Few alumni have had as many consecutive years here as Dr Sarah Jasim (Biology with Management 2011, Master of Public Health 2012, and PhD Health Services Research 2017).

Sarah describes evolving as a person during her time at the College, enjoying her later PhD studies for different reasons to her undergraduate and Master’s.

Sarah currently splits her time between policy engagement work for the Greater London Authority, and research commitments at LSE, where she is exploring ways to improve health and social care. Sarah is also an EDI campaigner.

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

At Imperial, I improved on different forms of communication. In my first year of undergraduate studies, I was terrified of public speaking and would get really nervous. After many years and different kinds of taught, practical and training situations, my confidence really increased.

I also had a part-time job that involved giving presentations during most of my time at Imperial, which also really helped me.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

I did three degrees at Imperial.

My undergraduate degree (Biology with Management) was the most challenging as it was a lot of information with quite a busy schedule of taught and practical sessions. In third year, we moved from the Faculty of Natural Sciences to Imperial College Business School - it was almost like a completely different degree, and I really enjoyed the difference in subject area and the Business School's style of teaching, case studies and syndicate group exercises. During this year, I undertook a research placement in healthcare management, which really nurtured my interests in healthcare improvement and public health.

My Master's of Public Health (MPH) at the College was really enjoyable, and again a really busy schedule. It was a lot of content to take in – in a shorter duration than undergraduate, so it felt more intense, but I was much more interested and passionate about the topic areas.

I began my PhD in Healthcare Improvement as soon as my MPH was complete, and this was the most enjoyable of all my studies. I was really passionate about my research question and I had fantastic opportunities to travel nationally and explore the UK during my data collection phases, whilst also being able to travel internationally for some meetings and conferences towards the end too.

Did you face any challenges as a result of your background while at university, and how did you overcome them?

On my undergraduate degree, I found the cohort less diverse than the secondary school I had come from. It turned out I was many people’s ‘first Asian friend’, which was an odd experience compared to what I had been used to growing up.

I had different life experiences to my peers, and although it was interesting to learn from one another as we progressed through the course, there were certainly times where I found it difficult to relate to them and their viewpoints, which caused me to disconnect from the university experience during some points of the course.

To overcome this, I tried to socialise far and wide. I made an effort to remain open to opportunities and experiences. As the months and years went by, I found great peers and friends who I could relate to on many different levels, which really enriched my overall experience. Putting myself out there like this helped to challenge my own viewpoints. Initially I had immediately tried to find the commonalities between myself and others, but later, I noticed how differences can make for interesting relationships too.

Later, during my PhD, I was exposed to more external meetings, where I found myself faced with subtle microaggressions - around perhaps sounding like I was not from an ethnic minority (due to having grown up in London), which I’ve outlined in a blog post.

At the time it was difficult to tell between ignorance, human error, or microaggression. When trying to collect data or begin your research career, it can be difficult to tackle some of these situations head-on, as you might do later in your career.

What helped me was to share my experiences with other early career researchers. Later in 2021, I led and coordinated a national EDI campaign ‘The Lost Voices’ to openly share some of my experiences and provide resources for other early career researchers who might have also experienced the same things.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

I found my PhD supervisor the most inspiring during my time at Imperial. He always led with kindness, was always understanding and compassionate, and helped to mould and shape me into the researcher I am today.

His leadership and guidance during my PhD years played a huge part in why I’ve continued on to a research career, and why my PhD years were my most enjoyable at Imperial. 

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

My fondest memory at Imperial is remembering the day I received my undergraduate results. I really struggled with my undergraduate degree, so receiving these results was a pivotal moment. It not only meant I had overcome the challenges of my undergraduate degree, but also that I would be accepted on to the MPH programme - and subsequently allowed me to do a PhD too.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

My favourite place on campus was the downstairs pods in the Central Library – my friends and I have really fun memories of exam revision here, albeit during a stressful time. 

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

My career has two parts: I am developing a knowledge brokerage service for London (between academic researchers and policy makers), as well as undertaking mixed methods research about complex evaluations to improve health and social care.

Imperial taught me various ways to work with and communicate effectively with others, as well as providing strong scientific foundations for thinking and undertaking research – all of which are crucial parts of my career.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Career highlights: gaining a successful policy fellowship, becoming a principal investigator, and leading a national EDI campaign.

Career lowlights: difficulties in academic paper authorship, burning out from over-working, difficult colleagues and teams.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

I work compressed hours, which is 35 hours per week across four days. Two of my days are spent embedded at the Greater London Authority, and two of my days are spent doing research.

I usually start work at 8am. Most days I’ll spend my first hour doing an ‘Eat That Frog’ task before checking my emails. This ritual gives me a great sense of achievement and helps me get stuck into something that requires a lot of thinking.

I then either travel to work and go through my calendar for the day – responding to emails on my commute, or I will do this working from home. For many years I’ve followed the Getting Things Done (GTD) method, which helps me stay organised and on top of my tasks and time management. I tend to make a rough plan for the day, then throughout the day I have a mixture of meetings, admin-type or analysis-type tasks, and perhaps a seminar/webinar or some kind of training session – as I love to constantly develop and refine my skills. I do try to go on a quick walk after lunch to get in some steps and fresh air. I try to wrap up each day by making a list of things that I need to get done the next day.

As for future career plans, I would like to continue working in the interface of policy and research - contributing to improvements in health and social care, as well as wider society.

What do you wish you had known when navigating the early stages of your career?

I wish I had known that prioritising work-life balance is essential not only to your career but also to your life. I also wish I’d known the importance of communicating your needs to others (instead of just assuming people will automatically know what’s on your mind).

Finally, if you are doing something you love – it won’t feel like ‘work’!

What would be your advice for current students at Imperial with a similar background to yourself?

To current students at Imperial: I would encourage you to nurture your connections with those around you (your classmates, friends of friends, mentors, and lecturers) – the Imperial community is valuable beyond your time at the College.

University is so much more than just an educational experience, the additional opportunities on offer can really equip you with so many experiences and skills that can help you later down the line.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

I’m proud to be an Imperial alumnus as I feel like the College has given me a very strong foundation in my career.

What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?