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Queen’s student inspired by her late father graduates with Master’s degree in cancer research

Grace Kennedy, aged 22 from Belfast, will graduate today with a Master of Science in Research in Cancer Medicine from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.

Grace's academic journey has been a testament to her remarkable resilience and determination. Following the completion of her undergraduate degree in physiology at the University of Edinburgh, she pursued her passion for medical research, specifically focusing on cancer research at the Patrick G Johnson Centre for Cancer Research (PGJCCR) at Queen's University. Despite facing various challenges along the way, she remained unwavering in her pursuit of knowledge. 

Grace was inspired to study cancer research after the death of her beloved father William John in 2020. Speaking about her choice to study at the PGJCCR at Queen’s, she said: “I have always been interested in science, and specifically disease-related research. This was strengthened by studying physiology at the University of Edinburgh. Ultimately, the passing of my father after suffering six months with stage IV oesophageal cancer pushed me to working towards a career in cancer research.” 

Grace has already successfully published research in the journal of Biochemical Society Transactions. “My favourite memory was contributing and publishing a review article with my research team which I was first author on. This was a big achievement as a 21-year-old Master’s student and really motivated me along the degree.” 

Throughout her time at Queen’s, Grace received support and care from staff and colleagues. She said: “Many course coordinators and other members of staff at the PGJCCR provided great support throughout the course. However, special mention is to be given to my project supervisor Dr Emma Evergren, who provided invaluable support and mentorship in the research environment and in a pastoral environment, ensuring to support me in any way with personal issues also.” 

Balancing the rigorous demands of her course, research responsibilities, and a part-time job presented its own set of challenges. Then in February 2023, Grace’s mother fell seriously ill and was placed in the ICU, requiring ventilator support for 30 days. 

As the eldest daughter in a household with four younger siblings, Grace took on significant responsibilities alongside her studies. Despite the critical condition of her mother, she persevered, consistently meeting her academic obligations while visiting the hospital every day and running a household. 

On top of this, Grace found time earlier this year to volunteer in East Africa as a pre-school English teacher. Going above her duties, she played a pivotal role in transforming the school and over the course of three weeks, Grace facilitated the funding for painting the school, procured tables and chairs, bookcases, and collected donated books, toys, and stationary for the children. 

Grace will spend her well-earned graduation day with her partner Emmett, mum Annette and brother Aaron. Following graduation, she plans to do some further volunteering and travelling in 2024 before hoping to return to Queen’s to begin a a PhD in cancer research in the new academic year. 


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