Dr Christina Warboys (1994 – 1999)

Alumna, Dr Christina Warboys

Cardiovascular Division at King’s College London

My time at the Denes High School started in the summer of 1994 and after completing my GCSEs I stayed on for 2 more years in the Lowestoft Sixth. I left Lowestoft in 1999 to go to the University of Leicester where I studied for a degree in Medical Biochemistry. Since then I have stayed in the academic environment and obtained a PhD in 2006. These days I work as a research scientist at King’s College London funded by the British Heart Foundation to work on Cardiovascular Biology, in particular understanding how disease builds up in the walls of our blood vessels which is ultimately responsible for stroke and heart attacks.

I always loved school and have many happy memories of the Denes. When I visit Lowestoft to see family and friends I often drive past and wonder what’s going on inside these days….I’m sure it has changed so much! My favourite subjects at GCSE were Science, English, History and Geography. I was interested in almost everything but I think the teachers really helped make things enjoyable, particularly Mr Johnson (English), Mr Wilkinson (Geography) and Mr Garrod (History). History lessons were definitely the best – a couple of highlights were Medicine through the Ages and the American Wild West – Mr Garrod painted such vivid images, stories (and even sometimes songs!) that the subjects really came to life. Two other people who made a real impact during my time at the Denes were headteacher, Mr English and deputy head, Mr O’Neill. I remember them being calm, kind and reassuring, yet firm and authoritative. Mr O’Neill even had an air of celebrity amongst the pupils, being a retained firefighter, a feat which we all thought was incredible.

I would have to say my favourite time at school was during A-levels – being part of the Lowestoft 6th Consortium I had lessons at Denes, Kirkley and Benjamin Britten High Schools and got to meet so many more people and make so many more friends. The trips across Lowestoft on the big white school bus were always hilarious and I feel sorry for Bernard the driver who had to ferry us all around every day and put up with the all the shenanigans. I struggled to pick my three A-Level subjects as I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, except maybe a career in medicine or journalism, two totally different paths! I eventually decided on Biology, Chemistry and English to keep my options open. This was a bit of an unusual choice as most people thinking of a career in medicine or science were required to do Maths but as I found Maths a real struggle I decided not to pursue it. Luckily the head of sixth, Mr Harris was very supportive and understood my choices and thankfully this didn’t hold me back when it came to going to University.

Aside from the classroom I also have many happy memories of school events. The school production of The Hobbit was great, especially as one of my friends did such an awesome job of playing Gollum. I also remember the day that myself and a couple of friends organised and took part in a fashion show showcasing clothes from some of the shops in town. Also the Y11 prom in the main hall and the Sixth Form prom in the Brown Boat Suite at The Wherry – which was THE place to be on a Friday night in those days!! The best has to be the time in Y11 where someone organised an afternoon karaoke session as a pre-Christmas treat. This was a huge success and all the pupils loved it. A couple of different groups of girls ‘performed’ songs by the Spice Girls but the highlight was when one of the quieter boys got up on stage and belted out one of the more inappropriate songs by The Prodigy….which we all thought was great….though I’m not so sure the teachers agreed and I’m not sure they ever ran this event again!

The A-level biology trip to Adnams brewery in Southwold was also impressive and fantastic to learn about the inner-workings of a local success story. Also there are not-so-happy memories of the A-Level Biology trip to Conway in Wales to study marine biology. We travelled in the little red Denes mini-van, which was OK until we needed to stop for petrol and the teacher filled with diesel instead resulting in several hours in a greasy spoon café on an industrial estate somewhere in the middle of nowhere whilst it was fixed! We stayed in a tiny youth hostel on the Welsh coast and I drew the short straw and ended up on the tiny fold-up creaking camp bed. It was also the wettest, windiest week of that summer I don’t think I’ve ever been more wet in my whole life…..and I’ve been to my fair share of rain soaked festivals! I remember coming home one evening after a day counting seaweed and having to wring out my trousers which took two days to dry out. In hindsight I should have bought waterproof trousers but my job at Tesco on the checkouts didn’t quite cover that!!

Although I was a high achiever at school I was always one of the quiet ones. I hated being the centre of attention and the thought of being told off or singled out was enough to keep me out of trouble. I had (and still have) a wonderful circle of friends and am definitely the ‘quiet one’ of the group. I used to think this was something negative but have grown to realise that this is just my nature and that’s fine! The most important thing is confidence. My school reports were all good but almost always would say ‘Christina must speak up more.’ I was overcome with anxiety about saying something silly and would not answer questions, even if knew the answer. This is something I struggled with for a long time but have learnt to overcome during my career through experience, excellent training and mentoring. Aside from running experiments in the lab a significant part of my job involves teaching (sometimes in massive lecture theatres), supervision of junior researchers, giving talks at national and international conferences (to people far more senior than me) and roles on different committees which involves a lot of speaking up.

I would never have dreamed I would be capable of all these things when I was at school and think that I have succeeded in defying my own expectations through perseverance, positivity and sheer bloody-minded determination. Another key factor has been the positive role of mentoring. I have been lucky to have been mentored and supported throughout my life, starting with Mr Harris in the 6th form and from various people since, both formally and informally from peers and senior colleagues. There is no limit to what you can learn from someone else’s experiences and I place great value on this. I even have a mentor now who is giving me advice on how to make the next career transition to become a Lecturer and also now myself act as a mentor to PhD students and Y12/13 students thinking about applying to University to study science or engineering subjects.

Although I’m from a science/academic background I think no matter what your career path the role of a mentor can be hugely beneficial and I hope to be able to work with Denes in the future in this capacity. Finally, I would also say (especially to other ‘quiet ones’ out there) that you are capable of more than you realise and with hard work and determination there are no end of possibilities for you, whatever you choose to do.

See also

Dr Christina Warboys’ biography, King’s College London


April 2014

Update

Since publishing this article, we have received an update from Christina:

“I was recently awarded a prestigious research fellowship from the British Heart Foundation (BHF). I will conduct my new research programme at Imperial College London. My project aims to understand the development of cardiovascular disease at a cellular level. The BHF award these fellowships to ‘provide career opportunities for talented individuals hoping to become research leaders’. The fellowship is for 4 years and will allow me to establish my own research group and work with some of the leading investigators in the field.”


May 2016

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