I'm in my fourth year of the BSc (Hons) Speech and Language Therapy*
Why did you choose to study at Queen Margaret University (QMU)?
I chose to study at QMU because I liked that it’s a small campus without tens of thousands of students. I wasn’t keen on attending a university where I felt I would be swallowed up in a crowd! When I arrived at the campus for an open day (pre-COVID) I liked the layout of the university and the open plan feel to it as you walk in through the doors of the academic building. I also liked that it is a green campus and has an environmental ethos about it. Also, that it’s only six minutes away from Edinburgh by train is a bonus!
What interested you about your chosen course?
I have always been keen to pursue a career which is based on helping people and hopefully making a difference in their lives. Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) particularly interested me as it is focused on supporting people with communication and swallowing disorders. I feel that communicating with others and being able to eat, drink, and swallow safely are some of the most fundamental aspects of our daily lives and I wanted to ensure I was involved in a career that truly does centre on making a difference to others.
I also liked that it was career which would allow me to work alongside both children and adults across the lifespan. I had a look at the QMU website and the modules which would be on offer and I was happy to see such variety amongst them: for instance - biology, psychology, linguistics and phonetics. For someone who has always been passionate about both languages and science – this seemed like a perfect fit!
What attracted you to study in Edinburgh?
I was attracted to study in Edinburgh for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to move to a capital city which I knew was known for its art and culture. I love reading and writing so to move to the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature was certainly a plus! I also love the feel of Edinburgh itself – there’s a unique magic to the place that I can’t say I’ve felt anywhere else. From Arthur’s Seat to the castle, it is like living in a fairytale! Also, coming from a small town in Ireland, I was excited to move to a bigger city. What’s great about Edinburgh though is that it feels to me like just the right size: not too big and not too small. I love that you could spend hours just pottering around the cobbled streets and exploring the many artisan (and Harry Potter!) shops! Lastly, I’m quite an outdoorsy person, so to move to a city which has an ancient volcano in its centre which you can climb was certainly good too! The Pentlands are also only a short bus journey away too.
What have you most enjoyed about your course? What has been the highlight?
What I’ve enjoyed most about the course is making new friends for life. SLT appears to attract people from a wide range of academic backgrounds and diverse cultures and I can now say I have made friends from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland! Also, everyone on the course – both staff and students – have always been very friendly and I felt right at home in the degree from the very beginning. Another highlight has been the wide range of placements I have had an opportunity to go on – these experiences have been invaluable.
Have you participated in a course activity you found especially interesting?
I particularly enjoyed studying the Level 4 Carol Spragge option module as it based on the language and communication needs of marginalised populations. This was a real eye-opener, to see how people from socially disadvantaged areas are further disadvantaged if they do not have their communication needs met. This particularly resonated with me as I based my final year project on the speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) of young people who offend. As a result, I found there was some good overlap between these and certainly plenty of food for thought. Although this module was in our final year, and was therefore based online (due to COVD-19), I felt I gained some great insight from the class discussions which covered quite sensitive topics.
How have your lecturers supported your learning?
I have found the lecturers to be incredibly supportive throughout my time at QMU. I have an Individualised Learning Plan (ILP) and I have always found the staff approachable, understanding, and easy to speak with. I was a class representative for two years and really enjoyed the student-staff committee meetings as I found the lecturers always took on board anything that we as students raised.
The staff have been even more supportive throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a particularly stressful time for everyone but I found the staff went above and beyond to listen to our needs and concerns - especially as myself and my cohort completed our final year of our degree almost entirely in lockdown.
What have been some of your challenges with the course and university life? How have you overcome them?
It has been a challenge to complete my final year of the course during the pandemic. Not seeing friends and lecturers regularly was a big adjustment. However, I feel the lecturers supported us as best they could and although classes were largely held online, these were still very interesting and enjoyable. I have overcome these challenges by speaking regularly with friends and my family back home in Ireland. I’ve also reminded myself to get outside in nature for fresh air daily!
Have you taken part in a placement as part of your course and if so, what was your experience?
I’ve been on many different placements as part of my course and each has been more varied than the last. In first year, I had three non-clinical placements in a nursery, a primary school, and a care home. This was so we could observe changes across a person’s lifespan which I really enjoyed, as SLTs can work with children as young as toddlers to people with dementia. My clinical placements have been based in nurseries, schools, health-centres, hospitals, and people’s homes. During the summer of my second and third years, I had a three-week block placement in NHS Shetland which was one of the highlights of my course for me. Despite it being a small health board, there was such diversity amongst the client groups, and to see parts of Shetland was amazing!
Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in applying for this course?
Apply! Choosing to study Speech and Language Therapy at QMU has honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve made in life. I would also recommend getting some work experience where possible as the role is so varied and so this can give you more of an idea of what’s involved. Prior to applying to the course, I never really thought SLTs would work in prisons or mental health settings, and now they are the areas I hope to go into! Also, the staff team are lovely, the modules are so diverse and interesting and - I may be biased - but SLT is an amazing career!
The Student Experience
What’s your ‘top tip’ for making the most of being a student?
My top tip for making the most of being a student is to always ensure there is a balance between university work and having down time. Academic work is of course important, but so is making friends and getting out and about and enjoying Edinburgh! It is a fantastic city to live in and so, I would say to students: don’t forget to take a walk up Arthur’s Seat every now and again and take in the scenery! It does wonders for your mental health to get out in nature and not always have your head in the books! I would also say: try to make the most out of uni wherever you can – it may be a cliché, but the four years really do go by so incredibly quickly. It seems like one minute you’re a new fresher, and the next, you’re handing in your dissertation! It passes quickly – take each and every opportunity that comes your way!
What has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned at university?
The most valuable lesson I learned was to balance work and relaxation time. I have a tendency to work, work, work and forget to unwind sometimes! I would say getting into a good work/life balance at uni will stand you in good stead for hopefully keeping up that balance as you venture into your future career. Yes, study is absolutely important, but don’t forget to come up for air every now and again!
The 2020 Carnegie Trust Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship
I applied for this in the summer of 2020. The application process required a case proposal of what research I was hoping to carry out. I had great support from my supervisor Dr Ann Clark and other staff members of the Speech and Hearing Sciences Division.
I was delighted to hear I received the Carnegie Undergraduate Scholarship last summer. I based my research project on two of my main interests: speech and language therapy and mental health. In doing so, I explored the mental health experiences of speech and language therapists and speech and language therapy assistants before and during COVID-19.
I carried out a questionnaire and follow-up semi-structured interviews. I then devised a poster presentation demonstrating the results. Generally, there is a poster presentation event held every year to display each student’s work but unfortunately this did not take place due to the ongoing pandemic. I felt very fortunate to carry out this research and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process.
This scholarship has helped me in a number of ways. Firstly, I gained experience in conducting research just before my final year. As a result, I felt more confident carrying out my final year project and writing up my dissertation. Secondly, it has made me think about potentially carrying out further research into speech and language therapy and mental health in the future.
What are you plans after graduation? Tell us about your ambitions and where you see yourself in the future?
After graduation I am hoping to work alongside adults with learning disabilities in a forensic and mental health setting. I had a great final year clinical placement in this area and this really piqued my interest in pursuing this particular route of speech and language therapy. Having carried out the Carnegie research project and my final year project, I am interested in pursuing further study or research in a few years after I have gained clinical experience. I would like to balance these studies with my clinical work and become a clinical academic.
*note, for the academic year 2021-22, this is now an Master of Speech and Language Therapy (MSLT)