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Career Advice from Professor Malcolm Stevens

Monday, 13 January 2014

Today the Year 9 boys were given careers advice by Old Boy Professor Malcolm Stevens. This was a great opportunity for the boys, who will be making module choices for their GCSEs in the coming weeks.

Professor Stevens was the son of Bolton School’s Director of Music, and a pupil at the Boys’ Division from 1945 to 1957. As part of his talk, he admitted that he did not excel in all his subjects: he particularly disliked geography, and told the boys about his preference for extra-curricular activities, such as playing in the 1st football squad, captaining the chess team and being a member of the orchestra. However, he also said, “I did love chemistry at school; particularly chemicals that smelled awful, or came in bright colours, or grew in fantastic crystals.” It was this aspect that captured his imagination, and which gave him the focus needed to excel in his chosen subject.

The chemistry teachers at Bolton School helped to foster his interest. He recalled that they had allowed him and his peers to set up chemistry experiments on the back tables in the lab. Often this had the potential for a “big bang” but that was part of the appeal – a sentiment which seemed to resonate with the Year 9s!

He went on to study Chemistry at A-Level, followed by Pharmacy at Nottingham University. As he said to the boys, “Pharmacy is about novel molecules”: molecules which have unusual and exciting biological properties, and which also have appropriate pharmaceutical properties.

After completing his PhD at Nottingham University, he went on to Aston University, where his team focused their research on molecules with the correct properties to combat cancer. Their research and experimentation led them on what sounded like rather a roller-coaster ride of successes and failures! However, their tenacity led to the discovery and early development of temozolomide, a ‘wonder drug’ treatment for brain tumours which is still in use today. During this process, Professor Stevens naturally built on the foundations he had from university; however, he also recognised the importance of his experiences at Bolton School.

Those early days of volatile experiments in the chemistry lab led to an illustrious career at the forefront of cancer research, and inspired him to make a difference.

He told the boys that they also have the same opportunity ahead of them. He advised them to make the effort to succeed academically in the subjects they are passionate about, and to surround themselves with others who are also capable of making an impact on the world. This was great guidance, particularly coming from a man who has used this as his own formula for success.

He also brought along the lucky tie that he wore throughout his research, and hinted that it was partly responsible for his accomplishments. The boys must have been feeling superstitious, as over half of the year group took him up on his offer to let them touch it for good luck!

The talk was informative, at times humorous, and interesting from start to finish. The boys listened attentively throughout and asked a number of questions at the end. Professor Stevens’s visit was a great opportunity for them to reflect on their own potential and consider the impact of the choices they will now have to make.

Professor Stevens was awarded an OBE for his work in 1999, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also President of the Old Boys’ Association in 2013. It was a great pleasure to welcome him back to the school to share his wisdom with the Year 9 boys.

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Professor Stevens and two of the Year 9 boys

Professor Stevens and two of the Year 9 boys

The talk touched on Professor Stevens

The talk touched on Professor Stevens's career from childhood to the present


The 'lucky tie' is unveiled!