Before Queen's, where were you and what were you doing?
After taking my A levels in 2012, I began a course at Queen’s University Belfast in September. However, after completing that year, I realised that the course was not going to be the right pathway for me. I took a year out from university to work and to decide upon a course that would suit me better.
I commenced my BSc Hons Psychology course in 2014 and almost immediately knew that this was a much better fit. Taking a year away from university allowed me to gather perspective and consider my options, upon my return to education I also felt I was much more conscientious and studious; it is certainly important to be passionate about the subject you are studying.
What have you done in addition to your degree to enhance your employability and what you feel you've gained from this?
I first got involved in the Research Experience for Scheme for Undergraduate Students (RESUS) in my second year of study. This scheme is designed for Psychology students to gain additional research experience, acting as a research assistant for a professor in the school. I was involved in many activities such as; literature reviewing, recruiting participants and analysing and organising data. This additional experience is invaluable as research projects are an important aspect of the course. I demonstrated commitment to the project I was working on, and this dedication earned me the position of RESUS coordinator for the project, which meant I oversaw the activity of all other RESUS volunteers.
I also took the opportunity to engage with the Erasmus exchange programme in my second year of study, spending my second semester studying modules in Social Neuroscience at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. There were a wide range of universities in different countries to choose from, and I made my choice based on the available modules at each university and chose the one that was most suited to my individual interests. Studying in a completely new environment gave me a new sense of independence, and encouraged me to push myself out of my comfort zone. The modules I was studying also gave me additional knowledge that was more applicable to my particular area of interest.
During the summer between my second and third year of study, I was involved with a 5-week special needs placement in Sri Lanka run by SLV Global. My placement involved working with children in institutional care, and working with individuals with learning difficulties, and ensuring this was accomplished in a cross-culturally sensitive manner.
I chose to take the Insight Module in my third year of study, which involved choosing an institution in which to undertake a 12-week placement. My placement was with Palmerston Residential Home, a home specialised for individuals living with dementia. My role was to monitor a meal reversal scheme that had been introduced, and conduct research on the well-being of residents to ascertain whether this had a significant impact on maintenance of a healthy weight and consistent sleeping pattern. This provided me with additional research experience as well as giving me practical experience interacting with individuals with dementia.
When I decided to apply for Masters courses in neuroscience, having these additional experiences added a great amount to my personal statements that set me apart from other candidates, and I was exceptionally pleased to be offered a place from all universities that I applied to.
Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen's
I discussed the Erasmus Programme with a Careers Consultant, and this made me more aware of how the application process worked and the benefits I would gain from studying abroad and this encouraged me to participate in the programme.
I arranged an appointment with the Career Services to have my personal statements for my Masters application reviewed before I submitted them. It is always helpful to have as many other people as possible have a look through your personal statements and offer suggestions on how it can be improved.
I am also registered to receive emails from the Careers Service that keeps me updated with current job opportunities, this can be especially useful if you do not yet have a career in mind, as it may suggest something that you are interested in, but had not previously considered.
Advice for other Queen's students
It is worth putting in the effort to ensure you can come away from your degree feeling that what you have achieved demonstrates the very best of your abilities, especially due to the competitive nature of the job market and obtaining a place in further education. The exam period is a critical time of the year, I have found the best approach for me is planning well in advance, starting as early as possible, even if this means only putting in a few hours per day, as this will avoid the stress of trying to cram in too much information during an all-nighter in the library! It is also worth assessing your environment (i.e. the library, your bedroom, your kitchen etc.) and whether it is conducive to helping you focus on revision, or if there is potentially a more suitable location.
It is also worth trying to formulate an idea of what you would like to do upon completion of your undergraduate degree. After my first year of study, I knew neuroscience was an area in which I would like to pursue further education, and working towards this goal gave me the motivation to participate in as many extracurricular activities as I could, whilst still dedicating ample time to my course. I have also found that setting myself small, regular goals to attain throughout the year and being able systematically tick these off was a good way to encourage myself.
Queen’s offers a great number of opportunities for its students, however you must show your own initiative to engage with these opportunities, they won’t simply be handed to you. It is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone, as this is often when you gain the most invaluable experience that will set you apart from other candidates in the future.