Scotland’s national clinical director has given pupils an insight into his career path and the secrets of getting on in life.
Professor Jason Leitch said he rose up in his profession by “working hard and being kind’.
The trained dentist and former oral surgeon said it was important to take an opportunity when it arose.
His state education at Airdrie Academy had been tough at times – “particularly for a smart, fat guy” – in the early 1980s.
But his parents – his father was a coal miner and his mother an office worker – had given him “every encouragement and opportunity”, he said.
Prof Leitch was talking on a schools podcast developed by Hyndland Secondary School.
The nation’s expert on Covid-19 also took time out to record a message for the school as part of its campaign to widen pupils’ horizons.
Prof Leitch has become a household face through his role steering Scotland through the coronavirus crisis.
He is often the figure alongside first minister Nicola Sturgeon at the daily crisis briefings.
Prof Leitch told the podcast his favourite subject at school had been maths.
“I think it was because I had less work – because for some reason I could just do it.”
He added: “I was fundamentally lazy, but now I would call that a strategic learner.”
Asked how he went from “Airdrie Academy to being prof Jason Leitch standing next to the First Minister”, he joked: “I have absolutely no idea.”
But then added: “You take opportunity; you don’t plan too much; you do what you love, and you work hard.
“And you are kind on the way up. Those would be my fundamental values.
“I come from a family where my father was a coalminer and my mother was an office worker.
“They gave me every encouragement and opportunity, and I took those opportunities as they arose.
“It was not always straightforward. Airdrie Academy was a tough old place in the early 1980s – particularly for a smart, fat guy.
‘You take opportunity; you don’t plan too much; you do what you love and you work hard.
‘And you are kind on the way up. Those would be my fundamental values’
Prof Jason Leitch
“It had moments when I wasn’t enjoying it but when you move to a university or workplace you gather round people who you are pals with and you stick with them.
“I still go out every second Wednesday – although it has been a little different recently – with friends I met during my dentistry course 30 years ago.
“I think peer group friends – whether that’s school friends, or uni friends or college friends – is hugely important.
“And then you have got to take opportunities as they arise.
“And then, and this sounds like a cliché, you have got to work hard.
“It doesn’t just come your way. If you want to be a maths guy or a coder, or you want to be a gymnast, you’ve got to put in the work.”
Prof Leitch goes on to talk about working with the government and politicians on keeping the nation safe.
He says he’s been impressed how all politicians – in government and in opposition – have dealt with the situation.
He also talks about how young people are affected by the pandemic and the science of the virus.
The Higher Biology Podcast hosted by its creator Hyndland Secondary science faculty head and biology teacher Paul Downie.
His series of interviews with scientists, authors, film-makers, broadcasters, journalists and politicians has won national praise and funding.
It gives invaluable insight for students preparing for the SQA Higher Biology qualification, and a fascinating insight into the world around for anyone with an interest in living things.
An increasing number of Scottish schools are directing learners to listen to the podcasts, and a growing number of listeners are now tuning in from 47 countries across the world.
The podcast is just one of 162 projects that have been supported through Education Scotland’s STEM grants programme in 2019/20.
Podcasts have given learners input to the curriculum from a range of experts including: leading primatologist, Frans de Waal; David Attenborough’s Principal Cameraman, Doug Allan; Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas; Scotland’s first black professor, Sir Geoff Palmer; round-the-world-cyclist, Mark Beaumont; and author, Jonathan Drori, amongst others.
Paul Downie said: ‘It has been really uplifting seeing so much positive feedback coming in from right across Scotland and beyond.
“Young people have limited access to experts to enhance their learning.
“The podcast has provided a platform for some really remarkable people to assist young people in understanding the curriculum and its relevance.
“I think it can best be summed up in a quote from one of my own students, “Sir, it was much more interesting than just listening to you talk.”’
Ian Menzies, Senior Education Officer for STEM at Education Scotland, said: “Education Scotland’s STEM Grants Programme was designed to release the tremendous creativity, initiative and potential of Scotland’s practitioners and to promote leadership and collaboration.
“We’re inspired with the approach that Paul has taken and hope others are too.
“The Podcast Series exemplifies beautifully how adapting our learning and teaching approaches in a time of education recovery can enable us to find new ways to inspire learners.”