Skip to main content

From coming to the UK as an asylum seeker to working in medical physics

Mariam Tahir graduated this week with a MSc Analytical Bioscience degree, an incredible achievement after coming to the UK as an asylum seeker in 2018. This is her story.

Mariam Tahir at her Graduation in April 2023

I came to the UK with my two children and pregnant with a third 

When I arrived in the UK in 2018, I applied for asylum and I was kept in a hostel with my kids for five difficult months. I’m originally from Chad, but moved to Saudi Arabia aged four. I studied an undergraduate degree in medical physics in Saudi Arabia but difficult circumstances meant I had to leave Saudi Arabia with my children a few years later.  

Education should always come first 

I’ve always believed education is the most important thing. When I arrived in the UK it was very important to me that I developed a better understanding of the life of people living here. I made a real effort to meet my neighbours, attend English classes, and be part of my local community. I didn’t feel homesick  because London is very cosmopolitan and I met a lot of people from many different cultures. I felt free to be whoever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, without limits or barriers. 

Applying to university for a Master’s degree 

I found it very challenging when applying to universities because of the specific requirements for English language qualifications. However, Birkbeck accepted my undergraduate degree (that was taught in English) as proof of my English language abilities and I was granted a place on Birkbeck’s Compass Project , a programme designed for people from forced migrant backgrounds. Being awarded this scholarship meant my studies were fully funded, as well as my other expenses, including travel and childcare. 

I found my best friend 

I loved having classes in the evening, it made things much easier as a mum. A group WhatsApp with all the students made it easy to integrate, as did having a mentor. At first I was worried about being a Master’s student with three children but everyone was very welcoming. I became best friends with another lady on my course and we’re still best friends to this day.   

Starting a community coffee shop 

For people who are working or studying who are refugees, there’s no access to childcare support from the government. I wanted to address this, so I started a community coffee shop that people could come to with their children to build their networks and integrate into the community. I find it really rewarding supporting people who are in troubled situations like I was. 

Birkbeck enabled me to secure a job in the NHS 

Working in the NHS is a dream come true. My Master’s equipped me with the skills and knowledge to secure the role in medical physics. The support I’ve received whilst at Birkbeck is priceless. I’m hoping to progress onto a PhD - I’ve applied to Birkbeck and am awaiting the outcome! Ultimately, I’d love to become a lecturer at Birkbeck – the university feels like a part of me. 

Further Information