How the Irish Research Council aims to nurture Ireland’s researchers (interview)

17 Sep 2012

Dr Eucharia Meehan, director of the Irish Research Council

This Saturday, the newly formed Irish Research Council will be holding a symposium for PhD and post-doctoral researchers at the career event Career Zoo in Dublin. The council’s director, Dr Eucharia Meehan, talks about its mission and how it aims to deliver opportunities for Ireland’s researchers, especially in terms of career development.

As an entity, the Irish Research Council was formally launched in March, following the merger of the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology.

According to Meehan, the merger of these two councils into the Irish Research Council will provide opportunities for more cross-working across disciplines and will have more impact on behalf of the research community.

So what are the aims of the Irish Research Council? Firstly, Meehan says it’s about supporting “excellent, innovative and exploratory research across all disciplines”.

She says the second aim is to support people in their research careers.

“In particular, the significant component of our funding goes towards people who are at the early stage of their careers, PhDs and post-docs, but we also support other individuals who are further on in their career. The key thing is to enable people to fulfil their potential not just by virtue of the research that they do but also by virtue some of the assistance and support we give them around the whole area of career development.”

A third aim of the Irish Research Council, explains Meehan, is to encourage and support the researchers it funds and the wider community to engage further in sharing the outcomes of their research, to get impact from that.

“When we talk about that we just don’t mean it in terms of intellectual property. We mean it in terms of whether you are a historian, a linguist, a physicist, a biologist, that you are communicating advances you are making.”

Meehan says another aspect is helping people develop their skills to enable them to better transfer knowledge.

Staying competitive

But where does Ireland stand now in terms of its research base?

“All of the indicators would show that over the past 10 years the investment that has been made in terms of physical infrastructure – setting up centres and networks – then enhancing investments into individuals and projects, I think all of that has paid off in terms of where we stand in rankings with respect to certain research areas,” explains Meehan.

“I think we always have to remember that we are good now and we’ve come quite a long way in a short time. However, we need to remember that everyone else is also continuing to invest increasingly in research and we need to stay competitive.

Developing Ireland’s human capital

With regard to human capital, Meehan refers to how the Council’s emphasis always has to be on enhancing people, their education and training. This brings us to the Career Zoo event for professionals and graduates that’s taking place at the Convention Centre in Dublin this coming Saturday. The Irish Research Council will have a strong presence there, especially via its symposium for PhD and post-doctoral researchers.

“We’re having a session on employment whereby individuals who have had very varied careers, following on from their post-graduate research or their PhD being awarded, will talk to post-graduate students about different careers,” explains Meehan.

Such speakers, she says, will range from people who have gone on to set up their own company, to people who have migrated into other fields, to social innovators.

The council will also be holding a session on cross-disciplinary research at Career Zoo.

“We want to provide examples of how people can achieve good cross-disciplinary work where people really engage with each other and share ideas,” explains Meehan.

As well as this, there will be a networking session for post-graduate students, through the Irish Research Council, to engage with companies that are exhibiting at Career Zoo.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic