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Not all superheroes wear capes

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The Open University

19th May 2023

And for Larne’s Jenny Hope, the work she put it in studying with The Open University (OU) to earn the right to wear a lab coat and secure a BSc set her on the path to help fight Covid.

While working her way up from a placement student at Randox in Crumlin, to Lead Technical Scientist, Jenny regularly developed tests to help people by identifying everything from female bladder cancer to thyroid issues, but when Covid presented as a global pandemic, she had to call on everything she’d learnt while studying with the OU and working at Randox to help save more lives.

Jenny and a colleague worked day and night to develop an extraction reagent to help deliver a government contract for PCR tests.

“Covid PCR tests were in big demand from 2020 and there was a lack of extraction reagents, so we developed our own,” explained Jenny.

“It was a huge challenge and I had to learn a lot more about molecular biology, and learn quickly, but my OU degree combined with my Randox experience gave me a great foundation to be agile in my approach and find a solution.

“It took 18 months, which is fast to go from feasibility to market. There were lots of regulations and testing to complete, but I’d learnt to be determined while studying for my OU degree and still working. There was a lot to juggle, and I had to focus to succeed, “Jenny added.

It’s not something she could have ever imagined as a six-year-old ‘mixing potions’ in the garden, as an 18-year-old studying economics at Heriot Watt University or as a Detainee Custody Officer (DCO) at the Immigration Service, but her passion for research finally shone through and she fulfilled her dream of helping people through science after completing her OU degree in Health Sciences.

“My mum, Lorraine is my cheerleader and always checks I’m doing things for the right reasons for me.  I wasn’t comfortable studying in Scotland so I came back home and worked as a DCO for several years which was a good job, but I still had this desire to explore a career in science and that’s why I opted for the OU as I could study and it was cost effective – I could still earn enough money not to be living on noodles,”.

“I love the challenges in my work now – we’re always trying to optimise and make things better which is fantastic, I would encourage everyone to follow their dreams and passions.

“When I take my six-year-old God Daughter, Ella, for trips up to the North Coast, I regularly tell her that she can do whatever she wants.  When her brother Owen who’s two is old enough, I’ll tell him that as well, because it’s something I feel really strongly about – no-one should ever put you in a box.

“If you have the passion and you put in the work, you can achieve anything, and that’s so satisfying,”.

Bangor’s Tanya Drageniene, followed a different route – successfully overcoming poverty, language barriers and health issues to land her dream job developing technology to help life sciences like cancer research.

And despite constant pain from back and hip issues, The Open University graduate continues to work, raise her two sons Aidaras and Harold and now study for her Masters with the OU to help further her career.

Tanya is a Process Engineer at Andor in Belfast, with a strong drive, proving nothing can hold her back.

“When I was a little girl in Lithuania, I wanted to be a doctor and I got all the grades to go to University, but I come from a poor family and I didn’t secure a free place, so I went to college to train as a chef instead,” explained Tanya.

“A neighbour suggested I take a year off to work in Lusty beg, which I did.  I started out as a dishwasher and then a chef and I just fell in love with Northern Ireland.

“There is so much potential here, I went on to work in an exhaust factory in Enniskillen and that fired my passion for engineering.  With the OU I discovered that I would be able to access Student Finance to study for my degree.

“Then when I started working at Andor and saw what they did, I changed my degree from General Engineering to an Open Degree focussing on Physics and Maths.

“Everyone at the OU was so helpful while I completed it and that’s why I’ve gone back there to do my Masters in Systems Thinking Practice even though with my BSc I could apply to any university.

“It’s difficult to study in a different language and when you’re in pain but my partner Darius believes in me and encourages me and when I have to study in bed because it’s the most comfortable place to be, my little six-year-old, Harold, brings his books and studies with me too to keep me company.

“I always want to learn more and every day I get to apply what I’ve learnt with my OU degree, and it’s helped me to get promoted.  One of the projects I’m most proud of is helping to develop a confocal microscopy instrument for cancer research.

“It would be easier at times for me to sit back and not try but I want to be a good example to my sons and to other women that if you like and want something, follow your dreams, “added Tanya.