Nik Zeps 1981 – 1988

Nik was a student at Wolverhampton Grammar School between 1981-1988.


He has lived in Perth, Western Australia since 1993 where he is married with 4 children. He is director of research at a large private hospital and serves on several federal advisory boards in health. His main interests are in cancer research and medical ethics.

What influenced your parents to send you to the Grammar?
Education was very important to my parents and grandparents, all of who were refugees after World War II from Latvia. After losing all their material possessions and positions in society they knew that the only way up was through a sound education. Luckily both my brother and I had a genuine interest in the world around us from an early age and some aptitude at mathematics.

After moving to Willenhall in 1978 we attended Perry Hall Junior School. In our final year my parents told us that we were to take the 11plus for entry to the Grammar School. We didn’t really comprehend what that meant and there was no preparation for it that we were aware of. I don’t recall having expressed a desire to go, as I didn’t know it even existed. However, my parents had said that we should give it a go and see what happened. It wasn’t until we had secured places that my parents began to discuss the benefits of an education within the Grammar School system.

What was it like?
I do remember being fitted for the school uniform and thinking it was all very posh. The fuss being made at the outfitters gave me the first real sense that others thought I was going somewhere special. The reaction at my old school was one of either indifference or being now seen as ‘other’. So it was with some relief to meet all the new boys on our first day and to realise we weren’t alone. A few boys came up from my old area and that helped a bit. The first years were a bit of a blur and I don’t recall very much about them, but around the 3rd year things seemed to settle into a proper shape. I remember enjoying the subjects I was good at and in particular science, where Mr Belcher would do the kinds of things that occupational Health and Safety would forbid now but were somehow great fun at the time. I remember the first winter in 1981 particularly well as events like snow (when you could snowball!) and the school carols at Christmas made me feel like I was part of a special world.

How has the experience helped shape you as a person?
Once I understood the sacrifice my parents were making to send me there I knew I had to make the most of my opportunities, but that wasn’t hard as I freely confess to being a nerdy swat who studies for fun. I wasn’t a natural at every subject and always had to make an effort, but that somehow made the achievements, when they came, all the more sweet. I do remember the teachers really being committed to our education and to helping wherever they could. It may be a bit unfair to single individuals out but Graham Lewis was an inspiration for making me do the best I could in Mathematics, Tony Duffield and the late Brian Hopton did likewise in Biology and Tony Page, James Chugg and Tim Browning gave me a real sense of enjoyment for geography that I still retain (Tim I actually remember your lesson on Perth’s climate one lesson although at the time I had no idea what it meant). In the later years Rugby became a core part of school life and a great deal of enjoyment which is now lived vicariously through supporting Australia (yes even when England beat them in the world cup). Johnny Johnson was (and remains) a role model and our gym club every lunchtime with my brother and Richard Yarwood gave me a love for fitness that has thankfully stayed with me.

The 6th form was notable for the intake of girls (still a novelty then) and a greater sense of awareness about making sure I did well enough to get into a good university. I really began to understand the opportunities that WGS gave me through furnishing me with choices. The worst I had to deal with making choices between equally appealing pathways and that is hardly a bad thing.

Are you still in touch with people now?
I still keep in touch with several ‘boys’ from my year and a number have come to visit me in Australia. Rich Hughes, Neil Kells and Nick Morgan have all passed through Perth. Whenever I am back in the UK I try to get back to have a drink with them all, especially if they can get a hall pass for the night (that’s you Mark Stephenson!). Wayne Stanford keeps threatening to come out to Aus and I hope he will before too long. I’m really pleased that I am in touch with many of the teachers I mention above and in particular have enjoyed catching up with John Johnson these last few years.

What have you been doing since leaving School?
After leaving School, I went on to study Medicine at King’s College London. During my studies I decided to switch to a pure science degree and graduated in 1992 with First class honours in biology from King’s. I emigrated to Australia in 1993 where I took up a research position in the School of Pathology at the University of Western Australia. I undertook a PhD looking at how hormones work to control breast development through the Schools of Pathology and Surgery at UWA and graduated in 2000. After a year working in Italy in 2000 I returned to Australia where I became research manager in Radiation Oncology at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, a position I held until 2008 when I moved to become Research Manager at St John of God Pathology. I am now Director of Research at St John of God Subiaco Hospital.

I enjoy living in Perth with my family and it is a beautiful, clean and relatively safe place to live. Like many Australian cities it is a coastal city with stunning beaches and river. Some may feel it is too isolated (it is one of the most isolated cities in the world being 1300 miles to the next city with more than 100,000 people-Adelaide), but that is part of its appeal. I am certainly used to commuting the 4-5hrs each ways to other Australian cities as part of my work. It was voted the 9th most liveable city in the world recently and it is not hard to see why.

What advice would you give to a parent of a child thinking of sending their child to Wolverhampton Grammar School?
WGS has excellent facilities and wonderful and dedicated teaching staff. It has a real sense of community and inspires any individual to really try to achieve their best regardless of their ability. I credit WGS with giving me many of the skills that have enabled me to make both the professional and personal achievements I have made and would certainly send my children there if I lived in the UK.

Nik is currently living in Perth, Australia. He would be happy to hear from any fellow Old Wulfrunians who are currently living in the SEAsia, Australia, Tasmania areas

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