December 2014 releases

From student to politician in one easy move

For Newry man Kevin McAteer, graduating with a BSc in Sociology and Anthropology from Queen’s University this week will be a major achievement.

While completing his final year of study, Kevin also ran a successful election campaign, which resulted in him becoming the youngest ever councillor on Newry, Mourne and Down District council.

Not only that, but Kevin juggled three jobs while a student and also suffers from epilepsy. The SDLP councillor said: “It’s been a rollercoaster but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Queen’s and the degree was endlessly interesting. Plus a Queen’s degree really enhances employability – the University has links to over 3,000 local, national and international companies. Right now, I’m concentrating on politics for the day-job and loving every minute of it, but it’s great to have a few strings to the bow, and who knows where my career will take me in the future?”

Kevin is celebrating his graduation with his girlfriend, mum and dad.

Top of Page

Award winning nurse graduates from Queen’s

Award-winning nurse, Jenny Mills from Portaferry is celebrating another success as she graduates in this year’s winter ceremonies at Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Jenny recently won the Student Nurse of the Year Award 2014 with the Royal College of Nursing for her leadership and management skills. Jenny was nominated for the Student Nurse of the Year due to the exceptional leadership qualities and initiative she displayed in organising and leading a practice placement to Romania for ten fellow students.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the trip was to be cancelled, however Jenny negotiated through difficult issues to gain the support of the School of Nursing at Queen’s and the Director of Nursing Services in Timisoara, Romania. Having reorganised all travel, accommodation and the placement experience, she set-up and led a fundraising committee to oversee the aid to improve the lives of children in the Romanian hospital where the students were based.

Such was her impact that a room in the hospital is now named in honour of Jenny’s contribution. Jenny said: “I have really enjoyed my training, and my time at Queen’s has definitely prepared me for my future career. The Romania project I was involved in was an experience which was life changing not only as a nurse but also personally. Queen’s is renowned for creating global citizens who are workplace ready after graduating and I believe I have accomplished both attributes. I’ve been helped every step of the way by Queen’s nursing and teaching staff and I am very thankful to all of them.”

Jenny, who has already taken up her full time permanent post as a staff nurse in a residential unit for adults with learning disabilities celebrates her graduation with her Mum and Dad, Siobhan and Leonard Mills.

Top of Page

Queen’s University 8th in the UK for research intensity

Figures released by the national Higher Education Statistics Agency have confirmed that Queen’s University has been placed joint 8th in the UK for research intensity.

Queen’s returned over 95 per cent of academic staff, which was the fifth largest percentage of staff returned in the REF 2014. The University also has 14 subject areas ranked within the UK’s top 20 and 76 per cent of its research classified in the top two categories of world leading and internationally excellent.

These results are part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 results, also released this morning, which announced that over 75 per cent of Queen’s researchers are undertaking world-class or internationally leading research.

The ‘Research Excellence Framework,’ which assesses the quality and impact of UK higher education institutions’ research, is also used to allocate £2 billion in research funding across the UK.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston said: “This spectacular news, coming on the back of our excellent REF 2014 performance, clearly validates Queen’s as a University with world-class researchers carrying out world-class research.

“To be positioned 8th in the UK is an outstanding achievement and I would pay particular tribute to the work of my academic colleagues that has enabled this excellent result. The breadth and depth and the quality of research, right across the University, has clearly been recognised at a national level and we should be rightly proud.

“Whether it be in food security, education, pharmacy, health, modern languages, astrophysics, engineering, cyber security, english or history, Queen’s research impacts right across society and makes a huge contribution to both the local and global economy. By creating jobs, informing government policy, developing new treatments for many of the world’s most chronic illnesses, protecting children or creating new technology, Queen’s is having real and meaningful impact.

“Queen’s University is on a journey to become a powerhouse of world-class research and this is a great platform from which to build a world-class research institution that is globally competitive.”

For further information, click here.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications and External Affairs, on 028 9097 3259/07813 015431 or

Top of Page

Research project makes sweet music as a thriving Queen’s spin-out business

A music-technology research project at Queen's University Belfast has turned into a viable startup thanks to the power of ‘crowdfunding’ – where projects secure funding from a large number of investors through an online platform, as an alternative to securing venture capital.

Belfast company Mindflood exceeded their target of £100,000 within days using the crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, which allows people to invest in small businesses in return for equity.

Mindflood is the company behind the electronic device ‘Patchblocks’, which has been described as “a mix between a Raspberry Pi, a music synthesiser and LEGO,” by its founder, Sebastian Heinz, who is in the final stages of his PhD at Queen’s Sonic Arts Research Centre.

He said: “Mindflood was the first company from Northern Ireland to raise money through Crowdcube. I didn’t expect that we could reach our fundraising target in just two days. I love electronic music and was always fascinated by how to make it. But having been a researcher in an academic environment for years, I have found that I also love the entrepreneurial side of it – it’s taking something out of a very small, sometimes rarefied world into the big, commercial world.

“Primarily, Patchblocks are selling to members of the general public who want to make their own music and learn more about IT and programming, although it also has uses in education. It’s about making consumers creators – giving them a tool to allow them to fairly easily build their own sound environment and come up with new technology. I find that idea very exciting.”

David Moore, from QUBIS, which was established by Queen’s University to help develop spin-out companies, said: “Sebastian has really impressed us with his entrepreneurial drive to date. An initial Kickstarter campaign validated his Patchblocks concept and QUBIS was keen to support a crowd-sourced round of seed investment to allow the company to build a sales and marketing structure for its next stage of growth.”

Mindflood was one of more than 200 companies that applied to Crowdcube's accelerator programme and was selected as one of six to pitch their business idea in front of investors in London. This type of investment has become attractive to private investors because of generous tax-relief schemes like SEIS and EIS, and also because of potentially high returns. Investment in Mindflood is still open.

Patchblocks are available from and, from early 2015, the electronics online shop, Conrad. Patchblocks have already been integrated into the curriculum at Queen’s and Ulster University.

For more information, contact the Communications Office on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email

Top of Page

Queen’s to lead European project in clean up of contaminated land

A new €3.7 million research project at Queen’s University Belfast is aiming to use sustainable methods to clean up contaminated land.

Known as REMEDIATE, the QUESTOR Centre at Queen’s is leading the project and is working with researchers across Europe in collaboration with industrial partners, including Shell Global Solutions.

Years of industrialisation or poor management practices has resulted in thousands of contaminated land sites across Europe, posing serious environmental, economic and health risks.

The four-year European initiative will bring together scientists and engineers who will develop technologies to help accelerate the remediation of contaminated sites, releasing land for industrial or domestic development.

The QUESTOR Centre has been awarded €3.7 million to lead the four year project, which will support 14 researchers in UK, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy, working with 14 industrial partners.

Professor Mike Larkin, from Biological Sciences at Queen’s, is leading the project: “There are an estimated 3.5 million potentially contaminated sites in the whole of the EU, of which about half a million are expected to be actually contaminated and in need of remediation.

“Until these are identified and assessed, they will continue to pose potentially serious environmental, economic, social and health risks.

“This is a multidisciplinary collaboration committed to the provision of innovative research and training for more cost effective and sustainable remediation of contaminated land.

“It would not have been possible for Queen’s University to lead such a project without the expertise and co-ordination of staff in the QUESTOR Centre. It demonstrates the capacity that Queen’s has to lead in important international collaborations,” he said.

“Established 25 years ago QUESTOR is an industry-collaborative centre for world-leading environmental research. It is the only Centre outside the United States to be part of the NSF IUCRC (Industry-University Co-operative Research Centre) programme. It has an international standing as a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Research and makes significant contributions to the regional and national economies.

In addition to coordination of the project, scientists at Queen’s will be focussed on novel methods of engineering biological clean-up process in collaboration between Biological Sciences and Civil Engineering.

Top of Page

Queen’s IT students win big at Allstate NI Hackathon
Hackathon winners Stephen Laide and Adam Fallon from Queen’s University Belfast are presented with their £1,500 worth of Apple vouchers by Bro McFerran and Opal Perry from Allstate NI
Hackathon winners Stephen Laide and Adam Fallon from Queen’s University Belfast are presented with their £1,500 worth of Apple vouchers by Bro McFerran and Opal Perry from Allstate NI

On Wednesday 10 December Allstate NI announced the winners of their recent Hackathon competition which was held at Queen’s University Belfast.

The challenge was to invent new or improved products or service offerings within a fixed timeframe that leverage the data collected by an insurance company the size of Allstate in the US.

Allstate NI partnered with the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen's with a view to opening up the data to a group of students, have them develop ideas and ultimately produce a demonstrable product to the Allstate NI leadership team. 

Thirty students in total registered for the event and were asked to initially present their thoughts to the Allstate NI team in groups. The groups were then given a week to turn their raw ideas into an initial design which was then reviewed by a panel of Allstate experts.

Four groups made the final and got to work on building a demonstrable application which was presented via immersive telepresence to a global panel from Allstate on the 20th November 2014. All of the entries were of a very high standard and came with many fresh ideas which impressed the panel. However, after much deliberation, DriveXP, made up of Stephen Laide and Adam Fallon, were named the winners with their iPhone application which was able to solve a major business problem in an innovative way.

On Wednesday the winning teams were invited to a celebratory event at the Allstate NI Belfast Office to collect their prizes. Upon arrival students were welcomed by Bro McFerran, Vice President and Managing Director at Allstate Northern Ireland, and treated to an array of refreshments. The groups were then presented with their prizes, a total of £3,000 worth of Apple vouchers, and then taken on a tour of Allstate NI’s new state-of-the-art Enterprise Command Centre.

Russell Kane, from the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen's said: “The Allstate NI Hackathon presented an exciting opportunity for the students to engage with experts in the IT industry and to experience the challenges of a real-life IT project. It has allowed the students to demonstrate their innovative as well as creative approaches to problem solving and we are excited to be a part of the Allstate NI journey.”

Opal Perry, Chief Operating Officer of Allstate Technology and Operations International said: “Each group came up with innovative ideas during the course of the Hackathon and had great energy when presenting their ideas. Because of this we decided to award all four finalists with Apple vouchers to show our appreciation to them. I’d like to thank all the students for taking part and I look forward to the possibility of seeing their ideas come to life in the insurance industry.”

The full list of finalists and prizes are: 

  • DriveXP - made up of Stephen Laide and Adam Fallon who each won £750 worth of Apple vouchers
  • IVEA - made up of Adam Whiteside, Alex Caskey, Andrew Boyd and Victoria Potts who each won £125 worth of Apple vouchers
  • Profilers - made up of Dave Nesbitt, Aine Rice and Alex Kidston who each won £170 worth of Apple vouchers
  • Safe Hands - made up of Iain Wilson, Hannah Smith, Mike Seeds and Jason McMahon who each won £125 worth of Apple vouchers.

Top of Page

Life-changing placement prepares students for working life
(l-r)Gillian Agnew, Lorraine Kennedy and Suzanne Crooks
(l-r)Gillian Agnew, Lorraine Kennedy and Suzanne Crooks

From the academic halls of Queen’s University to life-changing placements in a Tanzanian hospital – three colleagues graduating from Queen’s today have had an unforgettable year of study.

Dr Gillian Agnew, south Armagh, Dr Suzanne Crooks, Coleraine, and Dr Lorraine Kennedy, Tipperary, are all graduating with PhDs in Clinical Psychology.

The three students took full advantage of the range of international work placements and study programmes available to Queen’s students and undertook a placement in Tanzania’s Muhimbili National Hospital.

From April to September this year they worked in the hospital’s Psychiatry Department under the supervision of Dr Margaret Hogan, a clinical psychologist within the Medical Missionaries of Mary who has worked in Tanzania for decades. It was an experience they will never forget.

Gillian said: “The placement facilitated by Queen’s was a great success and provided us with an amazing experience of supporting people from completely different economic cultural and religious backgrounds.”

Since completing their Doctorates, all three graduates have already secured employment in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Gillian added: “It was fantastic to learn from Dr Hogan and the other staff at Muhimbili Hospital. The skills and invaluable experience we gained have helped us prepare for the workplace and enabled us to further develop the skills we require to meet the needs of our employees and the increasingly multi-cultural needs of our service users.”

Media inquiries to Queen's Communications Office and 028 9097 3087.

Top of Page

Fourth time’s a charm for full time doctor

An extraordinary student with huge commitment and ambition is among today’s graduates at Queen’s University.

Dr Olga Kerr is graduating with her third postgraduate degree from Queen’s and her fourth in total – and all this while working as a full time NHS doctor and mum to three children.

Olga holds a medical degree and practices full time as a Dermatology Consultant, specialising in skin cancer diagnosis and treatment, at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. She also has a Masters in Medical Education from Queen’s and is a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from Edinburgh University.

On this occasion she is graduating with an Executive MBA with Commendation and she also jointly won the prize for best student in the leadership module.

On top of her busy schedule she also looks after her three children, daughter Eva, 9, and twin boys Zak and Zavier, 4, who will join her husband to celebrate their mum’s achievements today.

Olga said: “I am driven by the sheer delight of learning new things and meeting new people. I rarely sit still and I am extremely passionate about my subject area.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my MBA as I was introduced to a wide variety of students from both the public and private sector who were a delight to work with and get to know. A degree from Queen’s opens pathways to professions and I have learnt many new skills that I have taken back into my working life.”

Olga joins the 94 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Top of Page

Talented Queen’s students prepare for dream careers
Connor Daley and Eoin Deeny
Connor Daley and Eoin Deeny

Today’s graduation ceremony at Queen’s will be particularly poignant for two talented students who have played a key role in university life and are now pursuing their dream careers.

Connor Daley, from Armagh, and Eoin Deeny, from Portstewart, who are graduating with Masters degrees from the School of Law at Queen’s, have been close friends throughout their time at the university, completing their studies together and working side by side as elected Vice Presidents of Queen’s Students’ Union.

Now the professional paths of these enterprising students are also following the same course. They have started graduate positions for leading global firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers, ranked number one in The Time’s top graduate employers’ list.

The pair are being supported by their proud families on graduation day and join the 94 per cent of Queen’s students that enter employment or further study six months after graduating.

Connor said: “I am very fortunate to have gained so many opportunities and so many friends throughout my time at Queen’s, and I am particularly proud to graduate on the same day as one of my best friends Eoin, a former election running mate and colleague at Queen’s, and now my colleague at PwC.”

Eoin gained a great deal from his degree, but it his experience beyond the classroom that he will always remember. He said: “Being a student at Queen’s has been the best experience of my life. Undoubtedly the highlight has been the opportunity to represent the interests of over 23,000 students as union Vice-President alongside my good friend Connor. I can’t wait to discover what the next challenge holds.”

Top of Page

Double Delight for Queen’s Couple

A talented couple graduating today have proved that a busy family life and academic achievement at Queen’s University can go hand in hand.

Peter Leary, from Enniskillen, is graduating with a PhD in Irish History, and his partner Felicity Irwin, originally from London, has gained an MSc in Heritage Science.

The couple have two children, Orlaith, 4, and Seamus, 2, who are proudly joining their parents for the joint graduation celebrations. The support the family received at Queen’s was a huge boost, allowing the hard working parents to focus on their studies.

Peter said: “We loved living in Belfast and both of our children were able to attend the crèche at the University while we were studying. It is a great support to student parents and made life so much easier for us.

“Felicity and I are very driven people and Queen’s gave us the opportunity to improve our knowledge in a place where the staff were very accommodating and friendly and the facilities were second to none.”

Peter has just started a prestigious Research Fellowship, also in Irish History, at Oxford University, and he and Felicity are very grateful to Queen’s for giving them the support the needed to achieve their goals.

He said: “A Queen’s degree is much more than just a qualification. We now live in Oxford and while we love it here, our family will always have fond memories of our times at Queen’s.”

Peter joins the 94 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Top of Page

Queen’s Physical Activity Loyalty scheme launched

A Physical Activity Loyalty scheme which rewards users’ “ground miles” with incentives has been launched by researchers at the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast led by Professor Frank Kee.

The scheme developed by Queen’s University uses wireless sensing technology to monitor and reward physical activity, and has been unveiled by the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer in Lisburn today.

Over 1,300 public sector employees who work in the Lisburn area are being given the chance to take part in this study to investigate how financial incentives influence workplace physical activity. According to a government report by Dame Carol Black in 2008, improving the wellbeing of the workforce by getting them more active will benefit not only their own health but is also likely to improve a company’s productivity and the economy as a whole. If the scheme is effective, it can be rolled out on a wider scale across Northern Ireland for both the private and public sector.

Using the latest in micro-chip technology, participants only have to carry a key fob which wirelessly communicates with special sensors placed around their workplaces in Lisburn City Centre.

The system monitors the “ground miles” or minutes of physical activity accumulated by each participant which can then be redeemed for rewards, incentivising behaviour change. Participants will be encouraged to meet the recommended target of 150 minutes of physical activity per week and their activity will be monitored during the study.

The innovative technology underpinning the scheme was developed by researchers at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) at Queen’s University Belfast, led by Professor William Scanlon, in collaboration with the study’s Principal Investigator, Professor Frank Kee and his team in the Centre for Public Health.

The trial is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research Programme (NIHR PHR)1,2 and the Public Health Agency, and is being run in collaboration with Lisburn City Council and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. Academics from Cambridge, Glasgow and Manchester Universities are partnering with Professor Kee's team to conduct a wide ranging and independent evaluation of the scheme's success.

Professor Frank Kee, Director of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health NI at Queen’s University said: “This is an innovative study and an example of how Queen’s University can partner with the public and business sectors to improve population health, using locally developed technology. We are encouraging as many people as possible to take part in this study which we hope will have important findings for Northern Ireland as a whole.”

Lisburn City Council Mayor, Councillor Andrew Ewing said that he was delighted that Lisburn had been chosen to pilot the new scheme. He said: “There is so much evidence linking our overall health and well-being to physical activity and lifestyle and I hope that this scheme will encourage more people to make changes, however small, in their lifestyles to become more fit and active. Technology is so often blamed for our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and I am delighted that on this occasion new technology should hopefully have the opposite effect and encourage us all to be more physically activate as we go about our daily business.”

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “I hope that participating organisations will look favourably on this innovative and ground-breaking scheme and that further research by the Centre for Public Health at Queen's will continue to develop novel ideas to support us to change our behaviours to improve our health outcomes.”

For further information please contact Queen’s Communications office on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email

Top of Page

Leading IT industrialist and businessman honoured at Queen’s

One of India’s leading IT industrialists and businessmen is to be honoured at Queen’s University today (Thursday 11 December).

Narayana Murthy, founder and chairman of Infosys, a global software consulting company, will be honoured for services to business and commerce.

Mr Murthy founded Infosys in 1981 with six other software professionals, the company now employs over 100,000 people. He has been described by Fortune magazine as ‘one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time’ and rated by The Economist as among the ten most admired global business leaders. Honours include a CBE, the Padma Vibushan from the Indian Government and the Legion d’Honneur from France.

Speaking ahead of receiving his degree, Narayana Murthy, said: “I am deeply honoured to be recognised in this way by Queen’s University Belfast. Queen’s is recognised as a UK leader in Cyber Security research and a driver of the Northern Ireland Economy and I am delighted that Infosys and Queen’s working relationship continues to go from strength to strength. To receive this recognition from such a prestigious university is a considerable honour. I very much look forward to sharing this special occasion with students who will be graduating on the same day.”

In 2013, Infosys and Queen’s University’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies began a strategic research partnership to combat global cyber security threats.

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 5391.

Top of Page

‘Six degrees’ of separation for Belfast family

It’s a case of keeping it in the family for Jessica Kirk today as she adds a Master’s degree in Management to the Kirk collection of honours from Queen’s University.

Jessica herself graduated in Law in 2012, hot on the heels of her sisters Rebekah McCartney and Naomi McClelland, who graduated in Medicine in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Their father, FullBright scholar Dr Stephen Kirk, graduated in 1982 in Medicine and later completed a doctorate in 1991. Mum Linda graduated in History and English in 1978. And youngest sister Meghan is currently in her final year at Queen’s studying Law.

After graduating in 2009, Jessica returned to Queen’s the following year as Vice President of the Students’ Union. She followed that up with her MSc in Management during which she not only gained a post-graduate seat on Student Council but became the sole student representative on Queen’s Senate. Jessica, from Belfast, said: “I have loved every minute of my time at Queen’s. My year as a sabbatical officer was a fantastic experience where I got to engage with a wide range of students. It was over too quick, but it gave me a real insight into a business way of thinking and how to encourage a spirit of enterprise.

“The past year and a half has further consolidated my love for Queen’s, in particular my role as a Senator, and made me more employable. Higher education in Northern Ireland has been proven to boost the local economy by £1.5 billion per annum. I am not surprised by that figure and I am genuinely sad that my time at Queen’s has come to an end. Queen’s has a reputation for creating global citizens and that was definitely my experience.”

Jessica has already started working with BrandNI, an organisation dedicated to fostering local talent and entrepreneurial skills, with an ambition to make Northern Ireland the ‘talent capital of the world’ by 2030.

Top of Page

Queen’s student inspires young talent of the future

A student from the School of Education whose entrepreneurial drive is inspiring Northern Ireland’s young minds of the future, is due to graduate from Queen’s University today.

Roisin McFeely founding director of award winning Social Enterprise Amazing Brains NI CIC, is graduating with a Masters in Education (M.Ed) with Distinction.

Roisin, originally from Dungiven but now living in Belfast, established Amazing Brains in 2011, a dynamic social enterprise that runs education programmes helping over 30,000 secondary school pupils each year discover their talents and find their career paths. It is now Northern Ireland’s leading provider of workshops on mind-set, motivation and study skills.

Roisin achieved 90 per cent in her dissertation, which focused on young people's views of their own intelligence and the link to motivation to learn. Roisin said: "My reasons for doing the Masters were both personal and professional. I have a true passion for learning and for helping young people and am always looking to develop my skills. As Director of 'Amazing Brains' I felt knowledge of the theories of education would help improve the work of our organisation.

“I learnt so much on my course and I put the knowledge I have gained into practice on a daily basis.”

Roisin is among the many local entrepreneurs who are proving the importance of higher education. Recent figures show that higher education benefits the local economy by £1.5 billion each year.

Top of Page

Time at Queen’s ‘delivers’ for midwifery student

One of the youngest qualified midwives in Northern Ireland, is this week celebrating her graduation with First Class Honours.

Stephanie Hardie, from Ballyclare, graduates with a BSc in Midwifery Sciences. She was among the first cohort admitted on the course straight from school in 2011.

As well as learning in the lecture theatre and at Antrim and Ulster hospitals, Stephanie was given the opportunity to go to Tanzania to hone her skills as part of her degree. There, she gained work experience in a hospital in the town of Arusha with the Women and Children Tanzania charity, helping in the delivery suite amid very challenging conditions, such as lack of basic equipment, hot water and pain relief. Queen’s students have access to over 200 international work placement and study programmes around the world.

Stephanie said: “Going to Africa was the most fantastic experience but I’m also really looking forward to moving to Nottingham in the New Year, where I’m taking up a post as a full-time midwife at one of the city’s two main hospitals.

“The thing I loved most about my time at Queen’s was that the tutors were so passionate about what they did and they got us workplace-ready. Because of that, I don’t feel at a disadvantage being so young; I will pick up experience along the way and I do feel that my training has been a pathway into the profession. I would highly recommend midwifery to any school-leaver.”

Stephanie celebrates her special day with her mum, dad, brother and sister, Jennifer, a second-year Geography undergraduate at Queen’s.

Top of Page

Courageous Queen’s student overcomes illness to graduate

It’s a double celebration for a Queen’s University student this week after overcoming serious illness to graduate.

Jess Fitzsimmons from Belfast, graduates with a Masters in Creative Arts with Commendation - and she has already secured a paid internship with the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board.

Just over a year ago though Jess was diagnosed with constrictive pericarditis, a severe heart condition that meant she was hospitalised for two months and had to drop out of her course.

It was an illness that threatened to limit her life and end her career aspirations, but Jess refused to let the condition destroy her dreams. She battled her way back to health and this year returned to Queen's to gain her Masters qualification.

Jess said: "I went from being completely healthy to having something severely wrong with my heart. It was an extremely tough challenge to overcome and become healthy again. In fact I am still on medication and not fully free of this illness. But I was determined to complete my Masters and achieve my goals.

Queen's students have access to over 200 work placements and study programmes each year - an opportunity that Jess is taking full advantage of. She said: "With the support of the staff at Queen's and a lot of hard work and perseverance I am now ready for the workplace."

Top of Page

One of Ireland’s greatest ever sporting heroes honoured at Queen’s

One of Ireland’s greatest ever sporting heroes is to be honoured at Queen’s University Belfast today.

Brian O’Driscoll, among the most acclaimed Irish rugby players of all time, will be honoured for services to sport.

He has captained Ireland, Leinster and the British & Irish Lions. His achievements include 141 Test caps, 133 for Ireland and 8 for the British and Irish Lions. His 46 tries for Ireland and 1 try for the Lions in 2001, made him the highest try scorer of all time in Irish Rugby. He is 8th-highest try scorer in rugby union history, and the highest scoring centre of all time. O’Driscoll holds the Six Nations record for most tries scored with 26. He has scored the most Heineken Cup tries for an Irishman.

Speaking ahead of receiving his degree, he said: “I am delighted to be receiving an honorary degree from Queen’s University Belfast. Queen's has a great sporting tradition and as one of the UK and Ireland's leading Universities, they have always been at the forefront of sporting provision and opportunities. To receive this recognition from such a prestigious university is a considerable honour. I very much look forward to sharing this special occasion with students who will be graduating on the same day.”

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 3091.

Top of Page

Andrea Begley ‘on song’ over Queen’s University graduation

One Queen’s University student who will be hitting the high notes after graduating this week is Andrea Begley, winner of television talent show, The Voice UK and now a professional singer.

In fact, after receiving her Master’s degree in Law and Governance on Friday, Andrea will have to dash in order to make her headlining concert close to her home at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh that evening.

The former civil servant is currently touring Northern Ireland to promote her debut album The Message and she’s also warming up for her part in the Christmas Music Box show with Peter Corry at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. After a very short break for Christmas, Andrea is set to record her second album in the New Year.

The singer, who still lives in her native Co Tyrone, had started a part-time LLM in 2011, before she entered The Voice UK. She was originally due to graduate this time last year.

But when she swept the boards on national TV in 2013, her academic goals were put on hold. Her victory was lent poignancy by the fact that Andrea has less than 10 per cent vision as a result of childhood glaucoma. She used a specially adapted laptop to help her finish school after her eyesight deteriorated sharply in her teens, and she went on to graduate with a degree in Law and Politics from Queen’s in 2008. After that, Andrea worked as a civil servant in the Department of Health at Stormont while pursuing her musical ambitions on the side.

In between recording The Message and touring, she managed to finish her dissertation for her Master’s and is now looking forward to celebrating her graduation with mum Ann, dad Kieran and sister Lucy. The family will also be accompanied by Marilyn Gage, who acted as Andrea’s personal assistant during her time as a student under Queen’s Disability Services. Andrea would have loved if her aunt, the country and western singing star Philomena Begley, could also attend on Friday, but “like myself, she’s touring”.

Andrea said she still hoped to make music her career, but she had always been “practical” about it. She said: “I was always determined to finish my post-grad as a degree from Queen’s opens up a world of opportunities. While my focus is now very much on music, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep my studies going and gain the skills required to be workplace ready, whatever that job may be. I’ve always enjoyed my time at Queen’s and I’m very proud to be a Queen’s graduate, for a second time. Who knows what the future holds?”

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 3087.

Top of Page

Queen’s graduation organiser turns graduate

Queen’s graduation organiser for the past 15 years, Una Reid, today swaps her clipboard for a parchment as she graduates with an MSSC in Organisation and Management.

As Head of Head of Events, Ceremonial and Conferencing, Una has organised over 250 graduation ceremonies since joining the University in 2000.

Speaking ahead of her graduation, Una said: “I have found the experience very enjoyable and fulfilling. At the start when you think of going to class in the evening or on a Saturday it seems a lot when you have a busy job, but actually I think the structured teaching and pattern of classes makes it easier to do.

“The course has been beneficial. I’ve learned to use a different part of my brain in academic study and to analyse and evaluate things differently, which comes in really handy for my job. And I’ve also been able to use my experience of working life and apply that to my course. I have met some really great people and learned a lot from their experiences.”

Una continues to organise this year’s Winter graduations but promises to take the afternoon off to celebrate her own graduation alongside her mother, sisters and brother-in-law.

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 3087.

Top of Page

Double celebration for NI Young Entrepreneur of the Year

It’s a double celebration for Matthew Large as the newly crowned Northern Ireland Young Entrepreneur of the Year graduates from Queen’s University this week.

Matthew, from Dundonald in east Belfast and who will graduate with a degree in Mathematics and Physics, started up his own company glistrr while still at Queen’s. The company now employs five people and was selected for the Alpha Program for start-ups at the recent Web Summit in Dublin and is currently taking part in Facebook’s FBStart programme. Matthew has just returned from the US where he was meeting potential clients and investors.

Glistrr provides a service for event organisers including efficient tools for managing guest lists, ticketing and table bookings, with a focus on increasing the viral reach of events through social media. Matthew has set his sights on the US market and glistrr has already been invited to exhibit at Collision in Las Vegas, the US version of the Web Summit. Just last week, Matthew came up trumps at the Enterprise NI awards at Belfast’s Hilton Hotel where he was named Northern Ireland Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

He said: “It’s all starting to happen for me but I wouldn’t be in this position were it not for the support and encouragement I received at Queen’s. It was at university that I was exposed to a spirit of enterprise and Queen’s really nurtures that kind of risk-taking talent, producing high-calibre graduates that can grow the local economy. In fact, over 80 per cent of Northern Ireland’s top 100 companies have Queen’s graduates in leadership positions. I am very proud to be playing a part in that.”

Accompanying Matthew today at his graduation will be his mum and dad.

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 3087.

Top of Page

Life-long dream achieved by Queen’s nursing student

A life-long dream will become a reality for one Queen’s University student this week.

Sinead Campbell is graduating with a First Class Honours in Adult Nursing (Bsc) although the achievement will be bittersweet, as her father will not be there to see her accept her scroll.

Ever since she was a little girl, growing up in Lurgan, Sinead always wanted to be a nurse. That dream turned personal when her dad was struck down with cancer last year and Sinead had to juggle caring for him with her studies at Queen’s.

She said: “It was as I was approaching the final year of my degree that dad became very ill. It destroyed my whole family. He had never really understood what nursing was until he was on the receiving end of it. Then he beamed with pride, as he appreciated first-hand what being a nurse was all about. When he was approaching death, I cried to him, saying I couldn’t go on, my heart was so broken. But he looked at me and said, ‘Be brave’. When he passed away, that’s exactly what I did – carried on through the heartache and ended up passing my final exams.

“During graduation, my dad won’t be there in person, but he will be there in my heart and I know he will be beaming with pride as I pick up my degree.”

Celebrating with Sinead on her important day will be her mum Roisin, granny Rosaleen, partner Barry and their young daughter Kayla Rose. In testament to Queen’s reputation for meeting the needs of Northern Ireland’s employers, Sinead has already taken up a post as a staff nurse in the neurology department at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. She joins 94 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on or 028 9097 3087.

Top of Page

Queen's team reveal the emotions of web users

A team of data scientists and entrepreneurs at Queen’s University Belfast has created the world’s first real-time metric for measuring how people express emotions on the internet.

The unique gauge, dubbed the ‘Adorescore’ can quantify the performance of a brand in an index rating from minus 100 to 100, by monitoring online emotions expressed through thousands of sources from social networks as well media articles.

Chris Johnston founder of Adoreboard, the venture capital funded by Queen’s and InvestNI behind the design, believes the innovation presents a major opportunity to revolutionise how businesses can understand and improve customer relationships.

He said: “Brands currently spend billions of dollars every year trying to influence how people feel. Yet there is no single metric to understand the impact of this on consumers. Adoreboard aims to measure what really matters, the human factor of online emotions and in doing so aims to revolutionize how brands interact with customers.”

Already some of the world’s leading brands including one of the top "magic circle" law firms in Britain have successfully used the new metric to improve how it recruits trainees.

Adoreboard’s chief technology officer Dr Fergal Monaghan explained how the state-of-the-art technology automatically detected more than 20 different types of emotions. They include trust, admiration, rage and terror which were then translated into a score which compared to other brands online.

He said: “Adorescore creates a simple way to communicate layers of complex data. We’ve built the Adorescore to automatically understand the authority, emotion and currency of what is being said so that the user is alerted to how the brand can be improved. This allows clients to understand and measure how they are perceived, but equally importantly to predict how they will be assessed in the future.”

Top of Page

Policing no longer an Orange-Green issue for young people according to Queen’s study

Young people’s views on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are driven by feelings of social inclusion and exclusion rather than traditional, sectarian loyalties, new research from Queen’s University Belfast suggests.

Over 800 teenagers, aged between 14-16, were surveyed for the longitudinal study Dynamics of Police Legitimacy Among Young People to examine attitudes towards the PSNI. Those surveyed were from a range of geographical areas, economic, community and ethnic backgrounds.

Respondents tended to have positive views of the police overall, with 15 per cent disagreeing that the police did a good job. This group represented a broad cross-section of the population and was not defined by religion or political affiliation.

The research found a striking lack of knowledge about policing structures and accountability, however, with more than half of those interviewed never having heard of the Police Ombudsman or the Policing Board.

While more positive than negative encounters with the police were documented, the most common reason (over 70 per cent) given for a negative encounter was the perception that police assumed the respondents were ‘up to no good’. Boys, those entitled to free school meals and those living in urban areas reported the most negative encounters. By contrast, perceptions that police had abused their power, used discriminatory or abusive language were relatively low.

The research was carried out in two waves; the first between March-May 2013 and the second from September 2013-February 2014. Included in the findings were:

  • Identification with wider society was a key factor accounting for the quality of young people’s perceptions of the police over time
  • Fewer than 50 per cent had heard of the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman and only around 20 per cent knew that they were independent of the police. 25 per cent believed the police could do what they liked without any accountability
  • There was no evidence for a substantial gap between the views of Protestants and Catholics.

Lead researcher Dr Sam Pehrson from the School of Psychology at Queen’s University, said: “Generally, perceptions of the police tended to be positive, but it is nevertheless clear that negative perceptions are held by a substantial minority. It is crucial, however, to point out that this minority was not defined by traditional, sectarian divides. In contrast, young people’s views appear to be driven by feelings of inclusion versus marginalisation. Young people who feel a stronger sense of belonging, pride and investment in wider society were more likely to see the police as serving people like them, and as legitimate.

“Without denying the importance of fair and respectful police conduct, we suggest that there is a sense of disengagement and dis-identification with society that needs to be tackled. Oppositional or disaffected views about the police reflect, in part, oppositional and disaffected views about wider society. Improving community safety depends on the co-operation of young people, which is likely to be undermined if they feel they are viewed with unreasonable suspicion both by the police and by the adult population in general.”

The research was carried out by academics from the School of Psychology, School of Education and the Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s University. It was funded by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and will be launched publicly at Queen’s University at 10am on December 5.

For details on the launch event, including how to register to attend (media are welcome to attend), click here.

For further information, contact the Queen’s University Communications Office on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email

Top of Page

Queen’s research highlights lessons to be learned from Belfast flag protest

Politicians and civil society must learn from the mistakes made during the Belfast flag protest which cost over £21.9 million to police, a report from researchers at Queen’s University Belfast has revealed.

Researchers at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s have released a report examining the flag protest that took place in Belfast in December 2012 and early 2013 and analysing the lessons to be learned.

The report, titled ‘The Flag Dispute: Anatomy of a Protest’, argues that the flag protest called into question the ability of Northern Ireland’s politicians to resolve political issues within the democratic chambers that are available to them.

The report also found that when politicians fail to find agreement on issues, they do not go away. Instead power “leeches out” onto the streets and the issues re-appear in the form of street protests and public disorder

Released on the second anniversary of the decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag is flown on Belfast City Hall, the report looks at the origins of the protest, the way in which it developed and spread, the tactics of the police in managing the demonstrations, the arrests and sentencing of protestors, and the political reactions. It also considers the legacy of the flag protest for politics, society, the economy and community relations in Northern Ireland.

The research behind the report was funded by the Community Relations Council and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Ireland). It draws on a significant amount of new data, including semi-structured interviews with a range of respondents directly affected by the events, from senior police officers and politicians to community workers and local nationalist residents. Approximately 40 interviews were conducted with the protestors themselves, from those who had a high media profile in the protest (such as Jamie Bryson) to those who were dedicated but low-key participants.

Lead author of the study, Dr Paul Nolan, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, said: “The events analysed in the report demonstrate that when politicians fail to find agreement on issues, they do not go away. Instead power “leeches out” onto the streets and the issues re-appear in the form of street protests and public disorder”.

Co-author Dr Clare Dwyer, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, said:  “The threat of criminalisation as a result of engaging in the protests was a great deterrent for many and altered the way the protest continued. But it also motivated others to participate in an effort to ensure protests remained peaceful and orderly.”

Dr Katy Radford notes the particular role of older women in this regard, many of whom were keen to avoid “a repetition of the past”, as they witnessed a new generation of young men resistant to compromise and keen to demonstrate their ‘defence’ of a cultural identity.

Research behind the report also entailed a comprehensive trawl of print, broadcast and social media, an examination of the criminal justice response, and an overview of change in public attitudes regarding flags, protest and the peace process in 2012/13, plus the creation of a detailed database of all events during the period December 2012 and March 2013.

Bringing together analysis of this data with expertise from various academic disciplines, the researchers present a detailed analysis of the causes and the consequences of the protest.

Co-author, Dr Katy Hayward, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, said: “The causes of the flag protest are in many ways small scale versions of sources of difficulty in the wider peace process. As well as ongoing problems of poverty and marginalisation, we found familiar trends of cultural contestation and distrust of political institutions. In addition to this, powerful emotions - both uplifting and negative - shaped people's experience of the protest and contributed to its lasting impact on individuals and the wider community.”

According to co-author Professor Peter Shirlow, this impact is notably more localised and small scale than that of similar events in Northern Ireland’s troubled past (such as the demonstrations following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985), and descriptions of a “culture war” are misleading and unhelpful. The root causes of the protest still need to be addressed and the issue of flags and symbols must be handled with care.

Reflecting on the lessons that can be learnt from similar experiences in Northern Ireland’s history, the report highlights cases when differences over symbols have been resolved successfully and advises that this type of creative thinking will be needed in the future.

For example, the report notes that the choice of a symbol for the Northern Ireland Assembly could easily have turned into a bitter argument. Dr Dominic Bryan suggests: “Instead, a piece of creative thinking resulted in the adoption of the flax motif, now accepted by all sides as an elegant symbol for the devolved parliament.

“This is the type of creative thinking that will be required in the future.  There will be other symbolic issues which could ignite similar passions. The politicians and civil society have a duty to work together to make sure that that they do not. That means they must do more than simply express grievances; instead they must work to find solutions.”

As a fresh round of party talks tackles the contested issue of flags and symbols, this research is a timely reminder that this is a matter which can be resolved with political will. Moreover, prolonging disagreement on that issue covers the deeper causes of conflict and hampers the effectiveness of the enormous efforts in peacebuilding and reconciliation that are continuing despite political impasse.

The full and summary reports can be found here:  A print version of the report will be launched by Queen’s in January.


For media inquiries please contact Andrew Kennedy, Queen’s University Communications Office, 028 9097 5384.

Top of Page

Children under Care Orders still living with birth parents according to new Queen’s research

A significant proportion of children in care in Northern Ireland are likely to be living at home with their birth parents, new research from Queen’s University Belfast suggests.

The study, based on statistics from one day in 2009, found that eight per cent of the total number of ‘Looked After’ children were living with their birth parents but still subject to a Care Order, despite the fact that Care Orders are issued where children are found to have suffered harm, or are likely to suffer harm, at home.

Researchers from the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s reviewed the files of 47 of these families, representing 25 per cent of all children at home on Care Orders across Northern Ireland, with follow-up interviews with ten children and their parents.

The research, which has been published online, throws up new and significant findings, including:

  • 89% of the young people in the study came from families that had a history of alcohol abuse, and 70% came from families with experience of domestic violence
  • Nearly half the young people in the study (49%) had at least one placement at home that had broken down. For the majority (64%), however, the last placement home had remained stable
  • 25% oscillated within the system, having returned to live with their birth parents on more than one occasion
  • For 40% of the young people, the Care Order had remained in place for several years, and for another 40%, the Care Order expired when they turned 18.

Lead researcher Dr Dominic McSherry from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University said there were multiple reasons why children under the care of social services may be living with their families of origin. He said: “While some children in our study had a planned return home after parents had engaged in supports and completed assessments, many young people had returns that were not planned, as they initiated the move themselves, or previous foster placements had broken down and there were no alternative placements identified for them. Many of these young people essentially ‘voted with their feet’ and social services were required to ensure that they remained safe in often less than optimal circumstances.”

Co-researcher Dr Montserrat Fargas Malet, also from Queen’s University, said the study was unique in Northern Ireland. “These families’ experiences have often been missing from public-care research literature as well as the public eye. It is difficult to be definitive about this group of children as these statistics are not routinely collected in Northern Ireland – that is why we felt there was a need for this study as these families very much constitute a ‘hidden population’. We hope the findings will help policy-makers and practitioners have a better understanding of these families and the issues involved in working with them.”

The full report was funded by the Research and Development division of the Public Health Agency and can be downloaded here:,473903,en.pdf

For further information contact the Queen’s University Communications Office on 028 9097 5329 (Mon-Wed) or 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email

Top of Page

Queen’s scientist leads study of ‘Super-Earth’

Research led by an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast could pave the way in the search for life on other planets.

Up to now, only space-based telescopes have been able to detect planets near the size of the Earth that pass in front of stars like the Sun. An astronomer in the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University has led an international team to detect a super-Earth, a planet with more mass than Earth but less than Uranus or Neptune, using a telescope on the ground.

Previously, this has only been possible for one other super-Earth circling a star much fainter and cooler than the Sun. This breakthrough opens up new ways to study other worlds.

The planet, called 55 Cancri e, periodically passes in front of a star only 40 light years from the Earth. The star can even be seen with the naked eye on a clear and moonless night. For this detection the team used the 2.5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope, which is an excellent facility for this kind of study. Previous observations of this planet had to rely on telescopes in space.

According to Dr. Ernst de Mooij, the Michael West Fellow at the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast, who was the lead author of the study, the planet 55 Cancri e is far from hospitable for life, at twice the diameter of Earth and temperatures reaching nearly 1700 Celsius.

Their study paves the way for studying many more planets similar in size to Earth with telescopes on the ground. Some of these planets may even have the conditions needed to sustain life.

Dr. de Mooij, from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This is especially important because upcoming space missions such as the NASA TESS mission in 2017 and ESA’s PLATO mission in 2024, which should find many small planets around bright stars which are ideally suited for this type of study. “

“Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar. Remote sensing across tens of light-years is not easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.” added study co-author Dr. Ray Jayawardhana of York University, Canada.

Dr. de Mooij has recently moved from the University of Toronto to Queen’s to carry out this exciting research. The research team also includes Dr. Mercedes Lopez-Morales of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the USA as well as Drs. Raine Karjalainen and Marie Hrudkova of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes on La Palma, Spain. Their findings appear in a paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Nordic Optical Telescope is operated on the island of La Palma jointly by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias.

For media inquiries please contact Andrew Kennedy, Queen’s University Communications Office, on 028 9097 5384 or email

Top of Page

Bronagh Scott delivers more than babies

Bronagh Scott from Co. Donegal is adding another degree to the family list as she graduates from Queen’s University Belfast with a Bachelor of Science in Midwifery Sciences.

Bronagh is latest from the Scott household to graduate from Queen’s as her brother and sister are both recent graduates of the University. Her brother Peter Scott obtained a MSc Management (2011) and sister Claire Scott a BSc in Economics and finance (2013). Bronagh's mother (Professor) Terri Scott is also a graduate of Queen’s.

Despite being diagnosed with dyslexia, Bronagh overcame this during her studies at Queen’s and has successfully joined the NMC register as a qualified midwife and taken up a full time permanent post in Southend University Hospital in Essex.

"Working at Southend University Hospital has provided me with a wide range of opportunities due to the scale and diversity of its location and the population which it serves. The recently opened Kipros Nicolades Fetal Medicine Centre in the maternity department at Southend, provides exceptional facilities for women, such as access to diagnostic antenatal testing as well as fetal cardiac screening and top of the range scanning facilities. The unit is facilitated by specialist obstetric fellow's from Kings hospital in London.

"My undergraduate study at Queen's has provided me with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, but today is not the end, only the end of the beginning. I hope to return to further education to obtain the postgraduate and higher qualifications I will need to realise my ambitions and potential within midwifery. For now I am enjoying my time in London, however I hope to return to Northern Ireland when the opportunity presents itself."

Top of Page

Queen’s student is ‘musically mapping’ out her future

Aisling Nolan from Celbridge in Co. Kildare is celebrating this year’s winter graduations at Queen’s University with a Masters in Social Anthropology of Irish Music.

Throughout her time studying for her Masters at Queen’s, Aisling with two of her fellow students, Kayla Rush and Leilani Hermiasih, founded a project called ‘Mapping Belfast Musically’.

The project brings together the music and atmosphere of Belfast by capturing audio and visual material which alongside a text description portrays the soundscape of Belfast.

Aisling said: “I have had a very strong musical background from a young age. My dad played and sang traditional Irish music and I played the whistle and guitar after learning from Comhltas Ceoltori Eireann. This project seemed like a natural progression for us to fill a void in the presentation of the music of Belfast.”

Aisling engaged with the music of Belfast and understood that the music was not just confined to the marching traditions it has become known for and, that while that is one important element, it is not the only music available. With this knowledge she hopes her project, in the form of a website and app, can become a resource for academics who study music, anthropology, borders and politics and the interactive map can be used as a tool for research.

Aisling joins 94 per cent of Queen’s students in employment or further study six months after graduating, as she has just secured a job as Alumni Relations Officer in NUI Galway.

Aisling celebrated her graduation with her mum Geraldine, her nana Vicky and her brother Brian.

Top of Page