Former student of Holywell High School praises ‘inspirational’ headteacher after gaining PHD
A former student of Holywell High School, now Ysgol Treffynnon, who has just gained her PhD, has written a letter to the teacher who believed in her and inspired her to pursue her love of science.
Jessica Peterson has been living in America for the past eight years, working and going to graduate school. Her doctoral thesis was entitled: “an experimental evaluation of central pain processing following COVID-19 infection.”
She recently secured a job as a post-doctorate associate in neuroscience at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida where her main project will be looking at Alzheimer’s disease and pain, and how muscle atrophy (wasting) could influence pain.
Jessica wrote to John Weir, now headteacher at Ysgol Treffynnon, to thank him and to tell him that he was the one person that “pretty much kick-started my love of science”.
She said: “Thank you so much for pushing me and believing in me when I was such a young, impressionable teenager. Believe it or not, there is so much physics and maths involved in neuroscience and you’re the one that helped me understand all the basic methods and made it stick so that I could transition to a life in academia.
“When I’m writing up my research papers, I often think back to the lab reports you made us write up on the physics experiments that we did and how everyone else hated them (sorry haha), and for some reason, I loved it.
“I cannot believe that a girl from Holywell High is living in the USA, about to be a neuroscientist and working towards getting NASA funding. And I have you to thank, I really do. You were my favourite teacher at Holywell High School, and I honestly do not think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for your investment in my education. Genuinely. Thank you so much for that.”
After leaving high school, Jessica went to the University of Cardiff to study Sport Science with a view to becoming a PE/science teacher. She went on to combine physics and sport and specialised in sports biomechanics. Having enrolled to start a PGCE in PE, she won a scholarship to coach athletics at an American university that would also fund her master’s degree.
Deciding that she still wanted to teach, she then took a year out and taught as a part time lecturer at a university.
She started her PhD in Exercise Physiology, based on her interest in muscle mechanics and the forces that make us move and avoid fatigue, and then started to investigate how exercise influenced muscle pain.
Her original dissertation was to examine how muscle damage caused by exercise could be used as a clinical model for chronic pain. However, COVID-19 shut that down and she had to start all over again.
As a result of the pandemic, she began to explore how COVID-19 influenced the nervous system and its relationship to pain.
In a couple of years’ time, Jessica plans to become a professor; teaching and conducting research, leading her own research lab and team to study pain to hopefully understand the mechanisms of pain in chronic conditions.
Mr Weir said: “Jessica was a wonderful student and I have often thought about what she might be doing over the last fourteen or fifteen years since she left us.
“She stood out in what was a very strong class of students because she was so determined to understand rather than complete what she had to do to achieve the grades she wanted. Time and time again she would come back to me to go over what she had written and wanted to know how she could improve and get the highest marks… because she wanted to know! It was more about understanding the science rather than getting the grades.
“Amid all this, she managed to keep a great sense of humour, she was really polite and easy going. Whatever she says about the impact I have had on her educational success, she made quite the impression on me; I really enjoyed teaching her class and she was the real star.
“Her email is completely unexpected, and I am delighted that I have managed to make a positive difference to someone! There may have been others, as will be the case for many teachers, but so few students get in touch to let you know.
“Jessica always had the talent and drive to be successful, but life doesn’t always mean that will be the case. I’m so proud of her and what she has achieved, and so very grateful she has taken the time to share her success with me. I know she will continue to achieve even more success. She is an amazing role model to other students, proving that with hard work, determination and commitment, the sky really is the limit.”
Jessica says she “would love the opportunity to give back to the high school that helped me grow during my vulnerable years” and has offered to do a video call with Ysgol Treffynnon students to talk to them about “how research works and how important science, maths and English are to any profession that they wish to embark on.” Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com