Icenian Interview: James Cross

What year did you begin and leave Langley?

I attended Langley School for my A-Levels from 2008 until 2010. 

If applicable, which A-Levels did you gain?

I studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Art (Photography).

During your time at Langley, did you know what career you wanted to pursue?

Whilst at Langley, I was made to feel that almost all career options were open to me if I wanted it badly enough. I seem to remember having one central idea of trying to become a medical doctor and (somewhat opposite to that) applying to art school and chasing a career in photography. 

Interestingly, I ended up doing neither. Instead, following attaining A-Level results that were not good enough for medical school, I deferred entry to university and took a gap year to enhance my application for the following year. During this year, I learnt a lot from moving into my own apartment and working as an NHS healthcare assistant at N&N Hospital and within patients’ homes. This opened my eyes to the realities of working life and pushed me to move forward to a career in something I was interested in, microbiology and its role in medicine.  

Which extra-curricular activities were you involved in and have they been useful, for example helping with transferable skills?

During my time at Langley, I was a keen hockey player and enjoyed playing alongside friends in the 2nd’s rugby team. But, probably more importantly in shaping my transferable skills, I was a boarder at Langley. This was a completely new experience for me in Year 12. Being a boarder not only gave me an excellent opportunity to improve my pool playing abilities but also assisted my development and gave me many opportunities to hone skills relating to organisation, teamwork, communication, understanding my responsibilities and many more. Boarding at Langley for two years helped further my independence after school and probably has played a role in supporting me in taking a few different pathways in my working career.

If you went, what did you study at university? 

I completed a BSc (Hons) in Medical Microbiology at the University of Bristol with a Year in Industry (MRCG at LSHTM). Following my BSc, I gained a PhD in Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). This research focused on the role neonatal iron metabolism has on the risk of bacterial infections in newborns. During this period, I was based at MRCG at LSHTM in The Gambia, West Africa, for 5-6 years working in healthcare facilities and research stations in busy urban areas and small rural villages. This involved developing research questions, ethics applications, recruiting participants, collecting samples, laboratory work, statistical analysis and project management.  

If you’re working, how did your career begin?

Like quite a few things in academia, my career began after presenting and networking at an international conference. Thankfully, chance conversations at a buffet table and an interview later assisted in me gaining my first academic position at LSHTM (an employer I tried and failed to get work experience with when I was a Langley student!). I have now been based at LSHTM within the NEST360 team for three years, travelling regularly and looking forward to continuing my work within the alliance into the future.

So far, what have been your post-school highlights (in your career, onwards studies, family, travel etc.)?

Highlights following my time at Langley have focused on how my career has allowed me to travel and experience things I never thought would be available. For example, being based in The Gambia during my BSc and PhD allowed me to experience first-hand field and laboratory infectious disease research in a high-mortality setting. This was a real turning point in my life as it gave me first-hand insights into life as a medical researcher and allowed me to network and learn from outstanding academics and researchers.

Following my PhD, I was able to further my career in academia as a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for a programme called NEST360. NEST360 (Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies) is a multi-partner alliance including national governments in four African countries (Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria) with engineers, clinicians, and health systems implementation experts, aiming to reduce deaths for inpatient small and sick newborns. Globally, there is an increasing focus on improving the quality of care for small and sick newborns, helping reduce the 2.4 million newborn deaths each year. In my current role, I gain great reward from supporting healthcare facilities in collecting high-quality newborn health data on each admission to help support improvements in the care they receive. I am also now the co-lead of the NEST360 Infection Group, focused on improving the prevention, detection and care of newborns with infections. 

This role has also led me to become a teacher myself, with a large part of my current role focusing on teaching and tutoring MSc and PhD students during their postgraduate studies. This has been supported by acquiring a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (PGCILT). 

I am now based in Caversham, Berkshire and have recently bought my first home with my partner, Tianna.

On reflection, did your time at Langley help your attitude towards career choices and progression?

Langley played a massive role in helping shape my attitude towards learning and my onward career progression. After attending a different secondary school, I soon realised what new opportunities were available at Langley. Langley instilled the idea of being energised to learn, the importance of engaging with the subject and pushing the boundaries of what was possible when it came to outputs. I think these and other reasons have assisted me in moving forward in a career in academia and its ‘lifelong learning’ dogma. 

What advice you would give to students considering Langley, their A-Levels or careers?

If the opportunity is available to you, you should do it, even if it is just for your A-Levels! Langley reset what I thought made up education with all the resources, time and support I could ever want/need (especially in light of my dyslexia). I would suggest doing the A-levels you enjoy, as I believe, for many, that will end up influencing what you get out of the experience. And in terms of career advice, I would suggest I still have a long way to go before offering advice. However, ensure you follow your interests, take your time to think through your options (i.e., short vs long term), support the people you work with and be brave in pursuing a different pathway that’s right for you!  

Your fondest memory of Langley?

I think there are probably too many to mention. However, some of the most memorable happy times were spent with fellow boarders. We used to participate in several activities in the evenings and at weekends. It was a laugh-a-minute environment with a real sense of belonging and community. Furthermore, our A-Level physics trip to CERN near Geneva, Switzerland – was also a solid highlight in my time at Langley and is something I fondly think of when I travel there now for meetings.

Any final thoughts, shout-outs or people you would like to see complete this form in the near future (we will try and track them down!)?

Shout out to some fellow Icenians: Tom Collier, Victor Karani, Giacomo Pelfini, Ross Weir, Tom Kidner, Matt Keely and Simi Adejumo!

Regarding teachers, I would like to thank Mrs McRobert, Dr Mason, Mr Cooper, Ms Skuse, Ralph, Mr Clegg, Mr Robinson, Mr Pearson…there are far too many to mention! All great teachers that supported me on my journey at Langley.

Life after Langley
Published On: February 27th, 2023Categories: Icenians, News