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Zimbabwean Ulster University graduate will ‘always be a Derry girl’ ahead of Oxford move

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By Belfast Live

BELFAST- An Ulster University student from Zimbabwe has said part of her will “always be a Derry girl” as she prepares to continue her studies at Oxford.

Melville Nyatondo graduates from Ulster University’s Magee campus on Friday afternoon with a degree in Personalised Medicine – something she hopes to one day make an “accessible and applicable reality in Africa”.

Having moved to the UK at the age of seven, living in Luton in England and then Bradford, she still found the move to Derry “quite the culture shock” thanks to the “drastically cold” weather.

Read more: Ballymoney girl battles health issues to graduate despite being diagnosed with ‘very rare’ brain tumour aged 12

“I think coming to Northern Ireland was one of the biggest challenges for me,” she said.

“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 two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and an umbrella on me at all times.”

Melville continued: “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.”

Having undertaken a foundation degree in Clinical Sciences and Medicine while in Bradford, 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.

She explained: “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.”

Since moving to Derry in 2019, she also sought opportunities in cancer research.

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.

She will soon start 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.