Investigate the possibilities of science course at North Herts College

North Hertfordshire College students during their spectroscopy and gas chromatography visit to Bedfordshire University

North Hertfordshire College students during their spectroscopy and gas chromatography visit to Bedfordshire University - Credit: NORTH HERTS COLLEGE

Most of us have had a glimpse into the fascinating world of forensic science to a greater or lesser extent - maybe you are intrigued by DNA or criminal investigations. 

And if you love science, and want to put your curiosity to good use by having a career involving this subject, then prepare to be inspired by the enthusiasm and knowledge of Rana Elfarra, Project Lead Institute of Technology, lecturer of science and forensic science at North Hertfordshire College. 

What did you used to do before joining North Hertfordshire College? 

I taught A-level chemistry and biology at Kimberley College in Stewartby, Bedford. Originally Palestinian, I lived in Kuwait and as a woman was always treated as a second class citizen. 

My father told me from a young age that if I wanted to gain respect I would have to work hard and get good grades.

I went to university in Cairo and the United States, gaining scholarships through sheer hard work, obtaining a BSc, Masters and PhD.

I went on to teach in Egypt, Goa and New Zealand, and have been in the UK for eight years. 

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Women’s rights are much better here, and me and my daughter, a law student, have settled well. 

What inspired you to become a teacher? what do you enjoy most about working at the college? 

The gratification is my inspiration. You see results straight away with students when they engage with you and they understand what you are teaching. 

And when Covid meant students were struggling to keep up with their work, especially in 2020, last year one decided she was going to catch up and she was so determined, worked so hard for a whole month and she did it.

We are helping this generation of students build their futures, contributing to the nation and helping them get good careers, aspire to move on and be successful.

We offer BTecs, which are more vocational than academic, so if people are not so interested in studying they might choose one to set them on a vocational path straight away, or use it to work towards A levels and degrees. 

What has been a highlight of your time at NHC? 

Working with the University of Bedfordshire, I became a mentor to help students understand the difference between university and apprenticeship, so students were aware of the consequences of choosing university, such as the cost.

UCAS have also visited, to explain the application process, how to write personal statements. It’s always worth writing a personal statement, even if you’re not sure you want to apply to university.

We help you write them and if you don’t use them right away you can keep them safe and add to them as you gain experience or qualifications before going. 

I have also taken students on visits to laboratories to show them scientific equipment first-hand.

I took the 20 students to see a mass spectroscopy and gas chromatography, which are unusually expensive machines, and I thought forensic science students needed to see these.

That led to them inviting us for three practical sessions in the lab. 

The University of Bedfordshire set up mock crime scene investigations and invited our students along so they could witness the right procedures such as labelling evidence and preserving a crime scene, 

For Applied Science, guest speakers have included CEO of large pharmaceutical company Metrion Biosciences Ltd, Andrew Southam, who held a virtual session with students speaking to them about biotech work. This led to the company sponsoring equipment for NHC. 

Thinking specifically about your courses, what makes them stand out for students? For example do you engage with employers or external events? 

As they are more vocational than academic, students are able to think of their work in a career context right from the start, and by the time they have complete the two years, we make sure they leave with a secure idea and a good plan of the direction they want to take.

Our contact with industries and academics means that we can help them build their career, so we can support and guide them through any decisions they may be considering.

Some work is externally assessed but most is internally assessed and moderated. Trips and guest speakers inspire them. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is thinking of studying at NHC, what would it be? 

Be prepared to keep up with the work, don’t put it away, get it done.

And while you’re a student here, if you do feel you are getting behind, don’t just ignore the problem, admit it and talk to us about it. Everyone will help. 

Why do you think the courses at NHC are a good choice for students? 

They are practical and useful, and allow them to start building their careers. 

The courses are very up to date, we try as much as we can to keep up with new technology such as biotech developments and bio informatics, for example. 

Any closing thoughts? 

I am very grateful to work for NHC, this is the happiest I have felt at work since moving to the UK.

The college allows both staff and students the chance to be who they are and what they want to be.

Head of Higher Education Rifaat Fouffa is the best boss I have ever had in the UK. 

He’s not a micro-manager, he discusses and works out the best way forward with you, and lets you get on with it.