Kako (Kevin Stapleton)
Chemistry & Biological Sciences - North Glasgow (2010-11) :: :: BSc (Hons) in Genetics at University of Glasgow
“Stop what you’re doing right now and just sign up for SWAP.   Honestly, the best random decision I have ever made.”

Introduce yourself

Hello my name is Kako. I am 32 years old and I have just finished my honours undergraduate degree in Genetics at University of Glasgow.  I am an American originally from California.  However, due to a wonderful technicality, I also hold an Irish passport.  So I am classified as an EU national for the purposes of education. 

How was school for you?

School for me was not something I ever spent much time doing and when I did, it had this miraculous way of making me feel bad about myself. This problem was only exacerbated by my misplaced attitude towards authority and my own personal feelings of overwhelming failure and worthlessness. School for me was not who I was and seemed to marginalise everything I genuinely cared about.  At the age of 16, I was legally allowed to leave school and I did just that.  The only thing I ever learned was that school was a place for some people and I was not one of them.  

What did you do after school?

After school, I moved 400 miles south of my parents’ house, continued my illustrious career as a dishwasher (in much better weather) and tried to find ways of sustaining my lifestyle without committing to anything.  I had one mantra I would repeat to myself: Everyone needs a dishwasher Kako, so where do you wanna go?  This eventually led me to leave the US for Ireland, a whole host of other places and finally Scotland, doing just that.  Well, mostly that.    

 <kevin_stapleton_and_pals.jpg> What prompted you to return to education?                                 

My decision to return to education was entirely random.  My partner and I at the time were between jobs and living on her parents’ farm helping with odd jobs, while painting neighbours’ houses for money.  She told me that she had been accepted to go to North Glasgow College for an Art degree and that we would be moving to Glasgow in a months’ time. At the time I had zero qualifications, but I did have the drive to learn something new and it felt good thinking I was going to have another crack at education as an adult.  That’s when I found the SWAP Access to Chemistry and Biological Science programme at North Glasgow.  The only course requirements were that I have been out of formal education for a minimum number of years and did not possess university entry requirements.  Perfect!  I applied and they let me on the course.   

How was SWAP for you?

The SWAP programme for me was amazing.  It was three full days a week, leaving plenty of room for work and social life.  I met great fellow students and some of the most caring and understanding lecturing staff; everyone was there for a reason.  Seriously, I cannot stress enough how little knowledge regarding science and maths I had going into this course, but the lecturers were so helpful and patient.  They took extra time out to explain abstract concepts and what they meant in the context of the world and my regular life.  This is what really made the course for me.  Every day I was learning how the world around me worked on a fundamental level.   

Does anything stand out in particular?

I would like to make special mention of the practical sessions in this course as they would turn out to be the most inspiring part for me.  Here were several experiments designed for us to learn how to follow protocol and handle reagents.  This was the first time I had ever seen a theory or concept tested and a real world result produced.  SWAP gave me the ability to look at the world through a scientific lens and I could finally start to reason and experiment through most of my arguments and even personal thoughts about the world.  These experiments taught me that the ultimate arbiter of truth is experimentation and authority is the weakest form of evidence there is. SWAP gave me the basics for this type of reasoning and I was ready to keep going.  

How did you find your degree?

I graduated this past June (2015) with a 2:1 honours degree in Genetics!  However, there is no way around it; university is hard.  Everyone has different reasons for finding it difficult but for me, I had been out of education for a long time and some of my old insecurities came back to haunt me whenever project deadlines came closing in or grades would come out.   These feelings, however, would always pass and there was always loads of folk around going through the same problems which meant you were never short of support.  The classes and the way the entire course is set-up was really good.  For me, first year was just as hard as any of the other years but, it gives you a good chance to take other classes and makes sure that by the time you are in your second year classes, everyone is at the same level.

Did you feel prepared for university?

It is no exaggeration when I tell you that SWAP prepares you COMPLETELY for first year at university.  There will always be some smarty-pants people that will make you feel like you are not as knowledgeable but that is always just people talking.  University, despite my SWAP preparation, was a level up so-to-speak.  But you have a really good jumping platform to dive right in.  The obvious advantage SWAP students have is maturity; it really does help being older and knowing beyond a doubt that you WANT to be there.  Learning is so much easier when you really like it.  I really mean it when I say that SWAP prepares you for everything you will encounter academically in first year.  And first year will set you up for the rest of your time there.   

Were you involved in the university community at all?

I was not receiving any SAAS loans and had to support myself through all of university.  I was in a few clubs and activities in first year but the work load and employment got to be too much for me to do that in the last three years.  However, all my mates were part of some club or another, and I was always going to their organised events.  I can also tell you that the university has loads going on and there is always something for you do if you want.  There really is so much to do I can’t fit it here.  You will just have to go to see for yourself  :-)  

How have you changed as a person?

As I mentioned briefly before, but will state here plainly, I have totally changed.  I mean, I am still me but I have the ability to learn now.  Now, that may sound like something basic and like everyone can do it but that was not the case for me.   Time and time again at university, I was faced with information I knew absolutely nothing about and every time I would make it through to the other side and realise that I KNEW how to do it.  I had learned what it was, or the mechanism would just “pop!” and make sense.  There was nothing in my life before that showed me I was capable of doing something like this.  As long as I persevered I was capable of learning it.  This knowledge will stay with me in every task, every job and for every project deadline.  That skill and confidence in and of itself is worth the world to me.  I could have never imagined I was capable.  

 <science_symbol.png> Furthermore, my education in science has provided me with four years in training learning how to evaluate evidence and make models.  The ability to make a model that takes into account observable facts and makes future predictions.  There has never been a greater tool or skill to have in my life. It’s not about knowing or being able to regurgitate facts.  It’s about how to demonstrate a fact.  HOW you know, what you know.    “… You simply HAVE to remove personal private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.”  A quote I steal from Richard Dawkins all the time.  

What are your future goals?

My future goals are to now use the skills I have learned and finally put my money where my mouth is.  I am going to contribute to the world of science by starting a PhD.  If not that, I will go into work for a Biotech company THEN do a PhD.  Either way after that, it is my hope to be a communicator of science either by teaching at a place like SWAP to adults, or perhaps at high school.  Either way, just do cool stuff :-)  

Anything else?

Don’t even think any more about it.  If you have managed to read any of this, then you should do it.  Stop what you’re doing right now and just sign up for SWAP.   Honestly, the best random decision I have ever made.
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