences and Medicine.

Melville took a keen interest in the research aspects of her course and knew that this was an area she would love to pursue a career in but wasn’t aware of the different routes and options available for her to make that dream a reality.

Melville recalls:

“After taking on a project about therapeutic advances in pancreatic cancer, I discovered that I didn’t really want to become a medical doctor and that I actually enjoyed research much more. From frequently searching personalised and precision medicine for my project, a UCAS advert popped up on my screen for a degree in Personalised Medicine at Ulster University. I looked into the course, and it seemed really interesting and that it would be something I would enjoy. At the time Ulster University was the only place offering it at undergraduate level. So, I took a leap of faith, applied, and moved to Derry. It was one the best decisions I have ever made!”

Moving to Derry in 2019 was quite an overwhelming experience for Melville. She was used to being far from home but had never been that far, and adjusting to that was challenging for her.

Speaking about the move, Melville said:

“I think coming to Northern Ireland was one of the biggest challenges for me. It was quite the culture shock, and I was surprised by how drastically cold it is. In fact, anyone that knows me, knows that I always have 2 pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks and an umbrella on me at all times. I struggled adjusting to a lot in first year, but I remember tuning into an Instagram live, where they said make the most of where you are and grow where you are planted. From that point, I immersed myself into university life and pursued my interests, pushing myself way beyond my comfort zone. I became Vice President of Christian Union, Course Representative, as well as BAME+ Network Student Representative and I went on the Global Leadership Experience programme in Johannesburg, South Africa.”

Melville also sought out opportunities in the cancer research sphere. She presented posters at the Black in Cancer 2022 conference and the British Society for Immunology Oxford Symposium, as well as attending the 6th International Conference on Gender Research 2023. She successfully completed a placement year at Randox, a summer internship at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and worked as a clinical researcher on a trial aiming to reduce health inequalities.

Melville will be starting a summer internship at the Francis Crick Institute in the Biological Research Facility and in October, will go on to start her Masters in Applied Cancer Sciences at the University of Oxford, which she received a fully-funded scholarship for.

Melville hopes to inspire people, especially women and those in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, that they too can get through university and pursue a career in the field that they are passionate about. Another long-term goal of hers is to make personalised medicine in Africa as accessible as it is in the UK and other countries in the West.

Melville added:

"I was born in Zimbabwe, and although a part of me will always be a Derry girl, home really is where the heart is. I hope I can help make Personalised Medicine an accessible and applicable reality in Africa, as it is in the Western world. So that we can all beat diseases like cancer, together. In addition, I hope to help change the narrative around clinical trials and diversifying them as well as contribute to rebuilding the trust between our communities and research.”

Find out more about Personalised Medicine at Ulster University at: Personalised Medicine with optional placement year BSc (Hons) at Ulster University 2023/24 entry - Full-time Undergraduate Study in Magee