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Ulster University's PHD graduate Maggie proves you are never too old to study

Published 07/07/2015

Maggie McIlwaine
Maggie McIlwaine

A 60-year-old Belfast woman has shown age is no barrier to learning by graduating with a PhD from Ulster University – almost four decades on from her first graduation.

Based largely in Vancouver, Canada Maggie McIlwaine has completed a PhD by Published works in the School of Health Sciences.

It is the latest in a long line of successes for this remarkable lady.

Back in 1976 Maggie graduated from Ulster University with a diploma in physiotherapy. Having a keen interest in working with cystic fibrosis patients, she moved to Canada in 1979 to continue that work.

 She would later apply for grants to study airway clearance techniques in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Denmark and in 1986 embarked on her first of many clinical studies on these techniques.

Maggie's research has had a positive impact on cystic fibrosis patients. She said: “Through my research I have been instrumental in changing how physiotherapy can assist people with cystic fibrosis lead better lives.”

Never afraid to travel, Maggie has lectured in numerous countries around the world and returns to Ulster University every year to do the same, revealing what she has learnt.

Reflecting on graduating in 1976 and now 2015, Maggie said: “Graduating as a physiotherapist in 1976 opened up the world to me. I enjoyed helping others and felt appreciated for the work I did.

“Coming back to Ulster University 39 years later to graduate once again has been a real thrill. I think I was the oldest student there. The main change has been in technology particularly in navigating my way through registration. Everyone has been fantastic, especially my PhD supervisors, professors Judy Bradley and Stuart Elborn and Dr Fidelma Moran. I cannot thank them enough for their support throughout my studies.

“Going back was not as difficult as I thought it would be, maybe because I have always had a desire to learn and once you have found something that you are passionate about then the obstacles can be overcome. My family have been wonderful in everyway, very supportive and proud of my achievements they are all coming to my graduation and having a party after.”

Maggie works in Vancouver at the BC Children's and Women's Hospital as the head of the physiotherapy department. She also works in the cystic fibrosis clinic at the hospital. In the future Maggie plans to continue her research into cystic fibrosis and other lung conditions.

“I plan to continue in collaborative studies between the University of British Columbia in Canada there I have an appointment as a clinical Assistant Professor and the Ulster University,” she added.

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