The UA Blog

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Sam Ross

Sam Ross from the University of Leeds was Highly Commended in 2015 in the Life Sciences for his paper: Shifting Paradigms in Ecological Network Theory: Understanding Network Stability and Complexity

He was also Highly Commended in 2016 for another paper entitled The Ecological Consequences of Incorporating Intraspecific Trait Variation into indices of Functional Diversity.

Here’s his update!

“Hey all,

I’m Sam Ross and I was Highly Commended in the Life Sciences category at The Undergraduate Awards in 2015 for my paper on the future of ecological network science, and again in 2016 for my paper on the importance of individual variation when measuring biodiversity.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend either year due to being away for fieldwork, but I’m still pleased to be a part of the UA Network. Since my nominations, I have finished my Master’s degree in Ecology at the University of Leeds, UK, and have moved to Okinawa, Japan, to work as a visiting research intern at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

My work now involves bioacoustic monitoring of biodiversity (mainly birds) across Okinawa using sound recorders at 24 field sites along an urban-rural gradient. I’m mainly interested in the factors that influence the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem health, particularly in the light of anthropogenic pressures such as urbanisation and climate change. To this end, I’m looking forward to hopefully starting my PhD this coming October at Trinity College Dublin.

In my spare time, I’ve been making the most of Okinawa’s location by exploring Asia a little. So far, I’ve been to several cities on the Japanese mainland, and to South Korea and Taiwan. I’m heading back to the UK in April, and will use my spare six months to tie up any outstanding research projects, maybe try to hone my (very) amateur DJ ‘skills,’ and just generally take it a bit slower before the madness that will no doubt be my PhD.

I’m always looking for collaborators from around the world, so if anyone is working on anything that fits my interests please give me a shout. Chances are I’d love to get involved!

All the best, and hopefully I’ll see some of you around Dublin soon.


Where Are They Now Wednesday: Donna-Marie Mc Namara

Donna-Marie McNamara from DCU was Highly Commended in 2013 in the Law category for her paper ‘The Buck Stops Here’ – The Call for Legislation Concerning Assisted Human Reproduction in 21st Century Ireland”  She’s been extremely busy since then!

“Hi everyone,

I am very grateful and privileged to have been Highly Commended in the Undergraduate Awards. While writing my paper on Assisted Human Reproduction, I came to realise that a career in research would be the perfect fit for me. I received a scholarship to study an LLM in Health and Care Law in University College Cork, where I became interested in international law and the rights of people with disabilities. It was during this year that I knew pursuing a PhD was the right career decision for me, as I wanted to continue researching and learning about human rights law.

I was very lucky to receive a scholarship to carry out a PhD in Dublin City University in 2014, under the supervision of Dr Aisling de Paor and Dr Yvonne Daly. My research explores the rights of people with disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system as suspects of crime. I am particularly interested in how the police respond to suspects with disabilities, and the supports available for suspects in the pre-trial process. As part of my work, I spent some time at the Burton Blatt Institute in Syracuse, New York in 2016, working with Dr Peter Blanck, who is an internationally renowned leader in the field of disability human rights law. During this trip, I got to visit a sheriff’s office and speak to the officers about the differences between criminal justice in Ireland and the States. Without a doubt, my time at the Burton Blatt Institute and working with everyone there has been the highlight of my research career to date!

Once I finish my PhD, I hope to continue research and teaching. I chose to study at DCU because of the teaching opportunities and over the last three years I have tutored criminal law and have lectured legal research methods and administrative law. This has been a fantastic experience for me to develop my own skills as an educator. I also work with the Student Learning and Development Office in the university for a few hours every week. This is a great way of getting to know the students and helping them with their problems. DCU is like my second home at this stage!”

DCU Hosts New Event to Celebrate Undergraduate Research

On the 2nd of February 2017, students and recent graduates from all over the Island of Ireland gathered in The Helix in DCU for the inaugural UPresent: Island of Ireland.

At this event, all Highly Commended Entrants and Winners in the 2016 Programme from the Island of Ireland, were invited to present their papers and to officially receive their certificates.

Susanne Wawra presents her project “Memento” – A Series of Mixed Media Paintings

Each of these attendees placed in the top 10% of their field globally in 2016 and The Undergraduate Awards wanted to provide an opportunity for them to share their research and celebrate this achievement with their friends and family.

Over the course of the day, the audience were treated to presentations on a diverse array of subjects and fields. Mahmoud Abukhadir from National University of Ireland Galway put forth a passionate case for the establishment of a international patent law, while Sayed Saeed from Dublin Institute of Technology walked us through his ingenious plan for reconstructing the Walkinstown Roundabout.

Shane Fagan from Crawford College of Art & Design presented his work The New 
, in which antlers, a symbol for masculinity, were shown to be changing and taking new forms. Another artist, Susanne Wawra from the National College of Art & Design, explained how her work was influenced by the desire to hold on to memories from her childhood in East Berlin. Cathal McDaid from Ulster University capped off the presentations with his fascinating discussion on Percy Shelley’s poetic attack on the hypocrisy and authoritarianism of the time.

Rachel Hanley from DCU, Highly Commended in Medical Sciences

Two Highly Commended Entrants from the host institution, DCU, also presented their work. Rachel Hanley, from the category of Medical Sciences, explained her thesis project on Cancer cell staining, which helps to detect cancer cells from healthy cells in the body.

Columb Doherty, whose paper was ranked the highest from the Island of Ireland in the Mathematics & Physics category, gave an accessible explanation of his complex work on the Kinetic Energy Ion Distribution of a Laser Generated Plasma. Columb even managed to teach us that the Statue of Liberty was not always green! Denah Fitzharris from DCU, who was Highly Commended in the History category, also attended the ceremony to receive her certificate

Panel on UA Adjudication

Following the presentations, four UA judges Dr. David Irwin (Institute of Technology, Tallaght), Prof. Mary Mc Colgan (Ulster University), Dr. Mary Kelly (DCU) & Dr. Kenneth McDonagh (DCU)  participated in a panel discussion to give the attendees an insight into the adjudication process through which they were selected.

Dr. Ken McDonagh Department of Law & Government, DCU

Each of the judges mentioned the high-quality of the submissions they received.

Dr. McDonagh remarked that “I was very impressed by the standard of submissions the first year that I participated, and so I was eager to do it again the next year.”

Dr. Irwin told the audience that “One thing that struck me about the essays was the breath of knowledge and the discipline of structure…I don’t like to use the word brilliant, but they truly were brilliant. Once we were down to the last ten we were wondering how we could separate perfection from perfection”

The final speech of the day was given over to Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn, an Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and a Director of the Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU). Prof. Hazelkorn spoke on the topic of The Role of Higher Education in the Age of Populism. Prof. Hazelkorn discussed the challenges facing Global Higher Education in the current political climate. She explained that “Colleges that have prided themselves on working across borders and between cultures now find themselves dealing with governments which have campaigned to keep out foreigners.” She concluded her speech, and the day as a whole, with the argument that “There is a responsibility on Higher Education to use all its resources, human and capital, to re-articulate its commitment to the public good and reach beyond its campus.”

DCU has been a Partner Institution of The Undergraduate Awards since February 2016, and has had a long and active relationship with the programme. The UPresent day during the UA Global Summit 2015 was held in The Helix, and we were delighted to be able to return to the venue for this event. During his opening remarks, Trevor Holmes, Vice President for External and Strategic Affairs DCU, remarked that he was delighted to welcome top undergraduates to the university, which has had a busy few years, having grown to now encompass three educational campuses, making it Ireland’s fastest growing university.

If you are interested in submitting to The Undergraduate Awards the 2017 Programme is now open. 

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Utkarsh Jain

Utkarsh Jain from The University of Manchester was Highly Commended in the Mathematics & Physics category of The Undergraduate Awards 2016. Here’s his update!

I finished my MPhys from Uni of Manchester in June and since then, have moved to the University of Twente in the Netherlands to do a PhD in physics of fluids. In fact, it was on my very first day in the Netherlands that I found out about the result of my submission to the UA…nice way start to a new project!

In Manchester, I spent a summer project and a masters project researching the funny and surprising phenomenon of buckling in elastic holey columns using numerical and experimental techniques, trying to deduce the bifurcation structure underlying this phenomenon.

For my PhD I will be experimentally studying sloshing in fluids, and have started some simple experiments. Being a PhD student means a lot more unstructured learning and lots of independence. This freedom is something I am still learning to make the best use of by learning some topics I had developed interest in during my undergrad. I am also learning new scientific techniques and tools to support with future research.

Lots of things catch my eye, only few hold attention – such as research in soft solids/gels, bifurcations, nonlinear systems and funny fluids phenomena observed in daily life. I also enjoy stumbling across an old demo by Oasis, Soundgarden, Nirvana etc.. Internet memes are also known to consume significant portions of my time… Outside of lab, I have been learning Dutch, re-experimenting with meditation and thoroughly enjoying cycling (of course)…”

UA Announces Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn as key note speaker for UPresent: Island of Ireland

The Undergraduate Awards is excited to announce Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn as the key-note speaker for UPresent: Island of Ireland, which is taking place on the 2nd of February in The Helix in DCU.

Ellen speech is entitled ‘Higher Education: Internationalisation and Civic Engagement’ and we are fascinated to hear what she has to say, considering her expertise on this topic.

Ellen is a Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and a Director of the Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland). She is an International Co-Investigator at the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), UCL Institute for Education and also a Visiting Professor at Boston College.

Ellen has worked as higher education policy consultant and specialist with international organisations and governments for over 15 years (e.g. EU, OECD, World Bank, UNESCO, US National Academy of Sciences). She is a member of various advisory board, including the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (UK), and Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Sweden).

She has strong connections with DIT, serving as Vice President of Research and Enterprise and Dean of the Graduate Research School from 2008-2014. She was also the Vice President and Founding Dean of the Faculty of Applied Arts at 1995-2008. Ellen was President of EAIR (the European Society for Higher Education) from 2013-2016.

Ellen was awarded a BA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a PhD from the University of Kent.

Ellen is internationally recognised for her analysis of the impact and influence of rankings: Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education: The Battle for World-Class Excellence, . She has edited Global Rankings and the Geopolitics of Higher Education, co-edited Rankings and Accountability in Higher Education: Uses and Misuses, and co-authored, Rankings in Institutional Strategies and Processes: impact or illusion?

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Daniel Ukasoanya

Daniel Ukasoanya from Covenant University, Nigeria was Highly Commended in the 2014 Engineering & Mechanical Sciences category. Here’s what he’s been up to since:

“In September 2014, three months after graduation, I got an email from the Undergraduate Awards, that my project, Synthesis, Application and Characterization of Nanofluids for Vapour Compression Refrigerators, had qualified me as a Highly Commended Entrant and since then my career has been on an accelerated path! At the time I was working on eco-friendly refrigerators which used nanorefrigerants to reduce energy consumption and yielded faster cooling times for traders of perishable goods in parts of sub-saharan Africa with unstable power supply.

By November 2014, I had started my application for the British Chevening Scholarships to support my Masters in the Renewable Energy Field. Considering the scholarship pooled 25,000 applications globally and had only 1800 spots at the time, I realized quickly that I was in for my most difficult challenge yet (since the Undergraduate Awards of course!). However, when there is the need to distinguish yourself from 25,000 candidates, very few achievements can distinguish your essays the way a Highly Commended project in the UA can. So when I was invited for my interview by February 2015, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the day I submitted my UA application. Seven months down the line, I resumed as a Nigerian Chevening Scholar at Durham University where I studied for an Msc. in New and Renewable Energy (and just got my results back as a Distinction!)

Since the completion of my program in September 2016, I have returned to Nigeria where I am working as a Management Trainee with Nestle’s third biggest factory worldwide. At Nestle, I have been given the opportunity to manage key projects and to supervise operations that go towards the production of some of the world’s best products.

Once in a while I think back to that night when I finished churning down my 22,000 word project to the 13,000 requirement for my UA category, and I can see that all the effort was worth it!”

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Ivan Márquez

Ivan Márquez from Trinity College Dublin was Highly Commended in the 2014 Social Sciences category for his paper:
Analysis of Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away: The Never-ending myth of the savage

Let’s see what he’s been up to!

“Hi all!

I’m Ivan Márquez, a Franco-Mexican student who’s article was Highly Commended in the 2014 Undergraduate Awards in Social Sciences. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be present at the UA Global Summit that year since I was moving to Paris to do a Masters degree on Urban Governance at SciencesPo. During that time, I also produced and directed an unpublished play called “Lizard King” and worked at the artistic programming of Nuit Blanche 2016 in Paris.

Now that I have finished my Master program, I am still living in Paris, studying at an acting school called Laboratoire de Formation au Théâtre Physique (Physical Theater Laboratory). I am currently looking at some ways to apply my knowledge on urban sociology and political sciences to theatre, but haven’t found a form that I’m happy with.

Aside from theatre and social sciences, I like to hike and to spend some time in the nature… although I don’t have enough free time to organise trips. I also rowed in both Trinity College and SciencesPo teams, but again, not enough free time for trainings right now!

I would be glad to meet other UA alumni in Paris or around Europe!”

We love to hear what UA Alumni are up to, if you are a past Winner or Highly Commended Entrants, get in touch with with 300-500 words and a recent photo!

UA Announces New Event – UPresent: Island of Ireland

The Undergraduate Awards is excited to announce the inaugural UPresent: Island of Ireland!

Yasmin Hanif presenting at the UA Global Summit 2014

On the 2nd of February, all Winners and Highly Commended Entrants from the Island of Ireland are invited to present their papers and to officially receive their certificates at The Helix in DCU.

Wayne Egan from IT Sligo presenting his research on Enniscrone Beach

The Undergraduate Awards’ mission is to level the global playing field for awarding top undergraduate research around the world and we want to take this opportunity to celebrate the UA Highly Commended Entrants from the Island of Ireland and their achievement of being placed in the top 10% in their field globally in 2016.


The day will involve Highly Commended Entrants presenting their innovative work in under 3 minutes each. Each attendee will summarise their research for the diverse audience and hopefully make everyone else as passionate about their work as they are! Academics are also invited to attend the presentations and sample some of the top undergraduate research accomplished on the Island of Ireland today.

Andre Cleaver, US & Canada Regional Winner 2016 in Engineering presents his work.

This event is designed for top-performing students and graduates to share their own academic passions, and more importantly, to learn from other high-performing students. We hope all attendees will leave the day with a new understanding of different disciplines and topics.

This event is free of charnge. If you are a Highly Commended Entrant, Winner or academic, who is interested in attending, please get in touch with Fíodhna on for more information.

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Oluwaseun Aladeboyeje

Oluwaseun Aladeboyeje from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria was Highly Commended in The Undegraduate Awards 2014 in the Life Sciences category for his paper: Microbiological Assessment of Selected Yoghurt Drinks Retailed in Ilorin Metropolis, North-Central Nigeria.

Here’s his update of what he’s been doing since then:

Oluwaseun in Istanbul, where he is currently studying at Istanbul University.

“In 2014, I was privileged to achieve a groundbreaking record by emerging as the first Nigerian student to be highly commended by the Undergraduate Awards (UA) since inception. In addition, UA 2014 was unique because only two students were nominated from Africa and both of us were Nigerians. However I was the only African representative at the UA Global Summit which brought together over 100 brightest students from all around the world. Immediately following the summit in November 2014, I proceeded to the mandatory one-year national youth service in my country, which I finished in October 2015.

That singular achievement I made with my undergraduate research on Nigerian yoghurt drinks has been a major catalyst in my academic aspirations as it has earned me a competitive advantage in several academic contests especially international scholarships. Over the last one year of my post-service life, I  jostled for some international postgraduate scholarships and won. Worthy of mention are the “50% Developing Solutions Master’s Scholarship” at the University of Nottingham, UK, which was worth about £10,000, as well as the Turkish government fully funded scholarship.

Both scholarships were extremely competitive as tens of thousands of students from all around the globe jostled for them. The 2016 Turkish government scholarship in particular was competed by about 120,000 students from 171 countries, and 4,000 winners were selected of whom only 23 of us were Nigerians. I therefore believe that my UA profile played a major role facilitating my selection in the contest since limited awards were available for exceptional students.

I opted for the Turkish government scholarship because it is fully funded and I was placed in the country’s oldest and most prestigious university, Istanbul University to pursue an MSc in Industrial Microbiology. I am hoping to get a PhD scholarship in another part of Europe or the United States after my masters study. While pursuing my academic ambition and seeking practical knowledge, I am equally searching for the needed network and opportunity to enable me to actualize my vision of introducing “Probiotic Yoghurt” to the Nigerian dairy industry.

This is my post-UA 2014 summit experience so far.

Up UA!”

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Jo Flynn

Jo Flynn from University of Bath was Highly Commended in 2015 in the Social Science Category in 2015 for her paper The Dying Man: a Sociological Analysis of Documenting Dying Online. Since then she’s been continuing her studies and pursuing new interests!

Here’s her update:

“Since being Highly Commended in The Undergraduate Awards 2015 I have been busy completing a Masters in Sociology at the University of Oxford. I started my course last September and threw myself back into student life. Someone said to me at the beginning of the year that out of a social life, sleep, grades and sports, you can only have three. This perhaps explains why I have been in hibernation since finishing my degree! In true Oxford fashion I took up rowing and was lucky enough to be selected to row in my college’s first boat in the summer racing event ‘Summer VIIIs’. After a year of countless 5ams and gruelling training schedules I have come to rediscover the true beauty of a lie-in and have decided to take a break from rowing and put on my running shoes again.

I was Highly Commended for my paper on the documenting of death and dying on social media. Torn between my two research interests of the sociology of death and dying (morbid, I know!) and LGBT studies, I decided to pursue my graduate research in the latter. I recently handed in my thesis which focused on the provision of NHS Gender Identity Services for trans people in England.  Outside of my studies I have also been volunteering with a wonderful organisation called ‘Gendered Intelligence’ who work to improve the lives of young trans people in the UK.

I am now taking a much needed break before I begin my career in social research in the new year.”

Patrick Liu reflects on the UA Global Summit 2016

Patrick Liu from Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois was Highly Commended in the Psychology category of The Undergraduate Awards in 2016. Patrick attended the UA Global Summit in November and here he reflects on his experience:

“As a pre-medical student studying psychology, neuroscience, and biological sciences, I am obviously entrenched in a STEM bubble at Northwestern, and rarely do I have the opportunity to interact with and be inspired by an incredible array of global scholars outside of such a bubble. Throughout the week-long Global Summit, I only met a handful of students who studied topics within STEM and even fewer from America. Yet the moment I arrived, I felt an instant connection with the other attendees because of our similar yet so beautifully diverse passions for academic work.

Patrick chats with other Attendees at the Gala Dinner in St. Patricks Cathedral

It is not hard to imagine that when over 150 scholars from 25 disparate concentrations around the world blend together, world-changing ideas and thought-provoking conversations will flourish. However, what amazed me the most was not the immense skill and passion embodied by everyone there, but rather it was their commitment and motivation to utilize their talents to make the world better. The degree of collaboration displayed at UCollaborate on the final day galvanized me to strive to contribute my best to help foster global innovation, empathy, and compassion.

Patrick speaking with representatives from Western University

The Global Summit gifted me a lot. It offered me the chance to explore Ireland for the first time on a university sponsored trip, and it also allowed me to dive into other students’ cultural backgrounds vicariously through their stories and experiences. However, the aspect that will remain with me the longest is the people I met. Despite only being there for a few days, I am fully confident that the friendships I formed will be life lasting. The number of people there was overwhelming at times, but even as a massive introvert, I forced myself to make the most out of the summit by socializing with as many people as possible, knowing full well that I would have plenty of time to recharge after.

The moment I got off the plane, I met a man from London studying computer-brain interfaces. His research lies at the intersection of neuroscience, computer science, and electrical engineering. We immediately bonded over our mutual interest in neuroscience, and we coincidentally ended up being randomly paired as roommates for the duration of the summit. By the end of the summit, he knew much more about the molecular and cellular components of neural activity, and I the engineering perspectives.

Patrick receiving his certificate at the Awards Ceremony

In another instance, after hearing a brief presentation by a student with a background in philosophy and linguistics on the “dangers of generalization and dangerous generalizations”, I decided to strike up a conversation with him. His work applies to how stereotypes form, so I was able to draw from my psychology background on heuristical thinking to provide new insight into his research and point him to a psychology professor at his university who won a Nobel Prize on this topic. I had never considered his perspectives on stereotypes, and he did not know much about mine, but now we both have a much greater appreciation. Only now am I truly starting to understand how the humanities and arts are the guardians of modern society and culture; they answer the questions of if and why things occur, whereas the STEM fields predominantly focus on how.

The anecdotes of the marvellous people I met are endless. So many other friendships started with a spontaneous hello and quickly delved into much deeper conversation regarding academia, the state of the world, and future career aspirations. There was truly no boring moment, and even within my own field, I was both challenged and inspired.

Prof. Ian Robinson speaks to Attendees at The Colloquium

One of my academic heroes and an internationally renowned neuroscientist, Professor Ian Robertson, was invited as a guest speaker. I cannot recall the last time I have had such childlike glee in conversing with someone. Many other prominent individuals were also invited, such as the CEO of Blackrock, though my excitement was virtually nonexistent in comparison to the business students’.

In all, I have not much else to say besides that I am truly humbled and thankful to have been able to attend such a beautiful and life-changing conference. Thank you to all my professors and mentors at Northwestern who continually push me intellectually; to Dr. Civetta, Dr. Haarlow, and the rest of the relevant administration and faculty who sponsored the trip; and to The Undergraduate Awards staff.

I will certainly be applying again while I am still eligible, and I look forward to remaining involved with The Undergraduate Awards.”

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