Phoebe Craddock-Bligh, Queen’s History and Politics student spent a year at William Peace University Raleigh, NC, as part of the Study USA programme. Here is how she got on:
I applied to take part in the Study USA programme after hearing about it at the Go Global Fair two years ago. I also attended other talks but decided that Study USA was the one for me. In a very boring and practical way Study USA was the most economical way for me to take a year out and to be honest that was my driving factor in applying (that and REALLY wanting to go to America). – Getting accepted was just the biggest rush and it just goes to show you, if you don’t apply you won’t ever know- so why not take the risk?
Learning a new subject
I was placed by Study USA in William Peace University in Raleigh, NC with the primary goal of studying business classes and gaining an understanding of American culture. As a History and Politics student I was initially nervous about taking business classes, especially as I hadn’t taken a maths class since 2016! There were moments where I did struggle (especially in micro and macroeconomics) but I quickly realised that it wasn’t just me who was finding the content hard- the whole class was, which was quite the relief.
Through some hard work, a bit of mentoring and wonderful and caring teaching staff, I ended the semester with a distinction from the Dean and a 4.0 GPA! I was also pleasantly surprised at how interesting I found the business classes, plus I was able to take 1 elective per semester, so alongside organisational behaviour and marketing, I tried out completely new classes such as creative writing and women’s studies. In short – don’t rule out applying for Study USA just because you’re not a business student. The business skills I gained made me feel stronger in my position going forward into my career, and I’m grateful I had the chance to learn more about business in such a unique way.
A taste of the USA
Now for the fun stuff: living in the States was amazing! I loved every second, even when I wasn’t loving it. When I was presented with the reality of returning home pre-lockdown, I was distraught to be leaving so soon and not getting to finish the year on a high. Of course, I’m still incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity and the experiences I did. I got to visit NYC, explore Washington DC, take a Spring Break road trip to the mountains, and even a 9-hour drive to Florida (and back- we should have flown). And, of course, explore plenty of North Carolina. One of my favourite parts of being in The South was the BBQ! I can’t even write this without thinking about North Carolinian chopped BBQ, coleslaw and vinegar based hot sauce – and then there was the Mexican food! Sorry Boojum, but I’ve seen the light.
Joining the frat pack
Ultimately though, my favourite memories of my time in the States are less to do with all the cool places I got to see, and more to do with my friends and experiencing American college life. I thought I was prepared for the ‘American college experience’, I’d seen the films I thought I knew the craic. One thing I was not ready for was the sheer level of enthusiasm I was met with. From day one I became a Pacer, embroiled in college tradition and part of tight knit, caring community. I loved all the free merch we got to show off our ‘Pacer pride’, the welcome dinners on the front lawn and the events put on for students. Weekdays were always so busy with sports games (I’m now an avid basketball fan), ice cream socials or movie screenings, not to mention several failed Zumba classes. It was great being so involved.
My friends made my year though. I met some of the most fantastic people (and of course some not so great ones – but that’s just life!). I got particularly lucky with my suitemate Shawntez though. We met in the bathroom, where so many great female friendships begin, and were pretty much inseparable after that. What I miss the most from my time on Study USA is the people. It’s cringey but it’s true. It was my friends who made 8am classes bearable, or broke up the tedium of cafeteria food with weeknight trips to Wendy’s for burgers. My favourite memory with Shawntez was the NC State Fair. We accidentally parked 2 miles away, refused to wait for the shuttle bus so walked down a highway in the rain only to queue for 40 minutes just to get inside. But you know what, we still had the best time. Our night ended at 1am with a giant turkey leg, chocolate dipped cheesecake, and an entire deep fried onion. An initial disaster turned into the best memory.
Your main reason for studying abroad might not be to meet amazing friends you will inevitably have to leave, but it’s these people who end up making the day to day life, classes, homework and missing home enjoyable.
Sometimes I scroll though my camera roll looking at my photos from last year, and it still doesn’t always feel real. The experiences I had genuinely changed how I look at and approach the world in the best possible way, and my resilience has increased 10 times over. It wasn’t all plain sailing. Naturally there were times when I longed to go home and see my family, but I would do the whole thing all over again in a heartbeat if I could, the bad and the good.
If you’re even the tiniest bit considering that you might like to spend some time studying abroad, I would encourage you to take the plunge and apply. Start the process and you never know how far you might get.
Find out more about Study USA by joining our information session on Oct 20 and Nov 3
Queen’s Philosophy student Ryan Lavelle spent a year in North Central College, Illinois as part of the Study USA programme. Here is his diary.
I had always dreamed of one day moving to America, and on 12 August 2019, I finally stepped on a plane bound for Chicago to make that dream a reality. I remember standing wide-eyed in Dublin Airport with a bag-load of dreams, nerves and expectations.
I worked so hard for this moment: in the months leading up to my move to America, I worked three jobs so that I could save enough money to enjoy my time in Chicago. Unfortunately, I also suffered a close family bereavement shortly before my date of departure, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to go ahead with my great American adventure and have the best time possible. My goals? To propel myself further in life by meeting new people and making new connections, seeing new places and learning new things. I did all of this and more, and though the year came to an abrupt end, there has been a remarkable difference in my levels of confidence, resilience and knowledge as a result.
Touching down in Chicago
When I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, it was hot and humid, and very rainy outside. For some reason I expected to walk out of the gate and see someone with my name on a sign waiting for me. That wasn’t the case. I instantly felt the fast-paced American culture all around me, with lots of people shouting and rushing around. I was no longer in Dublin. I did not panic though. In fact, I kind of liked it. Luckily, I happened to see this bushy blonde-haired woman with a sign that read ‘North Central College’ walking around, so I approached her and said “I think you’re looking for me.” Little did I know I wasn’t the only person she was looking for as she had about seven other students due to arrive any minute.
The first night
This woman was Kimberley Larsson, Executive Director of the Center for Global Education at my college for the year, North Central College. One-by-one, the other students were found. French. German. Spanish. Bosnian. Australian. Russian. Japanese. Right away I was in the thick of cultural diversity, and I loved it. We then crammed into the red North Central shuttle bus and headed to Naperville, about 40 minutes from O’Hare. I was in awe of the massive highways, billboards and buildings that surrounded us. I really was in America! Because we arrived late, we pretty much went to our rooms after being given bedding and pillows by staff. I thought about how previous exchange year students spoke of an immediate feeling of dread when that bedroom door shuts for the first time. I couldn’t have been further away from feeling dread – I was thriving. In terms of culture shock, nothing ‘shocked’ me per se, but I loved the challenge of adapting to a new environment as I had never taken up such a drastic transition in all my life until then. With that said, I was at ease. Thankfully, this feeling persisted all throughout my experience and homesickness never really became a thing for me.
Making friends from all over the world
From the next day onward, all international students partook in orientation week. The international students all became very close in the first semester. I made some of my best friends within the group of international students, and I plan on visiting them one day. What’s nice about getting close to other internationals is that they are in the same boat as you. They’re far away from home and adapting to a new environment, just like you. The sad part about getting close to other internationals is that so many of them are only there for one semester. Going back after Christmas break was somewhat daunting as I knew some of the people I spent a lot of time with would no longer be there, but this just meant I got much closer to the American students I was already friends with. The cultural diversity at play was, at times, astonishing. It was great to experience people from so many different backgrounds. Whilst enjoyable, it was also challenging. At times certain people would get frustrated with one another because they were misunderstood for saying or doing something that would be so normal in their home countries. I was once explaining Brexit to a fellow classmate when he interrupted me and asked the following: “wait, what’s Brexit? Is that a country?” You just have to laugh in those moments!
Chasing the American dream
America is a highly diverse country, but it’s also competitive. This is what makes it such an exciting place to be. People are always going somewhere or doing something. They always have a goal in mind, a meeting to be at, or money to earn – even if they’re the most zen person you could ever meet. It’s hard not to get caught up in this lifestyle. I developed better practices in the States because of this, such as keeping a good routine, waking up early, studying more regularly, drinking less and exploring the world around me more. Thus, I think the cultural diversity has been good to me. I’ve taken things from each culture I’ve befriended and used these lessons in my own daily life whilst remembering how alike we all can be in some sense, too.
Living in a college movie
Within a week of orientation, I was right into classes. It felt surreal being in an American classroom given that my childhood was consumed by American television shows centred on the American high school and college student experience. For the fall semester I took classes in marketing, international business, environmental economics and an elective called ‘people and nature’ which was a socio-political look at humanity’s relationship with the environment. In the spring, my classes were social entrepreneurship, an introduction to computer programming, business law and another environmental studies elective.
Finding my niche
North Central College has an amazing focus on sustainability which drew me to the college in the first place, and I knew I wanted to take as many environmental classes as I could. This aspect of my college life has been one of the highlights of my year abroad. I am interested in the dynamic between business and the environment, and my year abroad allowed me to focus my studies on just that. Now I feel better informed and prepared to complete my dissertation in final year, which I hope to do on environmental ethics. The environmental field is growing and the jobs market for candidates with this kind of knowledge and experience is only going to get bigger in the future. I have since decided I wish to steer my career journey in this direction and hope to pursue postgraduate courses and jobs in environmental law, policy or management.
A new life outlook
Moreover, the social entrepreneurship class I took has also changed my outlook on life. It involved me coming up with a fully-fledged social venture plan to address a social issue I am passionate about. The result of my work was a business plan for a social enterprise that addresses the link between our environment and mental health in the context of climate anxiety. This is something I would love to one day work on again, perhaps even at Queen’s! Thus, my classes have meant a lot to me and in the grand scheme of things. I was gifted with a renewed entrepreneurial spirit during my time studying in the US, which in itself comes with an eagerness to take every opportunity that presents itself to you.
Flexible study model
I very much welcomed the differences between the US and UK education systems and appreciate both in their own ways. I recognise what makes the system I am used to at Queen’s so great, but preferred certain elements of the system at North Central College. In regards to the latter, I especially liked the flexibility of choosing classes and electives, and found it interesting how American students do not apply to colleges per course they want to do, as they can declare their ‘major’ well into their studies. I think I would definitely benefit from this back home as I enjoy so many fields of study and found it hard settling on just one. That being said, courses at home are more rigorous. The flexibility in the American system gives room for lenient teaching and grading, more varied and school-like assessments and having classmates that find they don’t really want to be there (if they’ve taken your class just for credit). That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything – I actually learned a lot, and regular homework was common in the US! University in the UK, however, holds you to a higher standard in terms of independence and responsibility, especially when it comes to researching and essay writing.
It seems American students have a much heavier focus on extracurriculars in conjunction with their studies, with many of them receiving scholarships for sport, music or acting which then take precedence over their social and academic lives. Having said this, I myself got into the routine of taking part in extracurriculars such as Enactus which was a nice contrast to my social life in Belfast which mainly consisted of either working or going out. In a way, I think studying in the US has helped me develop a more balanced mindset when it comes to student life – it’s not all about partying hard and spending obscene amounts of money every week. Since coming home, I already feel much more positive, healthy and fiscally responsible than I was before.
Highlights I’ll cherish
I will be ever grateful for my year abroad. I look back on my time at North Central College fondly and I tend to think about specific moments or people I met along the way every day. I think my favourite moment was attending the Global Climate Strike in downtown Chicago with some of my best friends in September 2019. That moment exuded everything I learned throughout the year – friendship, reflection, Chicago, passion, activism, confidence, strength and resilience. I have an almighty appetite to return to the States one day (maybe next year?), but for now I am quite content in Belfast.
I have realised that all of these places I had been so used to are now new to me again as I step back in old environments with a new persona, a new being and a new sense of direction in life. That’s all thanks to my global opportunity and the additional opportunities it created along the way. It goes without saying that the 2019-20 ‘year abroaders’ won’t be forgotten about any time soon. Being abroad during the unravelling of a global pandemic is a life lesson in and of itself. However, it does not take away from the fun and enjoyment I had in the last few weeks before my departure, but also the whole year. I can confidently say that I left Chicago having made some small difference in people’s lives, but the difference in my life is much greater and more profound. So, if you’re reading this and considering giving a year abroad a go – there’s no harm in at least applying! Attend workshops, work on your application, go to the interview… And if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to go abroad – take it!
If anything this year has shown us, it’s that life is full of risks. I can confidently say that studying abroad was the best risk I’ve ever taken (even when my personal life was a bit chaotic). That said, I’d do it all over again.
Fancy studying in the USA like Ryan? Don’t miss our Study USA information session. 21 October 12pm. Register here:
Meet Michael Downey, one of our Go Global Ambassadors 2020. If you are thinking of following in his footsteps and spending a year or a semester abroad, he’s here to share his tips, tricks and wisdom with you.
“New York City has an energy like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down.”
As a Business Information Technology student, I made the decision to do a placement in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City. The experience of living and working on NYC was a rollercoaster (and included a 4-month quarantine in Miami) but it’s been a life-changing experience. Here are just some of the reasons why….
I worked as a Software Developer for a SaaS start-up called On The Stage, and I joined at a time when the company was experiencing high growth – this was super exciting! My office was located on Broadway & W 54th St and my apartment in Amsterdam Ave & W 107th St, both in Manhattan so this was only a 20-minute subway ride which was super convenient.
What can I say about the concrete jungle of NYC? The energy of the city is like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down. There’s too much to do in NYC and it never stops. Luckily, if you’re on an intern budget NYC has tons of FREE events to offer, I mean 100’s each day and it can be overwhelming deciding which event to go to.
If you’re worried about surviving financially on an intern salary in NYC, I’d advise you to create a budget and stick to it and you’ll be fine – this is actually a great learning experience as you learn how to manage your personal finances.
Part of my routine involved running around the 1.58-mile Reservoir Loop in Central Park before work. This run at 7.30 am in the morning was a beautiful start to the day as you could escape the mayhem, relax and enjoy the ambience. There were always thousands of people running and this really fueled my motivation to push harder and improve my run time
The beauty of living in a major city is that historic events are commonplace. Luckily, I was able to attend two notable sporting events: the 2019 US Open Tennis – Women’s Singles finals (Serena Williams was playing) and the PGA Tour National Trust Tournament (Rory McIlroy was playing)
On two occasions I also travelled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Brooklyn Nets vs Miami Heat play in the NBA . An NBA game is an awesome experience, they really know how to put on a show. The game comprises 4 quarters with each quarter lasting 12 minutes but the whole show lasts 2 hours!
Escaping the city
In the winter, I travelled to Hunter Mountain Ski Resort with a group of friends for a weekend of snowboarding. This was just over a 2-hour drive from Manhattan which is like driving from Dublin to Belfast, so it’s not far, at least for American standards.
New York City is among the world’s most dynamic culinary capitals.
Sampling new cuisines became a weekly routine. After trying Peruvian at a restaurant named Pio Pio on the Upper West Side I quickly fell in love with this amazing cuisine! Another favourite would have to be Japanese, the ramen from Totto Ramen in Midtown East and the sushi from Sugarfish in Soho were hands down my favorite. Totto Ramen was located within walking distance of my office which was perfect, especially on a chilly winter’s day, the warm broth was an excellent meal to get the blood flowing.
One of the J1-IWT visa requirements is to experience American culture and I believe this was fulfilled by attending a variety of iconic Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Fortunately, the CEO of On The Stage is also a Broadway producer so one of the perks of the job is to occasionally be offered free or discounted tickets. In 7-months I attended nine shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hamilton, Slava Snowshow, The Rockettes, The Lion King, Tina The Musical, The Inheritance, Little Shop of Horrors and Riverdance.
Exploring the States
The United States is a huge and diverse place, every state is like its own country in terms of legislation, culture, people and the way of life – that’s what makes the country so special! I experienced this firsthand by travelling to multiple US cities, for example, Miami, Marco Island, Naples, Orlando and Tampa, FL, Houston, TX and Chicago, IL. Each city has a different flavour, culturally, Miami and Houston are extremely different compared to New York and Chicago – it’s interesting to visit and experience these diverse cities. Another fascinating comparison is the political views of the majority; Miami (Republican) vs New York City (Democratic). Here are just a few of my highlights:
Speaking Spanish in Miami
During quarantine, I spent 4-months living in Miami, so I truly experienced the Latin culture. The majority of people speak Spanish so if you want to practice your speaking and listening skills make a trip to Miami. Since 1st year I’ve been taking Spanish classes at Queen’s, so this was the perfect opportunity to improve my skills. I also enjoyed exploring the Latin cuisines; Cuban, Venezuela and Colombian. Miami is a cool city and its growing at a fast rate.
I also got the opportunity to visit Marco Island on the west coast of Florida, it is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico, so the ocean is beautiful as it is calm and warm – just a few degrees hotter than Portrush.
Houston is a modern city in terms of infrastructure and buildings. Everything is BIG, the houses, the cars, the food portion sizes etc. The locals are super friendly, you receive pleasant greetings when out and about. In Houston there is a huge Indian and Vietnamese community, so you see a lot of these restaurants around the city.
The highlight of this trip was visiting the NASA Johnson Space Center, which is home to Mission Control and astronaut training. The behind-the-scenes Tram Tour was amazing, I saw the Saturn V rocket, which is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown. NASA used the Saturn V rockets during the Apollo program to send Americans to the Moon.
Chicago is a pretty city and the most significant characteristic for me was the architecture. It’s like a mini, cleaner New York City. The three days in the city were crammed with tourist activities, these include; the Architectural Boat Tour, Navy Pier, Riverwalk Walking Tour, 360 Skydeck & The Tilt, Deep Dish Pizza and Portillo’s Hot Dog. I loved learning about the history of Chicago.
During my last week in the US, I spent some time at Disney World Orlando which was amazing! I visited Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Highlights were Star Wars land, Avatar Land and Toy Storyland. The new Star Wars and Avatar attractions are so immersive, you truly feel like you’re in the movie – Disney has created an incredible experience.
Michael was supported with obtaining a visa and moving to the US by the Rian Immigrant Center. More details here:
Meet Michael at our Go Global Canada/USA info session on October 12.
Maths graduate Ben Devlin explains how the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair helped him realise the range of careers available to him.
Queen’s graduate Ben Devlin works as a Retirement Consultant at Willis Towers Watson in Dublin. He was taken on by the firm as a graduate actuarial consultant in late 2017. He may have made the transition from university to work look easy, but the reality was lots of applications, CV and cover letter submissions and interviews.
“I secured my graduate job after applying to many different actuarial roles,” says Ben.
Asking the right questions
Ben was able to get a better understanding of the options open to him by asking the right questions at the Graduate Recruitment and Placement Fair: What positions at your company would be a good option for someone with my degree? What is it like to work at your company?
“I was able to get an insight into the range of careers that are available to me as a graduate. I was able to talk to people who worked for these firms and get an insight of what it is like to work for these firms on a day to day basis,” he says.
Building up skills
Ben built up relevant work experience during his time at Queen’s.
“I participated in the London Finance and Business tour where I was able to get an experience of what it is like to work in an environment such as London. This helped me understand the roles that existed in firms in the finance industry and understand the application process. This in turn helped me prepare better for interviews and to land a summer internship the following year.”
His advice to current students? “Make the most of the opportunities available at Queen’s. It is also important to get internship or graduate applications in as early as possible in order to become more familiar with the application process,” he says.
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.”
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:
Michael Dallat, one of the first cohort of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s, is honoured as a social mobility student champion, as he graduates with a BA in Film and Theatre Making
Michael Dallat, a Film and Theatre Making graduate from Queen’s has been honoured as a runner up in the Lloyds Scholars Champion Award 2020. Michael was nominated alongside scholars from leading universities across the UK and scooped the £1,000 runner up prize in recognition of his work championing the social mobility programme to future applicants.
Queen’s University has been a proud partner of the award-winning Lloyds Scholarship programme since 2016. Designed to support and encourage students from below average income families to study at leading universities, the programme offers students a complete package of financial support, paid internships, business mentorship and the opportunity to develop their employability skills.
As a member of one of the first cohort of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s, Michael has undertaken two internships, completed over 100 hours of volunteering and secured a place on the Lloyds Graduate Programme for 2020.
He said: “As a working-class lad from Coleraine, this award makes me very proud. To be in a position to inspire others is something that is really humbling for me. When I applied for the Scholars program back in school, I never thought I’d be a figurehead who others look up to.
“The Lloyds Scholars programme is a fantastic package. The internships, volunteering and access to a mentor have been immensely beneficial for my career prospects. The internships have allowed me to develop new skills, and network with lots of driven and inspiring individuals. It has really changed my life, on both a personal and professional level.”
Wilma Fee, Director of Academic and Student Affairs at Queen’s, said Michael has inspired hundreds of students to apply for the programme over his three-year tenure.
She said: “We are proud that Michael has been recognised as a true ambassador for the Lloyds Scholarship programme. As the lead Lloyds representative at our annual Widening Participation Open Days, Queen’s Open Days and University Offer Holder Days between 2017 and 2020, Michael spoke openly and honestly to groups of over 300 students, enthusiastically answering any questions they had and sharing his own personal stories and experiences. Michael has helped raise awareness of the Lloyds programme and raised the aspirations of hundreds of our students.”
Congratulating Michael, Professor David Jones, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students said: “I first met Michael in October 2017 when he spoke exceptionally well at the launch of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s and have followed his progress with pride. Shaping socially conscious and successful graduates sits at the heart of Queen’s and being honoured as a runner up in the Lloyds Scholars Champion Award 2020 is testament to the valuable difference Michael has made. It’s fantastic to see how the experience has benefitted Michael and that it has had such a significant impact on his personal development.”
“On behalf of everyone at Queen’s, I congratulate Michael for graduating and I wish him well as he embarks on the Lloyds Graduate Programme.”
Our alumni session 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.”
Film & Theatre Making student Christian Green spills everything you wanted to know about Queen’s Career Development Programme in NYC.
What inspired your trip to New York?
I applied for the Career Development Programme to NYC because, as a film student, I have long considered the option of moving to America post-graduation. The trip appealed to me because of the focus on developing skills and personal traits that employers look for, like confidence, communication and professionalism. It also promised to help us to develop a, “global/cultural awareness”, and despite me being to America with my family on multiple occasions, I had not yet developed that awareness of America’s business landscape and what it is like to network and put yourself forward as a young business professional in that kind of environment. I was more than interested in the diverse range of pre-planned company visits and also the specific visit of going to meet a BAFTA winning filmmaker.
What were the highlights of the experience?
On a personal level, my top highlights of the trip would have to be:
Meeting with filmmaker Marcus Robinson at the World Trade Center and receiving an open invitation to come and work with him post-graduation.
Seeing the city for the first time. The hike I did on my own through Manhattan (visiting most of the iconic locations within the city as well as iconic film locations).
Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.
The Queen’s Alumni Networking Evening where I had the privilege to speak in front of past Queen’s students from all fields and generations.
Last, but certainly not least, getting to meet such a diverse and wonderful group of Queen’s students whom I had the pleasure of sharing this experience with. Everyone was able to take a lot away from the programme and we all made memories and developed friendships that will last us a lifetime.
What was the most surprising thing about the experience?
What surprised me the most whilst in New York was the fact that the world of business (whether that be corporate or commercial), even within a large city like New York, is not as intimidating as it is made out to be. When people think of business in its stereotypical form (briefcases, suits and all), we all instantly picture the elite, the select few. Who handle money and have careers that some of us could only dream of. My main observation from one meeting to the next during the visit was that this is not the case at all. Yes, you do need to have certain qualifications, a specific work ethic and can-do attitude in order to succeed but once you are in, everyone is just like you. Most of the people who spoke to us were either Queen’s alumni or natives of Ireland or Northern Ireland and because of that, they interacted with us all on a very personal level. They wanted to hear about us and what we studied and aspired to do just as much, if not more, than they wanted to talk about themselves and their companies/success stories. Even some of the CEOs that we met, who initially seemed quite intimidating and powerful, were not that much different from the nine of us seated around the table. They simply worked hard, dreamed big and made the right decisions when the opportunities came along. As sung by the legendary Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere”, and that just about sums up the world of success and professional business within New York; if you can get your foot in the door and be heard, the possibilities are endless.
In what ways has the trip been life-changing?
For myself personally, the key life-changing piece of information that I learned from the programme is that “corridor vision” can narrow down your career options and that ultimately, you can tailor your own future for yourself. For the people who are maybe are not so sure of what they want to do or they are open to the idea of alternatives, at each and every company in New York we were told in some shape or form, “If you come from a university like Queen’s with a good degree (no matter what field), that shows a certain kind of determination and aptitude to learn”. And with that, the opportunities for post-graduates who simply have the confidence to make the move and the determination to succeed are almost endless. Whether it be the likes of internships at KPMG or Moet Hennessy or the TwitterU programme, your degree does not tie you down to one door at the end of the corridor, one job. Do not become so fixed on this one role that you ignore all of the other opportunities that present themselves to you along the way.
In what ways did the trip enhance your CV?
In terms of my CV, the trip helped me add the credibility of being a Global Ambassador for Queen’s but also helped me to develop a lot of my own skills which I can now list with confidence such as public speaking, team work, team leading, presentational skills, organisational skills and professionalism. It really did open my eyes to what it is going to take for me personally to go out to the States and take in the culture shock but also adapt to it.
“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.”