When Queen’s graduate Rachel Murphy (nee Hill) met her employer at a Queen’s Flagship Careers Fair, it took her career off in an exciting new direction.
Like many students, History graduate Rachel Murphy (nee Hill) chose her degree subject because of her passion for the subject, rather than because she has a particular career goal in mind.
“In terms of my career, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, which made deciding on a subject to study at university quite tricky. In the end, I decided to study History as it was a subject that I loved at school and the subject which I knew I would enjoy the most. Enjoying my time at university was very important to me and this was my main motivation to study at Queen’s and to study History,” she says.
Exploring my options
While at Queen’s, Rachel was keen to explore career options and to build up valuable skills that would make her more employable after graduation. She gained work experience at PwC and built up her confidence by sitting on the Students’ Union Council.
“This was great experience and built up my confidence for going forward into the working environment,” says Rachel.
She also booked a consultation with a Careers consultant at Queen’s Careers service to get CV and interview guidance.
She started the September following her graduation, moved through the Management Programme and was promoted to Management Assistant seven months later.
“The job had various roles and responsibilities which keep me very occupied throughout the day,” she says.
For more of an insight into the Graduate Management Programme at Enterprise, watch this video:
Four year on, Rachel is Projects Officer at the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, the largest rural youth organisation in Northern Ireland which aims to nurture and develop young people. She credits Queen’s Careers service for helping her develop the skills she needs to succeed and for giving her that crucial first employer introduction.
If, like Rachel, you are unsure what you want to do after graduation, register today for our Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair. You can meet employers who are looking to recruit graduates just like you.
But don’t take out word for it – here is what Rachel had to say:
“My advice for current students is get involved with Queen’s and all it has to offer. I would also advise to make use of the careers service as soon as possible and to really think about what their plans for after University,” she says.
Imagine you’re a firefighter entering a burning building. The room is so thick with smoke that you can’t see. How do you know which way to turn? This was the challenge set for Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate Sean Hackett before he helped design an award-winning fire fighters’ helmet that tells the wearer which way to turn with a simple buzz to the left or right of the head.
As an IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience intern), Sean is enjoying a year placement as an intern at the Visual Intelligence Studio in Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, where he is part of a research team exploring a safer communication tool for firefighters.
Under Senior Systems Scientist Dr. Yang Cai, the ‘Haptic Helmet’ prototype conceived by Sean’s team won the award for “most commercially viable” at the NIST Haptic Interface for Public Safety Challenge. The contest assessed the use of virtual reality environments as a development tool for creating safety technologies.
As part of the project, Sean and the team travelled to Denver, Colorado for live demos in a fire fighting training facility. This practical experience allowed them to understand how firefighters navigate unfamiliar paths through burned buildings filled with smoke and noise.
Sean said: “The experience of interacting with real-life firefighters and working independently on solutions has been very interesting for me.”
Dr Yang said: “We encourage engineers to find simple solutions that work in the real world. “Although I give them instructions to guide and get them started, I also encourage them to use their own knowledge and experiment because in the real world there is no textbook that tells you what to do and engineers have to work on a lot of problem-solving”.
Along with Dr Yang, Sean and the team worked to develop technology that successfully improves firefighter’s safety and efficiency of in the most challenging and hazardous environments.
During his internship, Sean has also been helping edit a research paper for presentation on “Indo-Navigation and Fire Fighters Activity Recognition”.
Dr Yang commented: “Students and participants from western Europe have a brilliant work ethic. Together, they produce research papers and work on innovative solutions, adding value to the lab. Some European interns have great writing style in addition to other talents and that is monumental when it comes to writing and editing research papers for conferences, which is great additional help.”
According to Sean, it wasn’t hard settling into the new environment thanks to the immense support offered at the lab. “Of course, it’s challenging to be away from friends, family, and home. It takes a little while for the initial adjustment of the processes and procedures but once that is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”
The year stateside has also given Sean the opportunity to experience American culture and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, participate in social activities and enjoy American adventure and sports.
Our alumni session at GradFest2020 gathered together four successful graduates who told Rachael Corridan about the career lessons they’ve learned since leaving Queen’s. Here is what they had to say.
“Every rejection is a learning experience”
Niall McLaughlin, kdb+ developer, AquaQ Analytics
“I studied Chemistry at Queen’s and obtained valuable skills such as analytical skills, great communication skills, problem solving and adapting to new challenges. After graduation, I spent some time working as a chef, this was extremely beneficial as it’s placed me in a high pressure environment where time, teamwork, efficiency and multitasking were all critical to the day to day tasks. These experiences have helped me grow as a person and I now feel fully equipped to handle anything life throws at me.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; you will get there. I had a non-traditional route to a grad job, which taught me a lot of transferable skills. Take every rejection as a learning experience and learn to be the best version of yourself.”
“Develop your soft skills until you find the right job”
Jack McCloskey, Seagate
“I graduated Mechanical Engineering in 2019. On the back of my placement, I did an employer project with Seagate. After graduation, I developed soft skills through part-time jobs, volunteering, interview skills and travelling until a graduate job eventually came up. There are good and bad points about working in your placement company. You are familiar with the working environment, but you are straight in the deep in working with senior management.”
“Working as part of a team is so important”
Zachery Jordan, First Deriviatives
“Make the most of the transferable skills you have gained from part-time jobs; it’s so important to work as part of a team and be coherent in the ideas you are putting across.”
“Explore your options; squeeze every opportunity”
Michael Kelly, IBM London
“There will never be a graduating class like this one, but the world will not pass you by. Explore your opportunities. I missed the big four application deadlines as I was studying abroad, so I got a job in recruitment with a high basic salary, but it wasn’t the career for me. It served as a launchpad to where I am now. Squeeze as much out of any opportunity.”
“You don’t just graduate and get picked up by an employer, you have to be proactive; I opened myself to more graduate opportunities by looking in London. Take time to explore your options and find something you love. Throw yourself into everything you are asked to do in the workplace, even if a project doesn’t feel exciting, look at what you can learn from it.”
Ahead of our online Career Networking Evening on June 22 at 6pm – 7.20pm, we look at four ways our alumni network can help you navigate the global job market.
1. Our alum understand what makes big bosses tick
You have probably seen the term ‘commercial awareness’ in job descriptions, but what does it mean? And how do you acquire it? This skill is all about knowing what makes an organisation or industry tick. If you can show a prospective employer that you understand what they want to achieve and the challenges they are facing in the marketplace, you’ll impress.
Alumni in industry can help you read the room in an industry or organisation and get a handle on organisational goals. Take Queen’s Psychology Graduate Tessa Breslin. In her role as Managing Director and Head of Americas at YSC Consulting, Tessa partners with leaders and organisations around the world to enable them to direct their drive and create transformational change.
Tessa will be joining our Networking event live from New York, so you’ll have the opportunity to get an insight into what drives the leadership of some of the major blue chip client companies she has worked with.
2 You’ll benefit from their connections
Growing your professional network is a great way to advance your career, industry knowledge and confidence. As a Queen’s graduate, you can draw on the experience and connections of our network of more than 200,000 alumni around the world. Each of those alum will in turn have built up a contacts book of trusted friends, colleagues and clients.
Since Fergus Boyd left Queen’s with a BSc and PhD in Electronic Engineering, he has worked as VP/IT Director for five-star boutique luxury hotel brand Red Carnation, and VP Digital & IT for millennial hotel chain YOTEL. Prior to that, he held senior IT and digital roles in British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which both involved leading mobile and digital initiatives and delivering innovation programmes. He is now Chief Technical Officer at MindSauce, a start-up that aims to become the world’s leading platform for global micro-consulting.
He brings to our Networking event, a unique perspective on the shift towards remote working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. They know what employers are looking for
Who better than a recruiter to get an insight track on what employers are looking for? Jordan Hendricks is a Recruitment Executive at First Derivatives, a software and services company.
With a Master’s in Business Administration (International MBA) from Queen’s and significant global PR and marketing experience, Jordan is well placed to advice graduates on the recruitment landscape and the impact of COVID-19 on the future of hiring. She joins our networking evening to discuss the long and short term impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
4. They can offer a world view
Our alumni span the globe and their combined knowledge and connections ripple across the international job market. Since leaving Queen’s with a PhD in Analytical Chemistry, Binod Maitin gained significant experience as a Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer at Diageo (United Spirits) and as Head of Analytical Research at the Shriram Institute For Industrial Research. He is now an Independent Technical Consultant at FlavorActiV and Chief Technology Officer at Trillium Beverages Pvt.Ltd. He joins our networking event from India to offer insight on his own personal career journey and the evolving global labour market.
“Nothing can stop you if you, if you accept challenge and adapt.”
ALUMNUS AZHAR MURTAZA IS THE DIRECTOR OF VEGAN DRINKS COMPANY BORN MAVERICK. HE INITIALLY PRESENTED HIS BUSINESS CONCEPT TO ENTERPRISE SU AT QUEEN’S, WHERE HE RECEIVED MENTORSHIP AND GUIDANCE TO LAUNCH HIS BRAND.
As the director of Born Maverick, Queen’s alum Azhar Murtaza, from India, has faced his fair share of challenges. Food technologists questioned whether a vegan brand had sustainability in Northern Ireland, then there was the issue of how to package a vegan drink when your brand values are based around ecofriendliness. Shunning plastic bottles in favour of compostable and biodegradable sachets, Azhar has proved the doubters wrong, building a successful, ethical beverage brand and scooping accolades including Student Invent Finalist; Queen’s Dragons’ Den Finalist and a Belfast Business Idea Awards 2019 Top 5 finalist.
Accept and adapt to challenges
He urges graduates of 2020 to lean into change in order to cope with challenges. “Change is the only constant and being able to adapt to those changes is what defines us,” he says. “That principle has got me through all the challenges that were thrown at me, right from the moment I landed in Belfast to study a Master’s at Queen’s. Nothing can stop you if you are willing to accept and adapt.” Like many graduates, Azhar wasn’t sure where his career path would take him, but hoped a Master’s from Queen’s would help him pursue his passions. “I chose a university which would allow me to explore different aspects of my interests in science, business and art. I wasn’t sure where I was headed, but all I knew was that I would accept the challenges and give it my best.” He adds, “We are all in the same boat right now, plans and dreams on hold, as a result of the pandemic. But we are all in this together and we will prevail if we are willing to accept the challenge and adapt accordingly.”
Develop networking confidence
While at Queen’s, Azhar blended his love of biotechnology and business to begin to shape his career path. “I was helped a lot by Enterprise SU in defining my own career growth. As an introvert, I would usually have taken a step back from presenting myself and my ideas but through mentoring sessions and workshops, I was able to develop my confidence to put myself out there and present on various platforms.” Rather than being solely purely goal-orientated, Azhar developed softer skills that he has carried with him into his career. “I learned that winning is a by-product: being able to express yourself and to utilise your network is what matters. I was reaching finals of various business competitions but never able to cross the line into first place. However, those competitions were putting me in front of the right bunch of people. Ultimately, I gained contacts and experience worth more than any prize money.” It was while he was competing in the Queen’s Dragons’ Den final that he was offered an opportunity with Invest NI. “I lost the competition, but Invest NI offered me a place on their programme and Born Maverick Vegan Beverages Ltd was born.”
Innovation in action
The company owns the Púr brand of vegan drinks made with whole grain and finger millet, and are developing vegan non-alcoholic popsicles, fortified with vitamin D, and in flavours including Gin & Tonic, Prosecco, Irish Whiskey and Coffee. “Both these product lines have been formulated with the help of food scientists at CAFRE using Innovation Vouchers from Invest NI,” says Azhar, whose ideas keep on coming. “I am also working on a R&D project developing vegan eggs from mung beans along with Campden BRI and I am in an ideation phase of developing vegan prawns from seaweeds. In the coming years, we aim to represent Northern Ireland in food innovation on a global platform and lead consumers here towards living an ethically healthy life,” he adds.
Advice for new graduates
While Azhar acknowledges that this year is particularly challenging for graduates, there is still space for innovation, creativity and strategy. “These are challenging times and quite different to when I was about to graduate myself, but there is still scope for constant innovation.” He urges graduates to seek support from Queen’s, Invest NI. Catalyst Inc and Belfast City Council who are at the heart of innovation in the region. “Patience and perseverance pay off eventually,” he adds. “As a student, I made sacrifices to help me achieve my dream, like working nights at KFC and Tesco’s to free me up to attend workshops and business meetings during the day. I found out that there is so much support available within Northern Ireland for innovative small businesses. Reach out to Enterprise SU, The Graduate School and Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills team.” He adds, “I wish you all the best as you graduate this year. I am sure this phase is going to help many to reflect. Now is the time to rebuild, restructure and plan according to your goals. As they say, when going gets tough, the tough gets going. There is a world of opportunity if you are willing to explore beyond your immediate circle.”