Local woman Julianne Pigott, who returned to UCD as a mature student four years ago, has been awarded a prestigious full cost scholarship to Cambridge University to complete a doctorate in Early Irish History, over the next three years.
Following on from a rigorous application and interview process, the Longford town student was notified in late March that she has been selected a Gates Scholar 2012.
Speaking to the Longford Leader recently, Ms Pigott spoke of the “exclusive honour” she now holds and her hopes and aspirations for the future.
“The interview was particularly nerve-wracking, as the panel consisted of not only distinguished academics from my own field and a connected faculty, but a former British Ambassador to Russia and the current Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust,” she explained.
“There were no easy, warm up questions; it was challenging from the outset and given that I was aware beforehand that just 50 of the original 4,500 would be successful, I was acutely conscious of the odds. When I was notified that I had been successful, I was literally speechless.”
The University of Cambridge requires students to provide full evidence, in advance of taking up a place, of their financial capacity to cover all costs of their three year doctorate. The Gates Trust will cover all costs for Ms Pigott, including a living stipend for three years, to the value of approximately €75,000. In addition, Ms Pigott will participate in a week’s induction holiday in the Lake District in September before term commences in early October.
“The trip to the Lakes is an opportunity for new members of the Gates community to get to know each other,” she added. “There will be past scholars present and it is very reassuring to know that there are resources for new students to draw upon. I have been accepted to Trinity College, one of the largest of the university’s constituent colleges so having the Gates connections will be a distinct advantage, not least in being given preferential access to the more modern of the medieval bedrooms available in Trinity.”
While only 20 Irish students have been chosen as Gates Scholars in the decade since the scholarship’s inception, there are three Irish students this year.
“This is a wonderful testament to the calibre of education available in this country,” she stated. “Especially when you see three students be successful in this incredibly competitive environment and when you consider the level of international interest in attending Cambridge. Currently, there are 230 Gates scholars from over 50 countries in residence in Cambridge.”
In addition to her acceptance into the Gates fold, Ms Pigott was recently among the honourees at an academic awards day in UCD. She was presented with two medals and a postgraduate scholarship from the university, having graduated not only in first place in History in her final exams, but in first place in the entire Arts & Celtic Studies faculty.
“I have been incredibly fortunate in the level of support I have enjoyed from the School of History in UCD and specifically from my current masters supervisor who encouraged me to apply to Cambridge in the first instance,” she explained.
“When I returned to college I never anticipated that I would pursue an academic career but given that I am now a specialist in Medieval Ireland, it may be the only route open to me. There is little demand for a thoroughgoing knowledge of the lives of Irish saints outside of the academy.”
At Cambridge’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Ms Pigott will continue her work on the Middle Irish lives of native saints.
“I think my family are slightly bemused by the esoteric nature of my work, but to their eternal credit, they have all been immensely supportive of my endeavours. I hope I can continue to provide them with cause for celebration,” she smiled.
The awards are funded by the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Microsoft Corporation, which donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge in 2000.
In the decade since that endowment, the Gates Trust, under the chairmanship of Bill Gates’ father, Mr William H Gates Sr, has contributed to the postgraduate education at Cambridge of just over one thousand students.
The recipients of Gates Cambridge Scholarships are highly motivated individuals who must demonstrate exceptional intellectual promise and leadership capacity to even be considered by the Trust.
In excess of 9,000 people apply to the University of Cambridge for postgraduate study each year and of those 4,500 are deemed eligible for the Gates Scholarship.
The university departments rank approximately the top 10 percent of those applicants and the Gates Trust then interviewed 110 prospective postgraduate students in Cambridge in March.