The visibility of female role models in science is key to promoting gender equality and inspiring others to pursue similar careers. Here you can see a sample of the diverse range of research being undertaken by the inspiring women within the School of Natural Sciences and hear their views on the importance of female representation in STEM. Video research profiles from more members of the School can be found here.
Prof. Yvonne Buckley, Chair of Zoology, Head of Discipline of Zoology
Prof Buckley’s research is concerned with how we live well on the planet, environmental decision making, plant ecology and quantitative ecology. She leads a team of post-doctoral researchers, PhD, and undergraduate research students seeking to understand the fundamental drivers of animal and plant population processes in a rapidly changing world. She uses these discoveries to provide support for environmental decisions in the areas of biodiversity conservation, invasive species management and habitat restoration. Prof. Buckley's research combines data collection in the lab, field or from the literature with quantitative modeling techniques that enable analysis and prediction of responses of populations to underlying drivers and manipulations.
“The visibility of role models and active mentoring of women in STEM is critical for encouraging, enabling and enthusing women to pursue science careers. We need women visible in STEM careers at all levels, not just the super-stars, to show that a science career is rewarding and compatible with other aspects of life, including caring responsibilities.”
Anna Davies, Professor of Geography, Environment and Society (Geography)
My research focuses on the intersection of environmental and societal matters, specifically environmental governance and sustainable consumption.
“Representation of women in STEM is important in order to optimise innovation capabilities and creative thought which will be necessary if we are to successfully respond to meta-societal challenges such as climate change.“
Prof. Nicola Marples (Zoology)
My work centres on understanding evolutionary change through behavioural ecology. One body of my work centres on my discovery and characterisation of individual foraging strategies in birds and fish. I found that some individuals in animal populations are fussy eaters, refusing novel foods. I have explored the evolutionary origins of this behaviour and its implications for the prey species the birds and fish consume. Another strand of my work concerns the driving forces behind bird speciation on islands. In expeditions over many years to Indonesia, we have discovered several new bird species, attracting extensive media coverage, as well as gathering data which allows us to look at the process of forming species and what influences it. A third strand of my research aims to understand badger breeding, foraging and ranging behaviour. This has is of direct applied importance in helping control the spread of tuberculosis between badgers and cattle.
“A balanced representation of all types of people in research is important because the raw material of science is ideas which can then be tested. If all the scientists are drawn from one type of people, with one view of the world, then the diversity of ideas will be limited, and so our scientific thinking and our potential to understand the world will be limited too. Women are currently under-represented in science, as are several other sub-sets of humanity, so it’s important to redress that balance. One way to do this is to highlight people from those rarer categories who have achieved some level of success in STEM subjects, to encourage others like them that they can do it too.”
Assoc. Prof. Catherine Coxon (Geology)
I carry out research on groundwater quality and water resource management. My interests include: rural groundwater quality issues, particularly nitrate and synthetic organic compounds; karst hydrogeology and karst groundwater protection; phosphorus loss to surface waters by different hydrological pathways; groundwater – surface water interactions and groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Much of my research is carried out in collaboration with Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency and Geological Survey Ireland. Current projects in which I am involved include research on veterinary pharmaceuticals in Irish groundwater and on the impact of domestic wastewater on karst springs (both carried out as part of the SFI-funded Irish Centre for Applied Geosciences, iCRAG) and an EPA-funded project on environmental supporting conditions for groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems.
“I believe that representation of women in STEM is important to ensure that a wide range of skills and perspectives is brought to bear on scientific challenges, and the visibility of women undertaking scientific work is important in providing encouragement and role models for future female scientists.”
Dr. Laura Russo, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow (Botany)
I am experimentally testing the impact of agrochemical runoff (fertiliser and herbicide) on the health of communities of weeds that grow on field edges, and their interactions with pollinators. We have good reason to believe that pollinator populations depend on these agricultural weeds, so it is important to understand how they are impacted by chemical runoff.
“Women are fifty percent of the population... why wouldn't women representation in STEM be important? I can't think of any 50% of the population we'd want to exclude from maths and sciences. I'm currently funded on a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship and if anyone questions the role of women in science, then all they have to do is read her biography.“
Dr. Annabel Smith, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow (Zoology)
My research is about how environmental change affects plants and animals. I'm particularly interested in the demographic pathway through which the environment influences genetic diversity because it can determine whether populations will persist in rapidly changing environments. I have a special interest in fire-prone ecosystems because they are never static but continually re-shaped by cycles of fire and regeneration. While being grounded in fundamental biology and ecological theory, my research is always aimed at improving knowledge for biodiversity conservation.
“I believe that celebrating women in science is important to acknowledge the huge contributions women have made and to provide role models for young girls and other women. However, I strongly believe that actions need to come before words. We need structural change to ensure women are granted funding, given jobs, appointed to editorial boards and given places on conference programs at all levels, from student to professor and everything in between. A lot of energy is currently spent on talking about diversity; we need to make sure more energy goes into programs to create structural change, even if this doesn't provide as much public praise. Transparent diversity reporting; targets and innovative programs that attract women to positions where they can shape the direction of science are all positive steps.”
Dr. Aoibheann Gaughran, Postdoctoral Researcher (Zoology)
My research seeks to better understand the movement ecology of the badger, Meles meles. Badgers are implicated in the transmission of tuberculosis (TB) to cattle. In order to successfully understand disease transmission opportunities, and therefore control the disease, we need to know as much as possible about the movement patterns of the animals involved. My research involves analysing GPS data to investigate the ranging, foraging and dispersal behaviour of badgers. The insight gained from this research will be used to inform more effective TB management strategies, including badger vaccine delivery and farm biosecurity.
“STEM is a field that dramatically shapes the way we live our lives. If young girls are afraid or not encouraged to pursue STEM subjects in school or college, and to follow careers in STEM, they will not be able to contribute fully to shaping our future. To overcome the gender stereotypes that currently prevail in our society, young girls (and boys) need to see, not just that there are women working in STEM, but that they are successful and, perhaps more importantly, that they enjoy it.”
Paula Tierney, PhD Candidate (Zoology)
I study parasite ecology of invasive freshwater fish. Parasites are important components of ecosystems and important mediators of invasion impacts. My PhD project focuses on the helminth parasite communities of two species of freshwater fish in Ireland, native brown trout and invasive dace. I study how the helminth communities of these two sympatric fish differ and explore what might be driving these differences.
“Science is hard and working in science is hard. Imposter syndrome is something most scientists will recognise. We know that representation of women and other under-represented gender identities in science is important for inspiring people and letting them know that working in science in possible whatever your gender. But most children probably know that they can be a scientist if they want to – they’re told that anything is possible. But I think being told that you can be anything you want and feeling like you can are different things. I think being able to look at scientists and see women represented is especially important for the latter. It fosters the feeling that, not only are you explicitly able to get to that place but, implicitly, you belong when you get there. For me, female representation was not only an inspiration to get to science but an inspiration to stay in science.”
Rachael Murphy, PhD Candidate (Botany)
I am currently working on assessing the spatial and temporal dynamics of nitrous oxide emissions from fertilized and grazed grassland ecosystems. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), as Ireland’s agriculture sector accounts for approximately 1/3 of all GHG emissions, it is within the best interests of the nation to improve and develop agricultural systems.
“At present, women account for less than 30% of the worlds researchers. This is unacceptable when we think of all the knowledge, skill and expertise that is missing from STEM because of a lack of female representation. Women and men can address the same issue differently due to different perspectives. Because of this, women have the ability to steer science and innovation in ways that men do not. In doing so a richer and more rounded pool of information becomes available for researchers and members of the public. Women should therefore be heavily encouraged to pursue careers in STEM. Often it is not a lack of interest that deters women from science-based careers but the striking inequality between them and men with regards pay and opportunities. This is something that needs to be address in order for the scientific community to evolve effectively so that rising issues (such as climate change) can be dealt with to the best of our ability.“