As the Royal Irish Academy welcomes its newest members, the institution inches toward gender parity and supports greater visibility of women in STEM.
Today (26 May), the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) celebrates its Admittance Day 2017. Every year since 1785, new members have been elected to the academy – considered one of the highest academic honours one can achieve here in Ireland.
This year’s 18 additions bring membership of the academy to 580, including six new female members.
These six women represent a shift towards greater gender balance at the centuries-old institution, whose membership spans disciplines from the sciences, humanities and social sciences. Between 2011 and 2016, one-third of new elected members have been women. While that trend continues this year, the RIA is making moves to achieve higher.
“We are delighted to admit six new female members to the Royal Irish Academy on 26 May. They are each recognised for their outstanding academic achievements,” said Prof Patrick M Shannon, himself an RIA member and chair of the newly formed RIA Diversity Committee.
“Our Diversity Committee was established in 2016 with the objective of building greater diversity in Academy membership. It is tasked with identifying strong future candidates from under-represented groups, while also addressing gender balance issues,” Shannon explained.
“Other recent Academy initiatives, such as the Women on Walls campaign supported by Accenture, mark positive steps towards greater inclusion. They reflect the Academy’s commitment towards enhancing diversity among our membership.”
Indeed, the Women on Walls campaign led to the unveiling of the first portraits of female academics at the RIA in its 230-year history.
Now, even more women of note will be visible amongst the academy’s ranks, including some outstanding female scientists.
Anna Davies is professor of geography at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). She is a leading figure internationally within the sustainable consumption research community, and is secretary to the European Platform on Sustainable Consumption and Production. Prof Davies recently received a European Research Council Consolidator award for a project entitled Sharecity, the first global study of city-based food sharing, its practice and sustainability potential.
“It is such an honour to be elected to membership of the RIA. I am looking forward to further supporting scholarship and promoting awareness of how that scholarship can improve lives and help the environment and society,” said Davies.
“I am delighted also that the RIA is making a clear effort to recognise the significant contribution that female academics make to Ireland’s research landscape through membership. Such visibility at the highest level is very important, particularly in STEM subjects. For me, though, every woman who teaches in a university or school, and who is encouraging students – all students – to stretch themselves, and to embrace the trials and tribulations of learning and enquiry, is a role model.”
Dr Eucharia Meehan is registrar and CEO of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Prior to this recent appointment, Meehan was the inaugural director of the Irish Research Council from its foundation, working to enable and sustain a vibrant and creative research community in Ireland. She also served as head of research and innovation, and head of research programmes and capital investment at the Higher Education Authority, where she led the €1.2bn PRTLI investment in national research infrastructure and capacity.
Jennifer McElwain is currently a professor of plant palaeobiology and palaeoecology at University College Dublin (UCD) and, in September 2017, she takes up the university chair of botany in TCD. McElwain is also an adjunct associate professor at Northwestern University in the US. In her research, she has made major contributions to our understanding of the relationships between plants and their changing environment in the geological past.
Máire O’Neill is professor of information security at Queen’s University Belfast – its first female professor in electronic engineering. She is internationally renowned for her research in novel data security architectures and currently leads a major €3.8m EU project on quantum-safe cryptography. She has received many awards including the 2014 UK Royal Academy of Engineering silver medal and British Female Inventor of the Year 2007.
“It is a great honour and privilege to be elected to Ireland’s pre-eminent academic society. I am delighted to receive this accolade in recognition of the international excellence of the research conducted by my team and I over many years in the field of hardware security,” she said.
“I believe role models are a key element to improving gender balance in STEM. I am proud to say that seven of the 10 researchers in my team at present are female, which is much higher than the sector average. RIA membership offers greater visibility of my work, which I hope will inspire female students to consider a career in STEM.”
Finola O’Kane Crimmins
Finola O’Kane Crimmins is associate professor of architecture at UCD. Her groundbreaking publications on the history of Irish landscape design have been received with acclaim by architectural historians throughout the world. Her most recent book, Ireland and the Picturesque: Design, Landscape Painting and Tourism, 1700-1830 was the first Irish book honoured by the US Society of Architectural Historians, the pre-eminent scholarly body in the discipline.
Prof Marianne Elliott is one of Ireland’s leading historians, perhaps best known for her acclaimed biography Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence. As well as having an accomplished academic career, Elliott played an important part in the promotion of peace efforts in her native Northern Ireland, notably serving on the Opsahl Commission in 1993 and co-writing its report, A Citizens’ Inquiry.
She was awarded an OBE in 2000 for services to Irish studies and the Northern Ireland peace process and, in 2002, she was elected a fellow of the British Academy. She most recently served as director of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool.
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