The opening of Ulster University’s new School of Medicine at Magee is gathering pace with the hiring of three new team members.

The School, which will welcome its first intake of students this August, recently appointed Dr Lysa Owen as Senior Lecturer in Clinical Skills, Jason Murray as Technical Services Coordinator, and Claire McDaid as School Administrative Officer.

Recruitment is also underway for a Director of Education.

Speaking about the appointments, Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine said: “Lysa joins us from the new Graduate Entry Medical School in Scotland at the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee and will bring a wealth of experience to bear in her role as Senior Lecturer in Clinical Skills.

“I am also delighted to welcome two existing members of the Ulster University network to join our growing team at the School of Medicine. Claire and Jason’s institutional knowledge of Ulster University, the student body and the North West area will serve our new students and staff excellently.”

Students from Ulster University’s Magee campus have been reflecting on how the Derry and Strabane City Deal will benefit their studies and future careers.

Ulster University Magee Campus

The £250m investment package, which reached a key milestone last month with the signing of its Heads of Terms agreement, includes the delivery of the School of Medicine at Magee, the creation of a Health Research Institute (HRI) and the expansion of the C-TRIC research facility at Altnagelvin hospital through a pioneering health innovation project called THRIVE.

THRIVE, a partnership between the Western Health & Social Care Trust, Ulster University and Derry City and Strabane District Council, will see the team of personalised medicine researchers grow at the expanded C-TRIC/THRIVE building, based at Altnagelvin and into the new HRI/THRIVE building, located beside the new School of Medicine.

Ulster University has released a series of videos asking students what the City Deal will mean for them. For second year Personalised Medicine student Sarah McCloskey, the deal will help the region fulfil its highest potential and “see what we can become”. Watch video

Dr Taranjit Singh Rai (Lecturer in Cellular Ageing at Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences at Magee, and Altnagelvin Hospital’s Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC)

Dr Taranjit Singh Rai is a lecturer in Cellular Ageing at Ulster University’s School of Biomedical Sciences at Magee, and Altnagelvin Hospital’s Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC). Born in India’s Punjab state, Dr Rai has more than a decade’s experience researching ageing, cancer and ageing-associated diseases. He received a PhD from the PGIMER institute, Chandigarh, studied entrepreneurship at Babson College Boston, and completed postdoctoral training at Glasgow’s Beatson Institute of Cancer Research before moving to Derry in 2018.

What attracted you to C-TRIC, and to Derry?

The appeal of working directly with patients at Altnagelvin Hospital, and the grant that Professor Tony Bjourson [UU Professor of Genomics and C-TRIC founding member] had secured, provided a good launch pad to do my age-associated diseases research. So it was the independence of doing what I want to do, and the funds that were available. The second thing was that, before I accepted the role, I stayed in the city centre and I really loved the people. I thought they were great, very friendly and helpful. Life in Glasgow is very fast-paced and I thought that overall, the work-life balance would be good here. 

The City Deal reached an important milestone recently with the signing of the Heads of Terms. What does the City Deal mean to C-TRIC?

It will be excellent. We have outgrown ourselves and we really need a new cutting-edge facility. The City Deal with the Thrive [health innovation] project will provide us with much-needed space. It will also provide us with so much capital to get the right equipment, hire the right people, and attract publicity, both locally and nationally. We really need to attract talent to Derry; that’s really, really important to execute the plan. The Medical School will also bring so many students. There will be several elite fields that will thrive because of the City Deal. 

What would you say to people thinking of moving to the North West?

I would say that if you are looking for a balanced life, in 15 minutes you can reach the city centre, all the good schools, facilities like Altnagelvin Hospital, Foyle Arena, your place of work. In half an hour, you can reach golden beaches, mountains, walking trails.

Your wife and three children also relocated to Derry. Do you have any advice for people moving with children?

I really wanted my son to go to a grammar school but I had significant challenges because he hadn’t moved over yet so was not living physically with me. Children who are resident in Northern Ireland get preference, so people who are moving with children, if their child is transitioning to secondary school, do need to understand this and prepare for how to deal with that. Thankfully, I’m a problem solver! Good sense prevailed and he received a conditional offer. I also had to fly back every Thursday to Glasgow to prepare him for the entrance exam then fly back Sunday evening. My kids do miss their old friends in Glasgow but football and sports have been excellent ways to make friends here.

What do you miss about Punjab?

My parents are still there and a lot of relatives and friends. Before the pandemic, we used to visit every year. Of course, this year we haven’t been able to go. People also ask if I mind the cold and wet weather here, but I can walk to Altnagelvin from my home and it’s just a drizzle. Back home in monsoon season streets will be flooded. In the summer it will be 45 degrees Celsius and in winters it will be -8 so Derry’s weather is not bad to be honest.

What tips do you have for ageing well or ageing healthily?

Studies have been done on a population clusters in Japan/Italy and many other countries where many, many people live to 100 years; they drink wine and smoke, no problem, the main thing is their life is centred around community – no issues whatsoever in Derry, everyone knows everyone! – but they also eat very healthily and walk a lot. So minor things can actually have a big impact on ageing. Mental health is very important too – I’ve now started to think in terms of emotional ‘hygiene’.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?

I work on a process called cell senescence. Cells, when they encounter damage, stop dividing or they enter into a state we call cell senescence. It’s a stress response in a way. As we grow old, we start to accumulate these cells. These cells aren’t idle and quiet, they secrete proteins and they can cause many age associated diseases. We can detect these proteins several years in advance of development of disease, so one of the projects is predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease based upon the levels of these proteins. We are trying to predict who’s going to get a heart attack, just by looking at a combination of some of the proteins, then combining it with artificial intelligence and machine learning. With 99% accuracy, the algorithm is predicting the correct scenarios.

It’s not a good idea to have these cells accumulating in our body, so we also do high throughput drug screens that selectively kill these cells. We want to keep the healthy cells as they are, and if there are senescent cells, we want to target them, eliminate them, and study them. Studies are showing that senolytics [the branch of medicine that tackles these cells] works, even in the context of Alzheimer’s, motor neurone disease, many associated diseases.

You’re a weekend YouTuber too! Tell us about that.

I’ve started a YouTube channel teaching people about capital, labour, small investments, healthy eating and also responsible drinking. People think entrepreneurship is wealth-given, that is absolutely incorrect, entrepreneurialism can be taught. 88% of the world’s wealth creators are self-made. I’m always a big believer in whenever opportunity presents, you should take it. In 3 weeks since I started it, it has gone crazy with 2K subscribers so must be doing something correct.

Allstate NI in the North West has added to its trophy cabinet after winning in three categories at the Contact Centre Network NI awards.

Allstate presentation of state of the art search drone to Strabane Local Community Rescue Service

The company’s largely Derry and Strabane-based Allstate Technology Support Centre (ATSC), which assists Allstate employees globally, received awards for Trainer of the Year and Contact Centre Manager of the Year at the annual celebration of excellence in the region’s contact centre industry.

Allstate, Northern Ireland’s largest IT company, also took home the Silver Award for Home Working Programme of the Year, recognising resilience in adapting to coronavirus challenges.

At the outset of the pandemic, around 30% of ATSC employees had home working capabilities. In just five days, the North West leadership ensured the entire ATSC workforce had the equipment needed to provide technical support remotely.

Allstate NI has also raised funds to provide a state-of-the-art search drone for Strabane’s local Community Rescue Service, via an employee fundraising appeal and Funding for Good application. The device will be used throughout Northern Ireland to assist vital lowland search and rescue operations.

Since 2018, Allstate NI’s Force for Good initiative has provided £173,896 to support community-focused projects across Northern Ireland.

Alchemy Technology Services Diversity Mark

Derry-based Alchemy Technology Services have received a Bronze Diversity Mark in recognition of their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The Diversity Mark NI award came after the insurance technology firm submitted a three-year plan to advance gender diversity in the business.

The assessment panel praised Alchemy for their enthusiasm to build a more diverse company, and “their creative and challenging targets to address any barriers to unrepresented genders and build inclusive work environments”.

Alchemy’s CFO and Board Sponsor for Diversity and Inclusion, John Colwell, said: “We believe it is our duty to proactively ensure that our people come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. As a tech company it is particularly important for us to ensure women are encouraged and supported to pursue a career in what has traditionally been a male-dominated environment.”

Head of HR Anne O’Neill added: “Since our launch, we have been involved locally in programmes to support getting more women into tech and want to make this part of our diversity target as we recognise the importance of having more women in STEM subjects and going on to higher education to study Computer Science.”

Considering a move home? Local experts share their advice

Returning to the North West to live, work or invest is an enticing prospect – and perhaps more than ever in 2020.

With the recent rise in remote working, the North West’s excellent broadband offering, and award-winning, homegrown and global firms located here, that long held dream could become a reality.

But where should you start when planning your relocation? We asked some local experts their tips for finding a job, choosing a new home, and making the move.

Lynn Jennings, founder and headhunter at talentsocial

Most of the software companies I work with in Derry and Donegal are expanding at the minute. If anything, the move to home working has increased the demand for their software, be it in the ecommerce, online recruitment or data protection industry.

There are countless opportunities for Software Engineers particularly, in the North West, but roles also come up within other departments: Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, Product/Project Management and HR. LinkedIn is the best place to find opportunities. Make sure your profile is complete and connect with headhunters in the area, and set up alerts for Derry and Strabane on job boards.

Some of the bigger companies do their own recruitment, so a direct application is the best bet. I’ll usually advise candidates of this and discuss clients I’d recommend we make an application together to. Most of the smaller software companies prefer to partner with an external recruiter. I usually start out partnering with small indigenous SaaS (software as a service) clients who are then bought by bigger global players and the partnership continues. I’m seeing a move back to cross border working again recently, and people returning from London, Belfast and Dublin in particular. COVID has prioritised proximity to family and nature as well as space, which the North West has in abundance.

Anaeleigh McCormick, company director, Locate Estate Agents

Social media makes the world a smaller place and allows you to choose your new home from anywhere in the world. I find that through my social media platforms I have made connections with many clients living abroad, who can keep up to date with what is available in the area via my daily stories.

If you have a family, it’s important to choose an area close to local schools as sometimes only certain postcodes can be allocated spaces in the schools. It’s also wise to be close to the family network, especially grandparents and other reliable babysitters.

You do not need your home to be in the city centre – for those who are a bit more open-minded and prepared to travel a short distance from the city, you will get a lot more house for your money. Those coming home will be pleasantly surprised at what’s available on their budget within Derry and Strabane!

Finally, welcome home. There is nowhere in the world better than Derry & Strabane.

Bernard McGowan, director and operations manager, Foyle International Removals and Storage

Derry is going through a renaissance at the moment. You’re making the right choice to move here – it is a great place to work and live. The upsurge in people who are moving home is absolutely astronomical. We’ve moved hundreds of people since the pandemic hit.

When moving, be boxed, packed and ready, and label everything for what room it goes in. Use larger boxes for lighter items, and small boxes for heavier items. Layer the box – heavy at the bottom, medium at the middle and light at the top. Notify all your new utilities suppliers, doctors and schools before you move so everything is lined up for you when you arrive. Always allow yourself ample time for travel and potential travel delays. If people opt to fly over, we can recommend people to transport your vehicle for you.

We also recommend packing a ‘bitz box’ to access easily when you arrive – all your TV remotes, kettle, toaster, important documents. We see people crying tears of happiness when they see the moving lorry arrive. It’s the beginning of their journey home.

With December 25 fast approaching, a new website has been launched to help gift-givers shop local this Christmas.

shoplocalderrystrabane.com signposts shoppers towards the best artisan and locally made gift providers and showcases the outstanding food and drink options available in the City and District.

The easy-to-navigate site features video messages from business owners, daily competitions and links to the social media pages of other shop local initiatives.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Brian Tierney urged people to champion local businesses this festive season.

“It has never been more important for us to get behind businesses that are locally owned this year, given the smaller window they will have to open to the public. Finding the perfect gift for loved ones has never been easier or safer with many local retailers now offering click and collect or home delivery services.”

The site will function beyond Christmas time and will be available for the public to access in the New Year.

An Ulster University Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert is working on pioneering new technology which could help people communicate after serious brain injuries.

Professor Damien Coyle aims to develop AI technology that can be used in new forms of wearable neurotechnologies. These devices, which measure signals from the brain and allow their wearer to interact with technology without movement, could help those unable to communicate following a serious injury or illness.

Professor Coyle, Director of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre at Ulster University’s Magee campus, has received UK government investment for the research. He is leading a national trial in partnership with 17 hospitals to evaluate AI-enabled neurotechnology for consciousness assessment in prolonged disorders of consciousness following severe brain injury.

The AI R&D planned will be thoroughly trialed in the lab and with end-users of the technology, including patients and clinicians. The AI will be deployed in ‘wearables’ developed in partnership with NeuroCONCISE Ltd, an Ulster University spinout.

A US-based research scientist and biotechnology entrepreneur with Donegal roots has donated $100,000 to support three students through their four-year degrees at Ulster University’s School of Medicine.

Massachusetts-based Dr Susan K Whoriskey, whose great-grandfather, John Whoriskey, was from Creeslough in Co Donegal, made the donation via the Irish American Partnership.

Dr Whoriskey has worked with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Moderna since it was a start-up, and was involved in the founding of several top biotech companies. She has also been Entrepreneur in Residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Medical Education Scholarships at Ulster University offer financial assistance to a number of eligible students who are successful in obtaining a place on the Graduate Entry Medicine programme, commencing in August 2021. The Scholarships are aimed at students who have, and/or continue to experience challenges, and where finances present a barrier to accessing a medical education.

More information about the scholarships, including eligibility criteria and key milestones, can be found at www.ulster.ac.uk/medicine.

A new ‘Destination Derry’ network has been developed to promote the city and county as a great place to live, work, invest and visit.

The initiative, created by homebuilder Taggart Homes, aims to showcase the real people behind the businesses and brands and to collaborate with the local business community, government agencies, industries, educators and community leaders.

The Destination Derry website includes business information and contact details, a blog section, and Live, Learn, Work and Visit sections.

It will also be promoted on social media channels to a local and international audience.

www.destinationderry.com