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 “It’s an extremely tough industry to support yourself financially,” remarked Waterford native and one-time stage actor Emma Kearney on her graduation at South East Technological University in Waterford recently.

While taking the plunge to trade nine years of professional stage acting for a career in pharma seemed like a life-altering decision four years ago, Emma has since realised that you can excel in a new job while still engaging with your “first love” – live performance. 

A well-known name on the Irish theatre circuit, Emma had trained with the Gaiety School of Acting and Bow Street Academy before featuring in plays by the likes of Jim Nolan and Sarah Kane, all while gracing iconic stages such as The Everyman and the Pavilion Theatre along the way. 

Building opportunities

Emma’s talent in her chosen field was clear throughout her undergraduate studies. In 2021, she became the first awardee of the Philip Kelly Teva Excellence Undergraduate Scholarship, which aims to support excellent undergraduate students during their time at SETU. It’s this moment that she cites as one of the highlights of her time at the University, “I was thrilled to be the first person to receive the award. Another more personal highlight was the stipend – which allowed me to buy a laptop! It takes the pressure off when you aren't depending on school computers to write all your assignments!” 

SETU’s BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science is built to prepare students for real-life employment in the pharma industry. One key pillar of the programme is its final-year project. This element became the culmination of Emma’s expanding knowledge base. Titled "Extraction and application of nanocellulose as an excipient in nasal spray drug formulations”, her research sought to design a set of experiments to assess the possibility of tailoring a formulation based on spray area. It won the Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) award for Best Poster Spotlight Presentation at an award ceremony in October.

Now working as a research developer at Teva Pharmaceuticals in Waterford city after graduating from SETU with a first-class honours in BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science, Emma notes that while she’s delighted with what she’s achieved academically during her time at SETU, she’s proud of “going back to university as a mature student.” 

SETU’s BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science is built to prepare students for real-life employment in the pharma industry.

Emma Kearney SETU Graduate

Learn what you love

She continued: “I was worried after being out of school so long that this would be unachievable, particularly for maths and chemistry as I had never studied those subjects before. However, over four years, maths became my favourite subject - one that I couldn't wait to learn more about. It just goes to show that when you are interested in a subject, it is not hard to learn it.”  

While Emma’s work at Teva is her focus for now, the stage – or performance in general – isn’t completely off the cards. “Now that I’ve finished my undergrad, I’m getting back to my first great love, Spraoi,” she said. “This year I was involved in their Samhain festival, but the goal is to put more time into what is an amazing organisation filled with talented people. It's one of those things that you just can't live without. The impulse to create and perform is always lying under the surface.”