Student defies doctors to take first-class degree

Rachel Smyth from Portstewart
Rachel Smyth from Portstewart

Perseverance and determination paid off for Co Londonderry student Rachel Smyth when she defied doctors’ advice not to return for her final year of studies - and graduated with a first-class honours degree.

The Portstewart student suffered several mental health setbacks whilst studying for her degree - and had to take multiple breaks, meaning her studies took six years to complete.

I got diagnosed with several mental health disorders mid-way through my course, including panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder

But last Thursday Rachel beat the odds when she graduated with first-class honours in psychology from Abertay University in Dundee – six years after beginning her course.

“I got diagnosed with several mental health disorders mid-way through my course, including panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder,” said Rachel.

“I also had several physical diagnoses as well, such as hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia.”

Rachel said she studied psychology to find out more about human behaviour and why people do what they do.

“I was keen to explore the many things that make us who we are and learn what makes us interact with others in the way that we do,” she said.

“I also had an interest in the clinical side of psychology due to my own experiences of mental health issues. I chose Abertay because I wanted to see what life would be like somewhere new and because it is a smaller university and I felt that a small, tight support network at university would be perfect for me.”

Rachel now plans to take some time to volunteer and gain work experience in the area of mental health.

Her dream role is to help people on a daily basis who experience mental health difficulties, and she is considering returning to academia at some point to complete a PhD with a view to becoming a clinical psychologist.