BA Hons Photography with Video, 2021 Belfast campus

Caoimhe is an established photographer who has exhibited work in England, Scotland and Ireland.

She also has written for Epilepsy Action UK and Headliners UK.

September 2018 marked the beginning of my university journey. I dedicated the next three years to studying a BA Hons in Photography with Video at Ulster University’s Belfast campus.

On 8 July 2021 I graduated with more than a degree. I had the honour of being nominated for ‘Student Voice Champion’, I completed the Edge Excel Award and earned two years’ worth of experience as a Student Representative.

Ulster University equipped me for the next chapter of my life, it is a positive, empowering environment which sharpened my voice.

I now feel confident and I don’t fear to speak up for the issues which are important to myself. This is a reflection of how Ulster University cares deeply for its students.

Life After Graduation

When I graduated, I felt very grateful that I had secured a writing internship. My internship was specialising in writing travel content for the travel and tourism industry.

Excitement was the top emotion to describe my transition from student to professional. Prior to this, I had two years' experience as a voluntary writer discussing topics including the arts, mental health and epilepsy. Waking up every morning, getting to call 'writing' my job creates a very happy atmosphere.

The plan after I completed my undergraduate degree was to continue my studies at Masters level.

With certain challenges and a global pandemic, these impacted greatly on my original plan and so I decided to take a gap year before returning to university as planned in September 2022.

I am an aspiring journalist and I have had the pleasure of working with UTV.

After interviewing Clare Bailey, leader of the Green Party in February 2021, I received an email from Clare months later explaining that she had recommended UTV to interview me for an upcoming Climate Change programme being released in late 2021.

For this process, I spoke with producer Victoria Steveley who made the experience very comfortable, very informal and enjoyable. My interview took place over zoom, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and allowed me to discuss what it means to be an environmentalist and how to educate in a healthy manner, on a subject that can be overwhelming to oneself.

Caoimhe Clements Graduation Image

You cannot have success without challenges

To the people reading this, you are probably either a student or a graduate of Ulster University.

While I have spoken in a positive and uplifting manner, it is also important to myself that I highlight the challenges that come with success.

As most likely you will face challenges during your studies.

Personally, my biggest challenge to date was during my final year of university.

Being in lockdown, isolated from friends and having all classes online, led me to experience periods of emotional exhaustion. Emotional Exhaustion is a phrase to describe an individual feeling emotionally worn out and drained from intense stress. As time progressed, I realized the situation was controlling me.

I had to question why I started this degree or why I had the desire to go to university in the first place. It was a time that challenged personal goals and tested how much I desired to graduate.

Giving up was not a choice, changing my perspective on the situation was the only choice.

How did I overcome it?

I woke up every day with the intention of pushing myself, every part of me screamed no as a result of being emotionally drained. I asked myself the question ‘Why am I doing this?’. The answer was simple: achieving a degree was a long-term life goal of mine. As a photographer studying the subject itself had high importance for my own personal photographic practice.

The intentions were clear, I had to change my approach and not neglect my emotions. Your physical willpower and mental strength must be balanced to achieve a goal in a healthy manner.

  1. Journaling - This activity is an opportunity to get thoughts and feelings released without having to tell anyone.
  2. Exercise - Moving your body whether that be walking, yoga or going to the gym, that has been proved to cut mental health symptoms. Personally, I chose to do yoga, it helps me to control my breathing, heart rate and negative thoughts.
  3. Rest - trying to sleep while your mind is thinking and engulfed with negatively - it is hard to overcome. After I handled my last university deadline in May 2021 - I gave myself a few weeks to catch up on the sleep I missed and to do nothing. My mental health was top priority and it needed to be better in order for myself to process to the next chapter of my life.

If you are not doing well mentally, please consider the strategies or seek more professional help if needed.

My advice for current students

Join a society

Join a society, with over 200 societies there is one for everyone.

Societies are about community, meeting new people and adding a social element to education. I was on the committee of Belfast campus Photography Society for two years.

It opened up opportunities for me. I got work with Belfast Design Week, Ulster University’s Sports department and collaborated with other societies. If you are looking for new opportunities, and willing to meet new people. Joining a society is for you!

Your voice matters

Elect yourself for course rep, society rep or as a student counsellor. I would highly encourage you to speak up for the issues that matter to you. University can help to navigate and create a greater impact on the student experience. I held multiple roles over a period of two years, as a result this helped me develop both professionally and personally. Go for it!

Balance your time equally

I believe it is important to spend time with friends without talking about university or other professional related work.

You need down time

It is also important for the development of friendship to do activities which you both enjoy, not everything can be about your professional life.

You are more than your degree at the end of the day.

Plans for the future

I am working towards my goal of being a professional journalist one day.

I hope to return to Ulster University in September 2022 to complete my MA in Journalism at the Coleraine campus.

This year has high importance for the development towards this goal.