Graduate stories June 2022
A gathering of DCU Alumni in Washington, prompted by RTE’s Caitriona Perry, saw Irish man Tony Flynn complete a third level journey begun nearly 30 years earlier.
Tony is now Assistant Vice President, Network Support, Amtrak, Washington DC but he began his career in transport with Aer Lingus where in 1988 he was selected to be a trainee computer programmer.
While on a career based professional path, he had no degree or formal studies behind him.
After a couple of years Tony began a BSc in Computer Applications in DCU. That was in 1991 and he said, “the idea was to get the credentials to catch up with the work experience.”
His career moved faster than he had expected and two years into his DCU course, he left to work for British Airways and “that meant I had to abandon my studies.”
He spent a number of years travelling for work and said “there was no avenue and no real interest by me at the time in trying to pursue an academic career. I put it on the back burner.”
Despite making that decision, as time passed and his career progressed, he said, “it is almost a given in the US that if you are working and doing well, you must have gone to college. It is almost an introductory question to be asked ‘where did you study’ or ‘what was your alma mater.’”
He admits he began to feel “a bit of imposter syndrome. It was definitely something I carried with me, a bit of guilt that went with it.”
Then, “almost by accident I stumbled on DCU Connected.”
When RTÉ’s Caitriona Perry, who has a Degree in Journalism and a Master’s in International Relations from DCU, was appointed Washington Correspondent, she set up an alumni chapter to connect with other DCU graduates there.
Tony had DCU on his LinkedIn profile and got an invite to the initial meeting of the Washington chapter in 2015.
“I think the Alumni meeting rekindled the sense that there was a community that I could be part of and be a fully-fledged member of too.”
Around the same time there Amtrak had a fatal derailment. It had a significant impact on him. He said, “A few days later I had a breakdown at work. I was really emotionally drained by it. I got interested in safety and safety culture and how we can change hearts and minds. You can’t change hearts and minds without understanding how they work.”
He went onto the DCU website and found a BA in Humanities with Psychology that resonated with him.
Having a connection with DCU from starting his BSc in Computer Applications and connecting with the Alumni in Washington he said he wanted to “punch my membership card of the Alumni association rather than showing up and again feeling a fraud.”
He also had a sense of guilt for not having a formal third level qualification and, “I wanted to get rid of that and DCU Connected gave me a path for that.”
The course structure allowed him to study online with numerous support tools including recorded tutorials and he flew back for on campus requirements such as workshops.
“I didn’t feel like I was 5 time zones and an ocean away,” he said.
Tony completed the 12 modules over five years and did his final year research project on safety.
“I found the course very beneficial. It was a great education in a very practical field about how to understand data, how to analyse data and how to identify statistical significance in data.”
Other key skills were learning to navigate the academic literature and understanding evidence-based research and evidence-based interventions.
“I had long regretted not having a cohort of college friends from the traditional path of college after the Leaving Cert. DCU Connected allowed me to have my college buddies. They arrived about 30 years late but I have them!”
“It has given me a lot of personal pride and satisfaction to complete a degree. It has taken away some doubt I had about myself and whether I could do it or had it in me.”
When he sees people in college who are not in the 18-22 age bracket, he says, “we can under-estimate what we bring to the table as adult learners. We all have our own story. We all have our own journey. There are a lot of different reasons as to why we ended up in this place at different times in our life and all of those reasons are valid."
“DCU’s journalism course always stood out as the best journalism course in the country and ‘INTRA’ is what sold it, because it gets a foot in the door in such a competitive area.”
The words of journalist and DCU graduate Sonja Tutty who came to study as an international student in 2017.
Her brother Daniel was already studying on the BSc in Multimedia and she said, “he adored the course there. That drew me into DCU as a university.”
When she was researching options for journalism, she said DCU’s degree, “seemed to be the one with most interesting modules and the lecturers seemed to be the most interesting with the research they had conducted.”
Sonja, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, said that the INTRA work placement also encouraged her to choose DCU.
From the words ‘INtegrated TRAining’, INTRA is DCU’s internship programme. It is an accredited and highly valued part of student learning and is a compulsory part of many degree programmes.
It provides real world experience, helps students to develop transferable skills and, ultimately, enhance their employability.
She said that, “for a lot of people on my course, not just me, INTRA was what made them chose DCU’s course. The connections with national media really sold it, there were so many people who had done the course in DCU and were now very successful journalists.”
INTRA is a required element of both the BA and Master’s in Journalism in DCU and both have very successful Alumni.
Sonja had her INTRA with Newstalk in Dublin although the pandemic meant she had to work online and from home.
She said, “it was a great experience. I was a researcher for their weekday shows and I jumped between Pat Kenny, Moncrief, Lunchtime Live… I did all the shows, it was a fantastic experience.”
She interned from June to September 2020 and was asked then to stay on by Newstalk.
Sonja admits that while her DCU course, “had really good radio and TV modules, I was always personally really drawn to writing.”
She said working on radio and television programmes on the course was great experience and fun, but “I definitely preferred written and print journalism.”
The Times (Ireland) and Sunday Times have a graduate programme and through DCU lecturer Paul McNamara, Sonja was put in touch with the papers’ digital news editor and subsequently offered a position.
At the end of the one year graduate scheme, she was asked to stay on.
You can read Sonja’s work in print and online and she said she believes that going to DCU “developed my journalism skills,” and her news writing skills.
She said there are, “fantastic lecturers for news writing and feature writing but beyond that I think DCU outside of the course provides great opportunities for student journalists.”
While on campus she contributed to The College View, Her Campus DCU and STAND as well as being involved with DCUfm and DCUtv.
For anyone considering studying journalism at DCU she said it is a course worth taking even if you are uncertain which direction you want to take in the world of media whether PR, Communications or working in social media.
She said it is also a stepping stone from which to do a Master’s because, “you learn so many valuable skills that leak into other areas of media and creativity and arts.”
While the journalism course obviously prepares you to be a journalist, she has friends from her course who have moved into other areas “and are extremely successful and I think that is a credit to the course itself.
“I got my job because of the Master’s I have from DCU.”
A school visit to a DCU Open Day led Louise Foley to decide to do a BA in International Relations there and her positive experience during that three year course, contributed to her opting to also do her Master’s in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society.
Louise was among one of the first intake of postgrads to the Master’s and its introduction, she says, “filled a gap in the field because it combined the scientific background of climate change, which was fully explained to us and it also brought in communications and policy and law.”
“It was a multi-disciplined course and it illustrated how climate change relates to so many areas and how you need to bring everyone along in addressing it. You need a response from every section of society, it can’t just be scientists pulling us along,” she added.
Louise feels studying International Relations for her Bachelors was a good decision as she had, “always enjoyed politics and history and current events. Coming out of secondary school I did not really know what I wanted to do and the course was so interesting and covered so many different things that had peaked my interest.”
She says she had gone to a DCU Open Day “with intention of going to see the talk on Economics, Politics and Law. The person giving that talk was also giving the talk on International Relations and they were both in the School of Law and Government.”
That was where she heard about it and decided to apply.
Deciding on where to do her Master’s after taking a year out, DCU was an easy choice because, just as they were during the undergrad, “the lecturers were all accessible and helpful. They were all very engaged in the issue of climate action and trying to help. If you had genuine questions they were always glad to help and glad to discuss it.”
“It was a small group of us doing the Master’s and it felt more of a classroom than a lecture hall at times. It was fantastic that it was a small group; you could have discussions, ask questions, it was all very accessible.”
For her thesis Louise did a comparative study on three different countries that had declared climate emergencies and whether, having declared a climate change emergency, they had undertaken significant work or actions.” She compared Ireland, Canada and the UK. The title was ‘Climate Emergency Declarations: A New Form of Greenwashing?’
The composition of the DCU Master’s in Climate Change “was not specific to one sector. In that way it sets you up for a lot of different options when it comes to getting a job after you leave.”
“I would definitely recommend DCU to anyone interested in studying for their Master’s.”
Louise also says the accessibility of DCU for people with autism and, “the fact they have gone out of their way to make it an accessible university for people on the spectrum is fantastic. It goes to show how inclusive the university is and how much they care that they are inclusive.”
Louise is a Climate Action Graduate with Meath County Council and said, “I got my job because of the Master’s I have from DCU.”
This year Dr Ellen Howley lectured on Irish poet and playwright Seamus Heaney “in the Seamus Heaney theatre in the St Pat’s campus, which was nice circularity.”
Her PhD thesis examined the place of the sea in Irish and Caribbean poetry and looked at works by Seamus Heaney and by fellow Nobel Prize winner, the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott.
Dr Howley said, “we tend to associate Seamus Heaney’s work with the land or the bog but he was often at the coast and the sea. I wanted to give a different perspective on his poetry that we feel familiar with.”
“It was therefore quite nice to present a lecture on Seamus Heaney in the theatre that was named after him and dedicated to him as he too taught here.”
She studied English and French for her undergrad and this was followed by a Master’s in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
In 2016, Ellen was offered a scholarship from the School of English to do her PhD in DCU. She said it is a School with a high calibre of expertise while also having a strong sense of community.
“I saw the supportive atmosphere that exists and the willingness to help students at all levels, whether you are undergrad, post-grad etc.”
It is important to be supported because she said doing research, “can be quite an isolating experience, particularly in the humanities where you usually work on your own.”
Dr Howley found the School of English, as a smaller school, “was an environment that was conducive to creation of community.”
This also allows staff to get to know each other and, with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, there is the opportunity again to “meet others from across the university and across the different campuses.”
Dr Howley says she was supported in her research for her thesis. “I was trying to bring together diverse literary traditions, the Irish and the Caribbean, and to think about that in relation to the sea.”
She attended conferences as part of her research and secured funding to go to the Caribbean. “Undertaking research gave me a lot of opportunities to travel, to meet people and to think about how different kinds of traditions are connected while also being unique.”
Her primary supervisor was Professor Eugene McNulty and Dr. Michael Hinds was her secondary supervisor.
During her PhD she began tutoring within the School. She said, “another one of the positives of doing your PhD at DCU is that there's a lot of opportunity for tutoring and teaching, which is a key element or skill for an academic career.”
As she was finishing her PhD an opportunity came up with the school and she is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of English.
Jessica Doherty is a Translation Project Manager with Context, the global language service provider based in Oranmore, County Galway.
Her interest in having a career involving languages and translation led her to choosing DCU for her Master’s in Translation Studies.
She believes, “DCU was the stepping stone to me getting my job. When you study languages you have many options open to you but sometimes it can be too many options. The first day I started studying Translation Studies in DCU I knew I was going down the right path.”
She went to Seville for her Erasmus as an undergrad and the experience prompted her to start about the area of translation when she returned to Ireland.
When it came to where she would do her Master’s, she settled quickly on DCU because, “it seemed a lot more industry focused and there was an opportunity to do an internship. It seemed to be a lot more in line with thinking about a career and where you will go when you get to graduation day.”
“Translation seemed to be a really viable career and one where I could continue to grow and learn as I went along and I would be in contact with languages and people.”
She says it is a massive industry and one she didn’t know much about but the practical aspects of the Master’s, as well as the internship, prepared her for securing work.
Jessica began her course in 2019 and was due to graduate in 2020. Usually in the second semester students look for internships and she was glad to see DCU would only recognise ones that were paid.
Then the pandemic and lockdown arrived so Jessica, who had been preparing for an internship, switched her focus to preparing a dissertation.
It was called, ‘How do GPs manage interactions with patients with limited English proficiency? A comparative analysis of General Practitioners’ perceptions from large urban hubs to small towns and villages in the Republic of Ireland.’
“I did a survey of GP practices and what experience they have of interpreters and do they use interpreters and how do they deal with foreign language speaking patients and the best practices around that.”
She said the majority had not used interpreters or were not aware it was a service they could avail of.
The core modules for the Master’s included Translation Technology which is another aspect of the one year full-time course that she believes gave her an advantage when seeking work.
It is designed to provide knowledge, skills and competence in the field of translation technology and introduces students to specialist technologies that are used in the translation industry.
Reflecting on the skill set the Master’s gave her, Jessica said, “based on the practical experience I had with the Master’s and there are a lot of tools that it covers, I think that was what probably gave me the edge in getting this job.”
Héctor Muiños has always known he wanted to be a writer but it was a job offer with Ernest and Young, and not education, that brought him to Ireland and subsequently to DCU’s Master’s in Creative Writing.
“When I came here I was surprised and overjoyed with the amount of great writers Ireland has. I thought I could not have landed in a better place,” he said.
Héctor did his undergrad in Business in Spain and during his Erasmus year in Scotland he improved his English.
He came to Ireland in 2016 to work for EY and said, “I really did a lot of work on my English and I figured out that language is just a vehicle for someone to be a writer, but it does not necessarily define you as a writer.”
“I had always known I wanted to be a writer. Writing in a language that is not your own is something quite challenging. I had to decide whether to go back to Spain and study or to remain in Ireland to become a writer.”
He searched online and discovered that DCU had launched its Master’s in Creative Writing. “It had great lecturers and I decided to apply.”
He says wanting to become a writer “is something that is beyond language and the fact that I was living here and finding out that DCU had this programme, it was an opportunity, I thought I had to give it a go.” He was accepted onto it as a one year fulltime student.
“The DCU modules were very focused. There was a module on fiction, one on drama, one was on poetry, another was on screenwriting. I liked that because I felt other courses had modules that were more conceptual and I liked the practical aspect of the structure of the DCU Master’s.”
Héctor had to produce a piece of writing for each module, a final assignment and a dissertation. The latter was 15-20,00 words in length.
His dissertation, about Irish scientist John Tyndall, has become the inspiration for his first novel, a work of historical fiction, that he continues to work on.
Having decided to remain in Ireland and to study for his Master’s in Creative Writing, Héctor said Ireland has so many poets “like Yeats and Heaney, and prose writers like James Joyce (and) more modern writers like John Banville or Colm Tóibín; I was so happy to be here and to be in the company of such great names. It was a true inspiration.”
Reflecting on his time on the Master’s which concluded in August 2019, he said, “it was a great experience,” and as writing is a solitary activity, he said “being around people who had the same problems, same issues and the same concerns was really helpful because you could talk about it with someone who understood you.”
For someone who is considering doing the MA in Creative Writing in DCU he said, “it is very important for a writer to build a strong network of other writers and people who can give you feedback and appreciate your work. That is something you can get in DCU, I got it and I am thankful for that.”
“Of course there is also great teaching from first class lecturers and practitioners. They are novelists, playwrights, poets and I really enjoyed the visiting lecturers to DCU.”
He also said being exposed to a wide variety of types and styles of writing and writers he would not have otherwise looked for, was important.
“I think for a writer, everything that a writer reads nurtures his or her writing. Having read those works, it has become something important in my own writing and informed the way I write now.”
Héctor has since secured a scholarship for his PhD in the DCU School of English. His area of study is fiction and he is analysing the works of the two times Booker Prize winner and historical novelist Hilary Mantel.
Fiona Seery decided to do her Master’s in Accounting in DCU straight after completing her primary degree with honours because, “I had really liked going to college in DCU.”
Her Masters was sponsored by her employers KPMG; she did her DCU internship with them in the summer between second and third year and she works there as an Audit assistant.
That internship was part of the three year undergraduate degree and she chose that after looking at all of the options at third level that reflected her interest in accounting.
“The DCU course had more of a focus on accounting with some business in it rather than a course that was business with a bit of accounting in it. We did cover aspects of business such as strategy but accounting was what I wanted to do, it had been my favourite subject in secondary school, and DCU had its focus on that. That’s really why I went with DCU for my degree over the others.”
In her BA in Accounting and Finance students had the opportunity to list to visiting guests who gave them, “lots of ideas of the different jobs in diverse areas that your degree in accounting opened up for you. When I started my course I thought I might go on to teach accountancy but when the large companies, the Big Four as they are called, came in to talk to us, I began to think of a different career path.”
“We had different people from different industries talk to us throughout my time there and they gave us a flavour of where we could move to. Some of them were former students of DCU.”
At the end of her third and final year, she had a job offer from KPMG and had to choose between starting work straight away or continuing her third level journey.
“I had the option of doing my Master’s, which would be sponsored by my employer, or I could have gone straight into the company.”
“I'd initially thought I would go straight in (to work) but on reflection, I thought I'd like to do the Master’s, I had liked college and was happy to stay in DCU for another year. After that I started working with KPMG.”
She did the Master’s in Accounting on a full time basis starting in September 2019 and worked on her dissertation ‘Data Analytics and Audit: Research to date and future directions,’ throughout the year.
She took up her position with KPMG in 2020.
She said that the career opportunities that in terms of the career opportunities coming from her time in DCU “were brilliant, nearly everyone went into a job straight away. The Master’s had a module where past graduates were brought in on a regular basis to just talk to us about their experience. So we could see what we could do, it was really helpful”
“In my work I have met many people who are DCU alumni and it seems to me that having a finance or accounting degree from DCU is a big draw. They really prepare you for the next step in your career.
DCU had stood out to then Leaving Certificate student Luke O’Shaughnessy because “of the much wider range of courses it had and it just seemed to be very modern in what it offered.”
Luke had already decided he wanted a degree in accounting and said, “the DCU undergraduate degree BA in Accounting & Finance seemed to be one of the best accounting courses around. I felt that was the best option to pick for what I wanted to do, especially given the full exemptions from the Chartered Accountants Ireland CAP1 exams.”
It was a three year course and as Luke had not done Transition Year in school, he felt it would also allow him the extra time to pursue his MSc in Accounting on a full-time basis on successful completion of his undergrad.
As he prepares for his delayed Master’s graduation, Luke said, “after completing the undergrad degree, I was able to obtain full exemptions from the Chartered Accountants (CAI) CA Proficiency 1 exams.”
Luke, who is from Dublin, had really enjoyed his time in the undergrad degree and “therefore, it was a very easy decision to come back to DCU for my Master’s.”
The Master’s in Accounting was “specifically attractive” to him because it brought the opportunity to obtain full exemptions from CA proficiency 2, the next set of CAI exams.
Luke’s path to having his Master’s degree sponsored, came about as a result of his 6 week internship in Deloitte Ireland in the summer of 2018.
“It was the summer between my 2nd and final year of my undergrad. That internship was incredibly helpful in learning about the company, the type of work involved in the audit department and I met some great people and learned a lot.”
“At the end of my internship, I had mentioned to Deloitte that I would be interested in doing the MSc in Accounting and they subsequently offered to sponsor me in completing the masters and contributed towards my fees and equipment and offered me a training contract should I successfully complete the BA in Accounting & Finance and MSc in Accounting.”
“As a result, that internship was very significant in not only securing employment with Deloitte but also allowing me to complete the Master’s programme and therefore, I am incredibly grateful.”
Throughout his undergrad and Master’s Luke said he found the DCU lecturers, “were superb. They were always available to go through any issues or questions we might have had, and you genuinely felt they were there to help.”
“I think the fact that many of them now also teach CAP1, CAP2 and FAE modules for Chartered Accountants Ireland is also a big plus for when you eventually leave DCU and potentially move onto those exams as they know exactly what to prepare you for.”
For anyone contemplating DCU for their Master’s, he said, “the lecturers in DCU are some of the best around in their respective fields. On top of this, they are incredibly approachable and are always very helpful in making sure you are in a great position to push on.”
The courses offer the chance to learn the required technical skills but he said, “I think the soft skills I learnt from the people I worked with, for example on projects or in teams, were a massive help to me once I started my training contract in Deloitte.”
The support available to students if and when they face difficulties or challenges, whether academically or personally, “are great and that is in addition to some superb and constantly improving facilities throughout the campus.”
Among the best takes Luke has from DCU “would 100% be the people I met. I learnt more than I could imagine from the people I met in DCU which definitely helped me develop as a person over the 4 years I studied there.”
“I made friendships for life and I am incredibly grateful for that and I would consider some of those friends like family. Although the education you get is obviously super, I think it was the overall experience and the people I met that will probably stay with me the most.”
“Dublin is a corporate hotspot,” and is motivation for students to come and study here, according to Antonia Egli who came to Ireland for her Master’s in Digital Marketing in DCU.
She is Swiss-Austrian and did her Bachelor’s in Corporate Communications in Vienna.
Having then worked for two years, she decided it was time to focus on digital marketing and to study it through English.
Selecting DCU for the next stage of her academic career was the result of a number of factors including, “being in Ireland, being in English and the fact that Dublin is a corporate hotspot so there is a motivation for students who do not want to pursue an academic career and who see themselves working in Dublin after they graduate.”
Dublin is seen as having “a pool of companies where a digital marketer would be happy to work,” she added.
In relation to the practical elements of the DCU Master’s she said she got to work with six clients across different projects in the one year full-time course.
“You are working and really trying out your marketing skills on an actual client, particularly in a field like this where you largely have to learn by doing something in addition to for example sifting through books; you really do need to have the applied knowledge and that is something very much offered in this course.”
The projects were also spread out across the different modules such as web development, paid marketing or search engine optimisation and so, “you would have the opportunity to test out the different areas of digital marketing and find out what you were most interested in and where your skills lay.”
“You are working and really trying out your marketing skills on an actual client, particularly in a field like this where you have to really learn by doing something instead of say sifting through books; you really do need to have the applied knowledge and that is something very much offered in the Digital Marketing Master’s course.”
In the Google Ad Grants project, teams of students were given a budget for four months and worked with either a charity or a non-profit. Getting ad copy approved and earning the trust of a client you will be sending texts for, were among the skills covered.
For the final assignment she chose a practicum over a dissertation and did a 6 month collaboration with an Irish SME, Learn International, where she worked on managing their digital performance.
She began her studies in 2019 and the nature of them meant the transition to be wholly online in 2020, due to the pandemic, was relatively smooth.
She was challenged on her solo project where you create digital marketing content for social media on a subject you are interested in.
Antonia chose to do hers about museums and when public health guidelines meant she could not visit them in person, she had to make contact with people working in them and interview them and “it was an exercise in flexibility and creativity.”
After her Master’s was complete Antonia took up a position as a research assistant in the Irish Institute for Digital Business that located in the Business School in DCU. While there she was encouraged by some of her lecturers to apply for a PhD which she is currently doing on a part-time basis while also working as a research fellow at Safefood.
Completing DCU’s Master’s in Digital Marketing “gives you very solid knowledge and capability in all the separate areas of digital marketing” to allow you to find where you want to pursue your career.
One of the areas Antonia discovered she was interested in is business data analytics and on the course “you get a feel for digital marketing that is data driven, you learn how to work with the data you are generating.”
Another big take for her from her time on the Master’s was developing confidence in the world of digital marketing.
“It was ingrained into us that you won’t learn anything unless you try it out. Particularly in a digital marketing context where things are developing so quickly, there are so many opportunities to try things out. You really have to take the responsibility and take the initiative to go and do it.”
“I am still in the first year of my PhD and continue to feel the support of the research community and the business school. I feel very welcome as a foreign student. It is a big plus for someone who is looking in from outside to know that there is a community and people here who will truly support you.’
For her PhD, Antonia’s research is focusing on the prevalence and types of stigma within the vaccine discourse on Twitter.
Caitlan Brownlow says her Master’s in Digital Marketing, “literally set me up to go straight into a career in a digital marketing agency.”
Now working with Wolfgang Digital as an SEO Executive, she said the Masters left her feeling she had the skills required to work with confidence in her chosen field.
She had experience of dealing with multiple clients, managing their communications and said, “we got real world experience on the Master’s which I thought was really, really valuable.”
Caitlan did her undergrad, a BSc in Multimedia, in DCU and noticed a lot of the students progressed from it into the Master’s in Digital Marketing.
“I chatted to a few people and heard only good things about the Master’s. I had also seen the careers people had gone on to from doing it.”
“I would also say the multimedia course gave me a really strong skill set to bring into the Masters in Digital Marketing.”
“I had media production skills like graphic design and video production that I learnt in Multimedia (course) and I was able to directly carry them into working as a digital marketer for social media purposes. To this day I use skills I learnt in my BSc in Multimedia in my marketing job.”
Her decision to study at DCU for that undergrad came from the positive feedback from friends who were in DCU. She went straight into her Master’s.
Caitlan believes that the Master’s includes a lot of “hands on work and actually doing what we are talking about; we get actual clients and do their marketing for various different projects,” and that experience has proven to be “so valuable.”
“You are actually doing what you are talking about and that is the best way to learn. It is one hundred percent the best thing about it.”
For her Practicum she was part of a team responsible for marketing and running a week long virtual conference on cyber security. It was to be hosted by DCU but the pandemic sent it online and the team adapted to the additional challenges that posed and, as a result, additional skills were learnt.
It became one of her stand out moments of her time at DCU. “Running the event, including facilitating it online, doing all the marketing and hosting it on Zoom was great. The conference went really, really well and seeing all of your really hard work pay off - and seeing something you did not do before go well – was an invaluable experience.”
After the Masters she worked at The Irish Institute of Digital Business (dotLAB) before securing her current position at Wolfgang Digital.
Reflecting on her time on her Master’s in DCU she said, “I have never worked so hard. I learnt to deal with clients, completed many group projects, worked under really high pressure and it all happened as the world was going into a pandemic!”
“I knew that I was in a really good position leaving that Master’s to get a good job in digital marketing because I knew I could start in a job and start straight away given the practical experience I had.
Having an internship built into her degree was part of what attracted Michelle (Jia Ern) Aw to DCU; she has since graduated with a BSc in Actuarial Mathematics.
Her love of maths came in secondary school where it influenced her choice of course for third level.
Michelle, who is from Malaysia, said, “I wanted to study abroad and to do Actuarial Mathematics.”
The process for studying in Ireland was more convenient than other English speaking countries and she chose DCU.
One of the reasons DCU appealed to Michelle was because of the INTRA placement that takes place during the third year of the four year course.
From the words ‘INtegrated TRAining’, INTRA is DCU’s internship programme. It is an accredited and highly valued part of student learning and is a compulsory part of many degree programmes.
It provides real world experience, helps students to develop transferable skills and, ultimately, enhance their employability.
Michelle said, “We got to go into the real world and got to know people in our sectors, that was really important for our INTRA.”
“We were still doing things relevant to the course but not actually studying and sitting exams. I think it was really helpful.”
In first and second year she said the course covered a lot of mathematical concepts and built maths knowledge and with INTRA they were able to apply that knowledge.
“It helped us to understand the concepts being used in the real world.”
She said the work completed in the first two years of the degree helped students to better understand “the maths that is used behind everyday calculations, everyday usage within the company.”
Michelle did her INTRA in AIG Ireland. She said that after her internship her contract was extended and so was able to work on a part-time basis during her final year and as a result, “I came out of college with 18 months of experience.”
Michelle was involved in a number of societies and organisations during her time in DCU. One was the Financial and Actuarial Mathematics Society (FAMS) which she was secretary of for two years.
One of the talks arranged for FAMS members was from the founding members of Reitigh Software Ltd, who are all DCU Alumni.
Through that she heard the company was starting a graduate programme and hiring graduates.
“I applied and got the job,” said Michelle who is a junior consultant with the company adding, “I don’t think I would have known about the company but for my involvement in the society.”
Before the pandemic she was also involved with the Malaysian Student Association of Ireland where she was in charge of corporate communications for two years.
Two years after she left DCU she is still in touch with her former classmates. “We are graduates of the same course and in the same field and are still a group of friends. We are basically friends for life and that is really great as well.”
Bobby Cudden was determined to get to DCU so when his Leaving Certificate results were not what he had wanted, he did a PLC to ensure he could get to study science at his university of choice.
He was also a successful basketball player having represented Ireland at under 17 level and the location of the DCU campus in Glasnevin was close to his team Tolka Rovers.
Bobby, from County Louth, said, “I was one of the very lucky ones because I knew I wanted to do science from the time I was about 13 or 14 years old.”
He did chemistry and biology in secondary school and says maths is a “huge part of chemistry. I ended up failing maths and nearly failing in chemistry.”
He decided to do a Post Leaving Certificate course and chose Pre-University Science at Coláiste Dhúlaigh College of Further Education. It is an Access course and was developed with DCU to meet the needs of students who wish to study science to degree level in university.
“My main goal was to go to DCU and that is why I went ahead and did the PLC. There was also a stigma around PLCs but we researched it and realised it was the best option. I knew for a fact I wanted to go to DCU and I was looking at a route ahead of me that would get me there even if it took me an extra year.”
Bobby had visited DCU on a school tour in 5th year and said “I loved the campus. I thought it was so cool, I really wanted to go there. Anytime I thought of college, it was the first one to come to mind.”
Basketball was also an important factor in selecting it. He said, “DCU was known for its sports as well as the academic side of things. That was a huge draw for me, having a nice balance between sports and academics.”
Having completed the four year degree course, he said the first year provided a grounding and knowledge about “all the sciences and maths.”
“You could go into first year thinking you want to do genetics and cell biology and by the time it comes to 2nd year you could want to do astrophysics.”
By Christmas in first year he had his mind set on chemistry and opted for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science.
In the summer break between 3rd and 4th year he did his INTRA at Servier Industries in Co Wicklow.
From the words ‘INtegrated TRAining’, INTRA is DCU’s internship programme. It is an accredited and highly valued part of student learning and is a compulsory part of many degree programmes.
It provides real world experience, helps students to develop transferable skills and, ultimately, enhance their employability.
Bobby spent 6 months working as a quality control analyst and said “it gave me an idea of what I wanted to do.”
He said INTRA “is another thing you have to commend DCU for. It seems to be a big selling point for DCU that it provides the internship.”
He believes that to have a CV with a 6 month internship on it will make graduates more attractive to employers.
For his final year project titled 'A New Generation of Water-Soluble near Infra-Red Absorbing Fluorinated Phthalocyanines for Application in Photodynamic Therapy and Theranostics,' he said, "we researched the use of injectable substances called photosensitisers and their interaction with particular wavelengths of light (in the form of lasers) to produce a therapeutic anti-cancer or antimicrobial effect in the body using molecular oxygen, a form of oxygen that is highly toxic to harmful cells."
Reflecting on his time at DCU he said “the professors, the teachers, the lecturers and all the people I worked with have been incredible and genuinely so helpful all the time. I feel the staff are second to none.”
He also said the standard of the teaching is another advantage. “You learn more and you learn more in depth at DCU. It really prepares you for what you are getting into in the industry.”
As Leaving Certificate students, and other applicants for third level, consider going to DCU, Bobby’s advice is to “genuinely just look for what you will get out of college and what will make you want to go, what will keep you there and make your time enjoyable. See if the college you are looking at has it and the chances are whatever you look for, DCU is going to have it.”
Reflecting on his route to DCU, Bobby said that he says to his basketball teams and the Leaving Cert students that he coaches, “don’t turn your nose up at PLCs. The PLC is a great option and don’t be afraid of it.”
When you graduate from DCU “you leave with more than your degree,” says Jennifer O’Connell who knew in secondary school that she wanted to be a teacher.
Being from Glasnevin, she was familiar with DCU from trips with her own school. “I always felt there was such a nice atmosphere from the college. It seemed so nice and friendly and because it is in a residential area it is common for people to walk through. I think the atmosphere was a big selling point for me.”
DCU’s “fantastic reputation for sport,” was also important to her as sport is a big part of her life as well.
Jennifer had a love for science and decided she would do her undergrad in science and then do her Master’s in Education.
She first chose to do a BSc in Analytical Science – Chemistry. She explained, “I was aware the courses in DCU were practical and included a lot of lab work and I had loved experiments in school.”
“When I found out there was an emphasis on practical experiments and that anything you do in a lecture is usually transferred into a lab, so you get that double understanding of what is happening, that was huge for me.”
From visiting on open days and examining the DCU Prospectus, she had information on the different modules and the Analytical Science course allowed her to continue her interest in both chemistry and biology.
Jennifer also joined the Basketball and Gaelic teams and in second year she made the Varsity squad for basketball.
In third year she did her INTRA placement. From the words ‘INtegrated TRAining’, INTRA is DCU’s internship programme. It is an accredited and highly valued part of student learning and is a compulsory part of many degree programmes.
She said, “I was lucky enough to do mine in Forensic Science Ireland in Garda Headquarters. I always said I wanted to teach but if teaching was not for me, forensics is what I wanted to do next.”
She said her INTRA experience in FSI “was excellent,” and to see what she was learning in college applied in the working world was important.
“Having INTRA was great for us to see where and how what we were learning is used. A lot of people on the course said that is what they got from INTRA as well.”
In her final year Jennifer chose the chemistry pathway, though she still loves biology, and said, “the fact that I could study both to a high level on my course was brilliant. I chose the chemistry pathway in the end as I really enjoyed the chemistry labs.”
Her fourth year on campus ended early as a result of the pandemic and public health restrictions but she completed her research project ‘Analysis of Carbon in Seawater.’
The transition to online learning came with the support of her lecturers and supervisors, “who were fantastic, we had regular Zoom calls and it all helped to complete my project which had begun in the labs on campus.”
Jennifer has just completed her Professional Master’s of Education – Post Primary (PME) at DCU. She said she chose to return to do it there, “because I loved it for my undergrad and to be honest I just was not ready to leave!”
She was also a student ambassador at both undergrad and postgrad level.
She said DCU “has prepared me for my career in teaching in ways that are hard to describe. An example is when I was teaching science to Transition year students who had a great interest in forensics and I could talk about my INTRA in Forensic Science Ireland. To be able to talk to them about what it is actually like, was great.”
“The fantastic background I have in biology and chemistry has meant I am prepared for questions, even the most random questions, you can get asked in a classroom.”
She likes being able to discuss options with senior cycle students who have to make course choices. “Having worked as a DCU ambassador means I am in a good position to give them advice and know what it is actually like to go to DCU. They appreciate that and it is huge for me. I am a teacher because I had a teacher I looked up to and my aim as a teacher is to be someone other students can look up to too.”
She says anyone deciding to go to DCU, “I would say are making a very good decision. In terms of science, there is a huge range for them to pick from whether they are interested in chemistry or biology. When you go to DCU you leave with more than your degree; you leave with experiences. Anyone I know who has graduated from DCU has really enjoyed their time.”
With his brother already a student of engineering in DCU and his sister having completed her teacher training at St Pat’s, Fergal McGuirk said, “it has been a family affair to go to DCU!”
He has a degree in Actuarial Mathematics and should have had his graduation at the end of his fourth year, 2020.
When it came to choosing where to study, he said DCU was the college he was most comfortable with.
Speaking as he prepared for his graduation ceremony, he said he and his classmates were told their course was a demanding one but there was a lot of support from both the lecturers and the various services available on campus.
He said, “I always got on very well with the lecturers. They were passionate about what they did and a few were actuaries themselves. They were very honest about how difficult it would be. We were happy to make that commitment to the course.”
“There is the Maths Learning Centre in the library and, if you were struggling with assignments, there were people to help you. The lecturers understood our course would be difficult and were happy to help as well.”
The four year course covers the fundamental and mathematical principles that underpin the financial models studied in later years.
Fergal didn’t hesitate to say that “the best part of it was the work placement.”
His 8 months long paid INTRA, that takes place in third year, was in Irish Life, where he now works full time as a trainee actuary.
“My placement was from January to September. I did my work placement in Irish Life, I have my job in it.”
Fergal secured his job while on his INTRA and said, “the work placement sets you up to understand what you will be doing and also gives you the basis to get a permanent job after college. I will always say the best thing about DCU was probably the work placement.”
Being from Monaghan, he house shared to be closer to DCU and said one of his housemates also secured permanent work where they did their INTRA placement.
“The work placement lets you see the type of work you will be doing, it lets you see if you will enjoy it and if you find it interesting. An actuary is one of those jobs that you need to know everything about everything.”
As an example he said someone working in customer service needs to know about their specific area. By comparison “we would need to know how to deal with the regulators and with the customers, with shareholders and with employees. It requires you to be very specific in certain areas and very general in other areas.”
Fergal got involved with the social side of being a student at DCU and was part of the LGBTA society. “The social side of college life can keep you going. There are sometimes you want to quit but once you get a break and see how open and friendly the college is, you stay.”
Data scientist Philip O’Kelly said that among the reasons he wanted to study Applied Physics at DCU was,“the emphasis on building a career. There was a big emphasis on the INTRA placement.”
Philip, from Skerries, Dublin, did his INTRA in Accenture, the global professional services company, at its city centre The Dock premises.
He said, “I did my Intra internship in 3rd year in Accenture in ‘The Dock’ on the exact same team that I work on now.”
At the end of his internship he had the opportunity to return as a graduate employee and said, “I was lucky to be chosen to come back.”
In Accenture, Philip was told that physics students are appreciated in “both innovation settings and also general technical settings such as AI.”
Philip said this is because physics includes training in thinking scientifically and, “for example we are trained to think in terms of causal relations (so) what causes something and if one thing changes, how will that affect what I am looking for?”
He said that with a degree in physics “there is a broad range of possible directions you can go. Physics is not teaching you just about forces and gravity or just about space or just about quantum physics; it actually teaches you how to think with curiosity and think causally as well.”
“One of the best parts of my course, in terms of learning around thinking and investigation, was the lab work. Lab work was a constant throughout the course and included Computational Physics labs.”
“There we were taught to code and to look at data in a computational sense and I think that really, really prepared me well for my work now with AI.”
Lockdown came in the middle of his final academic term so he completed his final year project from home.
Philip was able to combine his INTRA experience in Accenture with his knowledge gained on his course for the final year project.
It was on simulating quantum mechanical systems using quantum computing methods in the computer programming language Python and reflected his love of programming and computational physics.
Philip, who works in a multi-disciplinary AI team in Accenture, said, “the coding elements of the course were very helpful and in today’s day and age, coding is definitely an invaluable skill to have in your tool kit. It goes very well with the skill set you get from physics going forward. I had a number of computational physics modules in DCU and they were very good at setting me up for data science in the future.”
He explained that, “Python is the programming language we were taught in DCU and I use it every day now.”
“I think DCU set me up very well to go straight into my career.”
He is based at The Dock which he explained is, “Accenture's Global Innovation Centre. The Dock takes part in more innovative or cutting edge projects along the themes of AI, cloud computing, technology. It looks at innovative uses of tech to see how clients can get ahead of the game. I sit on the analytics and AI team in The Dock.”
He has worked with a wide range of clients and is now combining a part-time Master’s with work.
His message for anyone considering DCU is it is, “very proactive in terms of the direction that industry and the world is going. They have just launched a Physics and Data Science course which shows they are looking ahead and looking to where their graduates and Alumni can go and what they can do with their degree from DCU.”
In Transition Year Niamh Connaughton realised she wanted to study psychology at third level and to study it in DCU.
It was in DCU she discovered her interest in organisational psychology and now, working with PWC, she uses another skill learnt during her time here - how to communicate with people.
Niamh, who graduated with a First Class Honours BSc in Psychology, said, “one of the main things I do now involves communication and speaking in front of groups of people at work. In DCU we learnt how to effectively communicate complicated concepts so that everyone can understand them.”
In choosing DCU she also took account of the focus on data in the four year Psychology degree course, as well the proximity to her home in Drogheda.
“I liked that it was people and data merged into one. There was quite a focus on research methods and data driven research and they were important factors in choosing the DCU psychology course.”
She said that if she had not, “learnt the basics of how to analyse data and how to make data driven decisions, I wouldn’t be able to perform to the standard that I am at in my current job.”
Finding the area of psychology she was particularly interested in, came early on. “I had loved business at school and we did an organisational psychology module in first year in DCU and I took to it naturally. I was just fascinated by it.”
Niamh was also attracted to DCU by the INTRA placement in third year saying, “I wanted (to see) the practical application of ‘what can I do with this’ after my degree.”
She did two INTRA placements, her first was in DCU's Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion where she focused on researching best practices in EDI and supporting the organisation of their EDI events such as their Mary McAleese Women in Leadership Lecture Series.
Among the skills she honed in that internship were report writing and problem solving.
She said, “having to think on-the-spot and to make things happen, they are things you cannot learn in a classroom. You have to be working with people and working with different types of people and in different organisations to realise how important problem solving and on the spot thinking is.”
This was followed by the opportunity to intern at PWC where she later secured a graduate contract.
In that INTRA Niamh said, “I worked on a number of different projects, some internal to PWC and some were for clients. My work was around people and organisational consulting, which resembles HR consulting. For example I would research the task given to me and look at the skills needed for it and what training would be required.”
After completing her degree, Niamh returned to the same team in PWC she had worked with for her INTRA.
“I work on internal transformation from a digital perspective within the firm. I specifically work on the Change and Communications Team which is about making sure we are communicating properly to everyone within the firm.”
As an example she said that if a new digital tool is being introduced, she will ensure the new skills training needed to use the tool is available and accessible and, “that you communicate all of the benefits and how staff can use it in their everyday work. That is the angle I work at: I look at it from a people perspective, what you need to be telling and supporting your people with to make sure they get the benefits of it.”
With input from DCU and sponsored by PWC, she has since completed her Master’s and now has an MSc of Work and Organisational Psychology from UL.
Reflecting on her time in DCU she said, “our lecturers were very good at helping us network with them and to build relationships. I still network with people from DCU within my current workplace. Learning how to do that relationship development is something DCU taught me as well.”
Narcolepsy meant that Paul Cannon was unable to attend secondary school but it also contributed to him developing a love of physics and medicine.
“At the time, I got into the ‘Big Bang Theory’ comedy programme that featured physicists. I also got into television programmes about physics and medicine and that inspired me to look at studying in those areas.”
Specifically he said, “I wanted to do medical physics as I thought I could help people with that course behind me but it turns out that job does not suit somebody with narcolepsy.”
By 6th year Paul was on medication that suited him and he looked again at his wish to continue education while also needing a college that could support living with narcolepsy.
His mother contacted the DCU Disability Office and found out the support available included “providing me with a room on campus for when I needed to rest as I can’t walk for long periods of times. They got me a recording pen as well as extra time for tests and extended deadlines.”
In addition to the practical supports he said, “the lecturers were just as accommodating. I would say one of the best things about Physics at DCU is the support of the lecturers.”
“For college I had looked out for any course that would allow me to do physics and biomedical science but it was the supports available at DCU that made me look closer at it. I figured out quickly that this course sounded like it was the one for me and really it was the perfect package.”
“I was very nervous and on my first day I went to my lecturer John Paul Mosnier, now the head of School of Physics, and introduced myself. He immediately said not to worry about anything and if I needed deadlines extended to email him. It put me at ease right from day one.”
Paul realised his condition was not suited to a career as a medical physicist but at DCU he had discovered an area that he was equally interested in.
“In second year I did a very niche module called ‘Biomechanics of Human Movement’ and I loved it. It is the physics of why people walk.” This module provided him with another option for his INTRA placement.
Paul said, “DCU has great connections with St James's Hospital and I was offered an INTRA placement working in the Gait Analysis Lab at St James's Hospital. I worked with programming the software to analyse gait and I was also allowed opportunities to shadow medical physicists. The gait analysis alone was a fantastic INTRA experience. “
He subsequently sought more work in the area of research and worked with The Fraunhofer Project Centre for embedded bioanalytical systems. It is a three-way partnership between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (Aachen, Germany), and Dublin City University.
Paul was top of his class in the four years of his undergrad and in 4th year he also won a medal for the highest grade overall in the final year research project across the DCU physics courses.
The final year research was ‘Single-step functionalization of DNA to silicon nanoparticles by pulsed laser ablation in liquids’ and his PhD, that he is currently undertaking at DCU, is in a related area.
It is on ‘Nanoforest on a Chip - Oxide Nanostructures for DNA Analysis,’ and Paul explained “essentially I am trying to use nanotechnology to make a portable DNA diagnostic device. So it’s a nice combination of physics and biomedical science.”
Paul says going to DCU has had a very positive impact on his life. “It has done so much for me. When I was in secondary school and being unable to attend for so much of it, I felt out of touch with my friends and was unable to socialise. I felt isolated. Then the DCU disability office said we will give you these things to support you and made me feel like ‘I can do it.’”
“The small classes in physics meant I met my friends that are now my friends for life and I also met my partner in DCU physics.”
“What was so valuable to me was the INTRA placement. Through it I found out that while I can’t work in medical physics, I can do other research work. I couldn’t talk so highly enough about INTRA.”
He says that for anyone unsure what their final destination is in the world of physics or biomedical sciences, that the course he chose was a good one.
“If you want to go into any career involving physics or biomedical sciences, this degree gives you the tools to do that. Other graduates are working in data science or the pharma industry and some people go on to study medicine. There is so much choice career wise, I think it is the perfect course.”
Julie Duke is proud of her Traveller heritage. She was nervous about going to third level, particularly as she had left education when she was 14 years old.
She expected that being a Traveller, “I will stick out like a sore thumb. The biggest eye opener for me was the acceptance that I got. I was a DCU student. I was there to learn and there was no difference between me or any other student doing the course.”
Julie completed her Certificate in Peer Support working in Mental Health and says of her classmates, “they were all very accepting and friendly people and very understanding. That got rid of some of my anxiety and we all supported each other on the course.”
“I made some really good friends through the course and we are still in contact.”
Her journey before going to DCU included leaving secondary school at 14 and marrying when she was 16. She had her daughter when she was 17.
Her marriage broke down and Julie and her daughter went to live with her parents.
Julie experienced mental health difficulties including depression, chronic anxiety and social anxiety.
She availed of supports and completed a number of courses before deciding to return to education.
“I always wanted to do something but my confidence and lack of knowledge was a barrier. When I found out about the DCU course and because I had mental health problems, I found it really interesting.”
Among the general entry requirements for the year-long course is that the students have a previous history of mental health problems and that they are in recovery or recovered.
The application process involved Julie sharing her mental health history. She also researched the state of mental health in the Traveller community and “found out how high the suicide rates were.”
“I have a close friend who supported me throughout my recovery and in making the application to DCU. I spoke to her about how I could work with my own community around mental health and be a support to them if I did this course.”
Her other motivation to do the course was “my daughter. I wanted her to see that she does not have to get married at a young age and if she did choose to get married, she could also have an education.”
Part of Julie’s journey to DCU involved having to tell her family that she wanted to return to education.
She says they were worried for her and whether she would be safe or would be judged. She also risked being judged by her community.
“It took courage to stand my ground in what I wanted to do. I was going to change and offer my daughter a better life if I could get work out of it and be able to support her.”
The night before she started she said, “I never slept due to anxiety. I was up bright and early the next morning. I had never been on a third level campus before.”
She said going to DCU “impacted my life in a very positive way. It gave me an unbelievable amount of confidence and independence which is a great thing to have as a woman in the Travelling community.”
“I have my own independence, I am my own person and I learnt how to use my own voice. It has made me want to learn more in education and realise how important education is.“
Julie is the first person in her extended family to go to college and said, “the course was the making of me and helped me in more ways than one.”
Julie, who is from Cavan town works for the HSE as a peer worker for the Travelling community “supporting members of my own community who have mental health challenges."