In part 1 of this post I talked about my life before dentistry starting from the ‘beginning’ – by which I mean from my secondary school days. Obviously, I didn’t start it from the actual beginning; “I was born at 5am on June 12th in the year 1992” – because well…no one cares but more importantly, it isn’t really relevant to how/why I decided to eventually choose dentistry!
I’ll continue discussing my life before dentistry in this post, but focus on a later chapter – starting from the final year of my first degree: a BSc in Biomedical Sciences at Imperial College London.
My First University Degree
When it was time to pick which university, and which course I was going to apply for, I didn’t have my vocation in mind or really have any solid idea of what I wanted to study, but I did want to try and keep the option of medicine open in the future.
One thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to stay in London or at least close to the city, so was very happy when I got accepted to study Biomedical Science at Imperial College London – one of the best scientific universities in the world!
Notably, at this point, dentistry hadn’t been considered at all!
I spent three incredible years at Imperial (2010-2013), meeting some amazing people many of whom became good friends and together we shared some unforgettable moments. I ended my time at Imperial by graduating with an upper second class (2.1) degree qualification.
My Life Right After University
Many of the people who graduated with me in 2013 either had a job already lined up or were planning to start applying for work immediately. I still had no idea and to be honest hadn’t really put much thought into it.
As soon as I finished my final year exams at Imperial, me and some of my friends went backpacking around Central America for 10 weeks. We started in Colombia and travelled north, travelling through Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize and then the south coast of Mexico. Then I left that group of friends in Cancun and flew to LA where I met a different friend and we spent 10 days doing a California road trip (I was 21 years old then so we of course also spent a couple of days in Las Vegas, Nevada).
It was one of the best summers of my life!
Someone asked me today: “If you could wake up tomorrow and be anywhere in the world, where would you want to be?”
I stopped for a moment and really thought about it, what a great question! I had never really thought about it until then and my answer was to be back at El Costeño Beach on the northern coast of Colombia (just east of Tayrona Park and Santa Marta). But a crucial clause in my answer was that I was back there with the same friends because it wouldn’t be the same without the great company I shared those amazing experiences with back in 2013.
When I got back home in late 2013, I was officially an unemployed new graduate without a clue. The first thing I did was bum around for a few weeks and to be honest the only thing I accomplished in that time was completing Grand Theft Auto V on the Xbox.
But in late 2013 I decided to stop wasting time and I started applying for work.
My applications were sort of aimless because I didn’t know exactly what kind of work I was interested in. So I just applied for anything and everything, my main criteria at the time were:
- Salary – needed to be a well-paying job or at least have potential to be hugely financially rewarding
- Location – central London is where I knew I wanted to work. It’s the city I know and love, its where my family and friends are.
- Working with People – I’m a peoples person, so it was important that whatever I did involve me interacting with new people on a daily basis
Of course, I was naive, so money was one of my main motivations. I know now of course that this was all wrong…
Anyway, by January 2014 I had successfully interviewed at ~25 companies in a wide range of industries and decided to accept a job working in the city.
My First Full-Time Job
I was drawn to the money so accepted a job which offered me the potential to become a very rich man, very quickly. The job entailed me working as a headhunter (a recruitment consultant) for a highly successful and competitive firm in the City of London.
My main focus was pretty much to source the best IT developers/engineers from around the world and place them into roles within the largest investment banks/hedge funds in London. The main clients were the large investment banks and hedge funds simply because they had the most positions to be filled and with the largest potential sums of money to be made, but the work had some variety, and my clients also included e-commerce businesses, tech start-ups and software houses.
I realised pretty early on that the work was not right for me. And in hindsight I know that that meant I did not fully invest into the work – I didn’t give it my 110% effort.
The hours were unsociably long – although we were contracted to work 8am-6pm, I’d often have to get in for 7am and stay past 8pm – the result was that my social life pretty much died. Like most jobs, we did have a lunch break for one hour, but honestly, I had to work through lunch most days (as did many others in the office)!
We had almost impossible targets to reach, daily targets, weekly targets, monthly targets, quarterly targets!
The stress of everything caused me to over-eat, and I didn’t have time to keep fit so quickly put weight.
In addition, I didn’t have any particular interest in the financial world – the main focus was investment banking, and it just doesn’t interest me. But going into the job, I thought I’d love it so only through my experience was I able to realise it wasn’t right for me.
So it wasn’t long before I decided to quit.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed so many aspects of the work but ultimately I knew it wasn’t right for me.
It was a very difficult decision for me, I had it in my mind that I wanted to resign for about 2 weeks without verbalising my thoughts and talking to someone about it. In my mind, I was worried about how bad it would look to quit my first proper job after less than 6 months. Also, I felt as though the people around me would be disappointed in me, especially my mum!
In hindsight, I have no regrets for spending a few months doing that job. It reminded me that the reason I chose to study Biomedical Science was that I have a genuine interest/passion for human physiology, health & disease and all things medical.
I came out at the end having learnt a lot about myself, it brought out my highly competitive drive to succeed in what I do, it improved my soft skills enormously, made me realise what my priorities were and that money isn’t the number one priority.
Quitting was scary for me – I didn’t have my next move planned out so it meant I was back to being unemployed but the alternative was to stick it out and work a stressful job that really wasn’t pushing the right buttons for me.
In the office I used to sit directly beside my line manager, a really great guy who was one of the OGs – he’d been working there for ~9 years (meaning he worked through the financial crash in 2007) and had been one of the most successful (I think he held the record for highest biller in a single year: >£500k). It was most difficult to tell him I wanted to leave because he had been so good to me, and had invested a lot of his own time and effort into training me, which is significant considering in that industry time literally equals money. Instead of turning to my left and actually talking to him, I sent him an email saying I wanted to talk to him somewhere privately outside the office – so that afternoon we went and had lunch on a park bench near Moorgate station and that’s where I told him I wanted to quit. Kalim, if you ever come across this: thank you for everything you gave me in those few months! According to LinkedIn, Kalim now works for Google, so he’s doing very well – not surprising!
At the time when I quit, I was lucky not to be paying rent even though I was living in a house with 4 friends in Hammersmith, West London. The guy whose room I was living in was in Africa for a few months, and he’d been really kind to let me live there whilst he was away.
So I took advantage of the two weeks I had left before he got back from Africa to try and figure out what I wanted to do. Much of the first week was spent on my laptop just researching all the possible career paths that I could choose from – the possibilities were endless! Having a good degree from a top university meant there were few limitations to what I could do, but I, of course, had the benefit of hindsight to remind me that it had to involve human physiology and medical science in some respect.
That’s when I began to consider my options and after much thought and research online, dentistry was a serious option.
But I did also seriously consider doing a PhD and applied to a few: at USC and UCLA in California, USF in Florida and at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
I didn’t waste much time and knew that if I really wanted to figure out if dentistry could be for me, I had to get some experience. So I started calling and emailing all the dental practices in a 1-mile radius of Hammersmith asking if there were any dentists who wouldn’t mind me shadowing them. Most practices either ignored my emails or rejected me, but within a couple of days, I had a bite! A practice I had emailed replied and said they’d be more than happy to let me come in for a week and shadow one of the dentists whilst she worked.
After I spent a week at the general mixed (i.e. private and NHS) dental practice shadowing the dentists, one of my best friend’s whose family have a villa in Spain asked if I fancied a cheeky holiday, and of course I was unemployed again so off we went for an awesome, super chilled week in Spain. That week was also a great opportunity for me to think back on my dental work experience and properly decide on my next move. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure if I liked dentistry enough to want to pursue it, but I knew I liked it enough to want to explore the possibility further.
So as soon as I got back from Spain I didn’t waste any time and went about trying to organise more work experience in other aspects of dentistry before I’d be able to come to a decision.
I won’t go into the specifics here, but after I’d done more work experience and decided I was very much interested in pursuing dentistry I knew that, assuming I was accepted to a dental school, I had 15 months before I’d actually start at university so needed to find another job!
My Second Full-Time Job
Instead of doing what I did the first time, and applying for any jobs I could find online, I specifically went in search for work within the healthcare/pharmaceuticals industry that had a marketing focus because that’s exactly what I wanted the work to entail. Why? Well, I studied Biomedical Science, and in my final year, I chose to specialise in pharmacology because I was fascinated by the way complexities of how drugs worked to fix things that are going wrong in the body. And I just find marketing so interesting on a social science level, so if I could find work that coupled these aspects I felt that would suit me best for the interim period (12 months) before I could start at a dental school (assuming at least one of my applications were to be successful!)
After a Google search session, I found a company that looked perfect for me! I spent some time researching the company and the more I read, the more I thought it suited me. So I emailed them with an attached CV and explained I was interested in a job there, despite there being no advertised job posts. I got a reply a few days later from one of the senior staff saying that in a few weeks they were going to be advertising a junior level job post and said I could apply then, so I waited and applied.
Then a couple of weeks after I applied, they invited me in for a first round interview at their main London office in Putney. The interview went great and they were incredibly friendly, so I came out hoping it was successful because I wanted the job even more!
After the first interview, I flew out to Croatia with a big group of friends – we had planned months before to go to Hideout Festival. It was so so fun! After the festival finished we went to spend a few much needed chilled days on the stunning island called Hvar, a three-hour ferry ride from Split on the mainland. But whilst in Croatia I got an email from the company saying they wanted to see me again for a final assessment day where I’d also get to meet the company’s founding director – so I had to end my holiday a few days early and booked a new flight back to London. I remember the day of that final interview exactly (mid-July 2014) because it was the morning after Germany walloped Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final!
The job was mine! They said I would start in early September, meaning I still half of July and August free. I spent those 6 weeks having fun with my mates in London, but also arranged more work experience: a week at an orthodontic practice, a week at a maxillofacial surgery hospital department and a few days at a dental lab.
The company was called Research Partnership (RP). I worked for 12 months at the London headquarter office which was ideally located in a beautiful riverside office in Putney. Honestly, I loved it; the work was interesting, the people were all super friendly and the hours were fine (9:30am-6pm). The office was spread over three floors, the kitchen breakout space was awesome and we had free access to a small but well-equipped gym on the top floor.
Also, being a fan of Fulham Football Club, I was ideally positioned a 10-minute walk from our home ground: the ‘fortress’ that is Craven Cottage.
RP is an independent medical/pharmaceutical market research consultancy. It was pretty much the perfect job for me, I really loved it and honestly, had it not been for dentistry I genuinely think I’d have continued working there for many more years!
My job title was Junior Research Executive (JRE) and in the 12 months I was there I had had two pay rises. There were 10 of us who joined the company together as JREs, and the 5 who are still working there have all now had two promotions, so are Senior Research Executives (SRE).
You should check out their website if you’re interested in finding out about the business: http://www.researchpartnership.com
The skills and experiences I gained in the 12 months I spent working at Research Partnership will undoubtedly give me an edge in my dental career – they invested a great deal in training me. Thank you RP, it was an amazing year.
I started working at RP in September 2014, which is the same month when I submitted my dental school applications on the UCAS website. No one in the office knew about dentistry, I preferred to keep it to myself as I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a clever idea if I told them my plan was to quit in a year. So conveniently, I was feeling “under the weather” or suffering from some “pretty bad food poisoning” on the specific days when I got invited to interview at the dental schools I’d chosen to apply to (Kings, Barts, Cardiff and Bristol).
I couldn’t keep the secret for long though, especially not from my close friends in the office so there were a few of my colleagues who knew but it was only when I handed in my 4-week notice to leave request that the senior staff knew.
As I’m sure is the case with most companies, the management prefers to not make a big deal when staff decide to quit so they asked me to keep it discrete and they didn’t announce to the whole office that I was leaving until I only had one week left. But I wanted to shorten my notice period as much as possible, to avoid any awkwardness so I took a week’s annual leave and went to Croatia with some friends.
That’s pretty much it, I came back from Croatia, finished the job and went out for drinks one last time with my friends/colleagues. My last day was 5th August 2015 – I chose to quit in early August to allow myself a couple of months to enjoy the summer and prepare for being a student again.