Cork student's BT Young Scientist project inspired by mum's cancer battle

More than 100 projects from Cork students will be showcased at the BT Young Scientist this month, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Cork student's BT Young Scientist project inspired by mum's cancer battle

Ciara Brennan of Colaiste Treasa in Kanturk, County Cork. Her BT Young Scientist project is called ‘Adolescents’ well-being during a parent’s cancer diagnosis.

ONCE again, Cork will be well represented at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

A total of 550 exhibitions will form part of the showcase, which runs virtually again this year, from January 12 to 14.

An Taoiseach Micheal Martin pictured with Head of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Mari Cahalane (centre) alongside BTYSTE 2021 winner, Gregory Tarr from Cork, and BTYSTE 2020 winners, Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan (right), also from Cork, at City Hall, Cork. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography 2021
An Taoiseach Micheal Martin pictured with Head of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Mari Cahalane (centre) alongside BTYSTE 2021 winner, Gregory Tarr from Cork, and BTYSTE 2020 winners, Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan (right), also from Cork, at City Hall, Cork. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography 2021

More than 100 projects have been submitted by Cork pupils, from schools all over the county.

Given Cork’s track record at the event, hopefully some of the top prizes will be winging their way back to the Rebel County this month.

Here, we catch up with some of the pupils taking part…

Ciara Brennan

Inspired by family experience, Transition Year student at Colaiste Treasa in Kanturk, Ciara Brennan has explored an interesting topic for the virtual BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2022.

It’s entitled ‘Adolescents’ well-being during a parent’s cancer diagnosis: A Quantitative study to investigate the availability and accessibility of supports to this student group.’

Ciara, who explored the topic on her own, came up with it because her own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, 2020.

“She started receiving treatment as we went into the January, 2021, lockdown,” says Ciara.

“It was extremely hard to be at home with an ill parent and two younger siblings and trying to do my school work online. I struggled a lot with the lack of social interaction.”

Ciara told just two of her friends about her mother’s illness.

“I didn’t tell anyone else because I didn’t want to put my unhappiness onto them. Both friends each had a parent who was also diagnosed with cancer around the same time. We could talk to one another about what we were going through. I found that beneficial.”

Concerned about Ciara, her parents offered her support from a private counsellor.

“But my parents would have had to pay for it. When one of your parents is already out of work and the other is on a Covid payment, it isn’t financially do-able. They just couldn’t afford it.”

In her school, Ciara says there’s “a big focus on pastoral care”.

But she feels that a cancer diagnosis in the family “is such a sensitive topic. People might not be qualified in how to deal with it and your wellbeing afterwards. You have good and bad days. It isn’t well understood within the school environment.”

Ciara says her mother’s illness had “a huge impact on my youngest sister, who missed being able to go out and play with her friends.”

Thankfully, Ciara’s mother has recovered and is back at work, part-time.

To carry out her project, Ciara formatted a pilot questionnaire with the help of Dr Roisin Connolly of CUH and UCC. She also had help from a student of applied psychology at UCC, Asma Abdullah M Basmurrah. She sent out the questions to adolescents who had a parent that had cancer. Ciara knew eight people who had a parent with that diagnosis. She also sent the questions to people who hadn’t had that experience with their parents. When the results came back, “we tweaked the survey and came up with more questions”.

Ciara found that adolescents’ home life “was majorly disrupted during their parents ‘ cancer illness, what with the treatment and all that goes with it”.

They had to take on more responsibility in the home.

The resounding finding was that adolescents who had a parent with cancer “have a huge interest in meeting up with students in a similar situation.

“At school, we’re setting up a group for students who have an ill parent. It doesn’t have to be cancer. The students can meet up every two weeks as a social outlet and to talk about how they’re coping.”

Saanvi Kaushik who attends Christ the King school has done her BT Young Scientist project on a mobile health app, designed to tackle OT waiting times.
Saanvi Kaushik who attends Christ the King school has done her BT Young Scientist project on a mobile health app, designed to tackle OT waiting times.

Saanvi Kaushik

Fourteen-year-old Saanvi Kaushik is a second year student at Christ the King secondary school in Cork. Her project for the BT Young Scientist Exhibition is entitled ‘Is an interactive mobile health app a feasible solution to tackle long paediatric occupational therapy (OT) waiting lists?’

Saanvi took on this topic on her own, influenced by her mother who is an OT manager with the HSE. Saanvi saw her mother “struggling to deliver care to patients because of Covid-19. Face to face OT had stopped so it was time to move to the remote option.”

Saanvi says there are “almost 30,000 children waiting for OT in Ireland. There was no one stop solution for OTs’ problems so I developed an app called ‘Stellar’. On the app, OTs can schedule appointments, offering remote sessions and creating programmes for that.”

Parents can find resources to help their children themselves, finding OTs on the app that are registered on it.

“I wanted to test the feasibility of the app and the best solution for OTs. So I did usability testing in UCC with 20 OT students. The results show that it’s a good solution.”

The app, says Saavni, “is a tool to visualise and analyse the patients’ pathway. When the patient comes in, you see how much time it takes between getting an assessment and getting the treatment.”

When the time lag between the two improves, “you can actually test how much cost to the healthcare system is saved. 

"According to my findings, at least €3m can be saved. I create current state and future state. I see what the current pathway of a patient is and calculate how much time could be saved.”

Saavni took into account the hourly pay rate of the clerical officer and OT involved in a patient’s treatment.

Saavni’s mentors are Teen-Turn, a charity that aims to provide teenage girls the opportunity to gain hands-on STEM experience so that they can visualise themselves in those kind of careers.

Teen-Turn recently held a Sci-fest, presenting Saavni’s project to see how feasible it is.

A tech-savvy student, Saavni says she got into coding in first year and really likes it.

“Coding can be difficult at the start but when you get used to it and you see it working, it’s very rewarding.”

Saavni was introduced to coding by Teen-Turn. She also learned about it from viewing You Tube videos.

When she goes to university, Saavni will study “something to do with coding or computer science or maybe science. I’m not sure yet but it will be something in STEM anyway.”

Maitiu Deasy and Cathal Buttimer, from St Brogan's College, Bandon, County Cork.
Maitiu Deasy and Cathal Buttimer, from St Brogan's College, Bandon, County Cork.

Maitui Deasy

‘Has Covid impacted the social skills of teenagers?’ is the question posed by thirteen year old second year student at St Brogan’s College in Bandon, Maitúi Deasy, for the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. Maitúi, who studies physics, chemistry and biology, was curious to see how the restrictions affected students when they couldn’t go to school. Also involved in this project are Oran O’Leary and Cathal Buttimer.

“There were no extra-curricular activities during lockdown,” says Maitúi. 

“We wanted to investigate how the restrictions affected social interaction. We looked up sources on the internet; scientific articles and studies. We also sent out a survey to the students of St Brogan’s.”

Over half of the schools’ students filled out the survey. As well as asking if social skills were adversely affected, the three students wanted to know if the pandemic made it difficult to approach new people and start conversations. And there was the question of body language. Were students becoming poor at reading the kind of non-verbal social cues that make social interaction satisfactory?

“We found that 71% of participants surveyed agreed that their social skills were impacted while 16.7% strongly agreed.”

Did Maitúi himself find that his social skills were impacted by Covid?

“I’d be less sensitive towards people’s feelings because of restrictions and less likely to start a conversation with new people. I was at home for most of first year. I only got to see friends through phone calls.”

While Maitúi’s generation is used to communicating by phone and online, he says it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction.

“I don’t really like the phone. Normally, I’d have real conversations with people and I enjoy that more.”

As to whether the impact of Covid on the social interaction of young people will be long-lasting, Maitúi doesn’t think he and his peers will recover fully.

“I think people will mostly recover but there will be a negative long term impact.”

In what way can Maitúi’s, Oran’s and Cathal’s findings be used?

“I suppose they can be used to see how students have been affected (by the pandemic.) It’s a way of finding out how students feel.”

Have some students been badly affected, mentally?

“Yes, you can sort of see it around. Some can’t really make friends because they’ve been online for so long. They don’t really know how to interact.”

Who’d have thought that a virus could have such far-reaching effects?

The 2021 winner of the BT Young Scientist was from Cork. Pictured are Nita and Richard Tarr with their son Gregory Tarr, 17, who was a 6th year student from Bandon Grammar School Co. Cork when he was announced winner of the 57th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition last January. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography
The 2021 winner of the BT Young Scientist was from Cork. Pictured are Nita and Richard Tarr with their son Gregory Tarr, 17, who was a 6th year student from Bandon Grammar School Co. Cork when he was announced winner of the 57th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition last January. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography

MORE ABOUT THE EVENT

The BT Young Scientist BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is designed to raise schools’ engagement in the critical subjects of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

The Exhibition calls upon students aged 12-19 from all over the island of Ireland to showcase innovative science and technology project. In 2021, visitors from 77 countries accessed the student’s projects and the on-line portal.

The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is supported by several valued partners including the Department of Education & Skills, Analog Devices, Stripe, Perrigo, and RTÉ. Learn more at www.btyoungscientist.com

Shay Walsh, Managing Director of BT Ireland, said; “We’re excited to bring the wonderful world of science and technology alive at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition this January. From fascinating student projects, mind-blowing shows and insightful business discussions, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at the BTYSTE 2022.”

Registration for the full exhibition is now open to audiences from across the globe and we look forward to welcoming all of our virtual visitors next month. For more information or to register, visit www.btyoungscientist.com or follow @BTYSTE on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Snapchat (username: BTYSTE).

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