I attended Loreto Grammar School Omagh and following the completion of my A Levels in 2007 I commenced a course of study that was not right for me and as a result I decided to withdraw. I worked for a year and a half prior to commencing my undergraduate studies at Queen’s in 2009. Having the break between school and University allowed me to gain work experience and resulted in a greater determination to achieve upon my return to education.
Where are you now?
At present I am coming to the end of my role as a Research Intern with Disability Services at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). This role involved designing and implementing a robust research project evaluating the impact of non-medical helper support on students with disabilities at QUB. I utilised a mixed methods approach incorporating focus groups and surveys. Data was analysed via a range of quantitative and qualitative methods including ANOVAs, chi square analyses and thematic analysis. Based on the findings, recommendations were made for the future development and enhancement of non-medical helper support at QUB.
I had the opportunity to disseminate the findings at Disability Forum and to present the findings to relevant stakeholders including the Department for Employment and Learning, Support Providers, University staff and students. Whilst working in this role I was afforded the chance to raise awareness about Disability Services and non-medical helper support at open days. In addition, one of my highlights was being given the opportunity to help out at the Asperger’s Social Group – a group where students with Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses engage in activities in a safe and supportive environment.
How did you get there?
The knowledge developed throughout my undergraduate and Masters studies were key to getting to this position. In particular, the knowledge of quantitative and qualitative methodology and analytic techniques were key to performing the Research Intern Role.
As a Masters student I was selected as class representative. As a result, class member brought any course related issues to me and I raised these with the members of University staff on the Staff Student Consultative Committee (SSCC). This experience enhanced my development of communication and diplomacy, skills essential for gaining graduate employment.
In addition, keeping up to date with what was happening within the University following graduation was very important to getting this post, for example, I signed up to recruitment email updates from the Careers Services and this is where I saw my current role advertised.
Furthermore, I have a long history of volunteering with vulnerable groups and I feel that this helped me to develop many skills including approachability and empathy which are beneficial for enhancing employability in the fields that I am interested in.
Moreover, having worked as a special needs classroom assistant prior to commencing my Research Intern role, I was given the opportunity to develop professional relationships with the other staff members and this greatly enhanced my team working skills.
Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen’s
The structure of my Psychology degree meant that Careers advice was embedded into the curriculum. This helped to raise awareness of the Careers Service and as a result I made guidance appointments. The careers advisers were very helpful in discussing ways that I could improve my chances of getting into my desired career, including advising me to take up volunteering which I did.
I also completed the Degree Plus award twice in my undergraduate and Masters studies. At undergraduate level, I was awarded this accolade for completing the Tutoring in Schools Programme offered by Careers, Employability and Skills. This required me to spend forty hours supporting the learning of children in Glenveagh Special School and allowed me to put some of my psychological knowledge into action in a work environment.
At Masters level, Degree Plus was awarded for completing the Learn-a-Long Tutoring programme – this involved supporting the English Language development of two primary three immigrants.
Advice for current Queen's students
Firstly, work hard and ensure that you achieve the best degree classification you can.
Secondly, get involved in activities throughout the university – employers want all rounded graduates. Take the opportunity to represent your class on committees. If you are determined to work in a particular field get your work out there.
Also, if you do not feel that you are the most confident person, taking the risk to do these things will help improve your confidence. Five years ago I would never have dreamed that I would be able to communicate issues on committees or present my work to audiences but taking such risks has greatly developed my confidence and enhanced my career prospects.
Finally, get involved in volunteering. Find something you are interested in and you will not only be giving back to the community and developing transferrable skills but will also find that you will really enjoy it.