A dedicated student has graduated from the University of Oxford with a first-class degree – after undertaking research on a new antibiotic to treat tuberculosis.  

Jasper Lithgow, of Bransty in Whitehaven, had dreamed of studying at the top university since he was about nine-years-old.

Jasper knew he would have to work hard to achieve his dream while studying for his GCSEs at the troubled Whitehaven Academy in 2016, which was one of the lowest rated schools in the country at the time.

He would study for around six hours every day after school and ended up achieving A*s across the board in his GCSEs.

Jasper said: “It was a really tough time, thinking about it. It did take a lot of motivation with everything that was going on at school.

“I knew if I wanted to do this, I needed to get my head down and really try.”

The hard-working student then moved to St Benedict’s Catholic High School to sit his A-levels and applied for a place at the University of Oxford.

He was offered a place to study biochemistry at the university’s Worcester College and was accepted after achieving A*s in biology, chemistry and maths at A-level.

Jasper began studying at the university in September 2018.

He said: “I think at first, like it would be for anyone, it was a bit of a shock. But I realised there were more people there like me, that I might have assumed otherwise.

“It’s been nice over the years to find other people and think, they are just like me. It’s been a good experience to mix with different people.”

During his second year at university, Covid hit and he returned to Whitehaven to learn from home.

He said: “Covid disrupted everything, really. The Oxford system is quite unique. You’ve got a lot of personalised face-to-face teaching.

“You’ve got all the lectures but you’ve got tutorials, which is more of an informal chat talking about the subject. Trying to adapt that for online was quite difficult because of the informality that goes with it. It was quite a change.”

Jasper said the biggest change was sitting exams online at home with a remote invigilator watching.

“It was quite a big change and hard because particularly that second lockdown in January last year, that was the main time for me doing revision. That was quite tough.”

His exams went well and he applied for a Master’s project in antibiotic resistance research at a new institute set up at the university.

He managed to get it and as part of the project, has carried out research on a new antibiotic to treat tuberculosis.

“It’s been really good. I’ve been in the labs doing the chemical reactions to try and make this drug to see what effect they have on tuberculosis and see if they could go forward to be tested on people.

“It’s been a really exciting project to work on.”

On Saturday, the 22-year-old attended his graduation ceremony after gaining top grades in his degree – an MBiochem, Integrated Master's in molecular and cellular biochemistry.

He said: “I’m really, really pleased to get this final result. It’s been a lot of hard work.”

Jasper will now take a job in Cambridge working as a life sciences strategy consultant, for Charles River Associates.

He said: “I wanted to stay involved in pharmaceuticals because that has been my drive, doing something that gives back to society and has a positive impact but I now want to focus more on the business-side of things. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Jasper said he believes more effort is being made to attract students from different backgrounds to elite universities.

He has enjoyed taking part in outreach work with the University of Oxford, attending conferences and engaging with sixth form students.

He said: “I think everyone has the equal potential across the country. It’s just the opportunities and people in the north don’t have as many opportunities as down south.

“Being at Oxford, you’re surrounded by all these people who have had the best education, whether they’ve gone to Eton or Harrow, or one of these really posh schools.

“When I look at my education, I wouldn’t change it because being forced to work that hard, I built up that independence of learning and that has carried me through.”

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