Lindsay Millar might have been exceptionally busy over the past five months fulfilling her duties as mayor of Mid and East Antrim, but she still managed to find time to complete a masters degree, which she hopes will be a gateway to a new career.
The Carrickfergus councillor is seen by many as one of the rising stars within the Ulster Unionist Party, but she insists she has no desire to pursue a full-time career in politics.
The 27-year-old, who currently works for UUP MEP Jim Nicholson, is hoping her recent academic success will help her secure a job in the public relations industry.
Having worked for Mr Nicholson for the past five years, she decided to retrain for a different career after the UK voted to leave the EU – meaning she will be out of work after Brexit in 2019.
Her experience of organising events and campaigns for the UUP led her towards the field of public relations – something for which she needed new qualifications.
Lindsay already had a politics degree from Ulster University, but last year she decided to return to her alma mater to further her studies.
“Last September I went and did a full time masters degree in communications, PR and advertising,” she explained. “I managed to do all my coursework from September to May while I was working. I was doing my uni stuff at night and at weekends and working during the day and had council meetings and stuff like that, but I was able to fit it in no problem.
“I finished my course in May and then I had to write my dissertation over the summer. I became mayor in June and had to start my dissertation in about July time, so it definitely wasn’t as convenient as I thought it would have been at the time.”
The Knockagh DEA representative, who was elected to council in 2014, said it “wasn’t especially easy” fitting her studies around her mayoral duties, particularly over the past few months when she had to complete her 15,000-word dissertation – a study of how UK consumer perceptions of the Burberry fashion brand have changed from 2002 - 2018.
“It got to the stage where I was carrying a laptop with me everywhere I was going, and even if I got a free hour I was sitting in a coffee shop typing for an hour. If I got a free hour in Ballymena (Mid and East Antrim Council HQ) I was locking myself in my office and pretending I wasn’t in so I could type for an hour between meetings,” she said.
“I managed to fit everything in. I didn’t want to cancel anything and certainly didn’t want to let my work slip so I was literally just working round the clock. I’m not a great sleeper anyway, but it was a lot of early mornings and a lot of late nights.
“I never actually cancelled an event because I had to do uni work instead. I’d like to think I didn’t let my work slip either, but it was hard going. It tested my resilience, but it was definitely worth all the work.”
Lindsay explained how she was “very happy” after receiving her degree result – a pass with commendation – while in Westminster recently on council business.
“As mayor I was in London for the City Deal bid and I knew I was getting my results that day, so from I woke up I must have checked online on the university portal every 15 minutes, every time I could. They didn’t come out until later in the day so my nerves were gone,” she recalled.
“As I finished in Westminster with the City Deal event I was walking back to the hotel and our hotel was just down the street from Burberry headquarters, so that was a nice way to finish.”
Lindsay, who is now looking forward to her graduation next month, says she loves being mayor, but stresses that it is “a lot of hard work”.
She is due to complete her term as first citizen in May and plans to seek re-election to the council later that month.
Hopeful that she will have secured a PR job by then, Lindsay added: “I am running for the council election next May because I enjoy the council, but I have no ambitions for Stormont or Westminster or anything like that.”