Prizewinner: Leah Hillari - British Psychological Society Undergraduate Award for the Best Grade across L3 and L4

Prizewinner: Leah Hillari - British Psychological Society Undergraduate Award for the Best Grade across L3 and L4
2020-07-15

How did it feel to receive the British Psychological Society (BPS) undergraduate award, and what was your experience as an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen?

Writing about myself and my feelings. This is more diļ¬ƒcult than I expected, certainly more difficult than answering the usual essay topic for which I can base my answer on existing evidence. Here, the only evidence I can gather stems from my own mind.  I guess I will just start with one word to describe my university experience: transformative.

I never considered myself to be a particularly talented or outstanding student. I worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist and started studying psychology as I felt that I lacked thorough understanding of the human mind and behaviour to support my clients in translating my fitness programs into behavioural outcomes. To my surprise, I found deep enjoyment in academic work and even more surprisingly, I was good at it. I found myself particularly drawn to the scientific process as I enjoyed its challenging but rewarding nature which required constant engagement in critical and creative thinking. Studying gave me an appreciation for science as a tool to tackle real-life health challenges and thereby strengthened my aspiration to become a health psychology scientist. My future vision is to enhance both human health and the health of the planet as I believe these are intrinsically linked. I know this is a rather broad and unspecific goal, but I am confident it will gain substance and a clear focus when studying Health Psychology at UCL in London.

University did not only transform my way of thinking about psychology, health, and science but the way I was thinking about myself. From feeling like a rather lost and insecure fresher to becoming a self-confident and resilient graduate. Finally, feeling like I have a purpose and the ability to create a meaningful impact on this world.

This transformation was certainly not easy. While I had a sweet time celebrating and socialising in my first year, I had surgery and felt sad and lonely during my second year. I worried and stressed way too much, sacrificing my health and social life during my third year. I doubted myself and was terribly afraid of failure. During this time, I decided to be honest with myself and to use the critical thinking skills University taught me to dig deep into the evidence of my past, comparing the reliability and validity of the sources of my thoughts and fears. This was probably the most painful research I ever conducted. But it was worth it. During my fourth year, I finally learned to value my well-being and connection to others and nature over my success and achievement. Probably the most important lessons I taught myself going through University.

It makes me sad that as graduates, we do not get to celebrate all the personal lessons we learned, the experiences we had and our academic achievement collectively. It makes me even sadder that we were not even able to say goodbye. At least I get to write now that I wish you all luck on whatever path you chose to take. I hope everybody and their loved ones stay well and safe.

I am incredibly thankful for receiving this award and would like to express my gratitude for all friends, family members, classmates and staff who supported me throughout my studies. Everyone was an essential part of my academic success. Special thanks deserve my friends Anna Lindfords and Tatjana Marks, my partner Alessandro Ficarella and my parents who always listened, were there, inspired me and never stopped believing in my ability.

I would also like to express my gratitude for the support, encouragement and understanding I received from the School of Psychology at UoA. Its members genuinely care for the well-being and health of their students which I believe is critical for enabling academic success and personal growth. Thank you, School of Psychology.  I cannot recommend this department highly enough.

Leah Hillari graduated in July 2020 with an MA in Psychology

Published by The School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen

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