Joanna Donnelly on the Leaving Cert: ‘I read my chemistry book for fun on off-days’

Met Éireann meteorologist loved maths and science, but had no interest in studying French

Joanna Donnelly went on to study maths in DCU after her Leaving Cert. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Joanna Donnelly is a meteorologist at Met Éireann. She sat the Leaving Cert at Mater Christi Girls Secondary School in Finglas – now renamed New Cross College – in 1987

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

Walking to the village to buy cream buns for the invigilator with my friend Sandra

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

Ms Johnson, my maths teacher. She was and is a wonderful woman. She went above and beyond, taking time out of her free days to work with me and my classmate in honours maths to make sure we were prepared. She also took an interest in my welfare generally, looking beyond the academic and nurturing me as a person as well as a student.

What was your most difficult subject?

Probably the one I was most invested in, honours chemistry. I loved it, and read my chemistry book for fun on off-days, so it wasn’t difficult for me, as such. The one I found most difficult was French, because I’m afraid I just had no interest in studying it!

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And your favourite?

A close call between chemistry and maths, but I’d say chemistry probably pipped maths at the post. Just because it’s such a fascinating subject.

Can you recall what points or grades you received?

Points, no. I know I got a B in honours chemistry and was disappointed I didn’t get the A. My teacher was also disappointed for me, which my other teachers found funny considering a B was pretty good.

How important were the results for you, ultimately?

Not so terribly important. I needed four honours to get the grant to go to university and I got those. Beyond that, I didn’t need too many points as I was planning to study maths and the points requirement for that course was pretty low at the time.

What did you go on to do after secondary school?

Maths in DCU.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

We need to ease up on the idea that every child needs to go from Leaving Cert to university. There are pathways and alternatives and getting a trade is so valuable to society.

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

I would go to my physics teacher back in 1985 and tell her to let me do honours – it wasn’t taught in our school. I would have been a lot more invested in the subject if I had been challenged on it a bit more.

-In conversation with Jen Hogan

Joanna Donnelly is the author of From Malin Head to Mizen Head: A journey around the sea area forecast