gradireland National Student Challenge Winner 2019


Reflecting on becoming the 2019 gradireland National Student Challenge Champion, Conor Galvin talked to gradireland about the day, the challenges and his own career journey.

“I was definitely surprised, to be honest I didn’t think that there would be a possibility of me actually winning the competition. When I heard my name, it was quite overwhelming.” The National Student Challenge pitted 60 of Ireland’s top students in a series of team-based challenges in the Gibson Hotel on March 24th, with Conor emerging victorious. “Going to the event you’re obviously going to be focused on doing your best, developing your skills and networking with those around. As a team we gelled quickly, we all got along, and it was such an enjoyable day. To win it was really an incredible feeling.”

Conor is a final year business and law student in UCD and later this year will start working with Aviation leasing giant Avolon, who he contacted at the gradireland Graduate Careers Fair last October. “I’m delighted to have got a place on Avolon’s graduate programme, just goes to show there’s no substitute for making personal contact with employers, and that’s what’s great about events like the Graduate Careers Fair. I didn’t know too much about that whole industry, so it was great to engage with Avolon and really find out what it’s all about and what the opportunities are. I’m really excited to get started now!”

With a job to look forward to, graduation on the horizon and the title of National Student Challenge champion on his CV, Conor is in a good place right now. But his journey hasn’t always been so easy, overcoming challenges that make the National Student Challenge seem incredibly easy indeed.

“A few years ago, I was just a shell of a person to be honest, compared to the place I’m in now,” Conor explains. He dropped out of Trinity College in 2013, shortly after enrolling in Medicine and then a year later he also dropped out of UCD in the very early stages on an actuarial BSc. “I was struggling with a lot of issues, a lot of insecurities, my sexuality, suicidal ideation, all contributing to a very bad mental health state. To succeed in any aspect of life you need to have a positive relationship with yourself, and that’s what I’ve had to deal with, it’s been a long road but I’m much more comfortable with myself now and who I am. When I was at rock-bottom I could never have imagined myself tackling something like the National Student Challenge.”

Dealing with such dark issues meant that study and a career was something that needed to wait, and with the support of his family and friends, Conor got the support he needed to make the difficult decisions, and his advice for anyone in the same situation is to focus on their own wellbeing first. “There’s a lot of pressure during times of transition, like going from school to University, or from University to a career. You can have great opportunities, but they can seem very daunting at the time. People can get labelled by how they react to various situation, but nobody else has experienced what you have experienced, that’s totally unique, so I think you need to be yourself, not whatever you think people expect you to be like,” he adds.

The National Student Challenge tests people in a variety of ways, how they deal with problems, pressure, team dynamics and much more. “To be honest, having completed an assessment centre as part of Avolon’s selection process, you wouldn’t believe how relevant the challenges are to what you would face in an assessment centre. That’s one of main reasons that I would recommend the challenge to people. It’s really worth doing-the online challenge. It is engaging and fun, and if you make the cut for the final, you’re in for a great experience!” On the day itself, the challenges draw of different skills from different people at different times. “I found the EY challenge tough. Called ‘Bridging the Divide’ we had to construct a bridge and guide a vehicle over it. To be honest, engineering isn’t my strongest area, so I had to help in different ways. I made sure the bridge looked great and let some of the others worry about its structural integrity! There’s always some way you can contribute if you keep in mind the overall goal of the team.”

When the dust had settled after the Event, and the winners of the various challenge were announced, Conor found himself landing a spot prize from Glanbia, which added a bonus to what was already a very enjoyable day, and then the winners name was called out. “I was already thrilled, it had been a great day. And then the overall winner was named, and I just sat there in shock for a moment. Then it kind of overwhelmed me, tears came up, but it was a great feeling. Then I was asked if I wanted to say a few words, so I figured why not.” After his speech, there was a standing ovation. “It wasn’t something I prepared for, honest!,” laughs Conor. “But I suppose I just wanted to share a little bit about how grateful I was, and that I appreciate everything that I now have. People might have been thinking that I was always this smiling, friendly, confident guy, but that’s not true. That’s not what I would refer to as my ‘truth’, it’s something I’ve written about. Being like that hasn’t always been easy for me so to be there, on that stage, with all these other great people, it was a moment to appreciate the journey I’ve been on and what I’ve achieved.”

For more images from the day visit our Flickr page.

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