Things come full circle for outstanding PhD graduate

Dr Anna Monaghan graduates from Ulster University this summer with a PhD in Nutrition.

Anna spent the first 15 months of her studies on the Coleraine campus and had just about got all of her results collated when we went into the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the pandemic wasn’t the only obstacle Anna faced:

Going into this PhD, I lacked self confidence in my abilities and had never thought this was a path someone like me could go down. But thanks to the support and help from my tutors here at Ulster, I was able to complete my studies in difficult circumstances; both against the backdrop of a global health pandemic and some challenging personal issues. The pastoral care I received was phenomenal.

Anna’s goal is to show other young people that sometimes life can get in the way of what path you think is for you but there are other great things that can lie ahead:

“If you asked me 10 years ago when I finished my a-levels where I’d be at this age, I thought by now I’d be a dietician in London as I had moved there initially for my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, life isn’t always straightforward and so due to some health issues, I had to take a year out and decided to move back home. I went back to university a year later in Belfast, completing my undergraduate degree with a year’s placement back in London – this was an incredible experience and I was so grateful to have this second opportunity.”

After Anna graduated from her undergraduate degree, she decided to pursue local post-grad opportunities and was impressed with what Ulster University had to offer. Anna pursued a PhD with the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), focusing on the role of iodine and thyroid in pregnancy and child development.

Alongside her studies, Anna worked with the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) as Secretary for the NI Board and Chair of the UK Student group; a role in which she won multiple outreach awards including the IFST Impact Award.

Anna’s passion is engaging young people in science, particularly food nutrition, and this has been something that she’s been involved with since she was in school. In fact, at aged 16, Anna received a Nuffield STEM scholarship, from which she went onto become a STEM Ambassador while studying for her a-levels. In this role, Anna delivered talks, workshops and nutrition-focused activities to schools and community groups focused on all things science-related in the hope of encouraging more young people to consider a career in this field.

Things came full circle for Anna when she was offered a full-time role to become the STEM Ambassador Programme Manager across the whole of NI as her PhD came to an end:

“Just before I handed in my final thesis in January this year, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work full-time with STEM. My role is to manage all of the STEM Ambassadors across Northern Ireland – working with them to embed volunteering and outreach work, with a specific new focus on the food and nutrition sector.”

In the last 12 years, Anna has gone from receiving a STEM scholarship, becoming a STEM Ambassador to now managing the network she once belonged to, and has been promoted three months into the role – a testament to her expertise, passion and hard work.

Outside of the world of science, you may recognise Anna as one half of acapella duo The Monaghan Sisters, who have performed as part of the TedX ‘Give Back Move Forward’ series under the theme of ‘Trusting the Process’ – a mantra she lives by, or from performing for former US First Lady and presidential candidate, Secretary Hillary Clinton, at her installation dinner as Chancellor of Queen’s University in September 2021.

If you’re interested in finding out more about undertaking a PhD, visit: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/phd

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