• Jess

Against the Grade

So, it is that time of year again. The dreaded high school grades were released a couple of weeks ago and for some, this day was met with disappointment. Feeling like a failure as they did not meet the required grades for their chosen college/university.

I have an issue with the attitude that your school grades determine your life. We are led to believe that unless we finish with 5 A’s, then we are destined for ‘less’ successful careers regardless of all the amazing opportunities available.

Society tells us that it is only the insanely smart people who were top of their class for their entire lives that become scientists at the top of their field – think Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory!

I’m going to prove you otherwise and I’ll use myself as a prime example.


During my standard grades (GCSE equivalent in England & Wales) at high school I was one of the smartest in all my classes and earned the award for the highest grade in maths. Fast forward 2 years during my highers (A level England & Wales equivalent) and I received a letter from my school telling me I was predicted to fail maths…believe me that was NOT the nicest conversation with my parents!! I also dropped higher chemistry for intermediate 2 chemistry instead (also GCSE equivalent). I managed to turn things around and finished with BBCD (let’s not talk about that last grade) in Maths, Geography, Biology and Graphic Communications, and an A in Intermediate 2 Chemistry. Not terrible, not outstanding, but I was proud, nonetheless.

I wanted to become a vet but as many of you are probably aware, vet school is very hard to get into and I was fairly off the mark as I would have needed pretty much all A's. I considered other animal-related degrees (zoology, animal/vet science, marine biology) but I didn’t have the grade requirements for those either.

I knew that wanted to work with animals, so I left school at 16 and studied an NC (National Certificate) in animal nursing at SRUC for 1 year with the hopes of continuing on to vet nursing. One day we had a lab class looking at worms and ticks under the microscope and it made me want to learn more about science. So as much as I loved that course and the hands-on work with animals, I decided that I really wanted to pursue a career in animal science.

This led me to apply to continue studying at SRUC in the honours degree in agricultural bioscience (basically a mash-up of farming and science). As I progressed through my degree, I decided I wanted to do a PhD. Although in my first year of university I won the award for the top grades in my project, I didn’t really excel and stand out in my class after that, I actually failed an exam and came out with the lowest possible grade in that class.

In the end I graduated with a 2.1 honours degree in agricultural bioscience, then pursued a master’s degree in livestock science for 1 year at Aberystwyth University in Wales. I did pretty well, though I struggled in my nutrition class and got really bad grades for that, and overall I finished with a 2.1. A PhD project was advertised researching a disease in dairy cows and was EXACTLY what I was looking for, long story short, I applied and fast forward a couple of years and I’m writing this about to enter the third year of my PhD!

The point I want to make is that my high school grades did not determine my future. If I had spoken to the careers advisor or any of my teachers and said “I want to go to university to study science then do a PhD” they probably would have guided me towards other career paths because that was ‘unobtainable’ for me. And my question is why? Why was I not deemed capable of achieving these goals? Why was it that because I couldn’t figure out the volume of a cuboid, recite the Krebs cycle or balance a chemical equation, that I couldn’t one day be chosen to lead the first research project in the UK into a disease in dairy cattle that we know very little about?

What we forget is that we are 16, SIXTEEN, when we are expected to make our first big decision: stay at school or leave. For me, that was 8 years ago. We mature and develop so much in that time and it’s crazy that we’re expected to make a lifechanging choice at such a young age. Society underestimates the pressure we put on young people to be the best from day dot. We are taught from a very young age that if we perform poorly in school then we are deemed as ‘underachievers’ and ‘timewasters’, but the reality is that those individuals I personally knew who were unfairly categorised as ‘underachievers’ at school now work and live happy, successful and fulfilling lives a variety of careers.

Let’s not also forget that the subjects offered at school are limited and don’t allow many people to thrive. I fully understand the reason for ensuring everyone has a general level of literacy, maths and science, but is it really fair to base everyone's potential on school grades alone? - We won't get into that just now, we’ll leave methods of grading students for another day!

So then why is it that we put so much pressure on teenagers to have it all figured out and teach them that how they perform at 16 years old will define them for the rest of their lives? I’m turning 25 in two months and I don’t know where life will take me!

The bottom line is that your high school grades do not define you. If you did not achieve the grades you needed for college or university do not panic!! There are other options available to you and although it may feel like it is the end of the world, trust me, it is not.


Since I’ve been M.I.A while moving house, I’m going to upload the post which follows on from this talking about alternative career and education paths next week!

46 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All