Page content

Dr Sarah Nally, a 28-year-old health and wellbeing advocate originally from County Monaghan, graduates with a PhD in Sport and Exercise Science from Ulster University today, Monday 1 July.

Collecting her PhD, the inspiring graduate said her studies and research into the health and wellbeing of young people gave her purpose after she was diagnosed with stage 3 Low Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer in October 2022, three years into her postgraduate degree at Ulster University.

Despite her diagnosis, which came following a struggle with Covid-19 and which ultimately led to Sarah entering early menopause in her mid-twenties, the dedicated student continued with her research.

Speaking ahead of her graduation ceremony, Dr Nally said:

“Today, even as I await more scan results, I feel hopeful. It’s been a long and difficult process since I became extremely ill in the final stages of my PhD after spending two years fighting to be heard. But through Covid, then cancer and then the menopause, the thing I have learned is to never stop showing up. I could have given up, sometimes I struggled to even stand up, but continuing with my studies knowing that my research will help others filled me with hope. The last few years have shaped me to be a well-rounded person, and Ulster University has provided me with the key ingredients for that as I went through treatment, had two major operations, and entered the menopause in my twenties.”

Sarah’s graduation begins seven days of ceremonies in celebration of the Ulster University Class of 2024 across Belfast, Derry~Londonderry, and Coleraine.

A swimming coach for over ten years, Sarah has long been interested in health, fitness and wellbeing, and focused her PhD research on inspiring children and young people to live more active lifestyles, with the support of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke.

The first to be awarded a studentship by the charity, which involved a one-year Masters in Research before a three-year PhD, Sarah was no stranger to the University, having studied Human Nutrition for three-years at Ulster University Coleraine.

Sarah says of her student experience:

“From my time at undergraduate straight through, from Coleraine to Jordanstown to Belfast, it’s been the student community and ability to knock on someone’s door for support that sticks with me the most”

"You make friends for life with both your peers and your mentors. From the administrative staff in the Doctoral College to the receptionists in Coleraine, everyone looks out for everyone. That has been the biggest factor for me, the Ulster community.”

Looking to the future as she graduates, Sarah intends to continue as a health and wellbeing advocate and researcher as she embarks on a five-year post-doctorate at Trinity College Dublin, researching and working with hospitals on the issues she believes in, including women’s health, the menopause, physical activity and nutrition.

Collecting her degree in what she describes as a “pinch me moment”, the motivational graduate dedicates her PhD to her Mum and Dad and her Ulster University supervisors, Professor Marie Murphy, Professor Alison Gallagher and Dr Angela Carlin, who have supported her.

“The support from my family/friends, from Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, and from my supervisors has been incredible. My supervisors sent care bundles, stayed in contact, put me forward for suitable opportunities and gave me hope when I was so unwell. Now, as I focus on life after cancer and look ahead to my new role, I can say that my supervisors at Ulster University have become friends. Without my family and the incredible Angela, Alison & Marie (my role models), today would not have been possible. This one’s for you!”

If you are interested in studying a PhD at Ulster University, please visit The Doctoral College at Ulster - Ulster University.