Aodhbha is finishing a postgraduate law conversion degree, at the University of Law. She then has a place on the Generalist Civil Service Fast Stream, starting autumn 2021.
She explains how her course led her to a career that helps others.
Why did you choose American and Canadian Studies?
"I studied The Great Gatsby for my English A level and absolutely loved the literature of 1920s America. I’d also studied America’s role in the Vietnam War for my history GCSE, so America had been involved in my education from about the age of 13.
When it came to looking at courses, for me it was a love of literature, a love of history, then the opportunity to do a year abroad that made American and Canadian Studies the right course for me."
What skills did you take from your course?
"Definitely collaborative skills. We were doing presentations from the very start of first year. They really throw you in and want you to gain confidence from presenting and public speaking. I quite enjoyed speaking in class, so for me it was very enjoyable, but I know some quieter students felt that it brought them out of their shell quite a lot, to have this aspect of participation that’s being marked. It forced and made you want to get involved."
Tell me about your year abroad...
"My year abroad was the absolute highlight of the whole course. I went to Montreal on my own for my first semester – it was a bit terrifying! I think if you can show that you can move to a brand-new city, whose first language isn’t English, and navigate your way around and live there for four months, it’s so incredible to have that experience.
As soon as I meet a new employer, they always see it on my CV and ask questions. It’s the greatest thing to have, because you could talk to someone about it for the whole interview and really impress them!
I did four months in Montreal and then four months in Berlin. It taught me to not be afraid to ask questions. Before I kind of thought, 'Oh If I ask this, they’ll think I look silly'. But American and Canadian students in particular had no fear in asking questions. It was different to what I was used to, but gave me a confidence that I wouldn’t have gained, had I not moved to two brand-new cities for university."
How did you choose your modules?
"In second year, I decided to go for what took my fancy and did a mixture of history and literature and culture modules. For me it was things I had never heard of, for example 'A history of American violence'. I thought 'Wow, this sounds really incredible and not something I’d ever studied before', so that was my approach in second year.
When choosing my modules for fourth year, I decided to go with what my strengths were. I knew that I was better at the literature and culture side of the course, so it was more of a strategic 'What can I get the best grades in, but also enjoy at the same time?'."
What was your favourite module?
"In final year I did a class with Stephanie Lewthwaite on Latino cultures. It was basically the culture, politics and history of Latino America. Learning about the Aztecs and the Incas, right up to present day migration of people into America.
I just thought it was the most fascinating class I could have ever taken. One week we were learning about Mexican rap music, and the next we were learning about the mixed heritage of the Spanish and the Indigenous Peoples.
For me it was a really important class, because it helped me to choose my dissertation topic. That’s probably why I loved it so much."
What was your dissertation on?
"It was partly inspired by the Latino Cultures module with Stephanie and also a class that I took in Canada that looked at the theatrical work of Indigenous Canadians.
I decided to write about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Movement and how elements of culture, such as theatre, art and social media, can generate a political movement. It was an incredible project to do.
I wrote about particular art installations such as 'The Red Dress Project' and how such examples could generate awareness on the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. It was amazing, I loved researching and writing it.”
Any staff shout-outs?
"Stephanie Lewthwaite has been there since my first year at Nottingham. I don’t think I’ve ever had a lecturer who is so caring and considerate. She really wants to know how you are dealing with everything. Also, Tony Hutchison, I worked with him on all of the open days, when I was a student ambassador. I also had him in first year and again in fourth year and he helped my confidence grow whilst at Nottingham. We have had our lecturers from the very start and as it's a smaller course, you really get to know them and they can see you grow throughout your time at Nottingham.
I'd also like to mention Robin Vandome as he was my tutor for a couple of years. Having your tutor as one of your lecturers makes you feel so much more confident and comfortable to go and have a conversation with them about your performance at that time, and he gave great support."
Were you part of any societies?
"In my final year I was the Welfare Rep for the American and Canadian Society.
There was a lot of training on things such as how to be an active bystander, how to signpost people to mental health facilities – for me that was quite important. It was nice organising events to get people to talk to each other.
I organised a pottery painting afternoon. We used our budget to let everyone paint a mug whilst having a 'How are you? How’s uni? Are you stressed, Are you anxious?', kind of conversation. I also got skills to add to my CV, 100%."
What about extracurricular opportunities?
"I was a student ambassador, where I would represent my course for university open days and events. We had to talk in front of classrooms full of parents and students! Also, in Canada I did some volunteering. We helped out at a soup kitchen for the day. I also joined the UNICEF for Women group out there, where we had meetings and a clothes drive for women in need."
Why did you choose a law conversion course?
I had never ever planned to do law! After I wrote my dissertation, I really wanted to be in a job that could help asylum seekers and refugees, particularly women and children.
"I knew that I really wanted to get involved in some sort of immigration, human rights, activism kind of work. That’s what led me to law. I initially wanted to go into law for that reason, then found out that the Civil Service scheme application was open. I applied for that as I knew it could be a great foot in the door to human rights work and working in the government, so hopefully I’ll still be on that path.
I think when you know what the Civil Service is, it’s not just people working for the government. They play a large role in creating opportunities for everyday citizens within our communities. I would love to be a part of something that gives back. That’s definitely what I learnt from my course and from writing my dissertation; I know I want to be in a job that helps others."
What does success look like to you?
"Happiness. Obviously being comfortable and not worrying too much about expenses and things. I think the most important thing is going into a job that I don’t mind waking up at half-past six in the morning for! If you love your job, it doesn’t seem like work."
That’s what success is for me, to be in a role that I can grow and move up in, but also where I feel good after my day at work and I can go home and be excited about what I’ve accomplished.
Study American and Canadian studies
"If you are a lover of history, politics and literature and culture and can’t decide which one you love the most, it's a brilliant course as you can have a taste of each of them. Then, in fourth year, you can home in on one of them and perform well in those modules
If you come to Nottingham, it's amazing feeling as though you are a part of something bigger. If you’re thinking about taking part in something else within the university, it really pays off in the future and especially helps when making your CV stand out"