Oral history of British science
Islam, Saiful (2 of 8) Oral History of British Science
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Department of Chemistry, University of Bath
Islam, Saiful, 1963-(speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 2: Comments on experience of all-boys comprehensive secondary school, CE, with related stories. Mentions own relatively high attainment. [5:37] Comments on choice of O-Level subjects, with focus on science (including geology) and English literature. Comments on O-Level geography field trip; practical work in O-Level science, including crystal chemistry; preference for inorganic/physical rather than organic chemistry. Description of geology field trip, Devon. [14:32] Description of/comments on experiment involving copper sulphate crystals conducted at school. Comments on current interest in beauty of crystals at atomic level. Story of teacher representing atomic structure of crystals with marbles in a jar; status of science at secondary school. Mentions lack of awareness of science careers during O-Levels. Story of realising for first time at lecture by Professor George Porter at the Royal Institution of Great Britain [RIGB], London that being a chemist was a job. Comments on tendency not to regard self as ‘good’ at science at school; O and A-Level results. [21:53] Comments on lack of reflection, at secondary school, about possible future careers; parents’ encouragement to pursue career as medical doctor in context of own lack of strong feelings or preferences; own playing of football through school and university. Story of application to read chemistry at [London] universities following advice that A-Level grades would not be sufficient for medicine. Further comments on lack of strong interest in chemistry developed as a child, or obvious precursors in childhood for a career in chemistry. [26:28] Story of applying unsuccessfully to transfer from chemistry to medicine at University College London [UCL]; voluntary work at University College Hospital [UCH]. Mentions father’s dream of own success in applying to read medicine. Detailed comments on parents’ wish for self to study medicine, in context of more general tendency for parents with Asian heritage to value particular professions, especially that of medical doctor. [31:00] Comments on sisters following self by going to university, involving living away from home; novelty of this in relation to female children of other UK-Bengali families (where strong family tradition kept children at home); relatively liberal outlook of own parents. [35:27] Comments on relations between a number of Bengali families in north London, including own; tendency for own lodgers to have Bangladeshi background/heritage. [38:11] Comments on lack of racial tensions at school. Stories of racial abuse experienced as a teenager, in the late 1970s, including effect on self confidence. Mentions Enoch Powell, National Front. [47:35] Comments on parents’ response to experience of racism. Mentions parents’ Labour voting. Comments on ethnically mixed school in north London attended by sisters. [50:51] Comments on effect on self of verbal and physical racist attacks. Story of seeing, some years later, one of own attackers. Comments on effect on sister of witnessing own attack; reasons for not reporting attack. [55:34] Story of origin and development of interest in popular music, including comments on particular artists/bands, including The Stranglers, The Jam, The Smiths, The Cure. [1:06:30] Story of applying for universities, including reasons for choosing London universities, interview at UCL by an Asian (Sri Lankan) member of staff. Story of visualising self at UCL, wearing ‘cool’ clothes, as motivation for A-Level work. [1:11:46] Comments on gender, ethnic background, etc. of cohort of 30 undergraduates (including self) reading chemistry at UCL, 1981-1984.
Interview with Professor of Computational Materials, Saiful Islam