UCC’s Prof Sarah Culloty explains why now, more than ever, is an exciting time for anyone thinking of pursuing a career in STEM.
For the past few months, we have been surrounded by stories about Covid-19. From restrictions-related news to working-from-home advice, there’s a lot to try and keep up with.
Something I want to really focus on are the types of science-related jobs that have been – and will be – crucial in the global response to the pandemic.
I spoke to Prof Sarah Culloty to learn more. Culloty is the head of the college of science, engineering and food science at University College Cork (UCC), where she is also the director of the Environmental Research Institute.
Her own background is in zoology and marine biology, having spent much of her career in ecological parasitology and diseases in aquaculture.
‘STEM has always been hugely important in society and will play a pivotal role in the world’s economic recovery once we begin to return to normality’
– PROF SARAH CULLOTY
What kinds of STEM jobs have been pivotal in fighting Covid-19 so far?
We are currently living through uncertain times and this pandemic has highlighted the importance of STEM to society. Scientists in academia, hospitals and pharma are working collaboratively to understand this new pathogen and disease, to develop rapid and effective testing methods and to find a vaccine and other therapies.
Engineers build temporary hospitals in a matter of days and factories adapt technology to make ventilators. Our food scientists work to ensure the continuation of a safe, reliable and healthy food supply. IT and data management are also critical as we track the virus and strategise how best to contain it, as well as in enabling working from home.
In UCC, for example, researchers in life sciences, IT and statistics are involved in a university-wide Covid-19 team, working on projects including the search for new treatments, new methods of detection and analysis of data to better understand the virus and its impact.
They are working with their global partners and networks on collaborative projects in these areas. Of particular note is the work of our colleagues in microbiology who, in a just a few days, were able to formulate a lysis buffer in response to the shortage of the chemical reagent used in the testing for Covid-19.
Are there any areas of STEM you see coming to the fore after the pandemic has passed?
STEM has always been hugely important in society and will play a pivotal role in the world’s economic recovery once we begin to return to normality, providing significant career opportunities to those who opt to study a STEM discipline. The whole concept of how we will develop a more sustainable way of living will need to remain paramount for all those in STEM careers.
Ultimately, we need engineers and scientists that can focus on ensuring that respect for our environment and sustainable use of resources and methods of living will inform our decision-making into the future, particularly in the context of a growing global population with ever-increasing pressures on our environment.
Would you recommend a STEM career to others?
It has never been such an exciting time to work in STEM, which will be crucial to the recovery of economies worldwide.
Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 estimates that 165,000 jobs will be created in the ICT, science and engineering sectors by 2025. From cybersecurity to climate change, photonics to astrophysics, and sustainability to waste minimisation, STEM is the place to be right now.
With high-quality graduates, prominent research clusters in key STEM areas, ICT doctoral-training centres and world-class research, UCC is a key pipeline into industry in the Munster region and beyond.
We have a tradition of working with businesses whether they are based in Ireland, the US or in numerous countries around the globe. We have developed a range of comprehensive partnerships with these businesses in research and academic programmes. And they, in turn, support our students as they develop their exciting and rewarding careers in STEM.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in STEM?
Really evaluate what is important to you. Do you want to make a positive difference in your career? Do you enjoy problem solving? Focusing on solutions that have societal impact? If the answer is yes, then a career in STEM is for you.
Consider what you are passionate about, also. A career in STEM is incredibly adaptable – you have myriad directions to go in post-graduation.