Studying a Master’s with UCC’s School of English

James Campion presenting at the BOOKENDS UCC Postgraduate Conference

James Campion presenting at the BOOKENDS UCC Postgraduate Conference

Studying a Master’s in English at UCC, blog by James Campion

The MA I took with UCC’s School of English was entitled “Irish Writing and Film”. It lasted one year, and was divided broadly into two parts. For the first of these, our group (there were four of us) attended twice weekly classes given by lecturers who were experts in their respective fields. Due to the small size of our group, classes often took on a conversational aspect, where everyone contributed to a collective dialogue of shared information, opinion and insight. This allowed much scope for lengthy discussion of the particular text / theory we were studying at the time. These two-hour sessions were, as such, a bountiful source of enjoyment. I doubt I will forget those hours of engagement in informed debate, helped no end by the camaraderie of our group!

The second part of the year was devoted to the writing of an MA thesis, a task which had hovered around us ever since the beginning of our year together. Writing the thesis was a gradual process, spread out over five months. For me, it was essential to allow my ideas to crystallise over a period of time before I began any concerted attempt to actually write. I needed enough patience to give my ideas a chance to form a coherent whole, while also remaining (relatively!) calm during the process.

Life as an MA student brought a variety of challenges and rewards. It was a case of persisting through the hours spent reading, taking notes and reflecting, so that I could enjoy the wonderful feeling of submitting a bound thesis all the more. Holding a thesis that I myself had succeeded in producing was a great thrill. The development of my critical skills would have been impossible without the direction and insight of the lecturers for the course, some of whom I had the good fortune of working closely with on my thesis. Above all else, studying for an MA with UCC’s School of English was a process of continual discovery. Apart from obtaining a much deeper knowledge of my research area, I came away with a rare sense of fulfilment at having produced a piece of critical writing which would undoubtedly stand to me in the years to come.

Advice for PhD students

Ogham Stone from Stone Corridor, Main Quad, UCC

Ogham Stone from Stone Corridor, Main Quad, UCC

Some advice for PhD students from recent PhD graduate, Kevin Murphy

The main purpose of a PhD is to learn how to become a competent researcher. You will never receive as much support for learning for the rest of your life, so use the opportunity to learn as many and as varied research skills as you can.

You will make mistakes during your PhD, it’s unavoidable. It’s ok because you have a team of people who will support you; your supervisor(s), older PhD students in your department, and the staff of the UCC Graduate Studies Office. Everyone who has passed their PhD has made mistakes that made them feel like they’ve wasted 2 or 3 months of work.

Don’t let your PhD become the sole activity in your life, though it can often be hard to resist. Doing this will only lead to stress and depression, and potential future  employer will want to see that you were able to balance work and personal life. Joining a UCC Club or Society is a great way of relieving the stress of a PhD and meet other PhD students.

Make friends with other PhD students, whether in your department or not. Most of your friends and family will not understand what you are doing or why you don’t know when you’ll finish (unless they’ve done a PhD themselves). It’s important to become friends with people who can relate to what you’re experiencing.


Investigating Parkinson’s disease

Midbrain stem cells (Red) generating neurons (Green).

Midbrain stem cells (Red) generating neurons (Green).

Understanding how ‘neurotrophic’ signals instruct the development of the brain cells which die in Parkinson’s disease.

Blog by Shane V. Hegarty, BSc, PhD. Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, UCC.

Ten million people worldwide have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Those suffering with this disease progressively lose the ability to control their movements. PD has no known cause, however the biggest risk factor for developing the disease is ageing. Terrifyingly, the incidence of PD is set to double in the next 20 years as people are living longer. Despite the relentless progression of PD, both in disease-severity for patients and in numbers-affected worldwide, and despite intense research efforts, PD remains incurable.

In PD, a single population of brain cells, called ‘midbrain dopaminergic neurons’, become diseased and die over time. These brain cells release dopamine, which is the ‘messenger’ that allows midbrain dopaminergic neurons to control our movements. At present, current treatments replace the lost dopamine to provide temporary symptomatic benefits. However, these treatments do not halt or reverse the progression of PD. The fact that PD results from the loss a single population of brain cells provides the promising possibility that a cure for PD may reside in protecting, saving or replacing midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Indeed, the two most promising therapies for modifying PD-progression and maintaining/restoring function in PD patients are: (1) treatment with special brain signals, called ‘neurotrophic factors’, that protect and promote the survival and growth of midbrain dopaminergic neurons; and (2) replacement of the lost midbrain dopaminergic neurons by transplanting new dopaminergic neurons (generated from stem cells) into the brain. In order for these promising therapies to become a reality in PD, we first need to understand how midbrain dopaminergic neurons are born, grow and survive. This understanding would provide a guide for making transplantable dopaminergic neurons from stem cells, and would identify suitable neurotrophic factors for use in PD therapy.

Extensive research has identified ‘GDF5’ and ‘BMP2’ as neurotrophic factors for midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Despite this work, the mechanism by which these neurotrophic factors act to promote the survival and growth of midbrain dopaminergic neurons remained unknown. GDF5 and BMP2 are closely-related members of the same family of extracellular (located outside cells) proteins/‘signals’, which typically recruit ‘Smads’ inside cells to mediate their effects. This research demonstrated that these ‘Smads’ act to mediate the growth-promoting effects of GDF5 and BMP2 in midbrain dopaminergic neurons. We also showed that the specific receptors, which detect the GDF5 and BMP2 signals, are present on midbrain dopaminergic neurons as they develop. This research then identified the exact sub-type of these receptors, called ‘BMP receptor type-1b’, that is important for GDF5- and BMP2-induced promotion of growth. Building on this work, a unique DNA-regulating signal called ‘Smad-interacting protein-1’ was shown to be an important signal for midbrain dopaminergic neuron growth for the first time. Finally, GDF5 and BMP2 were shown to determine the fate of brain stem cells, with GDF5 instructing the production of dopamine in midbrain neurons. Taken together, this PhD research project demonstrated that GDF5 and BMP2 are important neurotrophic factors for the development of midbrain dopaminergic neurons, and that their effects are carried out by Smads in these neurons.

Where does an MA in English take you?

Blog by Ellen McWilliams

study english at UCC

I graduated with an MA from the School of English in 2000 and went on to complete a PhD at the University of Bristol. I am a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter, having previously held posts at Bristol and Bath Spa University. My teaching and research interests are in Irish, American, and Canadian literature, writing and diasporic identity, and the reception of European literary models in North American writing. I recently received an Arts and Humanities Early Career Fellowship (2011-2012) and am currently a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham University in New York.

My experience on the MA programme was transformative; it determined the course of my career and, looking back, proved to be of immeasurable personal and professional value. On the MA, we were exposed to a wide range of critical practices, while being encouraged at every turn to be rigorous and imaginative in our own thinking. The lecturers in English, many of whom are still teaching in the School, were all key figures in their fields of research, but also brilliant and deeply committed teachers. Dr Lee Jenkins was my personal tutor on the MA and supervised my dissertation on Canadian literature. My first book was on the fiction of Margaret Atwood and the links between my formative experience at UCC and my current work remain very important. I have just completed a book on Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction, the genesis of which can be linked, in part, to ideas first encountered in Professor Patricia Coughlan’s lectures on gender and Irish writing. I wasn’t the most confident MA student but, with the advice and encouragement of my personal tutor and other academics in the School, I applied for and secured a University of Constance Postgraduate Scholarship, a National University of Ireland Travelling Prize in English, and a three-year PhD scholarship to the University of Bristol.

My own research and practice as a university lecturer owes a great debt to my years at UCC and to my postgraduate experience. Many of the things I aspire to be as an academic can be traced back to my time as an MA student in the School of English, and the role models I encountered there remain touchstones of academic excellence, integrity, and generosity.


When you study Politics, you will be taught not what to think, but how to think

NATO model event simulation room

Blog by Chris Heinhold, Ph.D student in Islamic Studies

Having completed my undergraduate degree at UCC in History and Study of Religions, I felt that I wasn’t quite done with education yet. I had no way to pay for a master’s degree though, so applied for literally every scholarship going! There are a number of them available, both through individual departments and on a university wide basis. I was very fortunate to receive the ‘College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences Taught Master’s’ scholarship. This allowed me to take my place in the Politics MA.

This MA programme is interdisciplinary. It crosses the departments of Government, History and Politics. The MA coordinator, Dr. David Fitzgerald, along with the department secretary, Dawn French, do a fantastic job of holding these elements together. As part of the programme you complete sixty credits of modules, thirty in each semester, along with a dissertation worth thirty credits. While the dissertation is inevitably mostly written over the summer, I really appreciated it not all being left until the end of semester two- you are encouraged to think about and talk through ideas for your dissertation topic during the first term. Without this support early on I don’t how I would have had the dissertation in on time.

The module choice is fantastic. As I said, the choice is divided evenly between the three departments, and you must compete some from each. I found the philosophy modules particularly challenging, as this was not an area I had any experience in. However, despite this, they were among the most enjoyable modules of the course. Philosophy really stretched my ability to think and argue in a way I was not used to, and is probably the element of the programme I gained the most from in terms of my continuing career (along with reading radical science fiction in Laurence Davis’s Government module ‘Re-imagining Democratic Politics in a Changing World’, which was more fun but just as valuable!).

The biggest personal highlight during my MA programme was being chosen to travel to Bologna, Italy, to take part in the NATO model event. This is an annual two day simulation. There were students from across Europe taking part. We were all assigned individual countries and presented with a crisis simulation which we had to solve by mutual agreement.

Still not ready to finish my studies, I am now a PhD student at the University of Chester, working on generational dynamics in transnational Shia organisations, back in a Study of Religions department. The Politics MA programme at UCC allowed me to explore different ideas and ways of examining the world from various disciplinary viewpoints. It opened methodological and theoretical avenues which I would not have explored otherwise.

I would highly recommend the Politics MA to anyone who wants to develop a career in academia, to anyone who wants to move into the world of public policy, or to anyone who wants to explore ideas beyond their previous academic discourse.

Postgraduates from our MSc in Financial Economics get talking

We asked some of our postgraduate students what’s it’s really like to study the UCC programme Financial Economics (MSc) and where it took them. The UCC Postgraduate Open Day on February 10th is a great opportunity to speak with lecturers and students on this course.


Mr Peter Corcoran, B.Sc. (Finance), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Corporate Treasury, Investec Bank.

When I started looking into the available masters in finance, the highly quantitative nature of this course caught my eye straight away. Every employer at the time was looking for candidates with strong quantitative and analytical skills. These credentials are still very much in demand today, if not more so than when I graduated.

This course gave me a much greater understanding of how global markets actually work and the financial theories upon which they are based. During the lectures we were encouraged to ask questions and to get involved. In addition, the assignments were very well thoughtout. The vast majority were real work problems that pushed us to think outside the box and not just to come back with generic solutions.

Having completed this course, it helps me every day in my role with Investec Bank where I am responsible for providing cash & foreign exchange management, and other treasury services to the bank’s corporate and institutional clients, to help them achieve their strategic goals. Each client has different needs so every solution has to be tailor made.

Mr Maurice Howell, B.E. (Electrical Engineering), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Portfolio Analyst, Pioneer Investments.

I found the MSc Financial Economics programme to be of exceptional quality and quite accessible even though coming from an engineering background many of the facets of finance and economics were new to me. The lecturers made the material interesting with expert and enthusiastic delivery while maintaining a focus on practicality with a good balance between both qualitative and quantitative material.

The assignments and project work were of particular benefit to me. Collaborating with peers of different backgrounds and viewpoints taught me a lot about myself and how I work with others as well as how to leverage each person’s prior experiences to maximise the outcome, a  crucial skill in an industry that’s increasingly drawing on a multidisciplinary talent pool. The projects themselves required practical application of the concepts learned, but always with strong support from faculty.

The broad scope of the material is in keeping with the latest standards in the investment industry and prepared me for roles with both fixed income and equity funds. As an analyst, being able to understand and apply both bottom-up and top-down analysis while maintaining a portfolio viewpoint means you can immediately start to add value in many different roles.

The MSc in Financial Economics has been a fantastic platform and has given me the tools and confidence to pursue a career in any investment firm.

Mr Diarmaid Cronin, B.Sc. (Finance), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Financial Services Authority, UK.

I did the MSc in Financial Economics for two main reasons. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of Financial Markets, Derivatives, Central Banking, Financial Product Valuation, Foreign Exchange and Interest Rate Risk Management. I also wanted to conduct Independent Research in the area of Stock Market Valuation. Therefore I felt the MSc in Financial Economics was the course for me. I found the course very challenging but highly rewarding. It helped me to fully understand Equity Markets, Derivatives, Banking and Risk Management. In addition I really enjoyed the guest speaker presentations throughout the year. They included Economists, Portfolio Managers and Stock Traders. I feel the course has added value to me and guarantees great employment opportunities. Having completed the course I now intend to pursue a career in financial markets.

Michael O’ Sullivan, B.Sc. (Business Information Systems), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Business Analyst, AIG Europe.

When I decided to undertake a postgraduate course, the MSc in Financial Economics was my number one choice. I wanted a course which would provide an in depth understanding of finance and give me the skills and qualification I needed to get ahead in the work-place.  After completing the course I know I made the right decision. The course provides an excellent theoretical background of financial and economic topics. More importantly, it focuses on the most up to date and relevant material and helped me to develop skills which I could immediately apply in the work environment. I am now working as a Business Analyst with AIG Europe and I know that completing the MSc in Financial Economics was critical to me securing my position.

Ms Siobhán O’Connell, B.Sc. (Finance), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Research Analyst, Central Bank of Ireland.

In my view, the MSc in Financial Economics provided me with an ability to develop my knowledge of economics. The modules while varied are focused on developing the knowledge needed that I feel has helped me to immediately settle into my role as a research analyst in the Central Bank. The teaching staff are both helpful and deeply engaged in their individual areas and provide teaching that is up to date on the current debates in the real world. We were also allowed to experience the world of stock markets and trading, which allowed us to apply our knowledge and competitiveness all in one. The programme provides opportunities for students to focus through the minor thesis onto an area of our interest.


 Mr Jonathan Irwin, B.A. (Economics), M.Sc. (Financial Economics), Associate, Investment Banking Europe, BNP Paribas. 

I selected the MSc as I wanted to be part of a class and a department which was highly motivated and eager to learn. This enthusiasm, facilitated by the positive atmosphere of a small class, made the learning experience extremely valuable as there have been many different class discussions and interactive group exercises, which add a new dimension. The MSc allowed me to examine many different career paths within the Investment Banking and Risk Management sector. The course contains modules both specific and broad giving students a huge advantage in their ability to select a future career path. Moreover upon completing the MSc you are able to demonstrate a variety of skills including, analytical, commercial awareness and a understanding of ethics. This synthesis of competencies gives student a clear advantage in the job market.

Mr John Twomey, B.Sc. Finance, M.Sc. Financial Economics, Deputy Head of Research, Abbey Capital.

The in MSc. Financial Economics has stood to me greatly throughout my career. I entered the course from an undergrad in Finance, after which I felt I had a good grasp of the core foundations of the industry. However the MSc. Financial Economics equipped me with the detailed knowledge that would be required for front office and investment roles. Allowing me to broaden and deepen my understanding of key topics such as portfolio management and derivative securities which I now use every day.  The strong course material was complemented by the time and effort put forward by the lecturing staff, which was truly exceptional. Office doors were never closed to someone who wanted to ask a question or resolve an issue. I would strongly recommend this course to anyone considering a career in portfolio management, capital markets or financial research.




Journey of Copper from Coins to Electronic chips


Blog by Gangotri Dey, PhD Student, Tyndall National Institute

Imagine your mothers cooking!

Imagine one of her best cooked dishes.

Can you tell me where does she start from?

Well she starts from the basic ingredients, rice, potato, oil, the best salmon fish from the English market and the exquisite mustard sauce drizzled over it. She might have spent hours in Tesco, Lidle or the local farmers market to get these ingredients.

What if there is computer software to tell her the best of the quality, what if she does not have to spend hours in the rainy weather looking for the quality food.

In Tyndall National Institute we also cook something but instead of food, we cook semiconductor devices. We look for the best atoms and molecules with the help of specialized software which will help to build that perfect gadget that is needed for today’s technology hungry market. This branch of studies where one uses computer software to study the atoms and molecules is known as Computational Chemistry.

You might not know but the Cu metal which might sometime be in your jewellry is a very important part of the electronic chips. The maximum thickness that we want to deposit is ~2nm thick, which is roughly one millionth the size of our hair.

Now the question arises as to how can we deposit Cu to this thickness?

Now take this yet blank PhD thesis. How will it be filled up?

It will be written page by page, then chapter by chapter and at the end we will get a complete thesis.

So it will be built up layer by layer.

In the semiconductor industry there exists a technique called Atomic Layer Deposition where a thick layer of any material is thought to be built layer by layer and hence atom by atom.

We use the basis of this technique for building the layers of Cu.

One of the key reactions that we have studied is the use of a metal centre that can be used for the reduction of copper metal. One of the vital reactions that we have studied is how two metal centres from copper can be used for the reduction of each other. In this way, we avoid any impurity that can take place.

My research with this software is important because it helps to screen various reactions before its experimental trial at relatively cheap and hazard free cost. So we can save those few million euros wasted in buying hi-tech gadgets, chemicals and man power.

Hopefully in the future we will be able to fabricate a device with this technique and build that perfect gadget for today’s technology hungry market.