Niamh Harkin- MA in Professional Leadership

Name: Niamh Harkin

Job Title: Senior Staff Officer

Can you share your career path to date?

I have worked in both the private and public sectors in supply chain and finance. Since 2007 I have been employed by Sligo County Council and have worked across many departments including Planning, Finance and Community and Economic Development.

What does your current role involve?

I am currently responsible for the administration and oversight of the €10million LEADER funding programme in Sligo County Council. The LEADER Programme is a European Union initiative to support rural development projects in EU member countries’ rural, coastal and urban areas.  I also have oversight of the Sligo Public Participation Network (PPN). A Public Participation Network (PPN) is a network that allows local authorities to connect with community groups around the country.

What motivated you to start studying?

I always wanted to pursue further education at some point in my career and had an interest in advancing my leadership skills and knowledge. The timing of the launch of the MAPL in 2019 was a perfect match for me, it was the right course at the right time!

Why did you choose this course from ATU Sligo?

The Masters of Arts in Professional Leadership was the perfect fit for me. The primary focus of the course was leadership and there was a wide breadth of modules that were both applicable to industry and management theory and had practical applications. The part-time nature of the course and the schedule of delivery outside of working hours meant I could attend all lectures without impacting my working week. Other considerations were the online delivery of the programme and my proximity to ATU Sligo for attending onsite days

How did you find the process of studying online? What elements did you find helpful? Were there elements you found challenging?

The online format was new to all students on the course, we were lucky that we got to meet in person several times before Covid’s lockdown in March 2020 as this allowed us to get to know each other. Once we were all a little more familiar with each other, there was more interaction during the online classes, which positively impacted learning.  The timing of the online lectures on both Tuesday and Thursday evenings was helpful as it was a 2-day requirement rather than having all modules spread across the week requiring a 5-day attendance.  The most difficult part of online study is deciding to join each live lecture as opposed to watching the recorded session, it requires commitment and dedication to give up the time each evening. However, the flexibility of the pre-recorded class is no substitute for the learning and interaction gained in real-time from the live lectures.

 How did you balance work and study?

Balancing work and study was one of the most difficult elements of part-time study. To be successful at both, strictly adhering to a schedule was necessary. Committed to studying hours at the weekend and during the evenings even in the weeks where no assignments or deadlines were necessary. In year two while completing a research thesis self-discipline and an achievable schedule are both necessary. Tools such as a Gannt chart schedule for the year were useful in keeping on track and ensuring necessary elements of research could run concurrently.  It is also necessary to recognise weeks where you won’t be able to achieve as much as you would like due to work commitments. Recognising this and adjusting the study workload for this week reduces stress and makes deadlines more achievable.

In terms of your employer, were they supportive of your decision to study? Were there elements of the course that were particularly relevant to your current employer?

Yes, my employer was very supportive of my study. I was able to avail myself of study leave which helped towards the end of the course. Many areas of the course were relevant to my job and the public sector in general. As my research thesis focused on gender in politics this was particularly relevant to Local Government.

What advice would you have for anyone considering studying online?

The ability to study online allows you to advance your education without travel or childcare commitments, both of which may be stumbling blocks to many. It also provides an opportunity to organise and structure your learning around your existing work requirements, through recorded sessions and self-directed learning.

In what way has studied online with ATU Sligo benefitted your career?

Since completing the course I have changed jobs internally and also have a clearer vision of my career path. This qualification has made that career plan achievable.

Did this course provide any unexpected benefits to your career?

The course provided a broader understanding of leadership and management which I think has infiltrated into my everyday work and management skills.

Did you find that the elements you were studying had practical relevance in your day-to-day role?

I have certainly improved my writing and analytical skills which are relevant when reviewing and developing policy documents.

What were the key skills you took away from your time studying at ATU Sligo?

Scheduling and time management skills were improved following completion of the course as was overall knowledge of leadership styles and an increased understanding of the broader context of leadership within the industry from corporate governance to corporate social responsibility.

Find out more about Master of Arts in Professional Leadership