Women in STEM in Ireland, in their own words

8 Mar 2019

Image: © jozefmicic/Stock.adobe.com

For International Women’s Day, Silicon Republic sought out perspectives on what it is like to be a woman working in STEM in Ireland today.

What does it mean to be a woman in STEM? What is it like for women in STEM in Ireland? With gender diversity finally getting due attention in the media, in public life and in the boardroom, is that push on the needle being felt by those working in male-dominated STEM fields?

The best people to answer these questions are the women working in STEM in Ireland right now, so we asked them. The panel of eight women below answered three questions for Siliconrepublic.com: What’s it like to be a woman in STEM in Ireland today? How does gender balance make STEM better? And how does it get better for women in STEM?

From these three questions we received eight different perspectives, as diverse as these women are, raising points and counterpoints on the gender gap that are worth exploring. Their responses, in their own words, are shared at the links above.

Lorna Lopez

Dr Lorna Lopez is a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) whose work centres on understanding the biological basis of psychiatric illness. She is a starting investigator in the autism research group, leading genomics research into this condition.

Her research expertise ranges from genomic to molecular and proteomic approaches in family and population-based studies, and always with a focus on understanding the genetic basis of mental illness and other brain-related and medical traits.

Lopez has received funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the AXA Research Fund and the Wellcome Trust. Recently, she contributed to the creation of Journey through the Brain, a book of illustrations (colouring-in is optional) examining brain structures and concepts with artistic flair.

Susan Kelleher

Dublin northsider and scientist Dr Susan Kelleher is currently on maternity leave from her role as assistant professor and lecturer in soft materials at the University College Dublin (UCD) School of Chemistry.

Her career began with a degree in medicinal chemistry followed by a PhD in organic chemistry at TCD, then a short postdoc in UCD. She worked for a few years at Technical University Berlin before returning to Ireland for a post at Dublin City University (DCU). In 2014, she secured independent funding to begin her own research projects in the areas of bioresponsive materials, nanopatterning and biomimetic engineering.

It was when she joined UCD in 2016 that she set up the Nanostructured Biomaterials Group. Its research is highly multidisciplinary, ranging from the engineering of nanostructured surfaces, to the chemistry of polymeric biomaterials, to the interaction of materials at the bio-interface.

Dipti Pandya

For 20 years, Dipti Pandya has been involved in enabling and facilitating academic research in Ireland. Today, she is senior manager of research programmes at UCD Research, University College Dublin. She describes her role in STEM as “a key enabler” as she facilitates research through managing funding. Along with her team, she develops a pipeline for applicants, matching them to the funding opportunities that best suit, processing 1,400 proposals annually.

Specifically, Pandya manages the pre-award proposal development and support for STEM research funders including (but not limited to) SFI, the Health Research Board, the Irish Research Council, Horizon 2020 (EU) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. She is a former director of the Irish Research Council so her perspective spans both funder and research manager.

Shubhangi Karmakar

22-year-old Shubhangi Karmakar is a postgrad researcher in molecular medicine, a student of medicine in TCD and a visiting researcher at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. She works on translational genetic and clinical research in neuropsychiatric and developmental disorders for the international neurology and psychiatry clinical communities.

Karmakar is a public speaker on issues of gender and other diversity issues in academia, as well as being active in organising and speaking at public engagement science communication lectures such as SFI’s Science Week. She also serves as the health sciences editor of the Trinity Postgraduate Review and was previously the editor of the Trinity Student Medical Journal. She is involved with House of STEM and Pride in STEM, driving to support “queer scientific spaces, and bring science to queer spaces”.

Naomi Walsh

Dr Naomi Walsh is a senior researcher at the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology in the School of Biotechnology at DCU. Her current research is focused on developing organotypic 3D cancer models to define and validate the biological consequences of genomic variants of pancreatic cancer. Her research aims to understand the development of pancreatic cancer, to uncover markers for early detection and to identify those at high risk of pancreatic cancer.

Walsh undertook postdoctoral research in the US National Cancer Institute and, on returning to Ireland, was awarded the Irish Cancer Society Reintegration Grant and subsequently an SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) in 2016. In 2017, she was named Irish Cancer Society Researcher of the Year.

Lydia Lynch

Self-described “Irish Mammy and Immunologist” Prof Lydia Lynch was last year touted by The University Times as “the superhero leading Trinity’s science charge”.

She began her research career at Harvard in 2009, later establishing the Lynch Lab (co-located between the Boston university and TCD), to progress our understanding of the cross-talk between the innate immune system and the metabolic system, and the key molecules involved.

Lynch has been hugely successful in attracting both accolades and funding, including part of a €7m SFI investment in Future Research Leaders in 2018. She has even been immortalised with a portrait on the walls of the Royal Irish Academy.

Sheree Atcheson

Representing both the tech industry and Northern Ireland on our panel is Sheree Atcheson, board-appointed global ambassador for Women Who Code. The two-time Inspirefest speaker has been a visible and vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM, bringing this to her current role as technology respect and inclusion manager at Deloitte UK.

Repeatedly recognised as one of the UK’s most influential women in technology, Atcheson is dedicated to helping women excel in their tech careers and eliminating gender bias. She is also the founder of I Am Lanka, a social responsibility project that shines a light on the local and global Sri Lankan change-makers.

Liliana Pasquale

Dr Liliana Pasquale is an assistant professor at the UCD School of Computer Science. She is also a member of the SFI-funded Irish software research centre Lero, where she leads the SIRG project ForCops – Forensic Investigations for Cyber-Physical Incidents.

Pasquale completed a summer internship at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center in the US and then received a PhD in ICT from Politecnico di Milano in Italy before her move to Ireland. Her work has focused on using runtime requirements models to engineer complex systems that satisfy security and privacy requirements, and are forensic-ready.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic