International science week is running from the 13th-20th of November. There are many different events and activities organised around the country which aim to promote science in our everyday lives. Science is an integral part of our world and is based on facts. It increases our fundamental knowledge and contributes to all aspects of life. It is important for every age group to learn about the importance of science and its unlimited possibilities. Throughout the week, events will offer a range of opportunities for the public to engage with STEM [Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] across Ireland, so make sure to have a look at your local science week calendar.
The Scientist research officer at Teagasc in Moorepark [Fermoy, Co Cork]. She has been working in Teagasc for over 17 years, along with lecturing at University College Cork [UCC] and being a funded investigator for VistaMilk. Deirdre outlines the significance of science week and educating the next generation:
“It is very important to foster any interest that is already there in science, but also sparking a bit of interest in younger kids. The real winner with science week is showing the vast array of what science is and all the different disciplines [in science].”
Deirdre believes it is essential that scientists promote what they are doing to the general public.
“This isn’t someone’s opinion, it is actually [based on] science.” It is a week that also highlights career opportunities within the industry. Deirdre tells Irish Country Living, “It has a very important role for the general population and for younger people interested in science to see what path they might take.”
Road to Research
Deirdre grew up on a dairy farm in Co. Cork and was interested in agriculture from a young age; helping out on her family farm. Deirdre did science for her junior cert and kept on chemistry and biology for the leaving cert. When researching careers in transition
year, she found the Agricultural Science course in University College Dublin (UCD). It was here she completed her degree in Animal and Crop production, one of many options that students can study.
Deirdre discovered her passion and drive for research while completing her work placement in the grassland lab in Moorepark. She says, “Once I figured out what this research was about, I just absolutely loved it, it was a big eye opener.”
The important thing is to never stop questioning”-Albert Einstein
After completing her placement, Deirdre knew she wanted to further her studies and research and so after her undergraduate degree, she applied for a Walsh Fellowship [now Walsh Scholarships] and was successful in securing a position in the grassland division. Upon completion of her PhD, she was employed by Teagasc and has been ?working on various research projects ever since.
Deirdre outlines the importance of enjoying your work: “I am lucky, I am working in an area that I like and I like to go to work.” She continues, “In research, you can shape the work you are going to do. Its very important to answer the questions that the industry has and that needs answers to. [..] You have a big influence in what you do every day, it’s very satisfying and there is a great reward to it.”
Inspiring the next generation
Deirdre is working with many ag science and PhD students who are carrying out research or are on placement in Moorepark. She finds this very rewarding as, “you’re training the next bunch of researchers and industry people.”
Deirdre explains the constant need for research. “Every bit of research we do, there is something new and exciting. Often, research gives you more questions that need to be answered.”
Deirdre also coordinates and delivers grass and forestry production modules to third year UCC agricultural science students. “Its super, we are feeding back the most up-to-date knowledge and research.”
Deirdre’s main areas of research are grass white clover systems for high stocking rate dairy production systems, N fertiliser application strategies and grass growth modelling. She outlines, “We have good solid data from the last 10 years, clearly showing the role that white clover has to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, we can use it in place of chemical nitrogen. The exciting part now is seeing that being taken up at farm level.”
She is now furthering this research to “help farmers get the most out of having clover and [giving them] the confidence in cutting their nitrogen and making those decisions that need to be made.”
Deirdre is also working on a project with VistaMilk, using image analysis to predict sward composition. She explains they are getting really good predictions from this research. “I can see this having huge applications in helping farmers manage their grassland better. If you can take a photo on your phone and get back data on that photo and you don’t have to make a guess or estimate yourself, it has huge potential.” She hopes this new technology being developed “will give people confidence.”
These projects outline the importance of science in finding new solutions to challenges facing the industry - and the importance of science week for the general public. Deirdre tells Irish Country Living, “It’s really important that the general public know it’s all based on facts. Sometimes people get a bit disillusioned and don’t really know what to believe, but if they understand science is fact-based, they have more confidence in making informed decisions and it’s really important we have science week to reiterate that.”
A career in research
“Education is never wasted, there is always something to be gained,” she adds.
Deirdre gives the following advice for students looking to get into a degree in research: “If you’re interested in science, there are so many options available. Don’t be afraid of it - it is challenging but it’s very rewarding to understand processes, how things function and the biology, chemistry or physics [behind something] really helps you to get a good understanding of how things work.”
Deirdre recommends having an idea of what area you are interested in. She says, “Look for the opportunities once you have your degree, it doesn’t have to be in exactly the same area as what you did your undergraduate degree in - science is science at the end of the day.”
The call for Teagasc scholarships happens in February each year, but there are many other funding opportunities such as through The Irish Research Council. Deirdre advises that if you don’t get the opportunity in Ireland, there are plenty abroad. “It’s a big world out there.”
There are a number of events on to mark science week for people of all ages. Use the hashtag #scienceweek to see what events are on near you or visit your local library, research centre or college.Visit Science foundation Ireland www.sfi.ie or Teagasc https://www.teagasc.ie/about/research--innovation/science-communications-and-outreach/science-week/ websites