Ask – and keep asking! OEs urge the importance of questions

Ask – and keep asking! OEs urge the importance of questions

The Summer Term saw two alumni invited to return to the School as special guests.

Dr Edmund Watson (OE 1999–2006) was Guest of Honour at the Founder’s Day thanksgiving service, while Dr Benjamin Lichman (OE 2000–2007) graced the stage at the Junior Awards Ceremony.

Edmund is currently a junior doctor and member of the Royal College of Physicians. Having excelled at QE, at Brasenose College, Oxford, and in his subsequent medical training, he hopes to become a consultant haematologist.

Characteristically modest, he began the main part of his address to the congregation at Chipping Barnet Parish Church by saying: “I still see myself as a ‘work-in-progress’, and I definitely am not sure that I deserve the honour of being invited to speak to you here today.”

He then told the boys: “As you go through the rest of your careers at QE, use those wonderful brains of yours to think, and to make the most of this remarkable School environment – whose 443rd Birthday we celebrate today – to help you become masters of asking good questions.” Those questions should be about themselves, about others and about the world around them, he said.

The service featured the traditional prayers for the School, as well as Bible readings, hymns and music by Vivaldi, Brahms, Rutter and Hubert Parry. Afterwards, the boys, staff and guests processed to the School, where, in time-honoured fashion, Headmaster Neil Enright gave the roll call in front of the Main Building. The School Chronicle was also read aloud – a tradition started by Ernest H Jenkins, in 1930.

As well as Edmund, the VIP party included: his wife, Emma, and parents; the Chairman of Governors Barrie Martin and his wife, Perin; Rector of Chipping Barnet Reverend Chris Ferris; and the Deputy Mayor of Barnet, Cllr Sury Khatri and his wife and Deputy Mayoress, Tara Khatri.

While at QE, Edmund was a gold medal-winner in the Biology Olympiad and won distinctions in his Advanced Extension Awards, before going on to Oxford to read Medicine. As an undergraduate, he won various Collections prizes and earned Exhibitioner status during his first year, following this up with a Scholarship in his second, before graduating with a first-class degree in his third.

“I had a fantastic time at university – Brasenose is a very friendly college and I was very lucky to encounter a great group of friends, as well as the girlfriend who is now my wife,” he says. He took the opportunity to indulge his love of music and enjoyed singing with the Brasenose Choir, becoming a Choral Scholar. He also played clarinet regularly with the university’s Wind Orchestra, performing in locations as varied as Northampton, Glasgow and Israel.

During his post-graduate clinical training at Oxford, he was awarded a distinction in his Finals and a Prize Viva. He particularly relished his elective study placements in Malaysian Borneo and the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, USA. He continued to pursue his interest in singing, forming an a capella choir group, The Ultrasounds, and devoted many hours to his role as treasurer for the Osler House Club, a 450-strong society for medical students.

He began working as a junior doctor in 2013 at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, and whilst there he joined the Gloucester Choral Society. In the following year, he moved on to north Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, before taking up his current employment with North West Thames Foundation School, which includes ‘rotations’ in clinical haematology, cardiology and renal medicine at the Hammersmith and Harefield Hospitals.

Edmund was able to deliver some teaching in his final year of Medical School, as well as designing a two-week course for fourth-year medical students. He has continued to teach as a junior doctor, delivering various ‘bedside teaching’ sessions to Bristol University students. Having realised early in his medical studies that he enjoyed research, he is keen to be involved in it and in education in the future, and plans to apply for a Teaching Fellowship next year.

In his introductory speech at Junior Awards in the School Hall earlier this month, the Headmaster thanked Dr. Benjamin Lichman for attending and spoke of the importance of reflection. Alluding to the annual appraisals that are a standard feature in the modern working world, Mr Enright said: “This time to stop and reflect is valued by both employers and employees alike, giving the opportunity to ask the questions that American poet and writer Carl Sandburg felt were so important to reflect on: ‘Who am I, where have I been, and where am I going?’”

Benjamin arrived at Junior Awards just a few days after himself being a recipient at an awards ceremony – in his case, receiving his doctorate in Biochemistry from University College London.

Writing his thesis, which comprised 316 pages and 86,729 words, had been a lengthy and laborious process, he told the assembled boys: “The whole four years involved working on an enzyme found in plants which helps create some of humanity’s most valuable medicines. You study so many different subjects. I think you are very lucky – I just spent the last four years studying a single molecule!”

The ceremony rewards boys in Years 7, 8 and 9 for their achievements. It features musical interludes which this year included pieces by Mozart, Fauré and Devienne. VIP guests included the Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet, Cllr David Longstaff and Ms Gillian Griffiths.

Benjamin recalled his own first academic award: a Year 7 prize for public-speaking. Praising the School, which he said had been “central to my journey”, he urged the prize-winners not to be complacent in the future and warned them against excessive competitiveness and viewing their successes in comparison with others.

And, like Edmund Watson and the Headmaster, he urged the importance of asking questions. He illustrated this by recalling in some detail the famous story of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Fleming, instead of throwing away agar plates which had accidentally become contaminated, was curious enough to ask what the effects of the fungal growth had been on the bacteria that had previously been spread on the plates. “And experiment followed by question followed by experiment (and on and on) eventually led to…the birth of the golden age of antibacterials, which saw the elimination of many types of infectious disease.”

It was important, too, not to stop asking questions, Benjamin said. The question “Are antibiotics good for human health?” would have been answered with a simple “yes” ten years ago, but, as the use of too many antibiotics has enabled some bacteria to gain resistance and become superbugs, it is now clear that that answer is not entirely true.

Benjamin recently took up a post-doctoral appointment in one of the world’s leading groups in the study of natural plant products.