Belfast Telegraph

Doing it by degrees: What we recall about our graduation day... and what happened next

With graduation season in full swing at Queen’s University Belfast and the Ulster University, Karen Ireland talks to four well-known local people about getting the job they wanted after the end of student life.

Graduated in 1998 in linguistics ... now a successful novelist after writing first book

Olivia Rana (42) is an author who is married to businessman Rajesh. They have two children Lucia (10) and Marcus (8) and live in Belfast. She says:

I have had a few graduations as I have changed paths over the years. In fact, I was driving past Queen’s University the other day thinking that it was 20 years since my first graduation.

I graduated in 1998 with a degree in linguistics from the University of Ulster. At the time when I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I was interested in languages and thought that I might pursue a career in speech therapy.

I got halfway through the degree when I realised it wasn’t for me and that it wasn’t a path that I wanted to go down, but I decided to finish the degree.

On reflection, I think I was in such a hurry to go to university that I didn’t really think long and hard about what I wanted to do.

My graduation was a lovely day as my family came down from Fermanagh and we went to Belfast Castle for a meal afterwards.

Of course, I also found it very daunting as I had no idea what I was going to do next. I remember that I was panicking about it all. Other people seemed to have their future marked out for them, but not me.

In the end I took a job in IT and I stayed there for a couple of years. I saw people doing really well and progressing up the corporate ladder so I decided to go back to studying and gain my Masters in IT at Queen’s.

I worked really hard as I wanted to succeed and before the year was up I was offered a job with BT on their management programme. However, before it started I went on holiday and missed my graduation. After that I stayed in IT for a number of years and worked my way up the corporate ladder.

It was after I had my daughter Lucia that I realised I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by my job so I decided to go back to Queen’s University and do a Masters in creative writing. That proved a complete turning point for me. I had finally found something that I was passionate about, something that I knew I wanted to pursue.

I almost deferred the degree as I had a young daughter and was then pregnant with my second child. I had the most horrendous morning sickness and I thought I would never get my thesis finished.

In the end I graduated with distinction. I was so proud and my husband and my daughter were there with me on the day to help me celebrate. That thesis became the start of my first novel Elastic Girl and I have been concentrating on writing ever since. It hasn’t been easy but I love what I do now.

Just as I was after my first degree, some of those who are graduating now may feel lost and anxious about the future.

Graduation is a momentous personal achievement but you don’t have to have it all figured out. Priorities and things change over time and I would advise those graduating to think long and hard about what they really want to do.

Do not be afraid of failure, just be ambitious and give it a go. You have nothing to lose through trying.

Enjoy every moment and make sure you have the people around you who matter. And follow your heart and experience and maturity will come.

Graduated in 2005 in media studies ... now presenting for Radio Ulster

Eve Blair (34) presents The Late Show on BBC Radio Ulster. She is married to Neill Auterson and lives in Co Tyrone. She says:

I graduated in 2005 with a BA in media studies from the University of Ulster at Coleraine. I had looked at a number of courses in media but I adored radio and this one seemed to be very practical and hands-on around radio production.

As I am also a bit of a home bird I thought it would offer me the best of both worlds as I could live away from home and be independent yet still get to go home and see my friends and family at weekends.

I remember my graduation day really well. It was a glorious sunny day and a friend and I drove into the campus for the ceremony. I met my mum and dad there; they were all dressed up and were so proud. They were standing waiting for me to arrive and had brought along some gifts for me. It was a very special day for them too.

Of course, it was a day full of mixed emotions. I was excited about the future but I had to say goodbye to a lot of people with whom I had become very good friends. We had shared a truly magical three years. University was one of the best times of my life and now it was coming to an end.

I felt nervous stepping across that stage at my graduation with everyone watching but it was nice to be with all the people from my course again.

Back then, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I took the summer off, stayed up in Portstewart and had a ball.

And I was very fortunate as at the end of the summer I got a job doing what I loved — working for Q Radio. I was one of the lucky ones as not everyone gets to graduate and then go straight into the profession they want to.

I worked there for two years before moving to BBC Radio Foyle in 2007 as a broadcasting assistant. I then went to work in the newsroom and now I am presenting The Late Show from 11pm to midnight.

My husband can’t believe how much I love my job and that I go out to work every day with a smile on my face. But I am obsessed with radio and communicating and I love music too.

At school when I told my teachers what I wanted to do they suggested that I should pursue something academic, but I always knew I wanted to do a job I loved. And at university I never missed a class as I was passionate about what I was studying. I wanted to learn and I benefited so much from my course.

So my advice to anyone graduating now would be to stay true to yourself and do what makes you happy. And if there is something that you really want to do, then persevere at it and don’t let anything put you off the track that you want to go down. It will be worth it in the end.

Graduated in 2011 in geography ... now co-hosting Cool FM’s breakfast show

Paulo Ross (28) is a Cool FM breakfast presenter. He lives in Belfast. He says: 

I graduated in 2011 from John Moores University in Liverpool. My degree was in geography, of all things, something which my co-hosts on the breakfast show, Pete Snodden and Rebecca McKinney, like to give me a hard time about.

Back then, I always knew that I wanted to work in radio but as an option I thought I may as well do a subject I enjoy for three years of a degree. The fact that my final year was a field trip in China was a strong selling point of the degree and I thought if broadcasting didn’t work out I would have a fall-back position and could do a PGCE and then go into teaching.

I loved university and my time in Liverpool. I gained a great knowledge, not just about geography but about life. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet and become independent when you move away from home.

When I finished my degree, I didn’t actually attend the graduation ceremony in Liverpool as I was offered the opportunity to do Camp America for the summer. I didn’t want to turn down the experience of a lifetime for one day in Liverpool. Looking back, I am sorry I missed the big day and the opportunity to get my degree along with my classmates.

I also missed out on the opportunity to say goodbye to a lot of people but on balance I still think it was worth missing out on all that as Camp America was the experience of a lifetime. I made some amazing friends that summer.

When I came back to Northern Ireland I decided to volunteer for a community radio station in Belfast and then I was offered a job in Citybeat.

And it is funny how things work out as when I was in Liverpool I met Pete Snodden in a pub at Anfield. I went up to him and introduced myself and told him he had the coolest job and I would love to do what he did. He took my name and details and six years later I ended up working alongside him on the breakfast show.

I would say that now I am working on my dream job and I love it. My advice to this summer’s new graduates is to take time out and enjoy some downtime in the summer. You have just finished 12 or 13 years of intensive education and you need some breathing space.

Maybe enrolling on a summer programme such as Camp America might be a good idea; it allows you to travel and see the world as well as providing some thinking space. It’s a big, bad, busy world out there so have some fun while you can. You do not have to have an exact plan. You can take a year or two to figure out what you want to do.

And if you do find out what you’re interested in and are struggling to get a start in it, then ask can you do some work experience. That’s how I started out and I honestly couldn’t be happier now.

Graduated in 1999 in sports and leisure ... now IFA football development chief

Michael Boyd, director of football development with the IFA, is married to Cathy Whitla. They live in Belfast and have two daughters Rachel (5) and Olivia (3). He says: 

I graduated in 1999 in sports and leisure studies from the then University of Ulster at Jordanstown. At the time it was a very small course with only 30 places. I picked it as it was sport-orientated and initially I thought I might want to become a PE teacher.

When I was in primary school I wanted to be a footballer and then as I got older I became very interested in RE and thought I might want to become a minister.

I still remember my graduation; it was a very special day and I’ll always treasure those memories. It took place at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast and my mum and brothers were there and everyone was very proud of me. I remember feeling delighted to have finished the course and my dissertation.

After I graduated I did a Masters in communication, PR and advertising and at the time toyed with the idea of becoming a sports journalist.

In the end, however, I did an eight-month placement with the IFA and after that I knew I wanted to work in football. I was working and studying full- time and it was full-on but I loved it.

The volunteering gave me an insight into the industry and also provided opportunities for me. I developed my own programmes and started up different schemes. At the time, I was also working part-time at the local Co-Op to earn some money.

After my placement, I applied for a job as a community relations officer and, looking back, I think I got the job as I had done the volunteering and they could see I was a hard worker and very determined to succeed. I am now in charge of over 72,000 young people and 70 full-time staff.

I do outreach programmes in society such as with Women’s Aid and also in prisons. I love my career and I feel it gives me a good work-life balance.

My wife Cathy has no interest in football so I completely switch off from my job when I go home — except at the minute, of course, when the World Cup is on.

My Masters prepared me for the type of work I do now as I did a lot of media training and also a mediation-type course.

Football was very fragmented when I started off but thankfully things have changed a lot. I’d also say that my academic career helped me to work on strategies such as Football For All.

The best advice I can give to new graduates is to get out there and volunteer.

And if you haven’t got a job to go to straight away, don’t panic. Volunteer in the industry you want to work in. It can open many doors for you and you can gain invaluable experience.

I got up every morning and got on a bus into town and then on to another bus up the Lisburn Road, often carrying a bag full of footballs, but it helped me get a foot in the door.

I had a staff conference recently and I got all the staff to stand up if they had been involved in volunteering — 64 out of 90 stood up which shows what can be achieved.

There are more jobs out there so it’s important not to panic about finding work as the right one will come along.

The IFA took a gamble on me as I was one of their first volunteers.

Now, the three major sports in the country all have volunteer development officers who can help place you in the right position.

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