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Careers Case Study

Stuart Irwin

Degree: BA Modern History

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1.      Why did you decide to do your course?

I had always enjoyed history at school and therefore the opportunity to study it at university seemed like the natural choice to make. I chose to study at Queen’s because of my keen interest in British and Irish history; the School of History has world-renowned academic staff in such fields, who offer exciting and stimulating modules.

Aside from history being a subject that I really enjoy, I was also aware that a history degree is well respected by many employers. That is undoubtedly an added bonus.

2.       What do you hope to do when you leave Queen’s? 

If I manage to get the required results I would like to do a Masters degree in British and Irish history. Beyond that, I am still undecided on my future plans – I have considered a possible career in teaching, but at the moment I am leaving my options firmly open. 

3.      Have you undertaken work placement, volunteer work or gained other experience through extra-curricular activities during your degree? 

During the summer of 2008, I was an office junior at a small business in Belfast called Garment Graphixs. During my time there, I got the opportunity to witness firsthand how businesses operate, the daily challenges they are faced with, and the responsibilities of the staff. 

I then spent the summer of 2009 undertaking an equally exciting placement at the Belfast Computer Clubhouse, which was organised by the Careers, Employability and Skills Service.  The Clubhouse describes itself as ‘a creative multimedia, learning environment where young people can explore their own creative interests and become confident learners through the use of technology.’ I chose this placement as I thought that it would offer me the opportunity to gain a better insight into working in a youth based environment.  

4.      Do you feel this has put you in a position to achieve your career goals?

As mentioned, I have previously expressed an interest in a possible teaching career, and for this reason I took up the placement at the Belfast Computer Clubhouse. From spending my summer on placement I got to develop a better understanding of the skills and attributes required to work with young people. More generally, I have found that work experience has allowed me to appreciate the realities of the workplace, whilst also offering the opportunity to demonstrate the transferable skills that I have gained through my degree – for example, verbal and written skills, and IT proficiency, amongst many other things.

Work experience has given me a greater insight into some of the possibilities available to history graduates, and it has made me more determined to get the best degree possible and take the next step. 

5.      Have you made any other plans for your final year? 

Like many third year history students, my final year will be dedicated to researching and writing my dissertation. However, I intend to also spend time looking at the possible postgraduate courses on offer and completing such application forms. 

6.      Top tips for new students….

Without doubt the most important piece of advice I could give to new students would be to enjoy your course of study. If you are genuinely interested by what you are studying, you will find the reading and written assignments much easier to manage. Whilst the assessment elements of modules can be tedious at times, it is important to remember why you are studying for a history degree: presumably because of your interest in the subject.

I have availed of the opportunity to study a wide variety of history modules. For example, in first year I studied the Black Death and the American Civil War, whilst my second year saw me take modules spanning from the English Civil War to nineteenth and twentieth century British and Irish history, to interwar Europe. It is imperative to try new things and challenge yourself as this allows you to broaden your knowledge, whilst also becoming more confident and improving your skills for the graduate marketplace. 

Despite only becoming familiar with the Careers, Employability and Skills Service at the end of my second year, I think it is worthwhile for new students to be fully aware of what it can offer and how it can help you to start making plans for your future career. It is never too early to start engaging with the Careers Service.