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Saturday 22 July 2017

'No one went to uni from my estate', says scientist targeting alzheimer's

Raymond Moran
Raymond Moran

The son of a cleaner who became the first member of his family to go to university is hoping to one day help stop Alzheimer's in its tracks.

Science student Raymond Moran (27), from Dublin's North Circular Road, grew up on an estate where "it just wasn't part of the culture to go to university".

However, he became inspired by a new science teacher just as he was about to leave St Paul's CBS in Smithfield and decided to give third-level a shot.

"Where I'm from, it's a cultural thing, no one really goes on to third-level and no one in my family went to university, so it just wasn't something I thought of doing," he said.

Hooked

"I was doing like everyone in my area did, preparing to get a job after school, but then this teacher in fifth year started to inspire me, get me into science.

"It wasn't something I was expecting, but I liked a challenge so that was me hooked."

There was a stumbling block, though.

Raymond and his two brothers, Andy and Daithi, were being brought up in a lone-parent household, living on a lower than average wage.

However, the DCU Access Scheme, which makes it possible for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to go to university, visited Raymond's school and showed him there was a solution.

"I didn't have anyone to look up to who went to college, I didn't get how it worked," he said. "But the access support gave me confidence to work it all out.

"My whole attitude was changed by the access opportunity and university and, right now, I want to be the best in the world at what I do.

"I want to be able to help improve the lives of people with Alzheimer's.

"I think something can be done in my field by using genetics to help patients suffering the condition."

The young scientist noticed, however, that it is still apparent who has come from a disadvantage area, because "they're always the people in class asking can they use the toilet".

"I guess people like me just didn't have the culture to know how to transition from school to third-level," he said.

"But access teaches you it doesn't matter what background you're from, it's irrelevant."

Raymond went on to gain a 2.1 BA Honours degree in genetics and cell biology at DCU and jumped ahead, skipping studying for a Masters, by gaining computer experience in his field with several companies.

He won a place on the PhD in molecular evolution course, the study of DNA and other principles of evolutionary biology.

"Before I went to university I didn't even know what a PhD was and now I'm coming to the end of my course," said Raymond.

"The access facilitators helped me believe I could do this, that it was OK I was different because most people in university are from more middle-class backgrounds.

"But it was important for me to know there were other people like me in the same boat and that stops you pitying yourself.

Knowledge

"I want to help use genetics and medicine with technology to diagnose people in a more personal way. In Ireland we aren't doing that right now.

"If you go to hospital right now, you might be told you have an illness, but if I look at your genome I know you have a gene which will react to a certain drug, using basic DNA. I think my knowledge could really help to change things medically."

Despite his academic success, Raymond still does not have the full approval of the woman who is most important in his life - his mother, Joan.

"Mam doesn't really see the difference in what I'm doing now to what I was doing at Leaving Cert," he said.

"She just wasn't from that university culture, but she does say she just wants me to be happy. That's good enough for me."

For more information on the DCU Access Scheme, visit dcu.ie/access/dcu-access-entry-route.shtml

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