Togher woman takes up historical post at university

In our big interview today in Women on Wednesady (WoW!) Colette Sheridan talks to Cork woman Linda Doyle, Trinity College Dublin’s new provost, who is making history by becoming the first female to fill the role
Togher woman takes up historical post at university

Professor Linda Doyle set to become Trinity’s first female Provost. 

PROFESSOR Linda Doyle, originally from Togher, who was recently elected as the first female provost to lead Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history, is trying to fathom her new glass ceiling-shattering role.

“I can’t quite believe it. People are saying it’s a historic moment but when you’re in the middle of it, you totally ignore the history bit.”

The last role Professor Doyle had at Trinity was as vice-president of research.

“I loved it. It gave me a good sense of the whole university. It also made me think about (going for) the provost job.”

Colleagues encouraged her to put herself forward for the post.

This UCC graduate of electrical engineering , aged 53, is clearly something of a trail blazer. She was the first woman to lead one of Science Foundation Ireland’s 16 research centres.

Cork academic and Trinity Professor Linda Doyle is originally from Togher and went to Togher Girls' National School and St Angela's.
Cork academic and Trinity Professor Linda Doyle is originally from Togher and went to Togher Girls' National School and St Angela's.

“They’ve only ever been led by two women. I’m used to doing things a little bit differently.”

In 2017, she was recognised as one of the ten women stars working in networking and communications in the world.

While Professor Doyle’s speciality is technical, over time, she felt that the technology “wasn’t enough” in itself.

“In research, I brought in people interested in creative practices. I used the creative arts as a way of interrogating technology and technological progress,” she said.

“In the research group that I led, I had engineers and computer scientists but also creative arts practice people. For example, a recent PhD student in my group is an architect. She would be looking at smart cities from an architectural perspective as well as a technological one.

“We had a visual artist in residence and a writer and a curator. We had exhibitions at IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art). Half of the PhDs in my group were not engineers but were from the arts.”

Professor Doyle is an enthusiast for an inter-disciplinary approach in academia.

“One of the fantastic things about academia — which is really privileged — is being able to pursue things that are intellectually interesting.

“Also, you can kind of reinvent yourself and, over time, look at topics in new ways. At Trinity, we talk a lot about academic freedom.”

ABOUT HER ROLE

The role of provost is about ensuring that students are facilitated to be the best they can be in whatever research they’re engaged in, says Professor Doyle.

“One of the things about Trinity is that it’s a comprehensive university. It means we do research in many disciplines. That’s really important to me.

“For some people, the research means being in a laboratory and publishing in certain types of publications. For other people, it’s about performance. Whatever it happens to be, my priority is that the right conditions exist so that people can excel and come up with new ideas.”

Asked why some fields like IT or biotechnology are favoured over others when it comes to funding, Professor Doyle says: “If you look at the national funding landscape, some research can’t happen without there being money to do it. There is other research that doesn’t need money.

“The bulk of money that goes into research in Ireland is for STEM-related subjects. The government would prioritise that. And you see it at a European level. It’s always a harder struggle to encourage people to fund more broadly.”

Professor Doyle points to Covid-19 as requiring different types of research.

“There’s the research that you’d expect such as vaccines and immunology and all that sort of thing. But there was also a need for research that is really about behavioural science, learning how kids fared at remote and home-schooling. That’s to do with culture. So a whole wide range of research was needed. A lot of what I’m interested in is how you get that point across and encourage funding across different disciplines.”

COVID AND THE FUTURE OF COLLEGES

The post-Covid landscape will reaffirm the need for physical universities, says Professor Doyle.

“It’s really important to have an institution that people go to and have an identity and link with. You can see how students have been really missing out by not being able to go to their university. And it’s also about finding their way outside of the lecture room.

“But Covid has also shown us that we don’t need to do things in the same way that we’ve always done. Across all walks of life, people will want to engage in education in a physical way but there should also be new and different online options.”

Professor Doyle says that the pandemic has made life difficult for students as evidenced by “a bigger call on our counselling services for one-to-one sessions. That’s because people are anxious and stressed.”

She adds that a huge effort is needed to re-integrate (or introduce) students to college life.

EARLY EDUCATION

Looking back on her own education, Professor Doyle praises Togher Girls’ National School and St Angela’s where she was a pupil.

“There were inspiring teachers in both of these schools. I was always kind of academic and enjoyed doing things like debating. I loved school. I think if you’re academic, it is, I suppose, easier to fit in.”

At St Angela’s, Professor Doyle studied physics and chemistry as well as languages.

“I wouldn’t have known what engineering was. I went to one of those open day sessions where electrical engineering was being explained to me. I realised that it was what I wanted to study. It made sense to me because it was ‘sciencey’. I had a light bulb moment where I said I would study it.”

At UCC, there were 55 students in her electrical engineering year.

“There were 11 women which was quite unusual.”

Professor Doyle says she wasn’t a star student at UCC.

“I wouldn’t have been top of the class. When I left university, I worked in industry for a while. But I knew academe was the place for me. I got into Trinity where I did my Masters and PhD.”

Professor Doyle’s late father, Oliver Doyle, was a compositor at the then Cork Examiner for more than 35 years. She says: “We got the Examiner every day and the Evening Echo.”

GOING HOME

While she loves living in Dublin, Professor Doyle enjoys coming back to Cork and any free time is spent in her house in Union Hall.

“West Cork is gorgeous. I go there to get away from everything, although I haven’t been able to because of Covid. When I’m there, I love to go swimming.”

In her new ten-year position, that comes with a salary of €200,000, Professor Doyle will reside in one of the capital city’s most prestigious addresses — No 1 Grafton Street. The house has a major art collection including works by Jack B Yeats.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, congratulated Professor Doyle on her new role.

“Professor Doyle will become provost at a time of great change and huge opportunity for the sector and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.

“There have been improvements in addressing the gender balance in higher education in recent years but there remains a significant level of under-representation of female staff at the highest decision-making levels in Irish universities (26%).”

Professor Doyle was chosen from the all female shortlist of three senior academics. About 860 full-time academic staff are eligible to vote in the election which took place online.

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