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Young woman flourishes under our 'Me and My Shadow' scheme

Nafees Akthtar is a teaching assistant at a primary school in Slough. But on International Women's Day on 8 March, she swapped the classroom for the pharmaceutical world of UCB to find out how research can lead to new medicines for different diseases.

Nafees was taking part in Epilepsy Society's 'Me and My Shadow' scheme which aims to build confidence and ambition in women with epilepsy and encourages them to think big.

The scheme was launched on 8 March, International Women's Day, and provides opportunities for women with epilepsy to shadow women in a range of different careers for a day.

Nafees has had epilepsy since she was a teenager. She had her first drop seizure when she was 16 years old. She then had a "serious seizure" when she was 22 and injured herself by splitting her lip open.

Although Nafees said her current employers are great about her epilepsy, others have told her that her condition could hold her back.

When she heard about the 'Me and My Shadow' sceheme, she grabbed the opportunity with both hands and applied straight away.

Nafees spent the day shadowing Paula Sardinha, Contracts and Partnership  Manager at UCB, who took her on a tour of UCB's research laboratories and introduced her to women from a range of different roles across the company such as managerial and business. This was to give Nafees an understanding of how everything research-based within the company starts and how it progresses.

Nafees said that that by having the scheme launched on International Women's Day, she gained a feeling of empowerment by being surrounded by successful women.

Nafees said : "This day has given me the confidence to see if I can do something more. I've wanted to do something more, but by having epilepsy, I've been told by certain people that my condition will hold me back. The main thing that I wanted to get out of the experience, is just knowing that having epilepsy doesn't have to stop you from doing anything".

Nafees is now hoping that her experience will give her the confidence to spread the word about epilepsy.

Her host, Paula Sardinha, said: "I think the scheme is a really interesting initiative. With the stigma attached to epilepsy, sometimes you feel that you can't achieve as much as you can. The condition needs to be better understood and people with epilepsy need to feel that they can aim as high as anyone else".

Paula feels that it's important that companies and workplaces need to adapt to be able to work with individuals with the condition. She is hoping that by participating in the scheme it will help to increase a greater understanding of epilepsy among staff at UCB.

Both the shadow and the host said they wished the scheme could run for a week as "you can only fit so much into one day".

Clare Pelham, Chief Executive at Epilepsy Society, said: "So many times we hear from people with epilepsy how their condition limits their opportunities and, often, their ambitions. But we want women with epilepsy to think big and think bold. We want them to be inspired to reach for the sky and not let their seizures hold them back. We want  women to explore the career paths that appeal to them, to get the experience that will help them decide ‘Is this for me? How can I achieve the goals than I want to realise in my life?’

“Achievement can be on so many different levels and can be both big and small. But it all starts with exploring the possibilities, getting a foot in the door, meeting the people who have already journeyed along a path you may be considering. And that is where we are so grateful to our hosts who are welcoming our ‘shadows’ to join them for the day to see what life is really like at the coal front.

“It is amazing to see how the shared experiences benefit both sides; we have got some really positive feedback from all who have taken part. I would like to thank our hosts and our shadows and hope that we will be able to build on this year’s experience by expanding the scheme even further next year".

We wish the best of luck to all of the shadows who have yet to yet to complete their placements.