Juggling life and a postgrad: 'I’ll be doing the wash-up until 2023!'

Five graduates share the insights and experience they gained during their postgrad

Dr Melanie Ryberg 
MLitt Neuropsychology UCD School of Psychology (2008) 
Clinical psychologist

My postgrad was an opportunity to explore a topic of interest in great detail, while gaining experience working with the patient group of interest (adults with moderate/severe traumatic brain injuries) and getting a chance to work with academic and clinical experts in the field.

I learned a huge amount and it set me firmly on the path to my current career.

While my BA in Psychology was broad and largely taught, my MLitt was focused and research-based. Although I had great support from my supervisor, collaborators and peers, a significant amount of self-direction was needed.


Because it was largely self-directed, balancing my postgrad studies with the demands of everyday life was a challenge at times. However, keeping a structure to my time, making time for exercise and drawing on the support of my fellow psychology postgrads helped hugely.

My postgrad helped me in my chosen career, giving me both research and face-to-face experience with patients. This ultimately led to further training in clinical psychology, and then an additional specialist qualification in clinical neuropsychology. After all the years of study, I am now a chartered clinical neuropsychologist working in Bloomfield Mental Health Services, a charitable organisation that provides care to adults with long-term mental health needs.

If I had to improve one thing about the course, I may have benefited from a taught component to assist with developing skills in key areas of research that were quite new to me, although I had fantastic support from my supervisor, Prof. Teresa Burke, who was invaluable in terms of guiding me through the process.

Siún Aherne 
Postgraduate Diploma in Lean Systems, UL, 2019 
Academic quality and operations manager at the RCSI

All my lecturers had worked in the field and were bringing their real-life experience into the classroom, blending that with theory and really bringing the subject to life. The programme also gave me access to a fantastic network of like-minded professionals, many of whom have become good friends.

As a postgraduate learner, I had a much more active role in my learning. I already had a bank of knowledge and experience that I could bring to the classroom and share. Likewise, I learnt so much from other students sharing their experiences and perspective on the topics we were studying.

In my experience, postgraduate education is more focused on collaboration and shared learning, in contrast to undergraduate programmes where the student is more of a passive player.

I chose the Post Graduate Diploma in Lean Systems because the learning outcomes aligned with my own personal career objectives but also, importantly, with the strategic objectives of my organization.

Balancing study with work and family life is definitely a challenge but you can be smart about it at postgrad level. Choosing an area of study that is applicable and relevant to your work is very helpful as much of what you are learning can be integrated and practiced in your day-to-day role.

Assignments can be based on real life projects that you are working on anyway and you can implement your new skill set in your daily work. The slog of book study is unavoidable so it is important to carve out time during the week that works for you and your routine and then be disciplined about sticking to it.

As a professional, working full time with two young children, I value flexibility in when and where I can study. It would have been great to have access to more online content, live and recorded webinars, and to have had more options about how and when I engaged with my course.

Working in higher education myself, I understand that students, particularly the busy healthcare professionals that we work with in RCSI, want to be able to fit their studies around work and life commitments. It is exciting to see third level institutions in Ireland embracing this challenge and using technology to make education more accessible to all.

Dr Paul O’Dwyer  
MSc in Healthcare Management at RCSI 
Dental surgeon

The best thing the postgad had to offer, both online and in class, was flexibility of learning. The course (MSc in Healthcare Management) was broad and very interesting. There were students from varying healthcare backgrounds - all of whom had great insights into common areas and very interesting opinions on service provision.

It was a most worthwhile experience, both from learning and career viewpoints. Concepts, ideas and processes of which I was unaware at the start, became second nature to me by the end of the course.

Postgraduate study is often self-directed, and the peer to peer learning from classmates is very enriching. There is also the added value of each classmate’s life experience both inside and outside of the work environment which adds layers to the learning.

The postgrad helped inform me of areas in which I could now offer expertise. It also added credibility with acknowledged achievement to my CV

Balancing postgrad studies with the demands of everyday life was the trickiest part of the whole process! Juggling part-time postgraduate study with work and a family proved very challenging. Finishing assignments on weekends when it was usually time with my wife and daughters was particularly tough.

However, with some significant compromises from all sides, it was do-able! That said, I’ll be doing the wash-up until 2023!

Because most classmates are from different locations in the country, it meant that the social aspect of the class was very limited. This was one element that could be changed for the better. Each of us had demands such as work and family which meant socialising took a very back seat. That said, the end of year - particularly the finish of the Masters degree - was a great night out.

Eoghan McCormack  
MSc Medical Device Design at NCAD 
Industrial design engineer

The best thing this postgrad had to offer was the opportunity to work on live industry projects with various multinational medical device companies based in Ireland. This experience was invaluable: in every project, we received feedback and constructive criticism on our design concepts from experts in these companies. I think this raised the quality of my output and opened my eyes to the standard of work in industry.

During both of my degrees, I learned and practiced the fundamentals of product/industrial design (user-centred design, design research, human factors, sketching, model-making, CAD, 3D visualisation, etc.). The standout difference for me is that every project in the postgrad was completed in collaboration with an industry partner, such as Sedana Medical, Teleflex, Hollister and Stryker.

My thesis was a brief given by Stryker, for whom I now work as an industrial

design engineer. I develop devices through ergonomic and working prototypes, and test them through usability studies and interviews with some of the world’s finest surgeons. I am the product development team’s visual communicator, using visualisation tools and methods to improve the team’s ability to collaborate and communicate.

I inform the team of key trends in design related topics such as product design, product look and feel, customer-centred design, materials and finishes. As part of my designs, I define the user experience and product attributes that support our devices.

The postgrad provided me with this opportunity to showcase my design skillset, while also being able to demonstrate what value I could bring to the company. Without the network that this postgrad has, it would have been more difficult for me to receive an opportunity like this.

I have a fairly driven personality, so I was prepared to sacrifice some leisure time to completely focus on getting the most out of the course. I was fortunate enough to live close to NCAD, so I could work late when necessary.

On the weekends then I would always meet up with friends and take a break from my coursework.

Dr Seán Henry, Maynooth University 
PhD in Education 
Assistant lecturer in philosophy in education

For me, the best thing that my doctorate had to offer was the time and space for me to think through an issue that was personally and professionally very important to me: the relationship between religious schooling on the one hand, and LGBTQ+ inclusion on the other.

Completing my doctorate in philosophy of education was incredibly worthwhile, as it challenged me to think about this topic in new and more nuanced ways. Using philosophy of education, queer theory, and queer theologies, the thesis argued that it was possible to rethink Jewish, Christian, and Muslim schools as potential places of LGBTQ+ inclusion, something I didn’t think was possible before.

The pace of my doctorate made it very different from my undergrad: in an undergrad course, you’re always rushing to meet the next assignment deadline, while in a doctorate, things move at a much slower rhythm (well, most of the time anyways!).

Saying that, completing a doctorate is highly demanding, and can very easily impact everyday life, especially if you’re a workaholic. To protect my physical and mental health, I was very strict on myself in terms of working at weekends - I only allowed myself to work a weekend every now and then, while also learning how to say ‘no’ a lot more.

I now work as an Assistant Lecturer in Philosophy of Education in the same department.

Completing my doctorate gave me both subject knowledge and teaching experience in preparing well for this role. The only thing I would have changed about my course was its length - I loved it, and would have loved to have been there as a student even longer.