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Alumna Dr Golnoush Golshirazi attended Highgate Sixth Form, graduating in 2010 to study Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Having suffered severe period pains throughout her academic years, she was finally diagnosed with endometriosis aged 27. Her personal experiences and scientific expertise inspired the formation of ScreenMe, a tech company that offers online health services for women.

When did you join Highgate?
I went to St. Margaret’s (a Catholic girl’s school) in North London for Primary and Secondary school and then I went to Highgate Sixth Form, which had only recently turned co-educational.

What led you to your choice of A-Levels and did you enjoy your time in the Sixth Form?
I was always drawn to the biological side of things and knew I wanted to go down the sciences route. However, I picked my A levels to leave my options open and spoke to people for advice. I chose Maths, Chemistry, Biology and English Literature.

When you’re 15 and 16 you start coming into yourself, there’s so much curiosity and the world seems like such a big place. It was an exciting time and felt like the beginning of an adventure. The ratio of girls to boys was disproportionate back then and at the time, it wasn’t as diverse as it is today. I remember it fondly, even with its challenges it helped me grow and you never grow if there aren’t any challenges. I’m grateful for all the support I received in my academic studies and when it came to applying to universities, it made a huge difference in guiding me to make the right decisions.

What other aspects of school life did you get involved with and how did they enhance your experience?
I was quite sporty but certain things limited me with having very painful periods. Being at a mixed school, especially being in the first cohort of girls, it was quite intimidating to speak about these topics.

I was one of the first female pupils to start the school’s medical or biological magazine with the other girls. Mr Brunskill was a massive support and he pushed for me to be Deputy Head Girl. I was quite mature for my age so I think that helped and I had been a prefect at St Margaret’s so it was a natural step when it happened. It came with responsibilities and duties which I found enjoyable, especially spending time with the younger pupils, you realise how fulfilling it is to give back.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry too much about making the big decisions, like ‘what will I be?’ Life will change a lot and you will end up in places that you never anticipated or planned for. Find the subjects you like and that come to you naturally and find the thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you interested and curious. As a girl, I wanted to prove myself, and I wished I knew that it’s OK not to be perfect or do amazingly well and realise there is a support system you can tap into.

What further studies did you undertake after A levels and what motivated you to choose this route?
I don’t think anyone expects to get into Cambridge and I didn’t take it for granted. I was encouraged to apply, and I’m grateful for that. I was lucky that my teachers often saw in me a lot more than I did in myself. I applied to Cambridge for Natural Sciences Biological and when I got in, it was a life changing experience.

At Cambridge, I specialised in genetics and wanted to do a PhD in gene therapy so they referred me to Professor George Dickson at Royal Holloway in Surrey who was leading on gene therapy in muscular dystrophy, so my project was focused on that.

Your own health journey has inspired your professional career, how did it lead to where you are now?
At school I suffered with very painful periods and that affected my quality of life. One of my biggest fears at school was exams, which previously had never been a problem. But during my A levels it brought a lot of stress because my worst nightmare was getting my period during my  exams.

During my PhD, I began questioning why I wasn’t getting any answers or help to improve the quality of my life and eventually I was diagnosed with endometriosis aged 27. Even then, there weren’t any solutions and nobody told me how to manage it. That’s when I decided to leave academia and contribute to changing the way we treat women’s health by starting ScreenMe.

Can you tell us more about how you developed ScreenMe and your future goals?
My co-founder, Dr Lukasz Ciszewski, received his PhD at the same time as me and had a huge role to play in the story. When I got my diagnosis, he was very proactive in using science and finding solutions to my symptoms. We founded ScreenMe together in 2019 and once the concept was developed, we entered a competition at Cambridge Judge Business School as part of their Venture Creation Weekend. We came second, which motivated us even more into seeing the idea through.

My whole life has led me to where I am today and I’m grateful for every step that has brought me here. It was scary moving from science in academia to the world of tech starts ups, I didn’t really know what I was doing! We’re now at the stage where we can confidently say we’ve changed women’s lives. Our next focus is on the Middle East: it’s important to me that women from minority groups are also empowered, we hope to be more active in that area in the next year.

You retain close links with Highgate. Can you tell us about some of this work and what motivates you to keep giving back to the younger generation?
I think we are missing female health education at school-level and we need to be talking about these things much earlier than we have before. I’m working with Highgate to do more of that. We underestimate how much young people can understand and take in, but it’s better to educate them than not.

I’ve also been invited to speak to Highgate pupils when they’re thinking of their higher education and career paths. I’ve always been very open to offering pupils work experience and my door is always open to any pupils who want to find out more about working in business or getting into science and health.

For more information about ScreenMe visit the website here or follow on Instagram @screenmewomen