Eireann, UpRising Leadership Programme, 2018

6 December 2022

UpRising definitely helped me realise how resilient I am and determined, and perhaps through things like networking, it was clear that things aren’t as out of reach as you maybe think

Eireann described her upbringing as overwhelmingly positive. Hailing from South London (something that she is incredibly proud of), she grew up with her mum and siblings. She spoke about being surrounded by her family, friends and neighbours throughout her childhood and adolescence. Whilst her home life was happy and supportive, she did not realise that some opportunities and experiences were not afforded to her. That was until she started at sixth form, “I realised that there was a middle class. Like, I thought everyone lived how I lived, and then there were the super-rich, and there was nothing in between.” 

The feeling of difference that Eireann discussed in the interview demonstrates the enduring systemic barriers in the UK. Class barriers made her feel different to her peers; she recounts feeling competitive with them and realising they were on a different playing field.

The people I was competitive with had a very different life to me, including having parents who were doctors or were academics, and actually, parents who went to university, which just wasn’t the norm to me, and I didn’t actually realise that other people did live like that.

Eireann enrolled on the UpRising London Leadership Programme in 2018; at that time, she had not long finished her degree and was filled with the uncertainty that many graduates have about their lives and futures. She was working for an organisation that supported school students with their applications to University. Even then, it was clear that Eireann was passionate about education, particularly equality in education. Whilst she overcame her own barriers, the same cannot be said about all young people whose upbringing is similar to hers. 

This passion inspired her Social Action Campaign whilst on the UpRising programme. She wanted to address the pathways for university students who get the grades and attend top universities and then have limited support to help them adapt to professional exclusionary environments. “You work really hard to get a student from Newham or Hackney into the University of Oxford, and you just kind of get them an offer, they get their grades, and you just hope they’re fine. But I wanted to create a programme that addressed that transition.”  She translated her passion to her academic career with a 2021 publication titled ‘Understanding and Managing Identity: Working-Class Students at the University of Oxford

When asked about her time on the UpRising programme, she jokes about how she ‘failed’ the programme. By this she means that her social action project didn’t turn out in the way she imagined. “I think with UpRising, objectively speaking, I failed it, but it was such a good experience that that doesn’t – that’s not the main point for me. So it means I can approach other things being like, oh, you might fail, but look at all these other benefits you can get from it.”  It was in ‘failing’ that she learnt the most important things about herself, just how resilient she was.

UpRising kind of gives you a safe space in which you can fail, so that it's something you want to try again, you can; you’ve got the backing; you know what went wrong. I suppose it’s like a safe space, but also a really reflective space. And I think if it weren’t for that, a lot of people wouldn’t really push themselves to do these kinds of things.

Having a safe space to fail and the ability to pick yourself up after you fall is something that Eireann carries from her time on the programme. After the programme, she began her journey in academia, a space where failure is often not discussed. She succeeded in achieving a master’s degree and went on to apply to PhD programmes.  Whilst she was awarded a place at University, the funding was more of a challenge. “I applied for a PhD, got an offer but didn’t get any funding for it. And again, that was like what came across to me as a failure, but I think I just tried to use that mind-set that I had from Uprising as, OK, 1) you might be able to solve this problem; 2) you have to back yourself. You got an offer; you just didn’t get the money for it.”  That resilience got her through the setback and allowed her to come back stronger a few years later. It was wonderful to hear that she started her PhD this year, with full funding!

Eireann has a personal website and also uses LinkedIn professionally.

This case study is developed from the transcript of a one-to-one interview between UpRising and Eireann which took place on 14th November 2022. It has been agreed and approved by Eireann.