Iranian mother win student award at SAMS UHI graduation

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An Iranian student who raised her baby and worked part-time while achieving a first-class honours degree at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS UHI) in Oban, has been presented with SAMS Award for Special Achievement.

University of the Highlands and Islands student Maryam MacCorquodale, 37, picked up a BSc Marine Science (Hons) at the SAMS UHI graduation on Friday (September 8). A total of 19 undergraduates gained their degrees and seven postgraduate awards were made at the ceremony in Oban’s Argyllshire Gathering Halls. They each received their scrolls from the university’s deputy principal Professor Crichton Lang.

Maryam had pursued an early passion for science at university in Tehran but left Iran to pursue her education after struggling to cope with the strict Islamic law.

She studied business information technology at Strathclyde University in Glasgow but after graduation failed to find employment. After unsuccessfully applying for around 70 jobs and on the verge of returning home, Maryam found a live-in job at the Pierhouse Hotel in Port Appin and there she met her husband Graeme.

It wasn’t until she moved to the Appin area and became aware of SAMS UHI that her love of science was rekindled and she applied for the undergraduate course.

But she almost declined a place on the degree course after receiving the offer at the same time she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Kimiya.

‘There were many times when I struggled to balance everything,’ said Maryam. ‘When I found out I was pregnant, my husband and my father-in-law convinced me to take the place on the course. My mother had agreed to come over from Iran to support me but was refused a visa. I haven’t seen my family in five years.

‘Throughout what was a very challenging degree, I worked nights at the Knipoch Hotel, near Oban, then at the Pierhouse. Thankfully I found a very supportive childminder in Fiona Moore but I often struggled to do everything well.

‘Then, the day before my third year exams Kimiya had an accident and was in hospital. It all became too much for me and I didn’t know whether to come back for my fourth year.

‘But a real regret of mine is not pursuing science as a teenager. At that time, when things were difficult, I gave up and I didn’t want to repeat that story.’

Maryam said she was lucky to have had supportive lecturers, who inspired her to pursue her studies in biotechnology and microbiology in particular. She now hopes to find a PhD, or work as a support scientist on a project.

Fellow graduate Shannon Lafferty, who is a depute president with the Highlands and Islands Student Association, was awarded the SAMS UHI Student of the Year title.

Graduates Daniel Burt, who is from Connel, and Jamie Rodgers were awarded the SAMS Council Award for Academic Excellence and the Tim Boyd Prize for Oceanography, respectively. Jamie, the university sailing team captain, also received SAMS UHI’s first Sporting Blues award. Daniel, one of four former Oban High School pupils graduating this year, has been accepted for a Masters at the University of Hamburg.

He said: ‘The SAMS undergraduate degree really stood me in good stead, as my lecturers in Hamburg knew of SAMS’ research reputation. They loved that we had such a multi-disciplinary course and that I had studied in Svalbard as part of the degree.’

This year’s ceremony saw the first graduates of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degree in Aquaculture, Environment and Society (ACES). ACES Masters graduate Stewart Beattie was present at the ceremony, two years after he graduated from SAMS UHI’s BSc in Marine Science. Stewart accepted the award for the best ACES dissertation on behalf of Brazilian student Patricia Alves Pereira.

The Johanna Fehling Memorial Prize for the best published paper by a student was shared between PhD students Kati Michalek and Winnie Courtene-Jones, who have both won national awards for their research in 2017.

Keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony was Argyll and Bute MSP and Scottish Brexit secretary Michael Russell, who said he was proud to have SAMS UHI in his constituency.

Prof Keith Davidson, SAMS UHI Associate Director for Education, paid tribute to Prof Graham Shimmield and Prof Ian Bryden, two major contributors to the growth of SAMS UHI, who both died in the past year.

 

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