Student battles illness to graduate and become a published author

A student who overcame a debilitating illness has not only recovered to graduate but has done so well that his dissertation has formed the basis of a scientific study and has been published in an academic journal.

Ben Gibson, from Ilkley, Yorkshire, received his degree in Geography and Geology today during a ceremony at the University of Manchester.

But it could have turned out so differently if he had not had the determination to continue his studies despite suffering from Crohn’s disease.

Ben was 18 when he was diagnosed with the condition, where the body’s immune system starts to attack its own digestive system. Among the severe symptoms caused are abdominal pain, weight loss and fever. There is no known cure for the condition but there are treatments to lessen the symptoms. Ben had to take a year out of his studies to return home and recover his health, but then came back determined to complete his course

The 23 year old said: “It is exhausting. It saps you of all energy and makes it incredibly hard to concentrate on your work. My dissertation took so much out of me that I had to return home for a year. I lost so much weight and was unable to work due to the amount of pain I was in a lot of the time.

“Stress makes it worse and I was worrying about my final year. The pain would just come on suddenly. So I went home for a year and got a job to give my body a rest.

“I was worried about studies so I’m just delighted to have finished with a degree that I thought I wasn’t going to get and I‘m ready to move on with the next stage in my life now.”

Ben’s dissertation work was to catalogue all known specimens of ichthyosaurs, extinct marine reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs, which had been found in Nottinghamshire. To complete it he had to write to (and visit) dozens of museums for information and collate all the data for his undergraduate dissertation.

Dean Lomax, his supervisor at The University of Manchester, said: “Ben did remarkably well and should be proud of himself. Undergraduate students rarely consider that their dissertation work could actually form a scientific study and be good enough to form a publication, so the fact that Ben completed it despite all of his health problems makes it a doubly special achievement. A fine example of what a student can achieve when there is genuine interest in their topic of choice”. 

“These ichthyosaurs had never been documented before so this was a really useful piece of work and together Ben and I were able to turn his dissertation into a scientific paper contributing to palaeontology. Ben will become a published author as a result.”

Notes for editors

Media contact

Sam Wood
Media Relations Officer
University of Manchester
Tel: +44 (0)161 2758155
Mob: +44 (0)7886 473422
Email: samuel.wood@manchester.ac.uk