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The scientist within Marie-Catherine Mousseau looks at how and why different people have chosen to make science part of their life Science investigates everything, that is everything that we can detect. Through its different branches, it shapes the way we understand the Universe, our planet, ourselves, and other living things. No wonder scientists have to specialise, and are characterised by the field of science they are into. But independent of their area of expertise, people can have many different approaches to science as a whole – the way they look at it, what they expect from it, what they enjoy doing, all these may vary from person to person. Here are a few examples of people who are scientists, or used to be scientists, each of them having started with a different approach and various expectations. Let’s follow their paths and look at where they are now.


William Cirillo

Solving Problems

William Cirillo’s interest in science led him on a totally different path illiam has always loved problem solving and building things. “I had always liked science and science fiction as a kid. I had originally wanted to do an Electronics Engineering degree, as I had always loved gadgets and it fed my dreams of making the things that I saw in all those Sci Fi movies.” But my science teacher really managed to get me interested in the options of a science degree so I thought … “Why not?” If I don’t like it I can always change. Besides I have to admit it, I quite liked the idea of being a “Mad Scientist”; it sounded even then way cooler than being a boring doctor or fireman. After the first year I was hooked and stuck with it.”


The beginnings

William did a BApp.Sc. in Applied Physics at the University of South Australia . When he finished his degree, he got a research positions with DSTO (Defense Science Technology Organization), one of two major government research

laboratories in Australia. It looks like there you don’t need a PhD to get into attractive research positions. “At DSTO I worked on many interesting projects with very any excellent researchers,” William says. “I really learned a lot and developed my analytical and problem solving skills.”

Software development and travelling

“My second (first?) love is travel. When I left Australia, I learned that my skills in analytical thinking and problem solving were ideally suited to software development and design too. These served me well to get into other research positions with the Center for Imaging Science in Rochester , N.Y,” William explains. He worked there for the Astronomy department, doing hardware research as well as writing the code to control the equipment and process the sensor data. “Then I went to Europe and set up as an independent software consultant


where my background again gave me credibility in a number of different business sectors”, William continues. As such, William worked in New Zealand, Scotland and England in addition to his experience in NY. He’s now been living in Dublin for the last 8-9 years and working as an independent consultant with various companies on different projects. Science definitely helped him in his career path. “I would still go as far to say that even now in many software companies I have worked in, science degrees and engineering degrees would have been held in higher regard than a pure IT degree as they would have been seen as more “practical”... Certainly places like who make the physics engines used by many (most?) modern games employs predominately physics graduates,” William points out. He added that many notable Irish physicists have moved into the software world. One that comes to his mind is PJ King. “He is a physics graduate from trinity who set up his own software company in 1995 and went on to make his millions from it,” says William. And he is now one of the five Irish people who are booked to fly into space on Virgin Galactic, he adds.

An “applied” sort of person

While he might have some regrets, William thinks what he’s doing suits his personal approach to science. “I do miss research some days but I see that I am now more interested in research to solve specific real world problems rather than pure research... I was always an “applied” sort of person and I was never attracted to the pure theoretical aspects... I suppose mainly because I hated a lot of the heavy pure maths.” William Cirillo (BApp.Sc. in Applied Physics) is a Software Consultant

Think smart g n i y d u d t n s a f o g n i k Thin e s o o h c ? e g e l l o c n i e c GMIT ! scien The Department of Life & Physical Sciences at GMIT offers the following honours degrees: l APPLIED FRESHWATER & MARINE BIOLOGY

GA 780


GA 783

BE MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER ! While other colleges may have a few hundred students in year 1, we target approximately 100 students for our first year intake for the above courses combined, and furthermore students are in groups of 16 for laboratory work. This ensures the best of both worlds – the low student numbers provide an excellent teaching environment and help ensure that you are successful in your studies. While, at the same time, you are in a college of over 6000 students in the student capital of Ireland!

DO YOU WANT TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY ? In GMIT our courses are unique in that students do project work from year 1 onwards. With many miniprojects and a number of major projects completed over the course of your degree you will learn vital skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and project management – skills much sought after by employers. Practical work also forms a large element of our courses, and students gain excellent experience in completing laboratory practicals in state of the art

laboratories. Also, with many marks going for lab work, you can have accumulated a large percentage of your final mark before you sit any exams. Other features of our courses:

WORK PLACEMENT Paid work placement is extremely valuable in providing work experience and job opportunities – many companies recruit the students that they have taken on for industrial placement.

APPLIED NATURE OF OUR COURSES The course material is designed in conjunction with employers and our courses are all applied in nature – giving our students an advantage when starting their career.

MODULARIZED COURSES This allows students more choice in which subjects they study.

CHOICE OF WHICH COURSE YOU WISH TO PROGRESS TO IN YEAR 2 At the end of year 1, irrespective of which course you started, you can switch into year 2 of any of the above courses. This allows you time in year 1 to determine where your interests and strengths lie and to make a more mature decision with regard to your future studies (choice subject to availability of places). More Info? Phone: 091 742178 E Mail: Web: See also our distance education courses at


B.Sc. Honours in Applied Archaeology at the Institute of Technology Sligo Archaeology is the study of the past through the discovery, analysis and interpretation of material remains. Over the last twenty years, the application of high technology and scientific analysis has radically altered our ability to extract information from archaeological remains, enabling us to better reconstruct how our ancestors lived and died. This technology includes the use of ground penetrating radar to produce pictures of what lies sealed beneath the ground, 3D laser scanning to digitally record artefacts and bones, in addition to the use of a whole suite of laboratory techniques including the extraction of ancient DNA, the chemical and physical analysis of archaeological materials and the conservation of ancient remains. All of this and a lot more is taught at Institute of Technology Sligo as part of the B.Sc. Honours Applied Archaeology. The course was developed in response to these changing needs in Irish archaeology, establishing the state’s first science based archaeology degree in 2003. Through a combination of traditional archaeological instruction, training in the use of exciting new technologies in scientific analysis, and lots of practical experience, IT Sligo offers a unique archaeology course specifically designed to train our students for both the archaeological workforce and further specialisation.

Visionary step

r Kay Nolan from UCD points out that dogs can provide valuable clues to the origin and cause of some human diseases. Dogs, she notes, have been our companions for so long that we share a history, and indeed, some serious diseases. We could have a lot to learn about our own illnesses, she said, by studying the genetic origins of diseases in our faithful companions. Kay, is now a senior lecturer at the College of Life Science at UCD, but as she recalled, becoming a scientist in the first place had involved an element


The course is highly flexible and although students register for a four year Honours degree they can leave with a B.Sc. Applied Archaeology embedded award after three years. Like all courses in the School of Science, the BSc. (Honours) in Applied Archaeology is fully semesterised and offers many unique modules. These include Geology, Materials Analysis, Geophysical Surveying, Zooarchaeology (study of animal bones), Osteoarchaeology, Artefact Conservation and Forensic Archaeology to name but a few. All first year students take part in a training excavation that can lead to lucrative summer work on commercial excavations. The last twenty years has seen a dramatic increase in the need for qualified archaeologists to fill positions in commercial archaeology, the state sector including government bodies, local authorities and museums, Heritage and Education, as well as archaeological research. At IT Sligo, we believe our students are better trained and better prepared for the archaeological challenges of the 21st century. For more information, visit the archaeology page of our website ( and download our complete course manual (CAO Course Code SG446).

of good luck. “There was no tradition of science in the family,” she said, but in the same year that she entered the Convent of Mercy secondary school in Enniscorthy, the nuns there took what she described as a visionary step by appointing a science teacher. At the time, said Kay, very few schools anywhere, and especially those for girls, taught science, but then the nuns went further, and by Kay’s final years there, she had a chemistry and a biology teacher. “It was school that opened the door to science for me,” said Kay. Kay headed for UCD, where she recalled the then Professor of Zoology, Carmel Humphries, asking her a loaded question: “do you want to work with the best?” Answering “yes” could only mean one thing, zoology, but as Kay explained Prof Humphries was thinking well beyond traditional zoology and she went out of her way to recruit the sort of people who would bring a whole range of new skills and knowledge into the life sciences. For her second subject, Kay took biochemistry, and that immediately gave her another way of looking at life processes.


Christopher Read and Jeremy Bird School of Science Institute of Technology Sligo

On getting her primary degree, Kay had to make a career choice between teaching and research. Kay signed up to a HDip and a PhD, but a day before the classroom convinced her that teaching was definitely not for her. Kay’s future, without a shadow of doubt, lay in research. Money and security had nothing to do with that decision. In those days, she remarked, “we were oblivious to funds,” the money was simply not there, and “we were not very international.” However, that began to change when Kay had her PhD. She was invited to join a team of researchers at St Louis in the US. For six years there, Kay worked on gene related human diseases, before heading back across the Atlantic to Imperial College in London. In the early 90s Kay made a return to her alma mater. As her former professor, Carmel Humphries, had predicted, the life sciences there had been completely transformed, and Kay, with her valuable experience, feels very much at home conducting research that commands international attention.

Tom Kennedy

why certain things were happening. I also enjoyed the process of writing and publishing journal articles.” In addition to his research experience, Paul has some teaching experience, having lectured in Physical Chemistry at UL for a semester after his PhD. But his path didn’t stop at research and teaching.


Paul Miney

Coordinating Research (or just ‘Coordinating’)

Paul’s multiple experiences leading to research coordinator aul enjoyed chemistry more than the other science subjects. “I had a good chemistry teacher in secondary school. This convinced me to study chemistry further at university.”



Paul received a B.Sc in Industrial Chemistry and a PhD in Physical Chemistry (Semiconductor Electrochemistry) from UL. Then he did a post doctorate in the University of South Carolina in the electrochemistry


of molecular wire “Candidates”. This falls under the area of nanotechnology or molecular electronics. “These molecules were being tested as potential building blocks of electronic wires of the future,” Paul explains. The idea was to make electronic components much smaller (molecular level) in order to fit more of them onto chips, speed up processors and increase computing power. “During my research years I enjoyed getting new results and coming up with new theories as to

INSPIRE (Integrated NanoScience Platform for Ireland) is a project which aims at putting together a consortium of ten institutions throughout Ireland with expertise in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Officially launched on the 30th of October this year, the €32M project is the largest HEA funded consortium under the recent Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI 4). The objective of the consortium is to pull all expertise available in a particular area –in that case nanoscience and nanotechnology. The idea is to increase research efficiency and creativity by setting common goals and making sure to use the best resource and expertise across Ireland in three key research domains: Nanoelectronics, Nanophotonics and Bionanoscience. “This means that the top instruments in the world would now be accessible through all Irish universities .This also means experts across institutions would meet on a regular basis to ensure optimal collaboration”, says Paul.

“After I finished my postdoc, I worked as an Integration Engineer at Intel Ireland for three years. This involved managing the operation of a segment of the process and leading a team of approximately 20 process engineers,” Paul says. “I particularly enjoyed the project management aspect of the job and working with people, so when I saw the chance to become a project manager in a world class nanoscience research centre such as CRANN, I was very interested in getting the job.”

Project manager in CRANN

Paul is currently a project manager in CRANN (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and NanoDevices) at TCD. “I manage a HEA-funded programme within CRANN and am also involved in getting operational a consortium of ten institutions throughout Ireland, including two from Northern Ireland, with expertise in nanoscience and nanotechnology,” he says. The consortium is called INSPIRE (Integrated NanoScience Platform for Ireland).

Another aim of the consortium is to develop a Europe’s leading PhD programme involving all ten institutions. Paul explains: “If for example one of the best experts in nanophotonics is in NUIG, his lecture would be made available to the other Irish institutions through videoconferences so that all of them can benefit from his expertise.” The challenge is significant. A similar nanoscience consortium exists in the United States whose coordinator recently came to Dublin to provide some highlights on the US experience. “He made us aware of the amount of work needed to keep it up and running,” says Paul. Setting up and operating such a large consortium definitely requires a lot of commitment, coordination and cooperation on everyone’s part. But the potential benefits are worth the effort – establishing Ireland as an international leader in innovation and technology development.


“This project is the first attempt to get Ireland’s leading nanoscience research institutions working together to address some of the world’s most cutting edge and complex problems”, he explains. The aim is “to increase Ireland’s place in the International rankings” (see box). “My role involves working with academics and project managers in the INSPIRE consortium throughout the country. It is quite varied and involves meetings here or at other universities throughout Ireland to progress various aspects of the consortium”.

Willie’s second career in neurophysiology

Strategic approach

Though he agrees that at certain times of the year detailed reports need to be written that demand a lot of time at the computer, he enjoys his position. “I enjoy the opportunity of being involved in an exciting and ambitious project such as INSPIRE”. Paul also likes that he is still being involved with science and keeps abreast of the breakthroughs in his field. He nevertheless agrees that he is not doing core science any more or solving problems; but he still has to understand these problems to facilitate the solution. “The scientists involved obviously know their science better than I do, but I try to make sure that everybody plays their part and achieves project goals”. As he sees it, he’s more of a facilitator. “I got tired of the bench; I always thought I would spend my working life in laboratories doing experiments, but I haven’t done that in a while. This is more a strategic approach to science.”

Mixture of experiences

Paul thinks that such a role requires a mixture of experiences. According to him, there needs to be a combination of (1) a scientific background in order to have a working knowledge of the scientific research going on, (2) experience in project management in both industry and academia, (3) people skills and (4) report-writing skills. “It was not difficult per se, once you have an interest in science and trying to make things happen,” he concludes. Paul Miney (PhD in physical chemistry) is project manager at the TCD research centre CRANN and project coordinator of the nanoscience consortium INSPIRE

or Willie science and healthcare was a second career (or even a third). He was an accountant for eight years before opening a restaurant in Kerry with his brother for another 4 years. He then moved to the States and started to think about what to do next.



“I did my research and liked the idea of a career that would allow me to help people in a meaningful way”, he said. “I found a book called the Occupational Handbook and read about the various careers available to me as an adult. I then visited some local hospitals and visited departments performing the work – nursing, radiography, neurophysiology, and some others. Neurophysiology looked the most interesting and I went looking for and found a training position in a University Hospital which was a path available at the time”. Willie became State Certified in Electroencephalography (EEG). He then began further independent study leading to post grad national credentials in neurophysiology, before coming back to Dublin. Neurophysiology at the Mater Willie’s current position is Chief Neurophysiology Technologist at the Mater University Hospital. “I was recruited to perform neurological monitoring during spine surgery and to take charge of a growing Neurophysiology Lab.” His tasks now include performing EEGs in outpatient and Intensive Care Unit settings. He’s also involved in supervising technical staff and mentoring DIT students to


assess comatose patients. In addition, he attends early morning educational conferences with neurologists, senior house officers and consultants to review interesting case studies and EEG tests. Then on surgery days, he sets up and performs neurological monitoring on patients undergoing surgery to correct spinal deformity, “usually an all day affair,” he says. Teaching and working with people In addition to his main role at the Mater, Willie also delivers tutorials in neurophysiology in the hospital to students from the DIT and elsewhere, and he very much enjoys this part of his job. “My interaction with students keeps me on my toes.Their questioning keeps me aware that my own journey continues and that learning is a life long process,” he says. Willie seems happy with his new path. “I enjoy bringing to bear the technical skills I have developed over the years to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with neurological problems”. When looking back he understands why. “I chose carefully, based on lots of reflection and research. This career has allowed me to combine my interest in working with people, electronics, and the human body and get paid reasonably well in the process.” Willie is (Diploma in Clinical Neurophysiology Technology) Chief Neurophysiology Technologist at the Mater University Hospital and Senior Demonstrator and Tutor in Neurophysiology for the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Tuathan O Shea

NUI Galway’s new € 22 million Sports Centre

Science at NUI Galway Science at NUI Galway has a long and proud tradition for teaching and research. Our graduates play a vital role in today’s high-tech knowledge based society. Our postgraduate programmes are led by world-class scientific research groups. NUI Galway offers both Undenominated (GY301) and Denominated Science degrees programmes. Undenominated Science is offered to students who wish to pursue a career in science but who have not yet decided on an area of specialism. The Undenominated programme allows students to choose from a broad range of subjects in YEAR 1 and features progressive specialisation in subsequent years. Denominated programmes allow students to pursue defined courses of study. Current programmes inlude: • GY303: Biomedical Science • GY304: Biotechnology • GY306: Computing Studies/ Mathematical Science • GY308: Environmental Science

Sean Connaughton

Sean is originally from Gurteen, Co. Sligo. He started out as an Undenominated Science student and graduated from NUI Galway with a BSc in Microbiology in 2001. Sean subsequently enrolled in a PhD in Microbiology at NUI Galway. In 2007, Sean took on the post as Laboratory Manager at Waste Solutions in Dunedin, New Zealand. Sean: “My focus and interest was always science and the environment. My

• GY309: Financial Mathematics and Economics • GY310: Marine Science • GY313: Health & Safety Systems • GY314: Earth and Ocean Sciences • GY315: Physics and Applied Physics • GY316: Physics with Medical Physics • GY317: Physics with Astrophysics • GY318: Biopharmaceutical Chemistry In response to an increasing demand for Medical Physicists, the College is offering a new B.Sc. in Physics with Medical Physics. There has also been a refocusing of two programmes now entitled Physics and Applied Physics and Physics with Astrophysics. The new denominated BSc in Biopharmaceutical Chemistry will prepare students for the Biopharmaceutical Industry, which focuses on the production of therapeutic drugs by biological fermentation processes rather than by traditional chemical synthesis. Graduates will gain a wide range of expertise tailored to this industry. We hope to attract students who have an interest in both Chemistry and Biology.

work now is so much more than being the manager of a lab; I’m actually in a position where I can implement environmental solutions I really believe in. We show companies how to use techniques like anaerobic digestion so they can treat their waste streams in a clean, green manner, while also producing renewable energy in the form of biogas. In what other industry could you have such an impact on the environment all around you?”


Tuathan is originally from Moycullen, Co. Galway, and graduated from NUI Galway with a BSc in Physics & Applied Physics in 2005. Tuathan subsequently enrolled on the MSc in Medical Physics programme at NUI Galway. Upon finishing his MSc in 2006, Tuathan received a College of Science Fellowship to undertake a PhD in Medical Physics at NUI Galway. Tuathan is currently on a 1 year study spell at the University of California, San Francisco as part of his PhD. Tuathan: “Studying Physics at NUI, Galway has enabled me to learn this core science subject, as well as, great transferable problem solving skills. Physics finds application in many areas. I decided to apply Physics in the field of Medicine, in particular, the treatment of cancer patients with Radiation Therapy. NUI Galway is a great learning environment, with lots of opportunity for social and sports activities. In November 2008, NUI Galway officially opened a € 22 million Sports Centre which includes a 25 metre 6-lane swimming pool. Postgraduate studies in Medical Physics at NUI, Galway have enabled me to travel to and study at one of the best cancer centers in the United States.”

For more information visit SPIN


/FX3FTPVSDFGPS*SFMBOE´T'VUVSF4DJFOUJTUT I reland’s new careers website, is a resource dedicated to those who want to plan their career. Designed for school students, college graduates and adults considering a career change, this website collects and presents the most useful information available to help along the way. The website, created by Durrow Communications Ltd., profiles all employment sectors in Ireland, including the Science and Technology industries - specifically the Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Electronic & Electrical Engineering; and Mechanical Engineering & Manufacturing.

Discover Science & Engineering (DSE) is the key sponsor and coordinator of the Science and Technology sectors on You can watch video clips of DSE’s Science Ambassadors talking about their careers in science, demonstrating the diversity and flexibility of a qualification in Science and Technology. The site can be viewed at

%JTDPWFS4DJFODFBOE&OHJOFFSJOH is working to build a momentum in science awareness in Ireland, establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation. Our most important resource for the future - our students - must be encouraged and supported in their study of science, technology and engineering subjects and convinced that a career in this area is stimulating and rewarding.

Discover Science and Engineering is an Integrated national science awareness programme managed by ForfĂĄs on behalf of the Office of Science & Technology in the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment. Discover Science & Engineering brings together many science, engineering, technology and innovation awareness activities that were previously managed be different public and private bodies. DSE aims to build and expand on these activities and to deliver a more focused, strategic and quantifiable awareness campaign.


Harvesting energy D

DSE Careers ad (half page).indd 1

r Martin Leahy from the Univerity of Limerick, said that growing up on a farm has its advantages. Because his own parents were farmers in west Limerick they had to be adaptable. As Martin pointed out, they had no involvement in science, but to survive they had to be good at a lot of different things. “Your average farmer,� he said, “has to be a bit of a builder, a driver, and even a midwife.� Martin, who now directs a big energy research group at UL, said that he can often tell which of his students come from a farming background because they are natural problem solvers. His own progression into science began in school. “I had a very good physics teacher,� he said, Physics caught his attention, and as he remarked, “I am still at it.� At the time the opportunities to go on to third level were limited, and as Martin explained, it was actually cheaper for him to study at Oxford.

His first student job there, in the Buttery Bar, he said, was a great introduction to the social life of Oxford. Not that this deflected him from his focus on photonics and fluid flow. He had been using photonics and lasers to measure fluid flow, first on a small scale with blood, then with fluid in pipes, and this in turn led him onto wind and energy. After ten years and a PhD in photonics from Oxford, Martin decided to go back to Limerick, where he was keen to follow up his expanding range of interests including energy systems. That interest in turn led to Martin heading up an important renewable energy group under the Charles Parsons Initiative. This recently launched group, he said, draws together expertise in wave turbine technology, electrochemical storage, thermochemical conversion, biomass, and wind. “Wind,� he said, “is now a significant part of my work,� and he practices what he teaches. On his return to Limerick, Martin bought a farm, which, he said, �is 100 per cent self-sufficient, and in fact we export to the grid.� The CPI energy group, he said, is focused on one of our national


priorities. Sustainable energy, 04/11/2008 he 11:34:44 said “is the greatest scientific and engineering challenge of our time,� and he believes it is possible to make considerable progress on solving some our most pressing problems through research. Taking wind as an example, he said that the barrier now is not in turbine design, but in storage. The turbines, he said, are probabloy as efficient as it is possible for them to be, but a lot can be done on storage. At UL, Martin has been working on what are known as Vanadium Redox Flow batteries. The big advantage of these batteries is that they are highly efficient, storing up to 90 per cent of the energy. The down side is that they are bulky, but as Martin pointed out, that’s not a problem on wind farms where there is plenty of space available. Martin admits that one of the things that drew him back to Limerick was the rugby, but more than that was the draw of the land. “Farming,� he said, “is the ultimate in interdisiplinarity�, and harvesting renewable energgy has a great appeal to him.

Tom Kennedy

College of Science, Engineering & Food Science

Looking ahead?

Then think SEFS @ UCC = (SUCCESS)24u for course and career options as individual as you are Scientists and engineers live on the edge of imagination and creativity. They are explorers and discoverers, illuminating the way ahead, towards an increasingly uncertain future. Why not discover a world where it’s the individual who matters most and where you can truly make a difference? It’s only the beginning of your career path, but a degree in science or engineering is your passport to a much wider world of choice and opportunity. A-Z Level 8 Degree Programmes offered through SEFS Applied Mathematics & Physics Architecture Astrophysics Biochemistry Chemical Physics Chemistry Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds Chemistry with Forensic Science Civil Engineering Computer Science Computer Science & Economics Earth Science Ecology Education in Physical Sciences Electrical & Electronic Engineering Energy Engineering Environmental Plant Biotechnology Environmental Science Financial Mathematics & Actuarial Science Food Marketing and Entrepreneurship Food Science Genetics Geography Geology International Development & Food Policy Mathematical Sciences Mathematics & Physics Microbiology Neuroscience Nutritional Sciences Physics Physiology Process & Chemical Engineering Zoology

Why Science or Engineering? • Excellent career prospects and progression routes for SEFS graduates • Employment opportunities in Science & IT sectors well above national average & continue to grow • Wide variety of customised job opportunities to suit a broad range of interests, skills and career plans

Why UCC? • In top 5% of university world rankings according to 2007 Times Higher Educational Supplement • Stunning campus environment • Excellent accommodation/sports/ leisure facilities • Friendly student atmosphere • City centre location • Good transport links • Great clubs/societies & entertainment on offer

Why SEFS? • Leading science & technology research in the state • Strong tradition of student-centred teaching underpinned by cutting edge research • World class facilities • Excellent industry links for graduates • Positive & supportive staff/student relationships • New programmes introduced to reflect market demand • Work placement in many programmes

A-Z sample of jobs obtained by 2007 SEFS BSc/BE graduates Actuary (Trainee) Biochemist Biomedical Scientist Blue Tooth Development Engineer Business Analyst Chemical Engineer Chemist Civil Engineer Database Analyst Design Engineer Drilling Engineer E Marketing Manager Electrical Engineer Environmental Consultant Food Technologist Games Programmer Geologist Geoscientist Geo-Technician IT Consultant IT Programmer Logistics Manager Medical Laboratory Scientist Microbiologist Network Engineer New Product Development Manager Quality Assurance Analyst Quality Control Analyst Process Analyst Process Engineer Production Chemist Software Developer Software Engineer Structural Engineer Web Developer Validation Engineer Zoologist

College of Science, Engineering & Food Science, UCC Tel: 021 490 3075 — Email: — Web: SCIENCE SPIN Issue 32 CHOOSING SCIENCE


Helping People Tara’s approach to diseases

ara Kelly also had a fundamental approach to science, but more tuned towards living things. What makes her tick “is the ‘wonder’ of nature…of what is going on inside the body, why someone is sick. “I love the limitless possibilities of science– everything (especially living) can be called science,” she enthuses.



She started with 1 year of engineering in UCD before moving to do a BSc(Hons) in biochemistry at NUIG which included a BSc(Gen) in zoology. “I chose science after engineering because it had been science that had interested me in the first place and I had only tried engineering thinking it was a ‘type of science’ and found out it wasn’t!”, she said. “I truly loved animals – mammals, but found studying them was removing my ‘wonder’ and was not as challenging to my mind perhaps as biochemistry.” Then she completed a PhD in microbiology (virology/immunology) at TCD, studying how the Dengue virus causes Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever/Dengue Shock Syndrome. “It was excellent. I loved the scariness of it. The danger,” she says. “Working with the smallest living organisms that can kill the largest! Even now - wow! Working with umbilical cords and growing artificial veins to use as models was amazing. As was the thought that I was helping children in the third world who were dying from this disease.” Then she became a lecturer (parttime) in the US along with doing a postdoc “to see if I really wanted to be an academic and I was hooked. I loved it – I could teach what I loved and get paid for it!”

Turning point

However, on coming back to Ireland her academic aspirations were a bit dampened by reality. “Unfortunately I realised after 6 years postdoctoral research that it was difficult to get a permanent position in academia in Ireland and I didn’t have the opportunity to secure funding any longer,” she says. “I needed some stability as I got older.”

Also, while she loved teaching, like Cormac she was not so keen on experiments. “My spirit wasn’t at ease when I had to dissect animals or saw them being used for human improvement – in fact this is one of the reasons I finally left research. I loved seeing the insides of animals – everything about the intricacy of the living organism and the techniques even, it was just the killing of them to do so, that upset me so much.”


Fortunately for Tara, she could find a job outside academia while keeping in touch with her primary interest (disease development). “I am a surveillance scientist in the Health Protection Surveillance Centre which was called the National Disease Surveillance Centre. We carry out surveillance of all notifiable infectious disease and their outbreaks in Ireland.” Tara’s role is to administer the ‘business’ content of the national database (Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting system - CIDR).

“This means I design and develop reports which pull data from the system and can be used by the public health departments and hospital and reference labs in Ireland.” She also supports a helpdesk for surveillance scientists and medics, answering questions such as ‘what do I do with a notification of Hepatitis B now that the patient has moved address?’ to ‘how do I link three notifications of Salmonellosis on CIDR because I think they belong to an outbreak?’.

Improving health

Tara enjoys the security of her job but not only that. “I enjoy the professionalism of everybody who works here. I enjoy liaising with different people from all over Ireland with different backgrounds and concerns. I enjoy solving problems with the system. I enjoy interpreting the system for others to use.” And most importantly, “I enjoy the fact that the work has an effect on improving Irish health.” Tara Kelly (PhD in Microbiology) is a surveillance scientist in the Health Protection Surveillance Centre

Tara Kelly Working with the smallest living organisms that can kill the largest!

Hi ! We’ve never met, but …. ….. We are the people your doctor depends on to help make the correct diagnosis of your illness. We are

Medical Scientists

The FIRST four year Accredited Biomedical/medical Science degree in the country.


There are only 3 colleges ACCREDITED to teach courses that allow graduates to work as a medical scientist / medical laboratory scientist in the country’s hospitals.

This new 4 year honours degree in Medical Science has replaced our existing Certificate in Medical Laboratory Science.

These colleges are DIT, CIT / UCC and GMIT.

Cell and Molecular Biology, Immunology Medical Microbiology Clinical Biochemistry Haematology & Blood Transfusion Science Cellular Pathology

CONTACT: Seamus Lennon, Head Head of Department. Email: seamus.lennon@ Phone 091 742081


HOSPITAL PLACEMENT There is a 30 week placement in a hospital laboratory in year 3.


MEDICAL SCIENTISTS: Formerly knowns as Medical Laboratory Scientists, a Medical Scientist works in a hospital laboratory and is involved in the investigation and diagnosis of medical conditions and diseases. In recent years there has been an increasing demand for medical laboratory diagnostic services and for the development of new services. To date, graduates of this course have had excellent career opportunities as medical scientists.


To work as a Medical Laboratory Scientist / Medical Scientist you must study an honours degree which has been accredited by the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science. There are only 3 such honours degrees – CIT/UCC, DIT and GMIT. The GMIT honours degree is the first 4 year honours degree accredited by the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science

Graduates can also develop careers in the Pharmaceutical and BioMedical sectors and in medical research.



WHY SCIENCE @ I.T. SLIGO ? One of the most popular •Schools of Science in the IT sector Wide selection of career paths Excellent academic reputation Student friendly semesterised structures Sligo has something for everyone: Arts; Music; Nightlife; Sport and a modern state of the art campus.

• • • •

Ordinary and Honours Degree Paths Applied Archaeology Ireland's first Archaeological Science degree. Biomedical and Medical Biotechnology Novel careers in the high technology sector Environmental Learn to protect our natural inheritance Forensic Investigation Develop a future in Forensic and Analytical science Occupational Safety & Health Innovate safety in the workplace and protect our workforce. Pharmaceutical Work in a cutting edge industry. Health Science Follow a career in Public Health or transfer on to clinical courses

Visit us on: Telephone Admissions on: 071-9155379 Prospectus from: Admission Office, Institute of Technology Sligo, Ballinode, Sligo

Rocky road L

aura Byrne had a busy weekend at the beginning of December. On Friday she was over at the Geological Survey of Ireland to collect an award for her mapping project, on Monday she was out at UCD for her conferring, and the next day she was off again to her job at an iron mine in Darwin, the hot and steamy north of Australia. Neither of Laura’s parents are scientists, but as she recalls, the discussions across the dining room table back in Dublin tended to be intellectually stimulating. The challenge and adventure of geology drew her to UCD, and by her third year she was already planning her award winning project to map the Dingle Peninsula. Laura was one of the two winners in this year’s Cunningham Awards. This is an award presented for outstanding work in geological mapping, and while Laura’s project concentrated on the Dingle Peninsula, the other young geologist, William McCarthy from UCC, mapped an area in Connemara. Going out to map the Dingle Peninsula, explained Laura, had

involved weeks of trecking across the landscape, taking notes and watching out for anything of geological significance. The area, she said, has been marked by a succession of major events. Over an immense period of time land, which lay under the sea, was uplifted, and in turn new rivers formed, and laid down additional layers of sediments. There were also volcanic upheavals, and one of the interesting features noted by Laura were the depressions made by falling ‘bombs’ of lava. Another feature of the Peninsula are the pudding stones, conglomerates made up of rocky rubble washed down by erosion of the new land. As Laura explained, mapping follows a tried and tested tradition. Carrying around a lap-top, she said, is

still no match for the note books that can survive the harshest conditions, including, as happened, a quite dip in a mountain stream. Going from Dingle to Darwin is quite a jump, but as John Gamble, professor of Geology at UCC, who supervised William McCarthy’s project, remarked, travel is part of the job. Wherever there are mines, he said, there is always a big demand for geologists.

Tom Kennedy

Laura Byrne with, from left her mother, Peadar McArdle, Director GSI, Mike Garvey, and her father at the Cunningham Awards. Photo: Fennell. Left, Laura out mapping in Dingle.




cience is about pioneering the future shape of society throughout the world. Over the past 500 years science has led to the development of a myriad technologies through which humankind interacted with nature in all its aspects. Science and scientists now influence and affect virtually every facet of modern living. When you choose a career in science, you will be a key citizen in your country, truly a mover and shaper of society, during the first half of this new century. Within the Faculty of Science in DIT there are five discipline-based Schools – Biological Sciences. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, Computing, Mathematical Sciences and Physics. Programmes are offered by these Schools leading to exciting careers in these broad disciplines and in new and vital interdisciplinary areas. Undergraduate taught programmes (three-year ordinary

degrees, four-year honours degrees and top-up honours degrees for students with an ordinary degree or equivalent), postgraduate taught programmes as well as postgraduate research programmes are offered, to cater for your career ambitions at many stages in your life. Taught MSc programmes are normally of 1 year duration. Postgraduate research in Science is vigorous, with over 100 postgraduates students and 10 postdoctoral fellows. We off many opportunities to you to develop and reorient your career path.

The highly interdisciplinary programmes in the Faculty determine its three particular strengths in Biomedical/ Paramedical, Analytical/Environmental/ Materials Science and Computing/ Information Technology areas. If you plan to build your career in one of these broad areas, consider the programmes in DIT’s Faculty of Science. More info on

Programmes within the Faculty that you should consider Biomedical / Paramedical Disciplines DT204 BSc (Biomedical Sciences) Honours Degree, 5 years- 1 year hospital placement. DT223 BSc (Human Nutrition & Dietetics) Honours Degree, jointly with Trinity College Dublin, 4.5 years DT224 BSc (Optometry) Honours Degree, 4 years. DT229 BSc (Clinical Measurement) Honours Degree, 4 years- 1 year hospital placement. DT235 BSc (Physics with Medical Physics & Bioengineering) Honours Degree, 4 years. DT226 (Option 1) BSc (Biochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biotechnology) Honours Degree, top-up, 1.5 years.

DT226 (Option 2) BSc (Medical & Molecular Cytology) Honours Degree, top-up, 1.5 years.

Computing/Information Technology Disciplines DT228 BSc (Computer Science) Honours Degree, 4 years. DT211 BSc (Computing) Ordinary Degree, 3 years. DT205 BSc (Mathematical Sciences) Honours Degree, 4 years.

Analytical/Environmental/ Materials Science DT203 BSc (Forensic & Environmental Analysis) Honours Degree, 4 years. DT222 BSc (Physics Technology) Honours Degree, 4 years.


DT212 BSc (Science) Ordinary Degree, 3 years. DT227 BSc (Science with Nanotechnology) Honours Degree, 4 years. DT259 BSc (Biosciences) Ordinary Degree, top-up, 3 years. DT260 BSc (Industrial & Environmental Physics) Ordinary Degree, top-up, 3 years. DT261 BSc (Medicinal Chemistry & Pharmaceutical Sciences) Ordinary Degree, top-up, 3 years. Contact Details: Blathnaid Sheridan, Science Promotion & Recruitment Coordinator, School of Mathematical Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, Kevin St, Dublin 8. Tel : (01) 402 4828 Email:


Teaching and writing

Being now a lecturer in physics at Waterford Institute of Technology, Cormac found what he was looking for – thinking, talking and writing about core science outside the bench. “I now teach simple introductory courses in both cosmology and particle physics, and that’s great fun”, he says. “On a typical day I’ll give two or three lectures in the morning, with a practical or a meeting in the early afternoon. I then retire to the office from 4 to 7 pm where the real work is done. I used to spend this time writing up research results, but I’ve recently taken a break from technical research in order to do some writing about science.”

Cormac O’Raifeartaigh

Communicating science Cormac’s path to teaching the cosmos

first approach to science, maybe the most basic and fundamental, relates to people primarily concerned about understanding the universe, wondering about surrounding nature and answering the big questions about the universe’s history, future and our place in it. This has been Cormac O’Raifeartaigh’s constant interest. “I like the imagination part. It’s hard to believe most of the atom is empty space, or that a telescope looks back in time as well as out in distance. It’s even harder to believe that time and space are dynamic, not a fixed stage on which life is played out”, he says.



Cormac has dedicated most his student years and professional life to science. He explains how it all started. “I was far better at languages and classical music than science, but I found science fascinating. I started in medicine in University College Dublin (UCD),

hated it and switched to science after a year”. He then opted for physics. “Physics in college seemed more about core ideas than the other sciences. I liked the out-there stuff that forced you to think, like relativity and quantum theory. I never thought about a future career.” But Cormac’s passion for science was always more about theories and ideas than experiments. “I did a PhD in experimental physics at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), using magnetic resonance techniques to study the quantum behaviour of electrons in solids. I loved the college, but the work was hard and sometimes dull. I’m definitely not the most patient of experimentalists! I then did a postdoc in the University of Aarhus. Again, I loved Denmark, but didn’t really enjoy the labwork that much”. He explains: “I sometimes feel that the discoveries of science are a lot more interesting than the getting of those results, due to the specialisation required in order to uncover something new”.


Freedom and stimulation

Cormac is happy with his role, and enjoys the freedom that goes with it. “What every academic treasures is that the balance of teaching, research and outreach is to some extent selfdetermined”, he says. “More generally, I just like being in a third-level college - I love the atmosphere, and the fact there is always something of interest going on somewhere”. Though he was lucky enough to get the first academic position he applied for when he came back to Ireland, he recognises that the academic career path is difficult. “A four- or five-year PhD followed by a few years postdoctoral research is not to be sneezed at. I don’t know any shortcuts.” Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh (PhD in experimental physics) lectures in physics at Waterford Institute of Technology and is the author of the blog ANTIMATTER

Are you

LEAVING interested in but CERTIFICATE Science, unsure of STUDENTS ! which Science discipline to study?

If you apply for any of the following courses, you enter a COMMON FIRST YEAR. At the end of first year, irrespective of which course you started, you can transfer into year 2 of any of the other courses subject to availability of places. GMIT offers four HONOURS DEGREE (Level 8) COURSES in: l Applied FRESHWATER & MARINE BIOLOGY (CAO Code GA780; Points in 2008 – 310; Median point level - 375) l CHEMICAL & PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCE (CAO Code GA 782; Points in 2008 – 325; Median point level – 355) l PHYSICS & INSTRUMENTATION (CAO Code GA 783; CAO points in 2008 – 355; Median point level – 355) l APPLIED BIOLOGY & BIOPHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCE (CAO Code GA 781; CAO points in 2008 – 310; Median point level – 360). CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRADUATES OF THESE COURSES:

Graduates of Applied Freshwater & Marine Biology: Employment opportunities in: Environmental Consultancy / Management, Marine Biology Research, Marine Fisheries Management, Oceanography, Aquaculture Development, Public Sector Agencies such as Environmental Protection Agency, Fisheries Boards, teaching (this course is recognised for admission to the higher diploma in education, H Dip Ed), Marine Institute. Graduate, Imelda Hehir: Currently works in the Marine Institute in Galway in Marine Biology Research. “The Freshwater & Marine Biology course is an excellent course for anyone interested in this exciting branch of Science.”

Graduates of Physics & Instrumentation:

Graduate Jacqueline Keane: Currently working with NASA in California – “The common first year in GMIT Science is a great system – it allows one to change their mind after one year in college. My job with NASA involves exploring space, stars and heavenly structures from the NASA base in California.”

Graduates of Chemical & Pharmaceutical Science: Employment opportunities in: Pharmaceutical Sector, Food Industries, Chemical Sector, Biotechnology companies, Biomedical Sector, Research & Development. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.). Public sector employers include Public Analyst Lab, Environmental Protection Agency. Graduate, Peggy McGlynn: “I studied Chemical & Pharmaceutical Science at GMIT and currently work as a Forensic Scientist in the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin. I found GMIT a great place to study with a low student / staff ratio which provides a great learning environment.”

Graduates of Applied Biology & Biopharmaceutical Science: Employment opportunities in: Biotechnology Sector, Diagnostic Companies, Pharmaceutical & Biomedical sector. Public sector employers such as Irish Medicines Board, Environmental Protection Agency, Public Analysts Lab. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.). Graduate, Bryan Cavanagh: “I had a job before I completed my final exams – as did many of my class mates. My job is in Regulatory Affairs. The day to day work involves project management and people management. I highly recommend this course.”

Employment opportunities in: Biomedical & Pharmaceutical companies, Medical Physics, Astrophysics, Semiconductor Sector, Nanotechnology, Software Development, Biotechnology Sector. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to Further information: Log onto the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.) Email: Phone 091 742178 SCIENCE SPIN CHOOSING SCIENCE


Interestingly, whether their approach to science is theoretical or practical, whether they are more tuned into communicating core science or helping people, solving problems or understanding the universe, the first spark that got them into science was similar… that is their natural quest for understanding - the ‘how’ question… Tara: “I always wanted to know why something happened… why someone was sick – not just what disease they were suffering but how – really how – did the microbe do it. How our bodies did what they did.” Willie: “I have always been interested on how things work (took radios and TVs apart at a young age, dissected frogs in my kitchen).” Paul: “When I was younger, I was always interested in understanding what was going on around me.” William “As a kid I always liked to understand how things worked … or why things happened.” Anthony: “I simply loved the question ‘how?’”

Interaction What’s also interesting is that most of them, whether teaching the history of cosmos, monitoring the brain, conducting disease surveillance, working in electronics, or as project coordinator, seem to have kept their enthusiasm for science and their drive to learn, even outside their main job. “I do keep up with physics research and I am still a member IOP (Institute of Physics) as well as IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers),” says William. He adds: “my best friend (he finished his PhD) who worked with me in Rochester is an astrophysicist based in Tenerife Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC). He has also found a few planets. And my boss in Rochester is the head of the astronomy department there. So I keep up to date on most astronomy issues.”

As to Willie, he is a member of different organisations related to clinical neurophysiology both European and American. Through these he enjoys learning about international standards and how practices in Ireland compare to those abroad. “I usually come home from conferences with new ideas and with a fresh attitude to my work,” he says. “In the online group I share experiences with my peers and learn about new developments.” They all agree that in their development, interaction and communication through science plays a central role. As it does in their life in general. “Since the start of my career I have been a great believer in networking and have found it invaluable as resource for my own development; it

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provides great satisfaction and I have also made many close friendships across the world as a result,” says Willie. “I write occasional science pieces for magazines and newspapers, including The Irish Times. I also give regular public talks on science, on topics like Big Bang cosmology and particle physics. A while ago, I started a science blog (ANTIMATTER) and find it surprisingly useful – it’s a great way of communicating science to people all over the world,” says Cormac, adding that he feels communicating the ideas of science to the public is critical; “it plays such an important role in everyone’s life now, from action on global warming to debates on nuclear power.” Their drive to communicate science became even more obvious when I asked the question: What are you looking at doing in the future? “More teaching and writing a text book,” says Willie. “My next project is a short book on particle physics, aimed at the layman – there are several such books on cosmology, but very few good ones on particle physics,” says Cormac. “Teaching, maybe someday getting married and having children. Never stop learning in whatever realm that may be,” says Tara. But for some the technical application remains important: “Eventually I would like to one day apply the techniques I am studying to build a software product, or to consult companies in how Machine Learning can help them,” says Anthony.

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Sound Advice

Think first, then go for it! When advising students who would like to follow their different paths, they all seem to agree on one thing: think hard first to make sure it is what you really enjoy doing. Willie: “Working with sick people is both challenging and rewarding. But it requires dedication and patience, so be honest with yourself in making the choice.” Anthony: “Be picky about what you decide to do, I rather foolishly didn’t really know what I wanted to do and didn’t spend the time properly checking out my options….I think if I had done the reading beforehand I would have made a better choice sooner.” Cormac (about the academic path): “Be sure you enjoy teaching. Be sure you enjoy research. Inner satisfaction is far more important than salary or holidays.” Talking about his experience: “I’m beginning to find that

I’m happier writing about science than doing it and perhaps I should have explored this earlier!” Tara (about doing a PhD and takeing an academic path): “I think if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and are passionate about, then do a PhD; but if you are not sure and think you should do it for the sake of it, then don’t.” But it is not a given for every college student to know straight away what they would really like to do. Paul’s position as a coordinator benefited from having tried different paths. “I would suggest that if a student has a particular interest in science and research and wants to get a PhD, they should get it as early in their career as possible”, he says. In doing so they will have more scope to try other things. “I think it is important to try various types of jobs and work in different

Keeping patients on the move

Tony O’Donovan is working on the radio connections ireless connections could cut down on the inconvenience of being ill. Tony O’Donovan, a researcher at University College Cork, explained that in many cases there is no real need to keep patients wired up to a monitor. Technically it should be possible to transmit the data generated by sensors, and Tony’s aim is to make this into an affordable, everyday reality. Sensors might have to stay in place for a long time, so they have to be small and robust, but this is not the biggest problem. They need to consume a minimum amount of power, and as Tony explained, most of the energy goes into transmission. Because of this he has been looking at how to develop more efficient communication protocols, cutting power demand without sacrificing reliability. Setting priorities, he said, is a good way of conserving power. A sensor does not have to transmit data all the time, and apart from setting time limits, the device can be programmed only to send out an alert


when triggered by something such as a rise in body temperature. Tony was always keen to work with computer technology, and with a degree from UCC he went to work with a software company in Cork. He did well, and as he said, “I found it challenging, but I was not completely satisfied because all the technologies were already well established and mainstream.” He realised that the best solution was to become involved in research, and that brought him back to UCC. One of the projects for his masters involved networking of sensors, and as he explained, this was just the sort of area that he wanted to work in. Non-contact sensors, he said, have become a hot topic, and he was attracted by how close research in this area is to application. Linking up to Microsoft through IRCSET as his industrial partner was ideal for Tony. “In the very near future there are going to be a lot of wireless sensor networks, ” he said. Monitoring patients while keeping them on the move is just one of the


environments within science and not to get too focused too early. That way, there can be many opportunities.” Paul has tried research, teaching, project manager in the industry before getting his project manager job in Trinity and he is not 35 yet. So, in which category are you? Do you enjoy theory or practice? Do you prefer helping people or building things? Are you a communicator, or a project manager/coordinator type of person? Whatever the answer is, all the people I interviewed agreed on one thing: once you have found what makes you tick, as Willie put it, “go for it!” “My advice is go and do what you want to do, there is always a path to something else and if you are doing what you want, you are probably not too far off the mark,” says Anthony. He concludes: “Don’t let fear ever hold you back….People don’t discover things through fear.”

numerous applications, and in one test Tony worked with Tyndall on setting up a car park management system at UCC. “Tyndall did the hardware, and we did the software,” he said, and by detecting the presence or absence of cars, access to the park could be controlled automatically. With radio links, sensors can be deployed almost anywhere, even in volcanoes. However, power consumption, said Tony, has always been a critical issue. Keeping the distance down, he explained, helps, and as long as there is a communications network close, the data can be picked up and transmitted via the internet. In a factory, or in environmental monitoring, he said, a large number of sensors might be deployed, but while they might all be in contact with each other, only one or two of these might be required to pass the data along. Keeping everything simple, he said, could also help to lower costs. Companies such as Microsoft and Intel are keen to develop that market, he said, and we can expect to see a lot more happening as soon as researchers delivers lower costs combined with higher performance.

Tom Kennedy

Anthony Brew What’s nice is that I am learning a bag of tricks that I think are applicable to loads of real world problems.

Anthony’s path — building large ideas from small ones nthony’s approach to science is somewhat similar to William’s, with the difference that it has now led him back to academia. “When I was young my parents were always keen on things like lego and science kits. As I got older I found that I was good at maths and physics. The reason was that I was able to derive a lot of the rules you needed from other rules. I found beauty in being able to build up large ideas from small ones and I think that’s what led me into college, wanting to continue this mix of maths and physics.



Anthony started by studying Theoretical Physics in Trinity. After 2 years he found he enjoyed the maths part of his course so he switched to maths. “At the end of it, I decided that to make myself employable I needed to learn to be able to write computer software, so I stayed in the maths department at Trinity and studied a masters in High Performance

Computing there,” he explains. “I really enjoyed learning to code. It’s logical, and it is based on this idea of building large things from small and easy to remember components.”

Writing software

After the masters he asked himself the question “should I do a PhD or go into the real world?” He opted for the real world. He worked for a year as an open source software consultant before joining a financial software company in Dublin.“ At the start the work really satisfied me, but also the paycheck. This was essentially a very fast learning curve and after 2 years I feel I can say I am a good software engineer.”

Back to academia

It dawned on me I had learnt all I could in the firm I was in and I wanted to learn something new. Also people would be telling me what to do, write financial software, write


billing software or whatever. I wanted to do what I wanted, or at least have that possibility. So thoughts of a PhD returned.

Solving real world problems

Anthony is now studying for a PhD in Machine Learning. He explains how the idea came about. “After this spell in the real world I realised that we are now generating more data than ever before. But extracting interesting information from databases containing everything from medical images to who you email is hard.” Machine Learning is the study of learning information from data to be able to infer information about unseen data. “Spam is an example”, he says, “we can see loads of good emails and loads of spam, and given this, can we learn a rule to automatically label something as spam or not? The uses are endless.” He continues: “I am currently working on verifying the identity of someone speaking and others in my group are working on prostate cancer and mining information from the human genome. What’s nice is that I am learning a bag of tricks that I think are applicable to loads of real world problems and I hope after I finish I will be able to go back out into the real world on my own terms and ply my new information trade.”

Sense of ownership

Like Cormac, he enjoys the freedom and stimulation of academia. “I am thoroughly enjoying the PhD, I constantly see new ideas and get to work on my own projects. There are always interesting talks to go to and ideas to hear about.” “The thing I like about academia, as compared to the outside world, is that people are very passionate about the work they are doing as they have a truly complete sense of ownership of it.” Anthony Brew is doing a PhD in Machine Learning

Recession, what recession? T

he School of Science at GMIT completed a review of the job vacancies in Ireland in August and identified several hundred jobs available for Science graduates. Dr. Seamus Lennon, Head of Department of Life & Physical Sciences at GMIT says: “We identified several hundred current vacancies for science graduates, and the true figure for vacancies is probably much higher.” “A government expert group on future skills needs has identified a shortage of graduates in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics and software. For example, this group predicts a shortage of 900 biology and chemistry graduates next year, and the following year. This predicted shortage, together with the high level of current vacancies in the sector will result in a great career potential for graduates of career-focused science degrees.” GMIT has an excellent reputation for the skills set of its science graduates, with many students gaining employment immediately upon graduation. The

quality of its programmes is reflected in the prestigious national chemistry competition (Eurachem) open to all Institutes of Technology and Universities in Ireland, where for the fourth time in five years GMIT science students finished in the top two places.

A recent survey by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) found that 61% of science students who graduated in 2005 earned more than €25,000, with 15.4 % earning more than €33,000. Dr. Lennon adds: “The message is simple — students who complete programmes designed to provide a core science education together with good practical skills, project work and industrial placement will be well placed to develop rewarding careers in the knowledge economy.”

Dr. Lennon adds: “Most of our programmes now have an industrial placement component and this together with the high level of practical and project work in our degree courses means that our science graduates are well equipped to start developing a well paid and very rewarding career upon graduation.”

For further information about science programmes in GMIT, see: and, or email:; or telephone 091-742178.

“In recent years over half our Biopharmaceutical Science graduates have gained employment before their final exams. Employers are looking for science graduates with ample practical skills, and with good experience in project management, critical thinking and decision making. Our programmes are designed to give the students these skills”.

GMIT physics student Damien Howard is presented with an international physics award by Minister Michael Martin. Two GMIT students won awards from the ISA for best physics project at ordinary degree and honours degree level.



Giving molecules a natural twist

The IRCSET enterprise partnership has helped Sinead Milner work on industrial R&D ost drugs can exist in two forms, often referred to as mirror images of each other. The reason for this, explained Sinead Milner at UCC, is that molecules, can twist to the left or to the right. Those differences, she said, referred to as chirality, can be extremely hard to detect, yet they are of enormous significance to the pharmaceutical industry. Although both forms appear to be chemically the same, only one chiral form may be safe to use, and the other, if active at all, may actually be harmful. Undoubtely the best known example of this comes from Thaladimide where failure to separate the two forms turned an apparently safe drug into a disaster. As Sinead explained, manufacturers are now extremely careful to avoid anything like that happening ever again, and before any new drug is approved, both chiral forms have to be tested separately. However, making chirally pure drugs is not easy, and sometimes the only route open is to separate after making a mix. “It’s very laborous,” said Sinead, “and you immediately lose fifty per cent of your production.” While it is possible to modify some manufacturing processes, Sinead pointed out that the solution for many of these problems could already


exist because chiral preference in synthesis is universal in nature. As she explained, ordinary fermentation with bakers yeast is a very effective way to produce chirally pure substances. Fermentation, she said, has great potential for producing drugs. “At present,” she said, “all I am using is ordinary water, sugar and off the shelf bakers yeast, Sacromycetes cerevisiae.” As she explains, there are many different varieties of yeast, and with genetic engineering their actions could become highly specific. For example, selecting for for a particular enzyme to transform a keytone into a chirally pure alcohol could be a good way to start off a drug production process. It might be possible, explained Sinead, to go through a chemical process to produce a similar product, but it could be a lot more difficult, and the results might not be so pure. Some of the best results are currently being obtained using metal catalysts, but as Sinead observed, manufacturers have to be careful not to allow the slightest contamination to pass on into end products. With fermentation, she said, that risk could be eliminated. Sinead has always found the subject fascinating, and she regards herself as fortunate to have had both a career focus and an excellent teacher at

school. On going to an open day at UCC she had no hesitation at all in signing up for chemistry. As part of her course, Sinead had to work on industrial placement, and as she remarked, this made her realise the value of practical research. It also made her aware of the growing importance of chiral chemistry in the manufacture of new and more powerful drugs, so when she continued working for her PhD, she was keen to stay in contact with industry. The IRCSET enterprise partnership scheme proved to be ideal, providing financial support while bringing her into a working relationship with industry. Working with Pfizer brought home some of the essential differences between industry and academia. For example, in industry Sinead discovered the importance of crystals. In pure research, she explained, scientists might be quite happy to work with liquids, but people in industry know that successful marketing and distribution usually depends on getting the same product into a tablet. Industrial and academic researchers, said Sinead, can see things from a completely different viewpoing, and she is glad to have had the opportunity to gain experience on how both sides operate. PhD researchers, she said, have a lot of transferrable skills, but most of them could benefit enormously from this type of exposure to industry.

Tom Kennedy

Don’t miss out, for just €18 you can keep ahead of science Six issues a year packed with features and news about everything in Irish and international science, from astrophysics, biotechnology, and geology to marine life and zoology. NI sub £12, and for overseas rates see web site



umerous studies have shown that possession of a strong science qualification represents a very resilient and flexible position to be in regarding the knowledge base and eligibility for a host of career choices. According to the American educator and philosopher, John Dewey, ‘Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of the imagination.’ It is this boldness of vision and unique approach to looking at the world that ensures that science graduates are amongst the most keenly sought by employers. Of course, selection of a course should obviously be heavily influenced by pure subject interest, as well as pragmatic issues such as a viable future jobs market. For students who are now selecting a primary degree to ensure a positive future, a science degree represents a secure

choice, which supports many versatile progression options. A primary science degree innately equips a graduate with a capacity to understand, to process, to analyse and to integrate complex information. Furthermore, science students learn how to adopt logical approaches to problem solving, to handle data, to appreciate a basis for accuracy and precision, to present an argument and critically review. These qualities and capabilities are recognised and appreciated by virtually all employers. The Irish model for national development in the 21st century has as a core assumption that the country will have to increasingly engage in more fundamental R&D and generate and apply new technologies and create more consequential indigenous companies.

A major driver for this process has to be the graduation of creative scientists and engineers. Athlone Institute of Technology provides an intellectual and resourced environment that ensures a stimulating, challenging but enjoyable experience. The School of Science at AIT offers a unique and very diverse range of courses. It is still the sole provider of a degree in toxicology. Toxicology is a very multidisciplinary subject, which is designed to rigorously establish the safety of virtually all products as well as drugs and medical devices. Historically, AIT graduates in this discipline have enjoyed varied and successful careers. The School also offers programmes in chemistry and biotechnology to ordinary and honours degree level – both key disciplines that reflect the stability and strength of Ireland’s major exporters in the pharma, biopharma and chemicals sectors. The other dimension of the School offers a range of care orientated programmes – accredited clinical nursing (general and psychiatric), an established veterinary nursing programme, dental nursing and pharmacy technician. These courses comprise two, three and four year options in many cases, and all incorporate close functioning relationships with professional employers, whether clinical or industry. Students at AIT also benefit from the close-knit community spirit that pervades the campus. Home to some 6,000 students, AIT provides a cuttingedge third level experience in a modern friendly campus. In addition to the broad range of academic programmes, there are also numerous opportunities for new experiences and making new friends. Partnerships with more than 200 colleges around the world, ensure that AIT offers a science education with a truly international perspective, located in the heart of Ireland. There is probably an option here that will appeal to you. To find out more about AIT science programmes, visit —


Paul Tomkins SPIN

Science Foundation Ireland Scholarship 2009 School leavers Deadline for applications is June 26th 2009

Young women in engineering The Dell laptop is a powerful workstation class portable PC and is certified to run with a wide range of engineering class software applications. Additionally, with the latest mobile technology and OpenGL graphics, this lightweight laptop lets you experience genuine workstation power on the move. Office applications like email and Word are available as standard. The laptop comes complete with a backpack and the security of three years next business day onsite warranty from Ireland's largest computer manufacturer.


Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) with support from Dell is awarding research driven scholarships to encourage more young high-achieving women into engineering. Up to 10 scholarships will be awarded in 2009 to women entering designated engineering degree programmes in Ireland. Scholars will receive an annual award of �2,000; a Dell laptop; the support of an active researcher as a mentor throughout their undergraduate career; and at least one summer research-internship in an academic research laboratory or an industry R&D laboratory during their degree. Full details of the objectives and eligibility requirements, including how to apply for the scholarship can be obtained on the SFI website: or by e-mailing: Completed applications should be submitted by email to or sent to the address below for delivery on or before 5pm on Friday, June 26th, 2009.

SFI Scholarship - Young Women in Engineering Science Foundation Ireland Wilton Park House

Wilton Place

Dublin 2, Ireland

tel +353 1 607 3200 fax +353 1 607 3201


Choosing Science  

Making a career in Irish science