Go further in Science with SERC

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23 August 2022

Dr Stuart McKeown - Research Scientist at VascVersa

Progressing from SERC can take students in many different directions, and we are always keen to share how study at SERC can lead to further study and a career.

Taking the science route at SERC has enabled our alumni to progress to careers in specialist fields for research, lab work and preparing the next generation of scientists.

We are delighted to share the experiences and career paths of some of them under the tutelage of our science team, recipients of a prestigious Pearson Silver Teaching Award (2019), which celebrates outstanding achievement in teaching and recognises the life-changing impact inspirational teachers can have on the lives of the young people they teach.


Cillian O’Neill
BTEC Level 3 Applied Science 2014
Technical Quality officer as part of the Data Integrity team at Almac 
I originally went on to do A levels at grammar school but wasn’t happy with the structure of learning during my AS levels, resulting in me not getting the grades to continue to A2. So I decided to go in a different direction and study a BTEC, with Applied Science being a great option at SERC.

After leaving SERC I studied Biomedical Engineering, with a year’s placement, at Ulster University in Jordanstown, graduating with a 2:1 in May 2018. I am now working as a technical quality officer as part of the Data Integrity team at Almac. 

At SERC, there is self-directed learning outside the classes and always support when needed. This equipped me with the confidence and the skills to do my own research, coursework, and revision for my degree. My two years at SERC helped me develop my presentation skills and grow my confidence - essential for job interviews or when I am meeting people in my current role.  


Jamie McFarland
HND Applied Biology 2012
Fulfilled ambition to become a physiotherapist, with positions with UU and FIFA and a master's degree, and is living in the USA where he is working towards a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

I had always wanted to study physiotherapy, but unfortunately I did not achieve the required grades at school. Completing my HND at SERC gave me the additional knowledge, skills, and grades, which allowed me to apply and successfully start my career as a physiotherapist. And whilst studying in 2009, I was awarded a year-long scholarship on the Business Education Initiative (now Study USA).

After graduating from SERC, I secured a place on the BSc Hons in Physiotherapy at Ulster University and in 2015 went on to do MSc in Sport and Exercise Medicine. Towards the end of my Master’s, I completed a Diploma in Football Medicine which was governed by FIFA. During this time, I was fortunate to work with Ulster University and was based with the Coleraine Campus rugby team, and to work with the Irish Football Association (IFA) within their youth development program: Club NI.  

More recently, I have been based at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, with the Emergency Department team, and at Lagan Valley Hospital, with the Outpatient team. At present, I am living in the states and will hopefully be starting a top-up degree soon; a transitional Doctorate in Physical Therapy (tDPT) that will enable me to practice in the USA.


Courtney Bull
BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Applied Science 2017
Completing PhD in Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast.

Following some disappointing A-level grades, I visited the SERC careers team to see the options that were available to me, and this is when I decided to enrol onto the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Applied Science.  SERC offered me an environment and teaching structure that made learning enjoyable.  During my time at SERC, I learnt how to study more independently, and I thoroughly believe it is this skill that prepared me so well for both of my university degrees.  My time at SERC gave me the confidence in myself that I did not have when I left school and I will always be grateful for this.
I progressed from my Level 3 at SERC to complete a BSc in Biomedical Science at Ulster University at Coleraine, graduating with first-class honours.  I followed with an MSc in Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast, and am currently completing a PhD in Cancer Genomics, also at QUB.


Dr Stuart McKeown (main picture above)
HND in Applied Biology 2013
Completed PhD research on Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) at the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and is currently Research Scientist at VascVersa.

I feel I benefited greatly from my time at SERC. I struggled in school, finding that I did not work well in that learning environment. After my A-levels I realised that, if I wanted to continue pursuing my passion for science, I would need to take the initiative and explore other education options. I knew that I wanted a career in biology, but at that time I wasn’t certain whether I wanted to work in industry or in research. It was at this time I discovered the courses at SERC and found that they covered all of my interests and more.

The learning environment the applied science department has cultivated is, I feel, significantly more engaging and less rigid than that found in school, and is aimed at individuals who are self-motivated. I feel that I flourished in this environment, and the opportunities and skills it offered me are definitely instrumental in my acquiring the position I hold today. To anyone like me, with an interest in science and who wants to progress further but doesn’t feel that school is for them, I highly recommend having a look at the courses SERC offer, as I believe they prepare you for higher education far better than most other programmes.

After completing my HND, I was accepted onto a Human Biology undergraduate degree program in Queen’s University Belfast. I graduated with first-class honours and was accepted onto a postgraduate research programme supervised by Professor Alan Stitt in the Centre for Experimental Medicine at QUB. The focus of my PhD research was on the use of Endothelial progenitor cells as a potential therapeutic treatment option in combating the vision-threatening pathology of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This position offered me a huge number of opportunities such as learning numerous advanced skills and attending conferences in Hawaii, Boston and Vancouver.  


Matthew Coan
Level 2 BTEC First Diploma in Applied Science 2010, Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science 2012 and Level 5 BTEC HND Diploma in Applied Biology 2014
Currently Science Technician at Glenlola Collegiate and Committee Member of the Association of Science Education (ASE).

I chose to go to SERC after I failed miserably at my A-levels. I knew that I was passionate about science and SERC supported me to get back on track. At SERC, I learned a wide variety of scientific modules that helped me focus on the path of science that suited me. Alongside this, the practical skills learned here are amazing and will stay with you all your life. The staff also have their own specialist subjects, and their enthusiasm really rubs off on you.

The applied science courses definitely helped me to get my position now and always impresses potential employers, and I’m sure it will help me for years to come.

My HND gained me access into second year of Microbiology at QUB. Currently, I’m a science technician at Glenlola Collegiate, where I was invited to become a committee member of the Association of Science Education (ASE). We work to promote science education and develop training events for teachers and technicians. In this role I have been asked by CCEA to give presentations at different events around Northern Ireland as well as writing a scheme of work for their Life and Health Science Microbiology module.


Lexi Rowntree 
HND Science 2011
Specialist MRI Radiographer with Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

When I didn’t receive the A-Level grades I required for Radiography, the HND in Science at SERC took me forward. I still had a clear career path in mind, and the HND would serve to gain me entry to the BSc Radiography (Diagnostic) at Ulster University, where I graduated in 2014 with a 2:1 honours degree.

I found the HND the perfect stepping stone between school and university. It enabled me to take ownership for my own learning and recognise my own learning style, preparing me for university. I honestly believe that I would not have achieved so highly in my degree without the confidence I gained with the HND at SERC and all the skills to aid my learning.

I took a position as a general radiographer at Southampton General Hospital undertaking X-Ray and fluoroscopy examinations in the following specialisms: Trauma and Orthopaedics, Neurosciences, Oncology, Paediatrics, Cardiothoracics, Maxillofacial and General Surgery. I held this post for 18 months before gaining a training post as a specialist radiographer in Cross Sectional and Neuroradiology. I held this position of specialist radiographer for 18 months and carried out routine and emergency CT and MRI scans.

In 2017, I moved back to Belfast and joined the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust as a specialist MRI radiographer. This post involves undertaking specialised MRI scans mainly for cancer diagnosis and follow up. As part of this role I have been involved in setting up services for planning of Brachytherapy treatment using MRI where CT would have been traditionally used, updating protocols in line with national baselines and research studies to improve services.


Chloe McKee
Foundation Degree in Applied and Medical Sciences 2018  
Senior Mobile Laboratory Manager at Randox Laboratories Ltd.  

My time at SERC helped me to develop key scientific skills and competencies that still help me in my job today. The placement aspect helped me to gain confidence in the industry to get me ready for the world of work. 

After the Foundation Degree at SERC, I went on to do BSc in Biology at Ulster University and currently work as a Senior Mobile Laboratory Manager for Randox Laboratories Ltd.


Apply now for science at SERC Unlock your future #BetterOffAtSERC.