When it comes to Irish Research Council funding, it’s all about excellence in people, says Prof Alan Smeaton. He was speaking to us ahead of the Innovation Ireland Forum in Dublin on Friday.
The merger some two years back that created today’s Irish Research Council (IRC) has had one very interesting consequence, says Smeaton, long-time member of the council, which was established through a merger of the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) in 2012.
“While the merger has allowed us to continue to fund science, engineering, technology, and the humanities and social sciences, most importantly it has allowed us to fund things in the middle, in the cross-over.
“So areas like digital humanities and technology use in anthropology are especially important,” says Smeaton. “This was almost like a secondary benefit of the merger that wasn’t anticipated, and it has spawned some wonderful projects and great innovations.”
On collaboration with industry, he points to a move away from research being partly funded by only the big multinationals.
“They still do this and that’s great. But gradually over time, we have started to get Irish SMEs involved in the co-funding of council-funded scholars,” he says. “And now we are at the really interesting stage where we’re getting organisations like the Alzheimer’s Association and Pieta House who are part-funding researchers to do bright and innovative work.”
It all means greater engagement with organisations and the community, he says. People often don’t realise that the council has funded thousands of people over the past decade or more.
“You find them all over the place, working in large organisations, in small companies, in academia, creating start-ups,” he says.
Indeed, he points out that Nora Khaldi, one of our keynotes at the Innovation Ireland Forum, was once funded by the IRC. Khaldi has progressed on through the NDRC and set up bio-informatics company Nuritas. It all suggests quite a positive ecosystem when it comes to excellence in research.
You can watch the interview with Smeaton below, where he outlines areas of research excellence, such as analytics, and where Ireland can grasp opportunities.
Prof Alan Smeaton will be a panelist at the Innovation Ireland Forum on 24 October at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin