William navigates obstacles to academic success

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Completing a degree at the University of St Andrews is no mean feat, but William McMullan’s journey has been exceptional. Like many other students, his studies were disrupted by the pandemic, but he then had to flee from his year abroad in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, only to be rushed into intensive care with a tumour just as his final dissertation was due. 

This week, William who graduated with an MA (Hons) in International Relations and Russian (With Integrated Year Abroad) and The Harvey Pitcher Prize, was able to celebrate overcoming the odds with his family. 

William was drawn to St Andrews’ highly regarded School of International Relations and, despite leaving school with strong science results, he decided to study IR with Russian and Arabic, languages he began with only rudimentary knowledge. 

Like many St Andrews students, William was inspired by the town’s natural beauty, particularly the beaches, which reminded him of his coastal home in Northern Ireland. His keen interest in the Royal Air Force saw him immediately sign up for the University Air Squadron (UAS) and Saints Rifle Club when he started at St Andrews in 2019. 

When the pandemic hit, William navigated the challenges this brought and was eager to embark on the integrated year abroad portion of his degree when the pandemic ended with a placement in St Petersburg. However, things were not going to be smooth sailing. 

It was during his year abroad that Russia invaded Ukraine and William was forced to find a way out. This involved multiple aborted attempts to get home, including one flight turned around mid-air and unable to disembark at the airport. He eventually secured a seat on an unmarked plane and completed the remainder of his year abroad from St Andrews. 

Undaunted, William continued to participate in the UAS and Saints Rifle Club, as well as participating in the International Forum for Peace Security and Prosperity Conference held in Sicily in the Spring of 2024 as a Young Ambassador for Peace. 

Upon his return, he travelled to Chesterfield to compete with the Rifle Club but acute abdominal pain resulted in him being admitted to a local intensive care unit with a tumour subsequently being discovered on his kidney. With deadlines approaching, William continued to fulfil his obligations and completed his coursework from the ICU, completing all final exams, and submitting his dissertation on time. 

His mother, Johanna McMullan, said William has always been one for a challenge, “His first trip abroad without his family was when he was 17 to Japan where he climbed Mount Fuji and he has been travelling and climbing mountains ever since. William also runs marathons and completes endurance cycles to raise funds for charities, including Macmillan and The WAVE Project in Northern Ireland.” 

William continued to participate in the UAS and Saints Rifle Club, despite awaiting further surgery and treatment. He is currently Lead Student for UAS and the recipient of the Best Student award this year and won an international rifle competition for Scottish Universities. 

Commissioned as Air Crew for RAF and due to start Cranwell Officer Training in September, William’s plans are uncertain as he continues to navigate challenges presented by his recent health diagnosis but given his huge resilience, his family are sure he will persevere.  

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