Narut Pakunwanich has been involved in approximately 20 research projects during his time at Lancaster, won multiple national and international awards, is bilingual, and was declared a maths and science prodigy before he was ten. Now he is ready to share the process behind the accolades.
Everyone knows someone who is unfathomably extraordinary; they can’t be human. Sure, this someone may eat, breathe and move like you, but they’re just built different. Some say these beings were blessed with innate abilities, but for Narut Pakunwanich ‘talent is something to be nurtured and skill is something you earn.’
At the age of 3, he had a stronger grasp on the Thai language than any child his age and at 16 he was being mentored by the then Assistant Director of Creative Writing at Oxford University. Through that tutelage he was immersed in the intricacies of expressive writing and the publishing industry. Those skills prepared him to become Chief Editor of a small journal at 16, a post he held throughout university. These experiences landed him the prestigious British Medical Journal’s Clegg Scholarship, becoming the first Lancaster medical student to achieve this.
Narut recognizes that he didn’t excel in isolation, crediting his mother Nicole’s ‘tactful, fastidious, yet laissez-faire approach’ for his success. Herself ‘a naturally precocious child’ who submitted a thesis in child and adolescent mental health in talented children at the age of 14, she supported her son’s amazing academic ability while heavily encouraging his participation in sports so he could develop the ‘soft skills’ he was ‘lacking.’
Narut’s staggering success placed him firmly in the Grammar School to Russell Group pipeline. But despite being accepted into the ‘number one State Grammar school’, he found that the environment ‘[lacked] intellectual stimulation’. Even though he was ahead of his peers in achievement, he was deficient in the soft skills of ‘communication, dedication and responsibility’ his mother advocated for in his younger years. Unable to channel this frustration into ‘productive activities’ like the ‘brief athletic career’ he abandoned because he was ‘unaccustomed to not being immediately good at something,’ he became idle. And after the school’s refusal to support him attending University early, which he describes as ‘the single defining traumatic event of my life,’ the rest of his childhood academic career was coloured with a seemingly unshakeable dissatisfaction.
After suffering a slump, Lancaster Medical School, despite being the smallest medical school in the country at the time of his application (hosting only 50 students per annum), was ‘completely pivotal’ in restructuring Narut’s career, ‘due to its self-directed learning and soft skill development focus’.
To Narut, what makes Lancaster Medical School unique is that it is one of the few medical schools in the country that teaches clinical skills and techniques in Year 1, and starts hospital placements in Year 2. Oxbridge and London ‘bar any student from clinical practice until their fourth year.’
Lancaster also inspired him to interrogate his storied relationship with self-doubt. On the brink of dropping out, he remembered the moments in his life when he gave up too soon. He decided to make the most of this opportunity and if faculty and student opinions are any indication, Lancaster is better off for it.
I think the first step to success is believing in yourselfNarut Pakunwanich
Narut cautions against the well-intentioned but often toxic pursuit of being ‘the [absolute] best,’ instead encouraging all students to be the best they can be. This reformed mindset has led to him landing a Physician-Scientist job at Cambridge University where he will be a cancer researcher and doctor. This feat is made even more impressive as he explains that ‘most applicants have at least two, usually three degrees, including a PHD.’
He looks forward to ‘treating patients, attending the bar scientifica and symposia meets for Cambridge clinical academics.’ He will also be conducting research with Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald’s laboratory on cancer prevention and early detection, among other soft skill responsibilities.
Narut has made a huge difference in Lancaster, becoming president of the Research and Surgical societies, supporting medical students’ involvement in projects, and teaching as an Undergraduate Peer Tutor for 5 years. Even as he opens the next chapter, he plans to ensure that his positive impact remains after his tenure ends. ‘Currently, I’m trying to set up a Galenian Fellowship (named after famous Greek physician Galen) for Lancaster Medical School (LMS) alumni – allowing undergraduates access to mentors.’ He is also working with Head of Research Jemma Kerns to promote research opportunities for medical students alongside talking on national podcasts aimed at other aspiring medics.
Whilst it’s very productive to be achievement-focused, one must enjoy the process as well, as the road is equally as important as the destination.
Narut speaks with unflinching honesty about his triumphs and trials. His perspective has led him back to the same institutions that were so foreignizing to him in his formative years. Rarely do we get the opportunity to reclaim our former misadventures, making Narut’s upcoming Cambridge journey an intriguing and fulfilling next chapter.
Life is hard but Narut now has the soft skills to stick the landing. Word to Nicole!