• Designer & Cyberpsychologist
  • Professor
  • WITS chair
  • Student
  • STEAM artist
Fardus Sultan

Who or what sparked your interest to get involved in STEM?

I cannot point to a single event or a person who influenced me to get involved in STEM but rather for me, it was the culmination of events that led me to it.

For the majority of my young adult education and work life, I consciously stayed away from STEM out of the firm belief that I do not have an aptitude for it. Any time that STEM subjects were mentioned either as a possible field of study or work, I would imagine only applied sciences, strongly underlined by a high proficiency in mathematics, which I was both terrified of and had no interest in exploring.

Hence my undergraduate study was based purely on arts subjects; Politics, Arabic and Italian. A management role in an NGO in Dublin, shortly after my graduation, prompted me to study Management Studies in order to carry out those duties better. Following the end of funding for the project I was working on at the time, and the necessity to find a stable job to
meet my financial commitments, motivated me to look for a job in a banking sector. I began working there as a Sales Representative and eventually ended up as an Assistant Manager in a commercial lending department. That was my first instance of working, in what I perceived at the time, mathematically-driven organisation. I realised that I was actually quite good at finance jobs and I stayed in the bank for over 7 years. While my roles in the bank were not a high science, what made a difference to me, however, was that it started to alter the view of mathematics in general. I realised that some of the unfounded fears and convictions I had in my youth, prevented me from exploring other career and educational options.

Leaving the bank and shortly after starting an IT and Graphic Design business with my husband, was my de facto entrance into the STEM field. While initially, I persisted with what I was comfortable with, such are administration, finance and general management, over a short period of time, my natural curiosity as well as a drive to succeed, led me to be more and more involved in the web development/maintenance and design side of our business. Shortly after, I ended up excelling and in enjoying it, so much so, that I fully took on the responsibility of all graphic design as well as web maintenance. After a few years, I undertook and qualified with a Master Diploma in design using professional software. With the greater confidence in my abilities, I have subsequently enrolled to study M.Sc. in Cyberpsychology, which applies the science of psychology in the context of technology and having just qualified with the first class honours, I believe it is the highlight of my career to date.


Has there ever been a time where you've made a big impact on society through your career - can you tell me about this time and how it made you feel?

While I cannot claim that I have made any big and revolutionary impact on society, as those who have are so few and far between (or that’s what I like to think J), I prefer instead to believe that small actions create a ripple effect that connect with the others and have a potential for equally extraordinary results. I am a firm believer in taking personal responsibility for ourselves and our actions, as, after all, we can only control ourselves and not the others.

As such, I make it my business to engage with local communities and do as much community and voluntary work as possible. By actively being involved, I hope to challenge numerous stereotypes – being a professional woman in STEM, Muslim and of originally refugee/immigrant background. While being involved in pro-social activities continues to be an immensely rewarding experience in its own right, I have received numerous acknowledgements, most notably from Dublin’s Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, where in 2016 with many others, I received volunteer recognition certificate.


What is your favourite aspect of your career and why?

I absolutely love the flexibility of options open to me and creativity my job allows me. When I worked in other jobs, while I did them well and at times appreciated certain aspects of them, I never really fully enjoyed them. However, now that I am involved in running our own business dealing with the web and graphic design, coupled with Cyberpsychology reasoning,
it allows me to experience work on another level, where it is a fully immersive and enjoyable experience. I find it utterly fulfilling and satisfying.


Have you a wish list for women working in science in Ireland?

Looking back at my career path, I now realise that I allowed my fears of the unknown as well as other people’s view of STEM limit and guide my choices. So, I wish to see more women, of diverse backgrounds, try and challenge their own preconceived as well as societal notions on what we, as women can achieve and learn. Having faith and following a passion with persistence and determination, goes a long way in reaching goals and will overcome many obstacles. After all, all worthwhile plans take an effort but rewards are immeasurable.

In tackling that, there needs to be more of awareness campaigns highlighting various options open to women, with women role models from not only applied sciences but of other, often less advertised, fields of STEM.

Even nowadays, when we wish to encourage young women entering STEM there seems to be the focus on only certain fields of science such are engineering, coding or nanoscience, which as a woman engaged in STEM both professionally and educationally, I still find limiting. So we need to open our horizons and expand on the abundance of careers within
STEM. Seeing a greater number of women partaking in those various career opportunities afforded by STEM, making a positive contribution and being valued and appreciated equally – would be a dream come true.

Dervilla Donnelly

Who or what sparked your interest to get involved in STEM?

As Ireland’s representative in the European Science Foundation in the 90’s  Europe‘s scientific community were considering the best approach to issues challenging the continent. A conference entitled  CHOICES FOR  EUROPE was held in the Hague. A new Commission was in place and as was the custom  a rethinking of goals and instruments was on the Agenda. At that time it was a time of change not only in Society in general but also in scientific system. The issue of societal relevance of science  dominated so many discussions not to mention industry and commerce.

Science was becoming more and more like politics because researchers had to fight for budgets arrange and negotiate international collaborations and form coalitions to convince the individual research Councils of the relevance of the proposal


Can you tell me something about your career that we may not know?

As Chairman of the European Research Councils , a committee of the European Science Foundation(ESF), joint projects were achieved over some 10 years.  This progressed to an informal club that was called by the acronym Eurohorcs   whose members were the respective chairs of individual councils. The national organisations felt uneasy about the tightening grip of administration in Brussels on European science and interference in fundamental science, as their funding programme was geared towards product oriented research.   

Influencing European science policy meant to lobby for the highest possible ranking of science in European politics. Out of this ESTA (European Science and Technical Assembly) was born and had a growing influence on European science policy.  The ultimate success is the existence   today of ERC

European nations have a long history in scientific endeavour. The tradition of scientific inquiry is well rooted , a strong cadre of qualified men and women exists. The ESF in the following years extended it range of interests to the social sciences, thus allowing a widely disciplinary approach in coping with many of society’s complex problems.

I acted as Vice-president of the ESF and was elected Vice president of ESTA


Has there ever been a time where you've made a big impact on society through your career - can you tell me about this time and how it made you feel?

When elected (1990) as the first female  President of the Royal Dublin Society a body that aims to see Ireland thrive culturally and economically by encouraging new ideas disseminating information and showcasing best practice . I felt very honoured to have been elected by the Members. Recently, I was awarded the Cunningham Medal by the Royal Irish Academy, their highest honour.


What is your favourite aspect of your career and why?

My life as an academic with the opportunity to work with so many research graduates both at home and abroad and on topics of ones choice.


Have you a wish list for women working in science in Ireland?

I wish them every success as scientists  

Mary Caroll

Who or what sparked your interest to get involved in STEM?

My mother had a natural aptitude for Maths and a real can-do attitude with regard to problem solving - no limiting beliefs in that respect!  I also had a brilliant Maths teacher at school, Gerry Coogan, who made Maths uncomplicated and explained it so clearly. Unusually, my all-girls school, although very conservative in many ways, was hugely enthusiastic, in the 80s, about encouraging all of us to study Engineering – probably overly so – I recall one of my classmates protesting that she didn’t WANT to be an engineer, she wanted to be an accountant!


Has there ever been a time where you've made a big impact on society through your career - can you tell me about this time and how it made you feel?

In 2003, I volunteered with Goal in Zimbabwe, managing a UN funded Emergency Food Distribution programme for six months for up to 122,000 beneficiaries monthly, with a team of 45. Of course, I got more out of the experience than anyone – it was so very rewarding. It was during a very tense time politically in Zimbabwe with some challenging dynamics at play. The management skills I had acquired in industry served me well in the role. The unexpected bonus was that I met my husband, Will, there!


What is your favourite aspect of your career and why?

I now run my own business, Growth Potential, as a Strategist and accredited Business Coach. I love the variety of supporting all sorts of organisations, both corporate and not-for-profit in developing strategy. I really enjoy analysis, probing and questioning assumptions, counterbalanced by a real interest in people and what enables them to reach their full potential. One of the areas that I love is supporting organisations to be inclusive of all their talent, by raising awareness of, for example, unconscious bias and supporting them in implementing systems and cultivating a truly inclusive environment.


Have you a wish list for women working in science in Ireland?

That they would have equal opportunities and comparable experiences to their male . That preconceptions that can exist about who is good at what and who is responsible for what would become a thing of the past. That women would not find themselves having to make difficult choices due to factors such as a lack of affordable childcare, which would be seen as a family rather than a women’s issue. That parents would have the option of sharing “maternity” leave as they see fit, benefitting everyone.

Kate Reidy

Who or what sparked your interest to get involved in STEM.

Definitely my mum. She’s a science teacher and would always bring home small ‘experiments’ for me to see. Although STEM is conventionally seen as very structured, there is a huge amount of creativity and inventiveness involved in any STEM subject. That is the part that first motivated me, and the part that people often don’t get introduced to at a young age.


Can you tell me something about your career that we may not know?

One thing that I didn’t know before I started university is how many opportunities there are to get involved in real leading-edge research as a student. For example, two summers ago I did an internship in iNANO, Denmark, and got to contribute to water splitting research (for hydrogen powered cars) while also getting to travel. I continued this last semester, completing my final year project at California Institute of Technology, developing solar fuels - a potential runner in the future of clean energy. The level of input that a student can have, even through the time period of a summer project or internship, is something that I think is important for current and future students to realise - that their work can have a meaningful impact in the wider research arena, and they don’t need to wait until they have graduated to start making contributions.


Has there ever been a time where you’ve made a big impact on society through your career - can you tell me about this time and how it made you feel?

Through my work in the Trinity Student Scientific Review (TSSR) last year, I definitely felt like I made an impact on the local society of undergraduate students in Ireland. The importance of scientific communication has never been greater than in our current climate and, as the first undergraduate science journal in Ireland, I was heartened to see this opportunity given to students to engage in current research, think critically, and question the world around them.


What is your favourite aspect of your career and why?

Definitely the flexibility that comes with being a student, and the ability to focus on exactly what interests you. Through research internships and projects, I was free throughout my college years to focus on many research directions, see what new research was emerging, and decide what really mattered to me as a future scientist. You’re not bound by contracts or funding as a student, so it’s the time to really get out and explore.


Have you a wish list for women working in science in Ireland?

One thing I would definitely like to see in the future is a greater representation of women in science at the second and third level. Even as a relatively ‘new’ physics student, I have noticed an unequal gender balance, especially in my physics and maths classes. However, I this balance is much better than it was some years ago, and I would hope the future motivations for young women to pursue STEM would be supported and encouraged.

Dr Niamh Shaw

There are many ways to get creative with science – like Dr Niamh Shaw, a STEAM artist, astronaut-in-training, communicator and performer – passionate about merging theatre with engineering, science, art and technology.

I was surrounded by science and technology growing up. When I was about 12, I taught myself basic computing, my dad bought me encyclopaedias, we talked a lot about science and watched science fiction together. We were obsessed with space. It was inevitable that I was going to have a career related to STEM, because it’s a strong part of my identity.

In 2003, I was working at University College Cork and I was doing a postdoctorate. I got ‘New Scientist’ magazine every week and in one issue there was a job application for a crop and food researcher in New Zealand. They wanted someone with a background in fish research, which I did in my postdoc, and someone who knew about edible film technology, which was a subject of my PhD. I always had this dream to travel to New Zealand and take trips to Antarctica too, so I applied and got the job.

Around this time, I was also involved in acting. I was due to leave for New Zealand in January 2003 but, before I left, I decided to do a show. The play was so satisfying to do that I found I was more excited about doing it than moving to New Zealand! I realised that I needed to step away from research and investigate performance more. I made this massive decision not to go and thus began the development of my arts and performing headspace.

My shows involve telling the human story behind science, particularly through space themes. I share my dream of becoming a space colonist and because of this, I’ve been told that my shows have made a big impact on people. The shows are about me trying to figure out my life, using science to get those answers, which has helped others consider their life choices, bringing them closer to engaging with science. It’s very rewarding and makes me feel my bizarre mix of science, art and communicating my space goal, isn’t just specific to people who share the same dreams as me.

I love meeting people who are experts in their area. I recently returned from a simulated Mars mission in the Utah desert and it’s lovely that no matter what area of science we’re interested in and what our passions are, we’re all human beings at the core. I get to travel to the European Space Agency and ESA’s Astronaut Centre in Cologne, and it’s enriching to meet amazing minds, and people that are thinking 20 or 30 years into the future, laying down the foundations for what’s required to create a moon village or get a man on Mars. It broadens your mind and when you’re around talented people, you can only get better.