Development & Alumni Relations Office 

MEET DOUBLE GRADUATE, PHD STUDENT, GAME OF THRONES EXTRA AND SURFER, MADELYN NOWAK-RODDY Collage of (six) images of Queen's graduate Madelyn Nowak-Roddy with (among others) a surf board, in Game of Throne costume and on cliff top

01 September 2021

Meet American PhD student Madelyn Marie Nowak-Roddy and you’ll immediately be struck by her boundless passion for hiking, photography, all things Game of Thrones and…her personal 'Beans Challenge'.

“Queen’s originally came onto my radar following a conversation with a study abroad student from Belfast at my previous university McKendree in Illinois. His brother was a leukaemia researcher at the School of Biological Sciences so we set up a call and he discussed the high quality of research done at the School in Queen’s.

“Following the conversation, I decided to move to Belfast for study due to the reputation of the University – particularly in the sciences – and for the beautiful scenery which Northern Ireland, and Ireland in general, offers.”

Madelyn is currently studying for a PhD in Parasitology & Stem Cell Biology (with a completion date in 2022), which will sit nicely alongside her Master's in Parasitology and Path Biology (2018), and her BSc in Biology/Biological Sciences (2017). All were undertaken at Queen’s while working as a tour guide on Game of Thrones (since June 2019), a part-time model with ACA Models (since December 2019), a film extra with the Extras Dept (Ire) Ltd (since 2018) and a singer.

Born and raised in Shiloh, Illinois in July 1994, Madelyn attended O’Fallon Township High School and McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois prior to her move to Belfast in September 2014. Her father Roger, who was in the military for 20 years, is currently working as a real estate agent, while her mother, Coryn, is a pre-kindergarten educator and part-time seamstress. Natalee, her younger sister – a student at the Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville and a cheerleader for the St. Louis Blues Hockey team – completes the family line-up.

Having lived in Northern Ireland for nearly seven years, Madelyn has been struck by the beauty and diversity of the landscape, which gives her plenty of scope for hiking and surfing and to satisfy her love for the outdoors.  

“Belfast is a lively city, but what I appreciate most is the fact that you can travel a very short distance and be at almost any type of location whether that be beautiful beaches, lush forests such as Tollymore in County Down, the Mournes, or national trust countryside homes.

“And I’ve been able to visit different locations while filming as an extra for various TV shows – Game of Thrones, Derry Girls, Dublin Murders, and Line of Duty – or through showing visitors and tourists around during my time as a Game of Thrones tour guide.”

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones – the US fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – was adapted from of A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. Over 10 years much of the filming for the series took place in Northern Ireland, giving rise to a busy trade in Thrones tourism.

“My time as a tour guide for Game of Thrones has undoubtedly been life-changing. I have been able to meet so many people from various cultures and it has given me the confidence not only to talk in front of large groups, but also to interact with strangers on a very one-to-one basis.

“One such interaction that truly stands out would be my encounter with the writer and creator of Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin. He was so incredibly kind and gave everyone their own Game of Thrones coin with a specific character from the fantasy world (mine being that of Daenerys Targaryen).

“My photograph with him (bottom row/right above) is one I will really cherish forever.”

Liver flukes and parasites

An International Student Ambassador at Queen’s since 2017, and winner of Best Research Project in the School of Biological Sciences, Madelyn won a Queen's Postgraduate Studentship Award, covering full international tuition fees and an annual maintenance stipend for the duration of her PhD.

Her PhD title is ‘Stem cells, new players in anthelmintic/parasite interplay’ or, as Madelyn explains, it focuses on ‘combatting drug resistance in parasitic worms, mainly the liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica).’

“Liver flukes cause a disease in humans and animals – cattle, goats, and sheep – known as fascioliasis. As a helminthiasis of global importance, fascioliasis causes an estimated world-wide annual production loss of US $3.2 billion in the agri-food industry and is notably the most commonly diagnosed helminth parasite in UK abattoirs.

“Through interrogation of liver fluke stem cell biology, my PhD aims to provide insight into better understanding the drug-stem cell interplay and to discover/validate new flukicide targets for parasite control.”

Madelyn continues to fill every minute of her time at University and has packed much into her three degree courses, but would she commend Queen’s to friends and family back in the US?  

“I would 100 per cent recommend Queen’s to Americans back home because not only has my time here allowed me to excel academically, but it has also helped me gain confidence in my personal life. I have been able to experience so many opportunities that I undoubtedly wouldn’t have been able to have if I had stayed in the USA for university.

“Living abroad, though it seemed daunting, has changed my life completely for the better. I now feel as though I can embrace anything and everything that I want to do.

“Had you asked me this prior to my move to Belfast, I would have been very shy and unsure of myself. Now, I realise that once you put your mind to something, you can do it. The world is simply waiting for you to explore it as long as you keep an open and positive mindset.

“For this, my time at Queen’s will always be something I take immense pride in and will forever be grateful for.”

‘Beans Challenge’

Having moved back to the US for a number of months prior to starting her PhD, Madelyn realised that she had not experienced all the natural beauty that Ireland has to offer as she had hoped. On her return to Northern Ireland she purchased her first camera and set about exploring – and documenting – her adventures on Instagram.

Which is when she set herself her own personal challenge (which she calls the ‘beans challenge’) – to complete as many peaks in the Mourne Mountains as she could. The Mournes are a uniquely compact mountain range consisting of 12 peaks over 600m – and several others over 500m – but only 7 miles in breadth.

And how is the challenge going?

“This has been going really well actually! Currently I have hiked 15 mountains in the Mournes, many of these multiple times.

“The mountain I have climbed the most is the Doan Mountain (593 metres). I actually hiked there recently with Queen’s for a tourism video and just a few days ago with some friends as it honestly has the best views of the Mournes.”

With her studies due to come to an end next year Madelyn is looking forward to exploring more of Ireland, and is hoping to travel and surf – perhaps even to Australia and New Zealand – while continuing to document her experiences through vlogs/photos.

“What I am looking forward to most would be passing my driving test and getting my own little car (hopefully a Suzuki Jimny) so that I can become more independent and go on even more adventures.

“I can’t wait till the day where I can strap on a surf board to the roof and randomly go on my own adventure to the North Coast for a little evening surf and pizza after.”

“I would love to do something completely different as well, just to experience a different culture, perhaps through wildlife volunteer work."

Follow Madelyn on Instagram (@madelynnowakroddy) as she documents her experiences of Northern Ireland through photographs and vlogs.

For more on applying to Queen's from the USA, or to contact a member of our dedicated North America Team, visit the University web page

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

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