Categories
international careers international experience international students Research Student success stories

Meet the Queen’s sisters spending their summer researching in Utrecht

The Global Opportunities team together with Santander have offered over 70 undergraduate students the opportunity to complete a funded Utrecht Summer School Course in The Netherlands. Successful applicants – who will each receive £1,400 towards their course and accommodation costs – include Malaysian sisters Abigail and Priscilla Jeyaraj, both Biomedical Science students, who will study Advanced Clinical Research Monitoring and Leadership for Innovation and Performance Happiness, respectively. Here is what Abigail and Priscilla had to say ahead of their trip.

Are you excited for the trip?

Abigail: This summer school opportunity is the opportunity of a lifetime! Utrecht University is a prestigious research university, and it would be an invaluable experience to complete a course on clinical research at Utrecht University. 

Priscilla: I think “opportunity of a lifetime” captures our thoughts accurately, being enabled by Queen’s University Belfast to undertake this opportunity in the #1 University in the Netherlands, ranked by Shanghai Ranking 2019 is a blessing and we couldn’t be more grateful! 

How does it feel to be travelling together?

A: I’m very excited about traveling together! We’ve travelled together quite a number of times in the past and we’ve always had a fun time together. My sister is a great travel companion. 

P: We have previously travelled together extensively on many occasions- including summer schools, but it is an experience that we are so fortunate to share together and the excitement and eagerness is always the same as the first time.

What are you most excited about?

A: I’m most excited about meeting people from all over the world with similar interests through the summer course. I’m also very excited just to experience the beauty of Utrecht! I’m fascinated by the beautiful double-dock canals in Utrecht and I can’t wait to see them in person.  

P: Learning from world-class experts and going on visits to companies in Utrecht! I’m really excited to be amongst other students that share the same passion about leadership and having student experience and delve into the culture in Utrecht!

What do you hope to learn – both professionally and personally?

A: The course I’ve chosen is delivered by some of the best professionals in the field, and it would be an honour to not only to learn the course content from them, but also to get to learn more about their research and their experiences in the field. The course includes a lecture on oncology trials, which I am particularly looking forward to. There also will be practical sessions where we will be able to utilise the skills we have learnt throughout the course, which I believe would be very beneficial. Personally, I’m very excited to learn more about the lifestyle and culture in Utrecht!  

P: Professionally, I hope to widen my leadership network, develop, and sharpen my leadership skills and gain an insight into applying the skills in a company setting during the company visits. And personally, I look forward to enjoying and traveling around the historic city, Utrecht.

Find out more about Global Opportunities at Queen’s here

Categories
Employer Engagement Employer events Employer feedback Employer Insight Employers international students student success Student success stories

What impresses employers about Queen’s students?

 This blog celebrates some of the encouraging employer feedback we have received about Queen’s students during our employer events and activities over the last year. 

“Fantastic students”

Beth MacDougall, Student Recruitment Associate at EY welcomed a group of Queen’s students for our recent #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. She told us:
“What a brilliant day meeting these fantastic Queen’s students! We couldn’t have been more delighted with our first event back in person! The students developed an understanding of the different roles we offer, and were keen to know what it’s actually like working here day to day. Biggest thank you to all those in the group for signing up and being fantastic participants – we can’t wait to see what all your futures hold!”

“Delighted to see classroom learning translated into a professional environment”

Louise Dooley, In-House Recruitment Specialist at Andor Technology welcomed a group of Queen’s students for our recent #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. She told us:
“Andor Technology were delighted to be one of the partner organisations participating in #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. We welcomed students from Mechanical and Electronic Engineering and Physics disciplines. Thank you for helping us provide opportunities for students to gain valuable insights into the world of work and how classroom learning translates into a professional environment.”

“Eyes opened to the future potential”

The Interior Fit-Out Team at Graham welcomed a group of Queen’s students for our recent #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. They told us:
“We opened the doors to 7 students from Queens University Belfast to see and learn about the works being carried out, whilst giving them an understanding of how a live project runs.

Project Manager, Eóin King MCIOB along with Contracts Director Neill Gillespie MCIOB took the students on a tour of the project and shared their own experiences of working and studying whilst building their career within GRAHAM. We were pleased to hear from student participants that their eyes had been opened to a potential future in the construction industry as a result of the visit.”

“Important real-life insights”

The Bloc team welcomed a group of Queen’s students for our recent #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. They told us:
“Recently we had the pleasure of welcoming students from Queen’s University Belfast onsite. The main objective of the day was for students to gain very important real life organisation insights. The students got an insight into Bloc, the sector and got the opportunity to observe professionals in practice.”

“Learning from graduate engineers”

The team at Dawson-Wam welcomed a group of Queen’s students for our recent #QUBWorkShadowingWeek. They told us:
“DAWSON-WAM were pleased to support #QUBWorkShadowingWeek offering students work shadowing opportunities with NI employers. Our students Kieran and Alice got the opportunity to visit our Shimna Flood Alleviation Scheme in Newcastle, Co. Down. Their site experience included a mini survey camp hosted by our Graduate Engineers, James Carinduff and Conor Magorrian.”

“Great to meet students interested in grad opportunities”

Leah Tohill, Recruiting Graduate Talent, First Derivatives took part in the #QUBStockMarketChallenge. She told us:
“It was great to meet so many students that were interested in the graduate opportunities First Derivative have to offer.
Congratulations to Charles and Toby who won the Stock Market Challenge. We’re delighted that you picked First Derivative as your first choice for an Insights Day.”

“Quickly grasped the flavour of the work we do”

Niall Elliott, Legal Professional at Baker McKenzie welcomed a group of #QUBStudents for our #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme. He told us:
“It was great to meet some of the #QUBStudents in the Baker McKenzie Belfast Centre as part of the Careers in Law Insight Programme 2022.

The group quickly became familiar with the various teams that operate from within the Belfast Centre. This was followed by a negotiation task to give the students a flavour of the kind of work we do.”

“First-hand experience of legal expertise”

The team at Carson McDowell welcomed a group of #QUBStudents for our #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme. They told us:
“Senior Partner Neasa Quigley and Partner Gerard Armstrong hosted students from Queen’s University Belfast as part of their #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme 2022. Having enjoyed some ice cream on arrival, a team from Carson McDowell took participants around the legal world, giving them first-hand experience of a range of legal expertise.”

“Will welcome students back as colleagues”

The team at Herbert Smith Freehills welcomed a group of #QUBStudents for our #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme. They told us:
“We were delighted to host a number of Law students from Queen’s University Belfast as part of the #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme 2022.

The students met some of the Belfast team and gained an insight into our Alternative Legal Services practice group.  

Belfast colleagues and Queen’s University alumni Linet Kurian and Luke Osborne shared their experiences since joining HSF and how their careers have progressed from starting as a Legal Analyst.

The Belfast team really enjoyed meeting with the students and hope to be able to welcome some of them back as colleagues in the near future.”

“Delighted to network informally”

The team at MKB Law welcomed a group of #QUBStudents for our #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme. They told us:
“Lynsey Henderson and Ruairi Maguire were delighted to speak at the final session of the #QUBCareersinLaw Insight Programme 2022, giving students an overview of their legal career, answering questions in a panel discussion, plus chatting informally with attendees afterwards at the networking buffet.

Thank you for a fantastic event.”

“Incredible ideas and presentations”

Beth MacDougall, Student Recruitment Associate at EY met a group of #QUBStudents on our #QUBInsightIntoManagement Programme. She told us:
“EY were absolutely delighted to participate in #QUBInsightIntoManagement Programme with Ruby Hopkins and John McMorrow acting as group facilitators over the course of the programme.

A truly fantastic event. We completely in awe of the incredible ideas and presentations all of the students gave and were thrilled to attend as judges.”

“Amazing applications”

Francesca Morelli, Co-Founder of VAVA Influence took on #QUBStudents as part of #QUBImpactProject. She told us:
“We are delighted to be taking part in the #QUBImpactProject for the second year in a row as employers. In partnership with #QUBImpactProject, we’re hiring two Part-Time Marketing & Events Interns to work with us at VAVA Influence | Influencer Marketing this summer. We had some amazing applications; looking forward to welcoming the talent from QUB!”

“Hugely impressive”

Peter McCleery, CEO at Get Sociable took on #QUBStudents as part of #QUBImpactProject. He told us:

“We’re very grateful at GetSociable for all the help from @QUBCareers. The calibre of students has been hugely impressive, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with Queen’s University Belfast as we grow.”

Read what else employers say about Queen’s students here

Categories
Dentistry Elective Global Opportunities Go Global Go Global Week international careers international experience international students placements Work the World

My Eye-Opening Dentistry Elective in Kathmandu

Queen’s Dentistry graduate, Leo Sims travelled to Kathmandu in Nepal on a three-week dentistry elective during his fourth year to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and the developing world. 

Why Queen’s?

Leo Sim with fellow students in Nepal

I chose to study at Queen’s University Belfast because it’s part of the Russell Group of universities with high research intensity. 

Furthermore, they’re also well-known for their dentistry course and they have a large international student community, which adds to the vibrancy of the student life! 

Student life at Queen’s

Leo enjoying the sights of Nepal

My five years at QUB were amazing. I had the opportunity to get involved with different roles and responsibilities within clubs and societies – where I made friends for life. 

I particularly enjoyed my time when I was President of the International Student’s Society where I worked with people from all walks of life and provided a home away from home for fellow international students in Belfast. 

Finding the right placement

Leo, pictured outside the teaching hospital in Nepal

I undertook my placement during my summer holiday at the end of my fourth year. My international elective was not a compulsory component of my dental course, but my clinical tutors provided me with advice on how to organise it.

I chose Nepal as the destination for my dental elective due to its unique blend of South Asian and East Asian culture, its geographical beauty and the positive feedback I’d received from friends who had been there before. I thought it would be an eye-opening experience and it turned out to be more than that – it was an adventure of a lifetime.

Hands-on experience

Leo learned a lot from experiencing dentistry in another culture

Over the two weeks, I was given the opportunity to experience different departments (endodontics, restorative, periodontics and orthodontics) in the teaching hospital, as well as the chance to attend some lectures for the Nepali first-year dental students. 

There was a walk-in clinic where patients would be assessed and subsequently given immediate treatment or further appointments depending on availability.

Most practitioners were trained in English hence it was not uncommon for them to use a mixture of Nepali and English when explaining procedures and treatments to patients. 

To my surprise, for a hospital service, they put a lot of effort into saving a tooth, encouraging patients who have irreversible pulpitis to undergo root canal treatment. I had previously experienced a dental service in a hospital back in Malaysia, where extraction is the norm and the preferred option among patients.

Challenges in the developing world

Leo looking over Kathmandu

While we often try to emulate the best clinical practice according to the latest literature, the lack of resources can prove to be a big hurdle in the developing world. 

Disposable consumables and equipment are kept to a bare minimum. Burs, dental probes, dental mirrors and forceps were immersed in disinfectant and washed with soap water before being reused. 

There was also limited restorative options – selection of composite shade was restricted to whichever was available at the time, a lack of disposable composite capsules meant it had to be scooped out from a common dispenser for all patients, a lack of matrix bands, transparent strips and finishing burs (only diamond burs were available in the clinic).

During my elective, there was a patient who presented with a class II cavity and required composite restoration. ‘Matrix band and wooden wedges in?’, I asked. The dentist whom I was shadowing at that time, told me ‘Yes we would use them, if we had them’, before proceeding to pack the restoration free-hand.

Insights from practicing in another country

Leo will treasure his time in Nepal

I noticed that orthodontics in Nepal was very technical and particular when it came to measurements. Incisal length at smile, vertical and horizontal facial height, and the length between pupil were all measured and noted. Taking orthopantomogram and lateral cephalometric radiograph for angle measurement was part of the protocol for all cases.

For endodontics, due to the lack of resources, rubber dams and rotary instruments were not readily available. Sodium chloride irrigant and stainless steel hand files were used instead. 

In Nepal, unlike the increasingly litigious society in the developed world, patient compliance was simply beyond exceptional. Local anaesthetics were not normally given for restorative and endodontic treatment as they were usually reserved for more invasive procedures such as an extraction (and only a minimal volume was given in these cases). Their pain tolerance certainly deserves credit.

Exploring the country

Sim, Leo

I did some exploring around Kathmandu during my free time and visited the main attractions including the Swayambhunath temple, Thamel region, and Durbar square. What’s better than having a pint while enjoying the majestic sight of Boudhanath temple at night? 

Over the weekend, myself and the others from the Work the World house went to Pokhara on a 7-hour bus journey which was definitely worthwhile. A highlight of the trip was paragliding over Phewa Lake at an altitude of 2500 meters whilst indulging in the lush greenery of the landscape. 

Memories to last a lifetime

Leo recognises how fortunate we are compared to developing nations

My two weeks in Nepal was an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are compared to other developing nations – what presents to us as an essential may well be a luxury to others.

My experience made me realize how fortunate we are to have vast amounts of resources available when providing care in a secondary setting compared to a developing country. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to shadow different complex treatments being carried out in Kathmandu.

For a future dental practitioner, it is definitely worth taking an overseas dental elective before graduating, it’s a trip you’ll remember for life.

Landing a graduate role

Since graduation, I’ve worked as a foundation dentist based in Berkshire. Compared to previous years, my cohort had less clinical experience due to Covid-19 forcing my final year of dental school to end prematurely. 

It was a very steep learning curve in the beginning but I would say it is the year I’ve progressed the most in dentistry thus far. 

My experience overseas with Work the World added a different perspective of how dental care is provided in another country. I learnt a lot of transferable skills from my experience, such as communication and adaptability. It has helped with transitioning into different working environments and making the best out of them. 

In the future, I hope to undertake further training in restorative dentistry but life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you will get!

Work the World specialise in creating overseas dentistry electives in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.

For more information about Global Opportunities at Queen’s, visit the Global Opportunities site.

Categories
Alumni Business Analytics Gradfest2021 international students KTP Student experience student success Student success stories

“Never hesitate to apply even if you think you won’t make it – I ended up getting the job I always wanted.”

MSc. Business Analytics graduate Sneha Parajuli is now a Strategic Management Analyst at KTP. Here is how she got there…

Sneha Parajuli, QUB alumni

Describe your career path to date.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from my home country Nepal, I was working as a Data Quality Analyst over there. My original plan was to complete my Masters and then go back to Nepal to apply my learnings. I had multiple job offers there, but right after I submitted my dissertation, the KTP role caught my       attention. The role was somewhat related to my dissertation, so I decided to give it a shot. Through a series of virtual interviews during the pandemic, I was able to get more info about the goals of KTP partner company SDG and how my analytical, marketing and data-science skills align to drive that goal. Soon after the interview, I was told I had been successful, and I would be starting in January next year. The job began with few weeks of university and company inductions and product trainings. With plenty of support from both my company and university supervisors, I feel like I have adjusted well to the role now and I love my new job!

Why KTP?

The idea that I will be able to solve the business goal of the company all while being supervised by expert faculties is what intrigued me. On one hand, I had the fresh ideas from my graduate program that I was hungry to apply in the real world, and on the other hand, the fact that I would be under the supervision of the faculty with the proven records; and that is exactly what I need at this point. Owning and managing a challenging project which is central to the strategic development and long-term growth of the business all while receiving full support from brilliant supervisors at Queen’s? COUNT ME IN! 

What is your current role like? What about it makes you want to get up in the morning?

Currently I have been working mostly on capturing the overall view of how things currently work within the business, analysing it, developing, and recommending new models/strategies which requires a lot of interaction with the team. The amount of support I have received from the team here at SDG and my supervisors is incredible and I am always motivated to do more.

What does an average week look like for you?

My main goal has been about providing strategic analysis on different areas of SDG. That goal has wider scope, and my week is all about solving a subproblem from that big scope of work. This means I take part in the thoughtful discussions and meetings with the respective stakeholders, and design data-driven models as needed. Moreover, KTP has this amazing program for personal development, which I constantly use to improve my leadership, management, personal effectiveness and more through online courses throughout the week as a part of my mandatory KTP module.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Because I “own” my own project, sometimes this can be stressful as I have to work under tight deadlines and get the work done on time. The project I am working on is something entirely new to the business and the business is changing rapidly which means it doesn’t always work out as we want it to. But with the support of my supervisors both in SDG and Queen’s as well as the team at work, we manage to get the work done.

What is the most rewarding?

Even though it has only been about four months into this role, I feel like being able to take charge and manage my own project ultimately working towards bringing a transformative, long lasting change within the organisation all while implementing what I have learned throughout my academic journey has been the best experience of my KTP journey so far. Not only this, I have also met so many talented individuals through KTP network where associates working in different companies across the UK share their experiences which is really exciting.

What are your career aspirations? What are your goals?

I believe I have a long way to go and want to keep learning more and keep developing my skills. I hope to continue working as a Strategic Analyst at least for a few years as I really love what I do. I would also love to learn more project management skills and work in a higher-level position someday.

In what way do you feel like you’re making a difference in your job?

I have received a lot of feedback about how my project, with new and innovative ideas, has brought a positive change in the business. I can also see how the business has started to incorporate a lot of my recommendations and is slowly changing to smarter ways of working and I feel like getting to be a part of this is very rewarding.

What expectations did you have about this career path that you have found differed from reality – either good or bad?

I have some experience of working a corporate job for a big company in Nepal and I felt like working for KTP is going to be somewhat similar. But I was so wrong in this regard as KTP offers so much more. KTP encourages the associates to spend approximately 10% of their time on training and development activities to help them gain valuable skills for their personal development and prepare for the future. In fact, we are also given a separate training and development budget which I think is huge.

What skills did you learn at Queen’s that have helped you in your career?

During my time at Queen’s, both as a student and working as an international ambassador, I learned a lot about time management, working under strict deadlines, teamwork, and most of my analytical skills from my course.

What advice do you have for students and graduates wanting to apply for a KTP?

Always keep being updated with the KTP openings and keep an eye out to something that interests you. Never hesitate to apply even if you think you won’t make it as there’s always a possibility that you will. Coming from someone who didn’t even think of working in the UK, I ended up getting the job I always wanted, and I am so happy I applied. KTP is much more than just a regular job, you will learn so much throughout your journey, hone your skills in so many areas and it will definitely be worth it.

How did your Queen’s experience help your personal and professional development?

Getting a master’s degree from Queen’s has been an added bonus for me in so many ways. Not just the technical knowledge from the course, I also undertook multiple leadership courses like Master your Leadership, Inspiring leaders, and Leadership in Practice which definitely helped me develop my personal skills, improve my communication and also enhance my leadership capabilities which I think instilled so much confidence in me.

What’s the one thing you’ll never forget about your time at Queen’s?

Actually, there are two – Sleepless nights during dissertation (which became so much rewarding to me later) and Graduation day as it was the day I finished my degree and was so happy!

Interested in KTP at Queen’s? KTP will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 19 July talking about creativity and lateral thinking. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.

KTP are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021

Categories
Global Opportunities international students internship placement Research STEM student success Student success stories Switzerland Technology Work abroad

“My life changing experience on an international internship”

Queen’s Chemistry student Anwin Robin has described a paid internship with the British Council’s IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) programme as “the best year of my life.”

Like many Queen’s students, Anwin took the opportunity to gain international experience and boost his employability skills on a paid placement abroad. 

Anwin, from Dromore in County Down, moved to Switzerland in June 2019 to work with Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.

Anwin said: “During my internship I drew on my background as a chemistry student to carry out research into making stronger materials. Knowing that they may be used in the future in structures ranging from airplanes to wind turbines made my work feel tangible and relevant.”

Anwin at work in Switzerland

The best year of my life

During his time in Switzerland, Anwin also had the opportunity to meet up other interns working across the country through weekend excursions organised by IAESTE, the largest global mobility programme for STEM students in the world. 

Anwin added: “My time in Switzerland has been the best year of my life so far. My IAESTE placement showed me how international many companies are today and confirmed that I want to grow my work experience outside of the UK. I will forever be grateful to IAESTE for providing me with this opportunity.”

Adapting for Covid-19

Anwin enjoyed the experience so much that when Switzerland went into lockdown because of Covid-19, he chose to stay in the country and continue his internship from home. He also used this as an opportunity to develop his coding skills.

Anwin has remained in Switzerland since finishing his IAESTE placement in May. He is currently applying to further internships in the country and hopes to eventually study for a Masters in computer science.

Whilst Covid-19 has restricted much travel this summer, many IAESTE placements have shifted online in response.

Among the 15 students from Northern Ireland who are currently undertaking remote internships with organisations in the USA, India, Bangladesh and Poland, are several Queen’s students who are joining online seminars and discussions. Their subject areas include biomedical science, business and marketing, computer science, aerospace engineering and chemical engineering.

Life changing impact

Jonathan Stewart, Director of the British Council Northern Ireland, said: “It’s wonderful to hear about the lifechanging impact of Anwin’s IAESTE placement, and we wish him all the best as he starts out in his career. Despite Covid-19, the IAESTE programme has quickly adapted and continues to offer quality opportunities for our university students to gain international experience. The remote internships help to provide Northern Ireland students with new technical skills while also experiencing different cultures and ways of working.”

In Northern Ireland IAESTE is funded by the Department for the Economy and delivered by the British Council.

Queen’s STEM students interested in applying for the IAESTE programme can find more information here:

https://www.britishcouncil.org/study-work-abroad/outside-uk/iaeste

For more information on work or study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities site

Categories
international students Leadership

5 Ways Queen’s Careers team can change your life

Shing Him Mak, LLB Law, on how he’s used the Queen’s Careers service.

1.They’ll make sure your CV and Linked in profile are on point

Have you ever struggled to write a CV? Do you know what to put and what not to put in your CV? Do you know what HR managers are looking for in a CV?

Queen’s has a number of experienced career consultants who are always willing to check your CV. At most career fairs, you’ll find them at the booth near the entrance to provide a quick CV check service for you. You can also book a CV check slot online through Queen’s Career website any time.

2.They can help you formulate a career plan

Throughout your time at Queens, you may have different thoughts about your future career. Whether you’re applying for an internship, or you want to start up a business, the careers team are here to help. In my experience, Queen’s career consultants are very experienced and professional, and they can answer any career query you might have.

If you are struggling with career options, or any career related matters, book a consultation slot online through the careers website.

3.They have a direct line to major firms 

The employability team organise massive career fairs where almost all of the big firms are represented. Some firms even conduct their interviews on campus. If you want to know more how to get into your dream firm, or want to know more about the firms that can help when it comes to making key career decisions, then I would suggest you go to the fairs and talk to the firms. It is also a great chance to network, which you may find useful when it comes to the dreaded job applications.

4.They can hook you up with key employers

Many employers will have outreach programme where they will visit Queen’s campus and organise workshops for students. The most common workshops I have seen are CV workshops, communication skills workshops and employability skills workshop. If you have spare time, then you should definitely go to one these sessions.

5.They can take you on a life-changing journey

I’d say this may be the best part of Queen’s career service. I took part in the Global Leadership Programme, in which I got an opportunity to travel to the USA for a seven-day leadership training course at a discount price. They run a lot of programmes throughout the year, such as the London Law / Finance Tour, City Scholarship Programme and Brussel Study Tour among others.

It is never too early to plan for your future. And remember, with Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills team, you are never alone in shaping a better future for yourself.

Categories
Alumni international careers international experience international students student success

Alumni inspiration

“Nothing can stop you if you, if you accept challenge and adapt.”

Azhar Murtaza

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.”

For more inspiration download our Grad Guide 2020