A GROUP of dynamic women, all with links to UCC, are the powerhouse behind this month’s innovative Cork Science Festival.
Part of National Science Week, the festival has been developed by this innovative team of local volunteers representing education, research and industry across STEM.
The main players are Dr Catherine Buckley and Eimear Ferguson, APC Microbiome Ireland; Alida Zauers, Tyndall/CONNECT; Aoife Deane, MaREI; Dr Sinead Ryan, IPIC and Caoimhe Byrne, INFANT.
They’re heading up a team who have put together a programme of events for adults and children designed to show that science is for ‘everyone’.
Coming from a female perspective, they are also keen to show girls that STEM (science, tech, engineering, maths) are attractive career options that are very much open to them, with the right education and skills.
Their message is that you don’t have to be top of your class at these subjects, you just need to be open to learning and to step forward and embrace the exciting times that lie ahead in these sectors.
Here’s what they have to say…
Aoife, has been working in UCC for 10 years, the last four of which have been with the MaREI Centre, a Science Foundation Ireland centre for research on the marine environment, renewable energy and climate action.
“My role involves working with our researchers to engage people in the work that we do in the context of addressing major challenges facing society like climate change, dwindling fossil fuel supplies and environmental degradation,” she says.
“Communicating the relevance and impact of our research is critical if we are to engage policy makers and communities in taking action to address these challenges.”
Living in Crosshaven with husband Gavin and daughters, Clara and Meabh, she did a degree in Zoology in UCC and a Masters in Science Communication at Dublin City University.
That, she said, led on to many interesting jobs, including working in television production as a researcher and production coordinator, outreach at Fota Wildlife Park, and a number of roles in science communication and outreach in Tyndall National Institute, UCC and TCD.
Her love of science started as a child and was sparked by nature.
“For me, the attraction to science is about continual discovery and solving problems. Whether it’s relating to the environment, health, transport, technology or agriculture, research continues to deliver new solutions to societal challenges.”
She feels that initiatives like Cork Science Festival can help to address potential barriers to people, especially females.
“It will show that science is for everyone and is all around us, that world class research is being done here in Cork and that science is part of our culture.”
One barrier to people working in science, she identifies, is ‘perceived difficulty’.
“You don’t have to be top of the class to pursue a career in science or engineering — but I think there is a perception out there that you do.
“At a later stage I think flexibility within jobs can be a barrier for working mothers. We need more flexible working hours and conditions if women are going to progress in their science careers and also be facilitated to maintain a positive work-life balance. It has been really positive to see some changes in this regard in recent years through the Athena SWAN Charter at UCC, which aims to address gender imbalances in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) disciplines, based on the belief that endeavours in these fields will be enhanced when they can benefit from the talent of the whole population, and when barriers to progress in academic careers are removed.
“I would very much encourage young women with a sense of curiosity and concern about the world to consider science and engineering as a career path.
“There is so much yet to be discovered — more than eighty percent of our ocean remains unexplored! — and so many big challenges to be addressed, there will never be a shortage of fascinating and rewarding career opportunities in the field of science!”
officer for Tyndall National Institute and for CONNECT.
Tyndall is a leading European research centre in integrated ICT (Information and Communications Technology) materials, devices and systems.
CONNECT is the world leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications.
Originally from Ballina, Co Mayo, Alida Zauers is the youngest member of the festival’s organising committee — and is brimming with enthusiasm.
An NUI Galway graduate in Earth and Ocean sciences, she’s worked in UCC since 2016.
“I am incredibly lucky to be in the position that I am today which allows me to work with some extremely talented and passionate people,” she says. “While I am still in the early days of my career I’m looking forward to what the future will bring and how the STEM industry will progress in the next few years.”
Her role involves promoting Tyndall’s and CONNECT’s research, at a non-expert level, to the public and schools across Cork and Ireland, to foster a culture of STEM and to educate the next generation of scientists.
“Among other things, our education and public engagement programme aims to encourage a greater uptake of physics and electrical engineering among students at 2nd and 3rd level; and to create an increased awareness of the importance of electronics and ICT to our everyday lives.”
She was attracted to science by her grandfather.
“As a young girl, I’d spend hours in my grandad Mel’s study watching him tinker about with different electronics kits. He used to build them as a hobby and spend his time explaining all the various components to me.
“He really inspired me to open up my eyes to what was around me and showed me the importance of how things work. He’s definitely one of my role models and I owe a lot of my love for science to him.”
Having said that, she did face some doubts along the way, although fortunately she wasn’t deterred.
“When I was in school the biggest barrier I felt preventing women entering the field of science at that time was the lack of opportunities to meet female role models working in those areas.
“I definitely feel we are moving in the right direction now in terms of breaking down this barrier.
There has been a huge amount of time spent in reaching out to under-represented female secondary school students to
CORK Science Festival opens on Sunday, November 11 at ‘’ in UCC on the Western Road, with more than 75 interactive workshops, exhibits and talks on science in our every day lives.
Throughout the week, there is something for everyone, from theof with the ‘ ’ Jennifer Rock, to the screening of hit film 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Kino and at Edison.
For children, primary school outreach will extend across the city and workshops onLEGO, ‘ ’ and ‘ ’ to in libraries and “Celebrate ” at UCC on November 11 and finally the “Community Festival of ” at Neptune Stadium, on November 18.
MaREI’s Aoife Deane said; “This year, there are fresh and exciting ways for families and individuals to engage with science in our city.
“We have a really diverse range of events and we invite everyone to attend free science events in Cork.
“From primary school workshops, scienceat libraries, movie screenings and science events, as well as the flagship Sunday events in UCC and Neptune , we can scientifically guarantee a really great and fun time for all.”
See www.corksciencefestival.ie for more information