Women apply Foundation for career boost

21 Sep 2006

An initiative designed to promote the advancement of women researchers in science, engineering and technology was launched at University College Cork (UCC) this week.

UCC’s new Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded Initiative for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WiSET) is one of three Institute Development Awards funded by SFI. The other two went to Trinity College Dublin and University of Limerick.

Some of the actions of the WiSET initiative will include providing seed research funding opportunities that can be accessed by women (particularly young women at the start of their careers or women who have had to take career breaks for family or caring reasons) to kick-start their research activities, promoting networking opportunities and providing management and administrative support for women to help keep their research labs running during maternity leave absences.

Other key elements of the pilot initiative include improved professional development opportunities, the development of a mentoring scheme and generally raising the profile, both within the university and outside of it, of the excellent women scientists within UCC.

“This pilot initiative, which is for one year initially, is about raising awareness, changing attitudes and trying to remove or at least reduce the barriers that all researchers, but particularly women, face on the road to developing rewarding careers in science, engineering and technology,” said Dr Ruth Davis who is leading the WiSET initiative at UCC.

Davis added: “The business case for encouraging and promoting women in the workforce is very strong. Ireland has recently launched its ambitious Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation for the next seven years. To deliver on this strategy, Ireland needs well trained professional scientists, engineers and technologists to draw on. Over the next seven years the aim is to increase the research and development workforce in the public sector from its current level of approximately 5,000 to about 8,500 by the year 2013.”

This, she explained, will include recruiting around 350 new principal investigator scientists, about 1,000 new postdoctoral researchers and more than 3,500 extra PhD students.

“It seems unlikely that these ambitious targets can be achieved if a very large proportion of the workforce (ie the women researchers in science engineering and technology) is not actively engaged. This engagement must occur not just at the lower PhD student and postdoctorate levels but also at the higher management levels of academia and research.

“In the light of these figures and ambitions, it is particularly timely that SFI is supporting this initiative,” she added.

In addition to the Institute Development Awards, SFI also provided a major boost for female science and engineering researchers through its SFI Principal Investigator Career Advancement Awards (PICA), which provide assistance to academics undertaking research following maternity, adoptive, carers or parental leave.

Under the PICA scheme, two UCC female researchers, Professor Anita Maguire and Dr Geraldine Boylan, each received major research awards. The expected returns on these investments will include world-class research, positive role models and increased female participation in Irish science and engineering research.

By Elaine Larkin