When people ask me what I do, I say “I do parliaments”. Amazingly, people don’t walk away. Instead, they are interested and engaged in the topic. I explain further that I study how parliaments in different country work, and sometimes don’t work! Here in the UK, it’s an exciting time to be studying parliaments.
I’ve always been intrigued by the world. My father used to love watching the news so our daily routine would consist of the evening Irish news followed by Channel 4 news, and the national news again at 9pm. All of this news inspired my interest in current affairs from a very young age. I was always intrigued by how politics varied in different countries and what motivated politicians. I wanted to think about that more systematically.
I was the first person in my family to go to university. As the youngest of five children, I think my parents planned for me to take over their dairy farm in rural Ireland. But instead I went to university – studied politics - and, as a result, I am here today. Because I was the youngest child, none of my siblings followed me to university, but my nieces and nephews have so far all gone to university. That’s been very nice to see. Did I have an impact on that? Maybe that was always going to happen with a different generation, but it’s been gratifying to see nonetheless.
Essex has consistently ranked as one of the top departments for political science in the United Kingdom, and one of the best in Europe too, so for a Political Scientist it’s the obvious place to come. I worked in the United States for a few years and then moved back to work in Ireland. Then my partner and I came to the United Kingdom. I actually followed her – my partner moved to the United Kingdom and I followed her. When an opportunity arose at Essex, I was very excited and well, here I am today!
In many ways, my role as Head of Government will be a continuation of more of the same. We have some really wonderful people in this department. And it’s the people that make an institution. We have some of the best scholars in the world, and therefore we have some fantastic research – research that has a real impact on the field and the world.
My experience as a first generation university student, the transformative experience of becoming a graduate - going through university and education - is very important to me. Essex is a university that excels at both research and teaching and this is important to me. I committed to teaching excellence and have always enjoyed being in the classroom.
Next year, we will offer a new parliamentary studies module. It is a specialist, third year undergrad module which is co-delivered with the House of Commons and House of Lords. We will bring in speakers from parliament and I will deliver the academic material. I’m very excited about it. Only a handful of UK universities offer this programme and we were fortunate enough to be selected to deliver it from 2019 for at least three years.
I deal with the challenges of life and relax by enjoying stand-up comedy. I’m a real fan of comedy, if I weren’t an academic, I’d have loved to be a stand-up comedian. I try to attend stand-up comedy at least twice a month. I’m always impressed by the courage it takes to perform in front of what is often a hostile crowd. I have often thought about trying it but have never been quite brave enough.
My life motto would be carpe diem – seize the day. Life is short and those of us who are healthy enough to enjoy life must appreciate that it’s an amazing thing. We cannot take life for granted. Seize every opportunity to make your life, and society, better!