Fionnuala’s Words of Wisdom and Support

Friday September 20th 2013

Michaela Scholar, Fionnuala Conwell was invited back to her old school Loreto Grammar Omagh to celebrate her recent award from Michaela Foundation.

Fionnuala shared some words of wisdom with the final year students of Loreto. Here is a transcript of her presentation…


There are times I would love to be back in your shoes but then I remember this process and how tricky and stressful that it can be. I remember thinking ‘I’m too young to be doing this’. My mummy was still putting on my hair and dentist appointments in 7th year, so ideally I wanted her to fill out the form for me and that was that. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case. This was my career. Just like this is your career so it must start and end with you.

I bet your first day back was as scary as mine. I remember sitting in the study hall and there was only two words being mentioned. UCAS and personal statement! I was sitting listening to Mr Wilson and Mrs Nixon talk about how many days and hours we had left to have these forms complete and my facial expression was similar to a gold fish. I had no notion what I was going to do.

Well in 6th year I took this mad notion, and I mean mad, that I was going to be an optician. Not one interest do I have looking into someone’s eyes but I wore glasses and thought this is great!!! I had two science subjects so it was perfect. However I struggled with Chemistry all year. I worked and worked at it but it just wouldn’t click. I worked that hard at it that my other subjects began to suffer. So I ended up failing it at AS so that was the end of my optician days. Thank God I did fail it though, otherwise I would be about to embark on a career for the rest of my life that I wouldn’t have an interest in. So that’s why at the start of 7th year I was sitting life a gold fish! Back to the drawing board!

So up came the UCAS convention day and I ended up talking to a Biomedical Scientist whilst nabbing a pen from his table. He asked what subjects I was doing so I told him and he convinced me I was made for this job! Another crazy notion! I had organised a meeting with Mr Wilson about the application so I had a make shift list with potential careers on it. Knew nothing what it entailed but obviously Biomedical Science was at the top! And Mr Wilson said ‘Fionnuala buddy what are your options then?’ I proceeded to go through the list and I had no sooner Biomedical Science out of my mouth and Mr Wilson said ‘wow, wow, wow’.  He said ‘Fionnuala, do you want to look at a test tube for the rest of your life?’ Now, I’m a people person, so this truly would have been a disaster. I’m not trying to put anyone off Biomedical Science because I’m sure some of you could be great and are made for it, but it just wasn’t for me and I got the reality check I needed that day.

Mr Wilson is there to guide every one of you. He knows most of you for 7 years now and if you only moved to the school last year, don’t worry, he’ll get to know you too. He talks sense when you need to hear it. You have all the careers guidance available in abundance for you, but only you can write the application and the effort and the will must come from you. You need to have a solid knowledge and research your career so that your application is relevant to your career choice.

My advice to you is to play on your strengths and do what you enjoy. Are you a people person or are you an animal person? Do you like working individually or as a team?  So if you are sitting there like a gold fish you can very easily start to eliminate careers that would be a definite no no!!

I feel so sorry for young people today because there is such a massive pressure on you to choose the ‘right career’. But what is the right career? The right career for you will not be the right career for me. Some young students seem to be only thinking about the financial incentives of a career more than the love of the job. I know ‘money makes the world go around’ and that’s the aim of the game, to get a job and earn money in this economic climate, but please don’t choose a career for the price tag! You should love your job. You should have a passion for it to make you want to get up in the morning! It shouldn’t be a burden or seem like a chore. I’m not trying to scare anybody but I am simply advising you to think so carefully about your choices and take time with your application as you could be in this career for the rest of your life.

That’s enough about UCAS maybe I should tell you about what I’ll be getting up to in a few weeks’ time. As I said earlier on for you to play with your strengths I finally played to mine! I have always had a fierce interest in Home Economics. It just clicked with me. I just think it’s fascinating how food choices can affect the human body. Naturally I applied for Dietetics as this seemed to be the path I should take. Regrettably I failed the HPAT exam which meant that Dietetics was out the window too. That was one out of five choices gone all ready. Thankfully though, I had a back-up plan! I am going to study Human Nutrition in Coleraine which can lead me to Dietetics or H.E teaching. So thankfully it has worked out for me!

As Úna said earlier I have the privilege to being a Michaela Scholar this year. I can’t wait to start this new adventure and chapter of my life. What an honour to do something in the name of a very special, Loreto past pupil! I have to write a monthly blog entailing my experience of university life and the challenges I may face. You can keep an eye on me if you like! I will explore how faith, a vital element of Michaela’s life can help me make the right decisions and have a positive outlook on life. I learned about the Student Award Scheme on the Michaela Foundation Facebook page. I decided to give it a go because the application was like none I had ever filled out before. It didn’t ask about grades. It didn’t ask about achievements. It simply was finding your personality and letting your light shine. I would encourage you to apply for it- it is a prestigious position to have and one that will definitely help you develop as a person.

That’s all really from me. I’d like to thank Mrs O’Hanlon for having me; it has been lovely speaking to you. I will always be thankful to Loreto for all that they have done for me. Without the guidance and support I received here I have no doubt I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

To the Year 14’s, enjoy your last year at Loreto. 7th is by far the fastest and best year! There is formal frolics to be had and most importantly dates to find! My last wee piece of advice to you is to start working now. Don’t leave it to January to start to knuckle down, especially if you have repeats to do. You would be surprised what a relief it would be to get them out of the way. Eight months hard work and then you’ll be partying. You might have to sacrifice a wee night out here and there but it will all be worth it in the end.

Don’t worry if things don’t work out according to plan. Your plan that is. Remember God has a plan for each and every one of you so don’t be disheartened if things don’t work out the way you want them to. I wish you the best of luck in your application and all you do and remember, everything happens for a reason!


God Bless,