From Syria to Salford 

By Hussam Almawal

I started my career in Syria in 2007 as a laboratory scientist. Shortly after this, I was promoted to manager of the general laboratory and IVF laboratory in 2009. My role grew quickly at the hospital, and it wasn’t long before I was overseeing the laboratory activities across seven floors, managing 40 laboratory staff – until 2013.  

When the war started in Syria, in the blink of an eye I had lost everything you can imagine. Members of my family and friends, my house, and my job. My family and I crossed 14 countries just to find a safe place to live.  

I arrived in the UK in 2014 speaking zero English. I started to learn the language and worked in a coffee shop at the same time. I also started my study at the University of Salford because I had been told: 

 You will never be able to work as scientist again.  

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to prove to the world that I’d be able to not only learn English, but also make my life a success story once more, so that my daughter would be proud of me. It’s hard to believe I’m now in my final year. I would be lying if I said it has all been sunshine and roses. I cried and slept in pain, feeling confused, lost and exhausted. There have been times where I have questioned myself, thinking, ‘why am I putting myself through this?!’ But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  

First day at university

First day at University 

Today, I’m a Bioscience lead at one of the largest UK testing centres. I am so proud to be a part of the fight against COVID-19 with the Department of Health and Social Care and Lighthouse laboratories. 

I’m responsible for overseeing a lab-based team from sample receipt through to RNA extraction and delivery of PCR data. This includes troubleshooting and solving problems with PCR machines and supervising scientists carrying out their lab activities. I have had the opportunity to complete a portfolio of training activities including health and safety, manager essentials, and performance and improvement courses. Together with my team, we have delivered 7 million COVID test results to patients.  

2020 at #Lighthouse labs – COVID-19  responders Department of Health and Social Care 

I could say so much more about my experiences and journey so far. I can honestly say that I have always appreciated the support that has been provided to me by the University of Salford and that I wouldn’t be here without it. My journey at the University of Salford is not yet over, as I intend to study an MSc in Biotechnology after I graduate from my BSc in Biomedical Sciences.  

Through my educational journey at the University of Salford, I have learned four major lessons that I think other people may benefit from:  

1. It’s NOT too late, never give up.  
2. To finish any great endeavour, you must first start.
3. If you want happiness, help other people.
4. Failure and mistakes make you stronger.   

My Journey to Salford: Charles

My journey to Salford brings you inspiring stories each issue from students who have overcome adversity to reach their current destination at the University of Salford. This issue, Charles Middleton shares his experience with autism.

My journey to Salford brings you inspiring stories each issue from students who have overcome adversity to reach their current destination at the University of Salford


My journey to Salford has not been an easy ride. There have been many challenges I have had to overcome, am yet to overcome and still face in everyday life. As we know, life is tough and struggles are a part of daily life. Maybe for some more than others. 

So, I am a student on the autistic spectrum. Autism, for me, means that some things can bother me, even the littlest of things, that maybe others do not think about often. It can be hard to socialise, particularly when I do not always pick up on body language and facial expressions. This has been tough during online lectures, but I am gaining confidence with getting opportunities to take part in extracurricular activities, such as the Biomed Society. Societies are a great way of socialising and practicing understanding social cues. Sensory processing can also be a challenge for me, such as with loud noises and food textures. Because of this, my journey to Salford has been a never-ending mountain of obstacles that I have had to tackle. Kind of like when you first learn to ride a bicycle and you fall off and get back up and try again, but continuously. It can be hard, trying to fit in, trying to succeed, trying to get to your destination. 

Throughout my school years I found it difficult to make friends and mostly preferred being on my own. I wasn’t like everyone else – I didn’t use much technology, I didn’t do fashion trends, or have an interest in being part of a friendship group What I did do was have a routine, do extra studying at home and even a paper round job. These things helped me and still do. 

Being on the autistic spectrum can have some advantages too. For me, I am determined, I pay attention to close details and I am good at identifying patterns. In fact, autistic individuals have great attributes and qualities which can contribute to unique talents, ideas, and innovations. I tend to think outside the box, then outside again, and then further outside; I like to solve a problem when it arises, and I ensure that I am always prepared to.

One thing I do enjoy is learning. However, I process things differently to some of my peers and see the world as something perhaps I do not understand, yet information processing is a a part of daily life and vital to academia. I did not think I would get into college, or even get onto the course I am doing at Salford. 

Throughout this year, I have had even more challenges throughout the pandemic. Not only with becoming a new student at Salford, but socialising. It can become lonely, stressful and tiring at times. Changes that I am not used to or are not part of my pre-planned routines have been a struggle. What helps is discussing these with my lecturers and support staff and doing my best to plan for any changes that will occur further along in the course. 

What I am grateful for is how different my experience at Salford has been: I have been supported throughout my time here so far, have made some great friends who are understanding and patient, and most of all, I feel like I am part of a community. 

Charles Middleton is a first year undergraduate student of BSc Human Biology and Infectious Diseases.

Want to share your inspiring story of overcoming adversity in your journey to Salford? Visit our contributions page.