UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE)


Essam Tawfik

Essam Tawfik, former Pre-sessional English student

Nationality: Saudi
Previous course at UCL CLIE: 19-week Pre-sessional (2015)
Progressed to: PhD in Pharmaceutics at UCL

Why did you choose to study at UCL?

I wanted to choose one of the top 10 universities in the world, and at the same time, to continue my PhD in Pharmaceutics. UCL offered me a very good opportunity with an excellent supervisor reputation. I thought doing a PhD at a well-respected university would give me more opportunities in the future if I wanted to move jobs. I’d be recognised for working hard to get it, it’s not something they just give to you!

Also, I am a big Arsenal fan! So I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be close to the stadium.

What course do you study now and what is it like?

I am doing my PhD in drug delivery in the School of Pharmacy, and to be honest, it is amazing here in the school.

The department really encourages students to develop themselves. I’ve had so many opportunities outside of the research to develop key skills. For example, I’ve been a Safety Officer, so heavily involved with how the lab is run and learning new skills in lab management.

I’ve also been given opportunities to teach first and second year undergraduates, and supervise some projects, which has involved me dealing with all kinds of different students from all different backgrounds. It’s been a great experience.

How has the Pre-sessional English course helped you in your PhD?

The Pre-sessional English course really helped. The assessment here is much better than IELTS. For example in the Pre-sessional, I had to give a presentation that was related to my future research interests – it was really helpful for me to explain very technical things to an audience that wasn’t familiar with the subject. Whereas in the IELTS exam, you just have to pick up a card and speak about a random subject like cars or movies! The Pre-sessional focuses much more on preparation.

I chose the 19-week Pre-sessional rather than the shorter ones because I wanted to get used to London. It was my first time living away from home, so to move away was hard. I wanted to get used to the city and I had the chance to explore London, make friends with my course mates, and have a lot of fun too!

What was the most challenging part of the course and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was being away from my family, away from my daughter who was only one! I went home when I could to see them but it was hard.

In terms of the course, it was quite long for my situation as I already came with a 6.5 in IELTS and I needed only 0.5 point to enter the PhD programme, so I needed to maintain my concentration.

How is the UK education system different to your home country?

The biggest difference is that you get a lot more independence here. You have the freedom to think and solve problems in an open discussion. In Saudi, you usually have to do things by the book, they don’t allow you to think as much, which you really need to do in order to solve problems. It’s very much a “read the text, memorise and do the exam” approach. Here you have the freedom to write and express yourself.

What advice would you give to a prospective Pre-sessional student?

Enjoy this experience as much as possible, and to enjoy this beautiful city. And of course to support Arsenal!

London has so many attractive places and a lot of people from everywhere. Anyone can make friends here. Make sure you keep yourself busy, go out with people, don’t just sit in your room and do nothing – this is the best way to avoid homesickness.