Updated: Aug 17
This month's spotlight is on the super talented and full of smiles Rebecca Daramola - and what a journey she's already had! This is why this month it’s a super long one.
From Studying Bio-Chemistry at Oxford University, transitioning to Law and also the founder of Gapwhiz! Read about her amazing journey with some great advice!
Rebecca's journey, challenges & how she overcame them:
Rebecca arrived in the UK aged 12 with her family from Lagos, Nigeria to find better opportunities for the family. "Thinking back, it must have been such a brave decision to make, moving away to a different country, away from family, friends, established connections and everything". She felt like she must make it work and achieve something after all the sacrifices her family made.
They all settled in Kent, where she attended a state secondary school - which turned out to be a very different and tough experience for her. Rebecca had serious ambition, and school life made it difficult for her to achieve her dreams. But she persevered - she had a great group of friends that made her stronger. She was already two years ahead in all her subjects, and she was confident she had the potential. Rebecca had a love for maths and science and was placed in a shadow grammar school stream but had to navigate her way around to get to where she needed to be...she was still having to speak to all her teachers to convince them to help her get into the local grammar schools for her A levels. In her own words "it was a bit of a reckless time, having to break some rules to get to where I wanted...rules that shouldn't have been there in the first place...I knew I had potential". She ended up standing up for her dreams. At that time, there weren't many black children at the school, but she feels it wasn't anything to do with race. It was a struggle for all the children to get to where they wanted.
Finally, through sheer hard work and getting the much-needed support from her teachers, she started grammar school. The grammar school was a completely different environment, so much support and encouragement - "I was so surprised, they helped me a lot with personal statements and mock interviews for my university applications and helped me to connect with current students at Oxford that were doing Bio-Chemistry".
Rebecca aced her exams and landed a place at Oxford University to study biochemistry and for her fourth year, she studied abroad. "I could have studied for my fourth-year masters in the UK, but I decided to go abroad". She chose Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. She was lucky to have some help from student finance and the University to help pay for her University studies, and she managed to get a scholarship from Oxford that is aimed at supporting students from low-income backgrounds which was super helpful to her.
During her time at Oxford, there weren't that many people from ethnic minority backgrounds at the school. There were 38 black people in my year group (freshers) across all the colleges. Out of about 100, she was the only woman and black person in her class studying biochemistry in her year – “I was quite nervous, but things are changing". In 2019 there were 80 black students admitted. “I had a great experience at Oxford but there were quite a few assumptions that everyone came from a privileged background. In a way, I was glad to experience some of the things I did because it has made me more resilient to life after University. I was used to being the only black woman in the room”.
Her experience at Princeton was very different in terms of the shift in expectation and culture. At Princeton, there was an expectation to have done lots of other things outside of academics and they were actively encouraged to try new things and take up extra-curricular activities. “It was about telling your story in a personal statement, whereas in the UK, it was mainly about academics”.
She finished her time at Princeton in 2019 and then spent the summer of 2019 travelling to nine countries. When she returned, she had already decided to move away from biochemistry in 2017 and start a transition into law, so she applied to the Allen and Overy vacation scheme in 2017 which was a great opportunity. She says that "With a lot of firms you have to apply when you're still at University, once you graduate, it's quite hard to get a training contract. I knew I wanted to travel abroad and I didn't want to come back to interview so that's why I applied early". She did the GDL between 2019 and 2020. "The course allows you to convert into law to train as a solicitor in the UK to then go on to do the LPC". She will now be doing her LPC Legal practice course with Allen and Overy in the summer of 2021 and complete this by December 2021 to start working for them in 2022.
In August 2020 Rebecca launched Gapwhiz as a passion project during the lockdown. "I was worried that no one would notice because of Covid. But I was surprised by the level of interest". Rebecca loves travelling and has been to 24 countries. She started Gapwhiz to promote access to opportunities for everyone, especially international opportunities. "I don't think it’s something that is talked about enough, in the UK at least. In the US, when I was there, most people did a semester abroad, it's something that matters to employers, they look at it. For example, there's a UK Government department and their focus is to get more students to go abroad, they are currently running a campaign based on that. They found that students who go abroad to study/intern etc are 24% more likely to secure a graduate job than their counterparts. They also found that black graduates are 41% more likely to secure a graduate job if they had gone abroad. The European Commission also did a study on EU students and they found that students that go abroad are significantly more likely to hold managerial positions within 10 years after graduation. This is something that matters a great deal but just not talked about or encouraged a great deal.
Even when I was applying to Princeton there weren't many people at University encouraging me to go apart from my friends. I felt like if I went it would affect my final grade at University. But it really was not the case. Even in these Covid times, it doesn't affect getting international experience because you can get international remote internships as well. From my experience, it's the networks, clients and who you know that help a lot in getting promoted. That's why I started Gapwhiz - to help students in the early stages of starting University".
Rebecca now has a growing 4000 plus students on the Gapwhiz mailing list and has a team of 25 plus university students and recent graduates like her across different industries. They are also planning on running their first ambassador programme next month and also collaborating with different companies to provide opportunities for students in the UK and abroad. But for this summer it's just remote internships.
Would you have done anything differently?
"I don't really like looking back at regrets. In general, I'm not a looking back person, but I would say get mentorship earlier on. I didn't have any mentors in Year 9. That would have been helpful. Maybe I wouldn't have felt so alone. It was just me and one other student trying to get into Grammar school. If I had someone at the time to offer mentorship/support that would have been fantastic".
Rebecca recommends giving back as soon as you can. She's realised that to get anywhere in life you need people who have been there and done that and willing to offer guidance. “At school, at the academic level, you might not need as much support as you can just get a textbook. But in life there's no textbook as such - you learn from speaking to people. I think getting those skills as early as possible is important".
How would you define success?
"If I can have a nice balance between everything that to me would be a success. I've heard stories of people not spending enough time with their families or doing other things they wanted, especially some women with children who were really struggling. Women can end up giving up their careers because of family. If I'm ever going to take risks in life, this is the time to do it!"
Who inspires you?
"Quite a few people - people that are the firsts inspire me the most because they were the ones that had to break the initial barriers. Madam CJ Walker - the first female self-made millionaire. Netflix did a documentary on her life. What she had to go through was extraordinary...She wasn't only just the first black female, she was also the first female. Anyone, that is the first to do anything or breaks barriers for future generations inspire me the most".
If you could choose anyone as a mentor who would that be?
"Rhianna, because of the way she has switched from the music industry from a young age to now launching her beauty business Fenty. She's harnessed her brand to make it into something that is hugely profitable. A lot of people try to do a conversation and find it hard. She's made the transition successfully. I see myself making transitions in the future as well so I would love to be mentored by her".
Fun fact about you?
"I used to be a cheerleader - I was quite conscious of my smile from a young age...I smile at pretty much everything it's my resting face".
What book are you reading?
"I don't read many books now, but I would recommend a course/book that I read. It's an introduction to business by Theo Paphitis. I found it a really good introduction and found it useful when I was trying to setup Gapwhiz. It's a nice compact summary of everything. It sprung different ideas in my head, especially in marketing. Some of my ideas worked, some didn’t".
If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
"Mangoes - I love mangoes so much and in any form - juice, dried, fruit - anything!".
What an amazing journey & passion project – If you would like more information on Gapwhiz you can connect here:
Websites you that might interest you:
Nigerian you tuber posting videos on real estate, food and culture in Nigeria and neighbouring countries - https://youtu.be/8PZva2c8tlU
Statistics on effect or going abroad on career progression by students - https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/International/go-international/stand-out/Pages/about.aspx
Statistics published by Oxford University on number of black undergraduate students https://www.ox.ac.uk/about/facts-and-figures/admissions-statistics/undergraduate-students/current/ethnicity