Winter Graduation Ceremonies - Friday November 30

Winter Graduations conclude at the University of Aberdeen today (Friday November 30) and will see Lord Wilson confer his last degrees as Chancellor. The University would like to congratulate all of its students on their graduation day. Here are just a few examples of this year's outstanding student success stories.

Not everyone can say that they have celebrated graduating and retiring from the same organisation in the same year, however Ann Fitzmaurice who graduates from the University of Aberdeen with a Doctorate in Philosophy today can boast just that.

With a MA (hons) in Statistics and a Diploma in Information Analysis already to her name, Ann, who is 64 and originally from Gloucester but has lived in Maud, Aberdeenshire, since 1990, was lured back into studying whilst working for the University of Aberdeen on research into women’s health.

Temptation back into a life of books and studying came in the form of the opportunity to conduct a project examining the relationship between having a termination during a first pregnancy and then subsequent pregnancy outcomes.

“I had absolutely no intention of returning to studying – I thought I had done enough!” says Ann.

“However, when the topic was first mentioned to me, I instantly thought it was a really interesting area and once I had done some more background research I was hooked.

“After I had started thinking seriously about undertaking the study, it really seemed like a natural progression from my previous areas of studying.”

Whilst juggling her studies with her other commitments, Ann was dealt a slight setback when she was in a car accident and had to take time out of work and studying to recover.

However, after eight years of part time studying, Ann is ecstatic to finally see her 100,000 word thesis printed and bound and taking pride of place in the library.

“I am thrilled at what I have achieved – I could have retired several years ago but just didn’t have the time!”

“The PhD was different from my previous courses as it is obviously a much more focussed project and  I didn’t have a peer group to discuss any issues with as with my undergraduate studies. However the support I received from the staff at the University of Aberdeen was absolutely fantastic and I am tremendously grateful.”

Having retired in August, although still working as a consultant for the University from time to time, Ann has decided the time has definitely come to enjoy some ‘me’ time, and has already tackled the first item on her post studying and working to-do list which was a visit to Nottingham to see her two sons, Robert and Christopher.



When James Cusack was younger it was never expected he would go to university – in fact at one point it was anticipated he would need residential support later in life for his individual needs.

But James has proven his early doubters wrong because his autism - only diagnosed when he was 12 - has not prevented him excelling in higher education, and today he graduates with a PhD from the University of Aberdeen.

When James was younger there was not the awareness that there is today of autism - described by the National Autistic Society as a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and affects how they make sense of the world around them.

“People knew there was something not quite right and I knew myself I was different from other kids,” says 27-year-old James, who attended the Aberdeen’s specialist Raeden Centre for a year when he was three or four.

“I was slow to make eye contact, had poor motor skills, needed speech therapy and was slow to acquire language.”

Despite his early difficulties James attended a mainstream primary school in Aberdeenshire. But it was a difficult experience which only worsened, when James attended a mainstream secondary, prompting him to suffer from depression.

“I was finally diagnosed with autism in the summer before I started secondary school and it just felt like really bad news,” says James.

“Everything fell to bits when I went to the academy and it was expected that I would need to be fully supported for the rest of my life.”

James’ parents June and Allan Cusack pushed for their son to get a place at a specialist base within mainstream Dyce Academy and that’s when James’ educational experience turned around.

“University was not thought to be a realistic option for me but I think we were all surprised when I got straight ones in my Standard Grades,” said James, who left Dyce Academy with six Standard Grades and four Highers.

James then applied to a number of universities but opted to do his undergraduate degree in Psychology at Aberdeen where he met his wife-to-be Jenny Kettles, who was studying medicine, on what was only his second day.

“I wanted to do Psychology because I was interested in human behaviour and I wanted to understand more about autism,” said James, who lives with Jenny in Stonehaven.

During his undergraduate studies James became involved in autism research already underway at the University, which he continued to develop for his PhD which was on human action perception in autism.

James has also been involved in raising awareness in schools of autism and was also heavily involved in a campaign which led to the Scottish Government unveiling Scotland’s first ever “autism strategy”.

James, who also spent time as a summer intern at the University of Oxford during his studies at Aberdeen, now has a Research Fellow post within the University’s psychiatry group within the division of applied medicine. Working in the Northern Temperament programme, James will study the expression of emotion with a view to understanding cultural variations and a range of psychiatric disorders.

“Autism varies across the spectrum so I’m not saying everyone with the condition could go to university, however I do believe that if you get all the help and support that you require you can achieve things that you might never have believed possible,” he added.

Jenny, who is a GP trainee, and James’ parents will watch James graduate today. 


Multiple gold medal winning Paralympian swimmer Yvonne Hopf today graduates from the University of Aberdeen with a PhD in Applied Health Sciences after submitting what her supervisor describes as a “gold medal” thesis.

Now a promising career in academia and clinical practice beckons after Yvonne was among  34 NHS employees awarded a Post Doctoral Fellowship by the Chief Scientist Office and National Research Scotland, allowing her to do research at the University of Aberdeen while  also working as a pharmacist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Thirty-four-year-old Yvonne is a high achiever – as well as her PhD, she already has an Undergraduate degree in Pharmacy from the Heinrich Heine University in Germany; a Masters in Clinical Pharmacology from the University of Aberdeen and a Diploma in Independent Prescribing from Robert Gordon University.

It’s an impressive array of accolades for someone who also boasts 11 medals from the Paralympics in Barcelona and Atlanta – one gold, two silver and two bronze from Barcelona and five gold, one silver plus five world records from Atlanta. She still holds two of those records.

Yvonne was always going to make a splash with her swimming career as she began at a very early age.

“My parents chucked me in the pool when I was six weeks old and we went every week after that,” says Yvonne, originally from Germany, but who now considers Aberdeen her home.

Formal swimming lessons began when she was seven or eight, club swimming followed when she was nine and Yvonne competed at state level when she was 14. At her peak she was training once a day every day.

Problems with her eye-sight prompted Yvonne’s entry into Paralympic competing – although she has competed in more non-disabled swimming contests.

“It was picked up when I started school. The teachers wondered why I could read perfectly well but kept copying wrongly from the blackboard.  It turned out I had extreme short sightedness which was linked to my growing,” she explains.

While still very short-sighted, Yvonne’s vision has settled down and can be corrected to such an extent she is now unable to compete in the Paralympics.

But that doesn’t worry Yvonne who has swapped her pool passion for mountain climbing.

However there is one pool that might yet tempt her back.

“I can’t wait until the new Aquatics Centre opens in Aberdeen - it was one of the reasons I stayed here. And as soon as it does I’ll be right in there!”


The University also presented honorary degrees to:


Sir John Rex Beddington CMG, FRS, DUniv, PhD, MSc, BSc Econ , Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office for Science

 Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the UK Government office for Science since 2008, is awarded a DSc. Since being in post, the GCSA has led on providing scientific advice to Government during the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the 2010 volcanic ash incident, and the emergency at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. The GCSA has also been responsible for increasing the scientific capacity across Whitehall by encouraging all major departments of state to recruit a Chief Scientific Adviser. Building on his earlier work on the Perfect Storm of food, energy and water security, he has continued to raise the significant issues of population growth and resource scarcity in the context of climate change. A distinguished academic, Sir John was Professor of Applied Population Biology at Imperial College and, prior to his appointment, he was Head of the main Departments for Environmental Sciences.  Sir John has also acted as a senior adviser to several government and international bodies, including the Australian, New Zealand and US Governments, the European Commission, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.


Jane (Jean) Mitchell Hamilton MA

The Founder President of the University of Aberdeen Hong Kong Association, Mrs Jean Hamilton has been a long-term friend and supporter of the University and its Hong Kong alumni for over two decades.  In this time she helped in creating scholarships for Hong Kong students and, with her husband, became "Scottish parents" to these students while they were away from home. The active and caring role she played reflected the importance she attached to giving back to Hong Kong, a region which her family had been connected with over a number of generations.


María de los Angéles González, Minister of Innovation and Culture, Province of Santa Fe, Argentina

María de los Angéles González, more popularly known as Chiqui González, is a renowned Argentinean lawyer, academic, public servant, actress and playwright. Her career in the public sector began in 1996 with her appointment as Director of an innovative cultural centre, the Contemporary Expressions Centre in the city of Rosario.  She subsequently became the Sub Secretary of Education of the Municipal Government of Rosario and, in 2006, she was appointed Secretary of Culture and Education of the Municipality. Since 2007, she has been the Minister of Innovation and Culture of the Provincial Government of Santa Fe. During this time she helped to create the cultural centres for which she has gained an international reputation as a champion of family learning environments.


Sir (William) Roland Cedric Jackson Bt, MA, DPhil, DSc, Chief Executive, British Science Association

Sir Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of British Science Association, played a pivotal role in the British Science Festival held in Aberdeen in 2012. He has a long interest and experience in science education and public engagement with science, in particular promoting initiatives that enable science to be seen and discussed in its wider social context. Sir Roland was previously Head of Learning and acting Head of Museum at the Science Museum, London, following earlier roles as a science teacher and as education adviser for ICI.


Award for excellence in teaching:

A University of Aberdeen academic will be honoured for his dedication to the delivery of high quality teaching during Friday’s graduation ceremonies.

The institution’s annual awards for excellence in teaching are nominated and awarded by students.

Professor Jim Anderson from the University’s School of Natural and Computing Sciences has been awarded the College of Physical Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Professor Anderson said: "I am very pleased to receive news that I am to be a recipient of a teaching award.

“We all know how much students appreciate receiving feedback on the work which they do, but academic staff are no different. It is great to receive this type of feedback on our classroom performance. 

“I hope more students will participate in future in nominating staff who they feel do a good job on the teaching front- an often overlooked part of our spectrum of duties."