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Zulekha Samiullah: A Laidlaw case study

I would definitely encourage other Maths undergraduates to apply for the Scholarship. I think sometimes they don’t see a natural ‘fit’ between the subject and the research proposal but there are so many opportunities to expand your areas of interest and develop yourself.

The term ‘going above and beyond’ applies to Zulekha Samiullah. Since coming to York to study Maths and Physics she has been a Peer Mentor, got the position of University Manager with the Times High Fliers and been involved in York Students in Schools where she secured a research internship. Zulekha has also been leading a Technology Team as Technology Director for York Community Consulting.

Somehow she has also found the time to be involved in two businesses: the first is a Singapore-based start up company which is developing an AI-powered digital student village and where she has the role of Chief Officer of Technology and Data and the second is her own business, which she has launched to provide students with professional communication skills. She is also a Laidlaw Scholar.

“I don’t want to limit myself and I think University provides the perfect platform to gain different experiences and embrace opportunities. I thought that the combination of leadership and research experience in the Laidlaw programme would challenge me and be useful learning.”

While Zulekha wants to go on to pursue a PhD, she can see the huge benefit of developing her leadership experience and gaining a CMI qualification in the process and she says of herself: ‘I’m a real advocate for data-driven decision making.’ As she has gone through the programme she has seen just how well the research and leadership sides complement each other:

“Initially I was most interested in the research but I soon realised how important leadership is in this field. Creating a name for yourself in the research community; finding opportunities to take ownership of your work; presenting your findings: all of these things require strong leadership skills.”

Zulekha got the opportunity to put her skills into practice during a 6-week Leadership in Action programme where she worked virtually with scholars from all around the globe for a French NGO and was recruited as a sub-team leader. Through this role she even introduced and initiated conversations between some of the scholars and the start-up company in Singapore.

Her research project has focused on how mathematics teaching methods used in the Far East can be implemented into UK schools with lasting effect. While she has found areas of the research challenging such as getting enough responses to her survey – she successfully gathered 538 after much persistence – she has enjoyed working on a topic which she likens to ‘marmite’:

“Everyone has an opinion on maths – it’s so divisive! It was difficult for people to remember back to how they felt about maths at school and there have been lots of biases to take in account but I think my findings could form the basis for some further research.”

Another area where Zulekha recently challenged herself was at YorNight – an event open to the public to hear about the great research work taking place in the city. She applied and was selected to present her research to over 100 people.

Zulekha’s advice to anyone thinking of applying for the Scholarship seems to be the same advice that she takes herself at every opportunity:

“Think Big! Don’t limit yourself to your degree title and don’t be afraid to propose a research topic you are interested in. You can go for any opportunities you want and people will take you seriously. It will give you an extra area of interest that others will want to hear about and it may just be the thing that opens the door to whatever you go on to do next.”