LiA Project – Working with the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (IDGTF)

Article by Shane Coleman Macken (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, English Literature and History)

When conducting research within an academic setting, I have always found that research within the Arts and Humanities can often come across as conducted within a vacuum. In my disciplines of English Literature and History, my work is concerned with looking into the past to see what we can learn, with me rarely being gifted the opportunity to see this work in practise.  

My Laidlaw project was titled ‘Playing Sexuality: The Role of Contemporary Drama in Diversifying Understandings of Queer Identities’, with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America taking centre stage in my summer research period in 2020. During this time, I studied the power of this play in breaking down stigmas and stereotypes borne out of the homogenisation of queer identity. Kushner’s play helped to shift perspectives and explode the concept of a queer identity into one of queer identities.  

Whilst this work was primarily located in the 1990s, I yearned to see how this could work in a contemporary setting to witness the importance of queer drama to the community. It was this desire that allowed me to find myself working with the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (IDGTF) in summer 2021 for my Leadership In Action. During the pandemic, queer people around the world suffered the loss of two consecutive Pride months. For many, Pride is a cornerstone of the queer identity and the reminder that while we have come a long way from the Stonewall Riot in 1969, there is much to be desired when it comes to equal rights for LGBTQIA+ citizens. Furthermore, Pride thrives on community, an element which is impossible to maintain in a world filled with Zoom calls and social distancing. Therefore, I knew that getting involved with IDGTF would be pivotal in bringing Irish-based queer stories to life on the digital stage created by 2021.  

Throughout the course of my six weeks involvement in the festival, I gained more experience than I ever thought possible. IDGTF were incredibly accommodating in ensuring that I could implement my leadership skills and trusted my abilities to bring our joint vision to fruition. The first element of this was their publication. With sponsorship from the Arts Council, IDGTF were able to run a bursary competition for Irish based playwrights, which would be published in a book celebrating the festival’s eighteenth year. Considering the significance of this age in marking the transition into adulthood, the book told the story of the festival’s history and included new works from the bursary winners. I served as an editor on this work, 18 & Coming of Age, as well as writing a foreword on the importance of queer theatre as a medium of exploring the inherently performativity of queer identities. Writing this foreword was a wonderful means for me to practise the art of universal understanding within research. I could accurately summarise my findings in ways that everybody who picked up the book could come to terms with, while also highlighting the importance of community projects such as IDGTF.  

My other major task within the six weeks was leading the front on the digital festival which was held in conjunction with Dublin Pride. This allowed me to learn new technological skills in designing the programme for the festival. Mainly, I was trusted to organise and arrange the recording and roll-out of plays which were filmed in a studio in Dublin during June. What I had come to grasps with in my first summer’s research was unfolding before my eyes as I watched varying wonderous identities being performed in ways which fought against the inherently heteronormative fibre of the society I grew up in. Not only did I witness my interpersonal and communication skills flourish in organisation and management of several groups of people, but I also could build on my timekeeping and cultural intelligence to ensure I could come out of this experience as an effective and successful leader. These skills allowed me to partake in teamwork which afforded queer artists the opportunity to work after so many months of closed theatres and provide the Irish queer community with a body of work which could allow them to celebrate who they are, to experience their pride without the traditional in-person community spirit. When I processed all of this, I emerged from my Leadership in Action experience knowing that I had accomplished something special for our community.  


LiA Project – Out of my comfort zone here’s what I learned

Article by Claire Morgan Busher (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Ancient History, Archaeology and Latin)

This summer, I was forced out of my comfort zone – here’s what I learned…! 

I have been an outsider in all the countries I have lived; ever the foreigner, the one learning to adapt and assimilate into cultures, rarely having a large social group, particularly not one of people my own age. My brief attempts at volunteering for the SPCA as a youth were disappointing as I was not trusted to do anything meaningful and simply gave up after a while. The social isolation presumably propelled me further into the insular world of academia – after all, measuring your achievements against your own grades is easier to do as a loner than most other kinds of success. Thus, in this summer’s project, I was both forced out of my comfort zone and to reflect on what was lacking in my own adolescence.  

I was partnered with “Localise”, an organisation that seeks to promote volunteering in the local area to young people. Localise runs various programmes designed to facilitate voluntary engagement – some projects are run inside schools, in class time (which as you may imagine, shows how valued this organisation is by many principals around Dublin), while others are run by “community groups” – effectively social groups who meet with the purpose of volunteering in their community. In interviewing different adults who had either volunteered with Localise as adolescents or who are doing so now, as adults overseeing the youth groups, I put together a report about how Localise has a positive impact on the community and the young people who interact with it.  

Yes, I do realise how biased this all sounds..! I had a fair degree of self-doubt through this process – surely, my research might only confirm the claims Localise would have been able to make before I came along to “verify” them through these testimonials? Yet, this was one of the first times in my life that I have truly believed in my work – after all, how can something intended to make people act positively for the benefit of others be a bad idea? I was simply gathering some personal views of how this is beneficial to those who are being altruistic.  

The biggest takeaway I can share with you (aside from quite how much can be said in a 20-minute interview – I regretted my listening skills when it came time to transcribe…) was that we are on the brink of many societal issues coming to breaking point, if not already in the depths of a mental health crisis. There seems to be too much theorising about mental health, and too little practical mitigation happening in general – the standard response that most people are ingrained with now, to suggest therapy, is not very helpful with those too poor, too young, or too isolated, to avail of it. What we might consider saying instead would be something along the lines of “what would you like your impact to be?”  

Giving young adolescents, who are more depressed than ever in our strange new world of technical advancement and societal regression, the chance to do something might be profoundly impact the way they see themselves and their place in the world. What these groups of youth volunteers achieve, regardless how large or small scope of each project is, cannot be termed insignificant – when they believe they have had a positive effect on someone else’s life, through seeking to help in this way, they can take pride in their achievements and feel empowered.  

Looking back, I regret all the chances I missed to help others in my adolescence, and how low my self-confidence was. I think this was linked to not having any socially acceptable outlet for my attempts at altruism; growing up with the mantra of “stranger danger”, spontaneous acts of charity were not encouraged. I think that while such confidence might have lessened the pressure on me to over-achieve academically, it would have helped in me in my personal life more than my short-lived pride at an A on a test ever has. I would have developed the confidence needed to thrive in social settings at 13 or 14 instead of 21 or 22 – a big difference when you consider all that becomes permissible once someone reaches the watershed of entering adulthood. I look sideways at Localise and admire their ethos – their aims are so simple, yet perhaps, needed now more than ever, in our isolating, over-complicated world! 


Research – Class Conflict in Literature: The Role of University Settings in Understanding Social Dynamics

Article by Mairead Maguire (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, History and Political Science)

The title of my research project is ‘Class Conflict in Literature: The Role of University Settings in Understanding Social Dynamics’. Through my analysis of three fictional texts, as well as my studying of existing research on the realities of class and education, I endeavoured to find connections between the experiences of characters and the experiences of real life working class students pursuing third-level education. The major themes I identified were that of power, identity, and the difficulty in defining what “being educated” really means. 

When writing our research proposals, we were asked to outline our intended methodology. I thought about it carefully and expected to follow it closely. It still could not be detailed or accurate enough to be followed precisely. At times it seemed irrelevant and I felt lost. I realise now that one’s research is ever-evolving and cannot, nor should not, be constrained to a five-step plan, particularly when studying literature or social science. 

Having had the opportunity to research independently, I now know just how personal each thesis or journal article is to its writer. We intend to be somewhat objective but, as humans, that is never entirely possible. I know I made hundreds of subconscious decisions throughout my project that shaped it. I will keep this in mind when evaluating sources for any future research. 

It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to do research almost entirely independently at this stage in my academic career. However, I will be honest and say it has been a learning curve for me. The independence sometimes had me feeling directionless, and this was not helped by the subject of my research, which I knew did not have one definite answer. A lot of discipline and self-leadership was needed and I developed these skills as the summer progressed.  

The importance of patience became apparent during my research. At times, things seem stagnant, not for lack of hard work, but because not every part of the journey is efficient and enjoyable. Things just take time. You cannot will a breakthrough, you can only carry on in the knowledge that it will happen.  

Having the support of my supervisor and the structure of regular meetings relieved some of the stress that the uncertainty I experienced. Dr Rosie Lavan is an expert in her field and my experience and knowledge is minute compared to hers. However, at no point did she make me feel stupid for asking questions or expressing confusion about literature, research or writing.  

The most difficult part of the process was knowing when to finish. I chose a mammoth topic that has connections to English literature, sociology, history, politics and other subject areas. I naively thought that focusing on just three fictional texts would limit my research to make it doable in six weeks. However, novels and plays are saturated with themes, issues, characters, and styles, and a lifetime could be spent studying them.  

That being said, it was easy to fill a poster. I had 5,000 words of notes by the end of my research period. I thought condensing them into one poster would be difficult, but it was a fun challenge breaking down my work into a visual aid that someone who knows nothing about the topic could understand easily. 

The most enjoyable part of the process was the analysis of the texts I chose. Having the time and space to sink my teeth into books I found genuinely interesting felt like an academic luxury. While I had my initial research proposal and some idea of the trajectory the project might take, I adored the freedom of being able to let each step inform the next.  

In conclusion, I developed greatly as a student, researcher and person throughout the summer. The research component of the Laidlaw Scholar Programme teaches discipline, perseverance, self-knowledge and academic integrity. How privileged I am to be part of such a programme is not lost on me. These skills are transferable not only to any future research I undertake, but other jobs and projects too. 


Research – How did Covid-19 affect asylum seeking?

Article by Beatrice Pistola (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Middle Eastern, Jewish and Islamic Civilizations)

Image 1- Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. 2020. Euro-Med Monitor Welcomes Sweden’s Migration Minister’s Positive Response on Asylum Seekers During Covid-19. [online] Available at: <https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/3640/Euro-Med-Monitor-Welcomes- Sweden%E2%80%99s-Migration-Minister%E2%80%99s-Positive-Response-on-Asylum-Seekers-During-Covid-19> [Accessed 25 July 2022].

I am a second year student in Trinity College Dublin studying Middle Eastern, Jewish and Islamic Civilisations and I am a member of the 2022 Laidlaw cohort in my university. My research project is about the impact of Covid-19 on the ‘European dream’ of Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Throughout the six weeks not only have I independently researched about the topic, but I have also conducted eight interviews with experts on the subject coming from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. In order to narrow down my question I have decided to focus on the arrival of refugees to three specific European countries: Ireland, Italy and Cyprus. I have

interviewed people from these three countries basing on a pre-prepared questionnaire which spanned from the general obstacles in the movement of refugees because of the pandemic to questions regarding the specific situation of Lebanon.

What I have found the most challenging throughout the 6 weeks was to combine the independent research and the information gathered from the interviews because often contrasting or missing certain bits. Because the topic I was researching was very specific and not really researched by any scholar yet, independent research had to often focus on certain aspects of the question. This meant that it took more time for me to find enough valuable sources which helped me answer the question as a whole. The interviews were also a very challenging yet interesting aspect of these six weeks. The information I gathered from them was very useful because it gave my research insights on the actual work there was behind the movement of refugees throughout the pandemic. As stated in the information leaflet I gave each participant before attending, they had the right to back down whenever they wanted, meaning that until the interview actually started, I did not know if they were going to show up or not. It did happen that some candidates decided not to take part to the meeting, meaning that I had to either find someone else who worked in a similar field who was willing to be interview or that I had to fill the void with independent research.

The six weeks of research gave me the opportunity to improve certain skills that I never had the occasion or need to improve. For example, I had to manage my time efficiently and try to follow a rigid schedule in order to be as productive as I could. I usually would be the type of person who works excessively one day and rests the next one, but for this experience I managed to organise my timetable and divide tasks so that I could put the same effort into the research every day. I made a different to-do list every day and followed it efficiently so that I would not have left over work from the day before. My schedule was also revolving around the time the interviews were scheduled for and the different meetings and talks I had to attend for research project purposes.

Overall, I am very proud of the job I have done and how far I have come in my research. Although dealing with certain topics might not have been easy, I overcame the difficulties I encountered and I managed to conduct an excellent research on a topic that was never really researched before. My wish for the future is for more scholars to focus on this specific topic because research immensely contributes to the process of guaranteeing everyone a safe place to live around the world.


Research – Why Exotic Matter Really Matters?

Article by Sarah Tobin McGovern (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Theoretical Physics)

My research project was titled “Exotic Matter: What can we understand about exotic states of matter and their properties under the strong interaction?” I carried it out under the supervision of Prof Sinéad Ryan with the School of Maths. The project aimed to use a numerical simulation method called Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics to gain an understanding of so called ‘exotic matter’, that is, matter that is made up of particles which do not fit into the traditional quark model. Such exotic states include hybrid mesons (such as charmonium and bottomonium), tetraquarks and glueballs. I mainly focused on hybrid mesons, which are mesons with an excited gluonic field.

Beginning this project was, I must admit, daunting. Having completed just two years of my undergraduate degree in theoretical physics, I was worried that I would simply not have the knowledge necessary to carry out worthwhile research on such an advanced topic, and that I would become overwhelmed when faced with high level academic research papers containing mathematical notation and physical theories I had yet to encounter in my studies. I spent the first part of my project reading up on the theory that I would need to carry out the simulations. My supervisor helped me to find texts that were at a level I could understand and advised me not to stress about understanding every single detail of the papers. This tactic really worked for me, as I was no longer spending hours agonising over difficult mathematics and instead accepted that I was not going to understand absolutely everything about this field at my current level.

Aside from learning a great deal about my chosen research topic, this project also taught me invaluable lessons about time management, research skills and, in fact, about myself. Going into the project, I wanted to prioritise developing my planning skills and attempting to minimise procrastination and stress for the duration. It is not often that I am faced with an opportunity to work on just one project in a self-led manner for such a length of time, so I knew that this would be a great opportunity for me to push myself and to see how well I work when there aren’t external pressures such as homework assignments and exams to motivate me to work consistently. Knowing this, I was able to really prioritise keeping up a sustainable routine for the six weeks. Sure, I had weeks where I wasn’t as productive as others, but instead of stressing about what I was getting done and forcing myself to work through my tougher days motivation-wise, which has in the past led to burnout, I allowed myself to have days which were more restful. What I discovered was that when I didn’t overwork myself on days where I wasn’t up for it, I would actually bounce back sooner and my motivation would return!

I look forward to continuing my development, both as a researcher and as a leader, as I continue to engage with the programme. I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring!


LiA Project – “The Development of Drug Delivery Systems to Treat Pulmonary Disease States Associated with Excess Mucus”

Article by Lucija Sili (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Pharmacy)

In Summer 2 of the Laidlaw Programme I have the opportunity to expand upon my pharmaceutical research from the previous Summer as part of the ‘In-field application of research’ component of the Leadership-in-Action (LIA). My objective this summer was to lead a more challenging project which would bring the pharmaceutical industry a step closer to the successful delivery of a drug for treatment of lung diseases associated with excess mucus (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, etc). The focus of the project moved from dry powder inhaler systems to physicochemical characterisation of aqueous based formulations for nebulisation. The work I conducted over the five weeks has greatly contributed to the development of a drug which, when marketed, will benefit the lives of people with diseases associated with excess mucus. The Summer 2 project has helped me develop my skills and behaviours on different levels and I believe these will aid me significantly in my future career.  

This summer I was working with a larger, more diverse group which involved Master’s and PhD students from different parts of the globe. During the first three weeks of the project, I led the investigation of characteristics of the aqueous based formulations for nebulisation, which included testing factors such as osmolality, density, viscosity, pH, and surface tension. The last two weeks included conducting in vitro deposition studies using the Next Generation Impactor and a vibrating mesh nebuliser. Some dry powder studies were conducted simultaneously. Since I was trained in the aforementioned techniques in Summer 1, I was  confident enough to lead both the project and the team. I applied my knowledge and skills obtained in Summer 1 in a more complex environment, with a much higher degree of responsibility and decision-making, while collaborating with people from different cultural and educational backgrounds. 

Upon completion of Week 5, all of the data was gathered and analysed, from which conclusions and comparisons were drawn regarding feasibility of formulating the mucolytic drug that we are investigating as either a dry powder inhaler or a nebulisation solution. The data showed more favourable characteristics and stability profile of the dry powder formulation. The pharmaceutical company which my team and I were working in collaboration with will be using the results and data from the study and proceed to formulate the drug into a dry powder for inhalation. 

During the course of the project, I showed leadership by organising and leading weekly team meetings in which my team and I discussed our progress. I structured these in a way to ensure that the focus on our goal is maintained throughout the project. I also showed leadership by employing critical thinking and problem solving during those meetings and also during the project itself. At the end of the project, I led an online presentation in which I presented my research findings to the pharmaceutical company we were working with. I led a team of a number of people to ensure the project, experiments, and tasks ran smoothly and that all the deadlines were met. 

My LIA experience will improve access to better treatment for people with mucus-associated lung diseases, for which there is currently a high demand. This LIA will benefit people with mucus-associated lung diseases as it will provide the basis for a novel, extremely beneficial medicine to be brought into the next stages of research, including human trials. This will eventually lead to the medicine being introduced to the market and thus helping numerous people around the world. 


LiA Project – Getting to know Fiji!

Article by Janina Knörzer (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, History)

It is a warm summer day. The sun is shining bright. I find myself in front of my laptop in the living room, which will be my “office” for the next few weeks. On the other side of the world in Fiji, it is a hot day that is slowly nearing its end and people are starting to cook dinner. Across the world a number of other students all sit in front of their screens, all of us on the same video call. We have the same mission for our Leadership in Action experience:  to get to know more about Fiji, its people, and its culture and to complete a project that will be put into action on the islands, after the LIA is over. The tone for the coming weeks with Think Pacific was set very quickly. Everyone was extremely friendly, open, and genuinely excited. More importantly, despite us having chosen a virtual and remote project, there was an immediate understanding of the international dimensions of the project.  

My decision to join Think Pacific was one that I made in light of possible COVID restrictions and because I suspected that it would offer me better opportunities to work on my leadership abilities than the project I had previously intended to work on would have. Before I started the LIA, I had a hard time imagining how exactly I would improve my leadership skills. During my time with Think Pacific, however, I felt as though any progress was happening very organically, and almost unnoticed by myself at first.  

Think Pacific assigned everyone to small groups which would each work with a local Fijian organization on a designated project. My team was composed of four people, all from different countries. Immediately, I realized that working on a project which would later be implemented on the other side of the planet, in a team with people, who I only knew through a screen, would be a challenge. Think Pacific assigned team members to take the lead over the project for one week each. But we were left to figure out for ourselves how we would work best in a team and in cooperation with the Fijian organization. My name was put down as “leader” for week one and so I faced the biggest challenge of the project at the very beginning. As the person in charge, I felt an extreme pressure to establish the foundation for the work that was to come. I had to make sure we all became comfortable with each other, I needed to make sure we built up an organizational structure, I needed to get the project going and simultaneously make sure the presentation that was scheduled after the weekend, was taken care of. From the first moment on, the project required a dedication to time management that forced me to overcome what I would usually consider one of my biggest challenges.  

It allowed me, however, to improve upon my leadership abilities very early on in the project. Since everyone had their own leadership style, with its benefits and flaws, I was able to apply what I found helpful to mine and avoid aspects that seemed counterproductive. I also learned how leadership tied into other positions in a team that are not formally the “leading” position. While during the first week the output we produced was already great, it was noticeable how each week, we worked together a little better as a team and found it much easier than when we first started.  

Looking back at the SMART goals, I now feel much more confident in my understanding of each one and like I have made improvements in all of them. Given that my switch to the Think Pacific programme was rather spontaneous, the outcomes of those few weeks by far exceeded my expectations. I was very happy with my progress as a leader, with how my understanding of flexibility within a team changed. I also  enjoyed the international setting of the programme. The tone that Think Pacific established was friendly and supportive while at the same time being clear and precise in communication and expectations, which is something that I hope to implement in future situations myself. I would recommend the LIA with Think Pacific to anyone who wants to improve their cultural fluency and figure out what kind of leader they want to be, all in a very supportive environment.  


Research – Make It Up as You Go Along 

Article by Éamon Ó Catháin  (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, Environmental science)

You won’t know what to do until you start doing it. So the only logical thing to do is to begin. Then you can make sense of it afterwards.  

During the summer of 2021 I carried out a research project in which I measured the carbon content of an Irish salt marsh. A salt marsh is a vegetated coastal environment which is flooded periodically by the tides. They store large amounts of carbon (for reasons I won’t go into right now). Looking back on the project now, I’ve realised a valuable lesson. I didn’t have a clue how to carry out a project like this when I first came up with the idea. Not even when I wrote my research application. I put the words down. I mentioned things like ‘Loss on Ignition Protocol’ and ‘Elemental Analysis’ but I didn’t understand the process. If somebody had asked me to do a ‘Loss on Ignition Protocol’ at that point I wouldn’t have been able to tell them where to even start. But instead, I started at the beginning. I took my samples in the field, I brought them back to the lab and worked through the steps one by one. I overcame obstacles as they arose. There is no other way to do it. If you refuse to begin until you understand the entire process, in order to guarantee that you’ll never make a single mistake, then you’ll never begin.  

It was only while actually carrying out my project that I began to realise what I really wanted to study. The marsh is covered in different vegetation types which form zones (something I didn’t know before starting). Each zone has completely different characteristics and therefore has widely varying carbon storage potential. Some are made up of a complex assortment of native species and are slow growing. Others contain non-native species, often forming a monocultural sward. At the beginning of the project I thought I simply wanted to measure the carbon content of the entire marsh. To come up with a single figure which says: this is how much carbon is in these soils. But in the end I was drawn, simply out of interest, into investigating a much more complex and more useful question. I measured the difference in the carbon sequestration potential of native species and non-native. And I found some interesting results! The non-native species actually sequester far more carbon. They sequester less per meter squared but as they cover roughly three times the area of any other vegetation zone the total carbon sequestered is more. This means that from a carbon drawdown point of view, encouraging the growth of these easily introduced non-native species could have a huge effect. 

I had no idea that I would be led in this direction when I started the project, and that’s the beauty of it! I think that in the moment, in the depth of your research, you come up with much more interesting research questions than you possibly could at your desk, six months earlier, before you had even started. So what I’ve learnt is, follow your instincts. Start the work and let the work lead you. That’s the only way I think you’ll get anywhere.  


Research – Automatic Counting of Heterogeneous Bacteria Colonies on Contact Plates

Article by Joe Linogao (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, Engineering with Management)

One of the main components of the Laidlaw Programme was the 6 weeks dedicated to the  Summer research project. This, as is for many people, was the main appeal of the programme and I was super excited to get into researching. My project was titled, “The Automatic Counting of Heterogeneous Bacteria Colonies on Contact Plates”, and provided ups and downs throughout the 6 weeks (well, 8 weeks if you include all the writing I had to do afterwards).   

If I were to describe the whole experience in a few words, it felt like a “breath of fresh air.” This project was the first time I went out of my comfort zone and applied my engineering knowledge to a problem. It felt good breaking the problem into chunks, solving each bit by bit, and seeing progress build up. The project seemed to be the opposite of traditional mechanical engineering, which added to the challenge and my enthusiasm to learn.   

I learned a lot of different skills in the technical and social aspects. However, there were some hurdles throughout the project. The main challenge I faced was working with a  completely new topic – deep learning, which the project relied heavily upon. While I was interested in the idea of deep learning and AI, I would not have been able to study it until I  was in my 5th year. So, being thrown into the project with minimal knowledge was a bit rough at first. However, I just kept at it, and after six weeks, I managed to create a robust object detector with fairly high accuracy. If “week 1” me saw “week 6” me, he would have been shocked. 

Having the 6 weeks to just focus purely on research benefited in developing my skills. I came out of the project with knowledge about deep learning and computer vision. These technical skills are beneficial for any modules I will have that involve software development or data manipulation. Additionally, I learned about professional interaction in the workspace thanks to my supervisor, Dr Conor McGinn. He gave me advice on good writing habits, how to interact with new colleagues, and how to manage my time efficiently, for which I am most grateful. Furthermore, he aided me in creating my first ever academic paper based on the project (and he liked it too, which was a complete shock to me)! 

Overall, I am happy with what I got out of my Summer research. I created a prototype algorithm for my topic, produced a research paper, and learned many skills that would benefit me even after I graduate. I am glad that I was able to do something that I am genuinely proud of and, hopefully, I get to showcase it to more people in the future. This project has made me consider if this career is right for me, but only time will tell.  

Again, I’d like to give all my thanks to Trinity College and the Laidlaw Foundation for providing us with such an amazing opportunity. Hopefully, I get to do more exciting projects like this in the future! 


Research – Women as Survivors of Civil War Violence: A Comparative Study of Ireland and Spain

Article by Mairéad Butler (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, European Studies)

One of the major things that I have learned over the course of the last six weeks of my Summer 1 research project was the importance of reflection. In this blog post I hope to give you an insight into my Laidlaw research journey thus far and offer some reflections both on my area of research and the personal impact of the experience as a whole. 

The title of my research project is “Women as Survivors of Civil War Violence: A Comparative Study of Ireland and Spain”. The project aimed to study the memory, experience, and discourse of gendered violence during the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Civil wars have always fascinated me, representing a crossroads in a nation’s history that pits brother against brother, father against son. However, it is precisely that gendered language that permeates civil-war discourse that I aimed to challenge through my research. As with most periods in history, women’s voices have been routinely silenced, or at the very least, ignored, in the history of the Irish and Spanish civil wars. Moreover, the issue of gendered violence was, and alas, continues to be in our own time, taboo and stigmatised, reflected in the lack of historiographic interest in the topic in Ireland and Spain until relatively recently. However, it is, as Linda Connolly writes “an unavoidable truth”. In titling my project “Women as Survivors” I wanted to centre women and empower their voices as much as possible in my research, in order to gain a fuller understanding of how gendered violence fitted into the gendered experience of civil war in Ireland and Spain comparatively, as well as broader discourse on gender both before and after the civil wars. 

It was very important to me that my project was interdisciplinary. However, as a true liberal arts student studying history, social sciences, cultural studies, and languages this was no surprise! Therefore, my literature review at the start of the project focused on building a theoretical framework on gender, memory, and gendered and sexual violence, combined with a thorough grasp of the historiography of the Irish and Spanish civil wars. While this felt like a mammoth task at the time, it gave me a strong theoretical base from which I could approach the case studies I found in the archives. 

Visiting archives was simultaneously the most challenging and rewarding part of my research experience. I conducted archival research in Ireland and Spain, visiting military archives in Dublin and Ávila, psychiatric hospital archives in Hospital Universitario José Germain in Madrid, and university archives in Trinity and UCD with the aim to compile case studies of women’s experiences of gendered violence. The thing that struck me the most was the sheer lack of first-hand testimonies of gendered violence that I could find in both countries. Historians of both civil wars concede that there were more cases of such violence than records show, but these memories have been lost to time, shame, and stigma. It was harrowing enough to read the accounts that were present in archival sources, but to realise that they represented only a small fraction of countless stories of women’s trauma of which we will never know, and can never know, was incredibly sad.  

This, of course, presented a real challenge from a research perspective, leading me to change my original plans from a focus on personal memory to a broader emphasis on gendered experiences of civil war and civil-war gendered discourse. I had to become more open to reading between sources, looking for clues and crucially, examining not just what was present in the sources, but rather what was absent or left out. I felt like a detective! Again, the issue of women’s voices in history, and the repression of women and stories of gendered violence, became apparent. The only times that I could find women’s voices was in court witness statements. Indeed, when I was in the military history archive in Ávila, I found zero results relating to gendered and sexual violence when I searched related terms like “rape”, “assault”, “gender”, “hair cutting” and so on. Furthermore, the archivist in Ávila said that studying sexual violence in the Spanish civil war was extremely difficult and even recommended that I visit another archive. However, I did not let that deter me and in the process discovered that the gaps in history can tell us just as much as what is actually there. 

In the last week of my project, I was asked by a fellow Laidlaw scholar what my conclusions were. This seemingly harmless question sent me into a spiral: what indeed were my conclusions, what had I actually achieved? However, I’ve come to realise, upon reflection, that my conclusions don’t have to be anything ground-breaking, but that by acknowledging women’s voices, their experiences, and place in history in a novel, comparative way, I have made a difference. These experiences were not “essentially only an ordinary war incident”, as Ernest Blythe wrote in his Bureau of Military History witness statement. I have helped to empower these women in a small way and to give their stories some meaning. This is the real beauty of the Laidlaw scholarship. It is rare as an undergraduate student, particularly an undergraduate arts student, that you feel like your academic endeavours are accomplishing something new, interesting, and important, but here they really are. 

I have also grown in independence and confidence in my abilities as a researcher through the primarily self-led fashion of my research, all whilst working in a very professionally collaborative manner with my supervisors. While I did not anticipate the challenges that I would face over the course of the project, I couldn’t have anticipated how well I was able to deal with these issues. More than this, I learned the importance of self-care and of a work-life balance. These are all skills that will be invaluable to me in my future work in this area as a researcher and hopefully in a more hands-on fashion in the future. 

I know that I have done myself proud and can only hope that I did the women whose stories I read and analysed proud too. It was a privilege to serve as a conduit for their voices. 


Research – What’s the relationship between personality traits, cultural capital, and educational inequality in the Leaving Certificate Exam results?

Article by Evan Carron-Kee (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Sociology and Economics)

My Summer 1 Research Project has been both challenging and deeply rewarding. I have developed important practical skills in carrying out research in the social sciences, but I’ve also faced difficulties that forced me to adjust the focus of my research. This blog post will discuss the basis of my research project and how it has helped me to develop both as a leader and as a researcher. 

My research investigated the relationship between personality traits, cultural capital, and educational inequality in the Irish school leaving exams (the Leaving Certificate) between 2017 and 2021.  The concept of cultural capital was developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1973) to explain how the children of high status families did better in school than their middle or working class peers. In the same way that children from high socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds inherit their family’s wealth, creating economic inequality, Bourdieu proposed that they also inherit cultural capital, a collection of cultural tastes, mannerisms, and strategies of interaction with educators. Children with this cultural capital are rewarded in the education system and receive higher grades than their less well-off peers. Cultural capital is defined by its association with high SES students and good educational outcomes (Lamont and Lareau 1988). However, to understand how transmission of cultural capital might cause educational inequality it is necessary to investigate both the specific traits and behaviours associated with cultural capital and the mechanisms through which these behaviours lead to better educational outcomes.  

My hypothesis was based on interdisciplinary work by Kaiser and Schneickert (2016) who showed that SES predicted some of the Big Five personality traits, and these same traits predicted higher grades. These traits ‘mediated’ the effect of SES on grades, suggesting that they should be considered elements of cultural capital. Their work did not investigate how these traits led to higher grades, however, which is a key step in establishing a causal link. My research sought to fill this gap by comparing the grades and personality traits of students who took predicted grades (which were assigned by teachers) to those who took traditional exams. If the relationship between a SES, a given personality trait, and grades was stronger for students who took predicted grades than students who took exams, this would suggest that teachers overestimated the grades of students with these personality traits. This would mean that these personality traits lead to better grades through a mechanism known as ‘teacher selection’ (Wildhagen 2009), where teachers give preferential treatment to students who display high cultural capital, leading to higher grades for children from high SES backgrounds. 

A thorough and conclusive investigation of this topic would require a large-scale study of students across the country. Instead, the goal of my research was to test the viability the hypothesis and provide guidance on the possible benefits of including personality trait instruments on any future surveys regarding predicted grades assessments. 

Learning how to test this model was the most rewarding and enjoyable part of my research, but it was also the most challenging. When I wrote my research proposal, I could express the hypothesis in words, but I had no idea how to express it in terms of statistical relationships or how to test the strength and significance of these relationships. Although this stage of the research took much longer than I had expected, being able to understand and express my idea in mathematical terms was a deeply rewarding experience for me. I’ve also found that I now have a much better understanding of other academic papers thanks to my work on this project. I want to work as a researcher in sociology so having a better grasp of statistical methods is a crucial skill for my career. Certainly, I would count this as one of the most important outcomes of my experience in terms of personal development. 

Unfortunately, my sample size was too small to properly test this model. The model suffered from ‘empirical under-identification’ meaning that I couldn’t either provide support for or reject the mechanism which I outlined above. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t test my original model, I knew it was important to be flexible and willing to adapt the goals of the research when necessary. With the knowledge I now have, I realise that my original research proposal was likely too ambitious from the outset. Had I adjusted my expectations to be more in line with my resources and capabilities, it would certainly have been easier to meet the project’s deadlines. This is an important lesson I have learned from my research, and something I plan to apply in my future work. 

On the advice of my supervisors, I then decided to test a series of simpler models. I found one significant result – the trait intellect/openness to experience more strongly predicted good grades in English when the grades were assigned by class teachers compared to when they were assessed using the traditional examination method. This suggests that teacher-assessed grading and anonymously marked exams have different effects across personality traits, providing support for the inclusion of personality trait questions in future large-scale studies. There are some limitations to this interpretation which I will discuss at greater length in my Summer 1 Reflection, but the result suggests partial support for my original hypothesis. 

Even though the outcome wasn’t what I had originally hoped for, I am still pleased with the results of my research and I feel that I have both developed as a leader and contributed to the literature in this field. I’ve learned practical skills in research and in project management more generally, and I’m now looking forward to developing these skills in future projects. 

Summer 2 Leadership In Action Reflection – Investigating Nature-Based Solutions

Article by Bev Genockey (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Zoology)

My summer two work on my Laidlaw project was both exciting and challenging, and has presented me with great opportunities to engage with individuals and groups relevant to my research interests, as well as reaffirming my desire to extend my work in this research area beyond the two summers of the Laidlaw programme.

This summer, my focus was on applying the main conclusion from my summer one research project which was: the benefits of nature-based solutions are obvious, but their widespread implementation has been slow. This summer, I focused on engaging with my research question directly, rather than in abstraction, and began to focus on the feasibility and likelihood of implementing nature-based solutions in Dublin, ranging from fine scale to city-wide implementation.

In order to do this, I had to engage with the majority stakeholders of the process: ecologists, citizens and residents – each in different ways. This, of course, was a task easier said than done, and to give the appropriate amount of time to each group across the six week research period that I had was a near impossible task, so I had to readjust my approach slightly. To this end, I decided to focus primarily on engaging directly with citizens and residents, through surveying them, and my engagement with ecologists came through ad-hoc conversations. I also read extensively on the topic, particularly through less-academic mediums such as blog posts, popular science books and interviews about how society interacts with nature. In the same way that my summer one research aimed to demonstrate the importance of nature-based solutions in mitigating climate and ecological problems, my summer two project contributed to improving science communication around the importance of implementing nature-based solutions.

It is my belief that some reason for the lack of widespread implementation of nature-based solutions is a combination of residents’ uncertainty and lack of knowledge around the topic. Of course, these aren’t the only reasons, and the slow implementation in certain instances can also be attributed to alack of political will. This summer, through my engagement with residents I aimed to identify gaps in their knowledge of biodiversity and nature based solutions in an effort to improve communication and increase their desire for climate-change mitigating incentives in their local communities. A large factor in the successful implementation of nature-based solutions in cities, and particularly residential areas, is in the understanding of the concept by residents, as well as their enthusiasm for such projects. So, for this reason, this summer I focused on communicating these benefits to residents of Dublin, particularly residents of the areas which I used as field sites during my summer 1 project, such as Glasnevin, Ringsend, and The Liberties.

The benefits of my summer two project were twofold – the results of the survey and residents’ perspectives on nature-based solutions can be useful in complementing my earlier research in making the case for nature-based solutions to relevant parties, and has also broadened my own personal network of connections to those working in the same area, providing an array of opportunities for future collaborations.

My work on this particular project will undoubtedly continue throughout the year, and perhaps beyond that. The objectives of my summer two project were ambitious and at times seemed impossible due to certain time constraints, but ultimately, I think that it was a successful summer of work. It was great to interact with people directly and discuss ecology and sustainability, particularly having spent the previous summer doing desk and field-based research completely alone!

Through my research with the Laidlaw programme, I have certainly discovered an area which interests me greatly, and I am excited to continue working on this and similar projects in the near future.

interact with people directly and discuss ecology and sustainability, particularly having spent theprevious summer doing desk and field-based research completely alone!Through my research with the Laidlaw programme, I have certainly discovered an area whichinterests me greatly, and I am excited to continue working on this and similar projects in the nearfuture.

LiA Project Reflection – Child Benefit Fiji

Article by Ben McConkey (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, PPES)

My Summer 2 on the Laidlaw Programme was spent working with ThinkPacific, an NGO set up as a connecting body for a series of charities in Fiji. Typically, scholars would visit Fiji and help local communities on the ground, however this year the experience more too the form of a virtual internship. 

I was placed on a work team with scholars from Durham University and together we were assigned a project from Child Benefit Fiji. At the height of the pandemic in Fiji, the nation was really struggling with its vaccine up take, in spite of very prevalent messaging. Child Benefit Fiji wanted us to devise a plan for them to use their resources to combat this issue. The project was very open ended. Instead of giving us set action items, we were presented with a problem and were required to invent the solutions ourselves. We worked closely with students in the University of the South Pacific and with leads on Child Benefit throughout the project, as well as the ThinkPacific team. 

Fiji had gone almost a year without cases before the introduction of vaccines to the island. Unfortunately, the Delta variant came to prominence in the country around the same time which led to this misattribution. The Fijian Government, who took over in a coup in 2006, had implemented a ‘No Jab, No Job’ policy, which only served to increase the resistance against the vaccine. Importantly, there is a longstanding tradition of non-medical treatments and traditional medicine in Fiji, and it is an integral part of the island’s culture. This nuanced combination of factors created the conditions for vaccine hesitance in Fiji. Our task was to find a way that Child Benefit could combat these narratives. 

Child Benefit were visiting schools and villages distributing resources to locals, typically food or household products. We devised a lesson plan for teachers, to teach child about vaccines in a fun and engaging way and created a pamphlet to be included in the packages distributed to households. There was no shortage of messaging about vaccines in Fiji, but it mostly took the form of asserting that vaccines exist and are good. There was little information about why one should take the vaccine or messaging particularly target to Fijians. This was something we focused on heavily in all our resources. It was important to highlight why Fijian cultural values encouraged vaccine uptake. In this spirit, we managed to get in touch with many religious leaders and traditional healers in Fiji who were pro-vaccine and collected testimonies from them about why the chose to get vaccinated. This became an incredibly powerful piece, which allowed us to make videos and infographics in light of the messages they put forward in combination with explaining the science behind the vaccine. We supplied Child Benefit both with those infographics and videos, and with a social media plan about to publicise them, based of data on Fijian social media usage. 

What made ThinkPacific a unique and educational experience was the amount of autonomy and control we were given. We weren’t handed a to-do list, we had to make one ourselves. I learned a lot from the challenge of working and taking a lead in a new, multi-cultural environment.   

Leadership In Action: Searching for Distant Supernovae

Article by Ana Sainz de Murieta (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, Theoretical Physics)

At the end of last century measurements of distant exploding stars, or supernovae, showed us that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. This led to the discovery of dark energy. During my first summer of Laidlaw, I worked on a machine learning algorithm that could be used for Supernovae classification in astrophysical surveys. This is of great importance to determine the properties of dark energy. For greater precision measurements of the parameters that define it, we need to find supernovae at further distances from us. However, we encounter the issue that explosions at greater distances are fainter and therefore harder to detect. To solve this problem, we can make use of gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a distant object passes through a large galaxy. The galaxy’s gravitational pull forces the light to bend, which results in the light source appearing distorted and magnified to the observer. In many cases, this process causes multiple images of the object to appear in the foreground lensing galaxy. The study of gravitationally-lensed supernovae (gLSNe) could answer a number of questions in astrophysics, providing high-precision constraints on cosmological parameters that define the nature of dark energy.

My research during my second summer focused on one main problem. Our calculations say that the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) should be detecting about 3 gLSNe per year. However, in the last 3 years of survey none have been detected. There exist two possible explanations for this: either our calculations are wrong or we are not using the right method to filter and detect them.
My work during my LiA consisted of simulating a large set of gLSNe with the ZTF “simsurvey” simulation code and studying their characteristics. We then checked how many of these would be disregarded if we applied the current filters used and looked for possible correlations between their properties.

My final results indicated that, as we expected, the filters on brightness and colour currently set to make our job of finding these Supernovae easier are actually making us ignore a large set of candidates. In the fainter colour bands over 50% of the possible candidates were lost. These results are promising, as they mean that with some changes on our current detection algorithms we will probably be able to find the number of gLSNe our calculations suggest. This would contribute to our search for possible answers to the greatest cosmological questions!

I would like to thank Dr. Ariel Goobar and PhD student Ana Sagués Carracedo, from the University of Stockholm for their supervision during the project, as well as the rest of the gLSNe research group. I would also like to thank my Summer 1 supervisor Prof. Kate Maguire for facilitating this opportunity, as well as the Laidlaw programme for supporting my work.

Laidlaw ’22 Cohort LEAD 1 & 2 Review

Article by Mia Brzakovic (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Biomedical Engineering)

On the 20th and 21st of June, the newly chosen Trinity Laidlaw cohort had a chance to meet each other and enjoy great workshops carefully chosen by the Career Service team. On the first day, we had an opportunity to listen to interesting sessions such as Leadership Foundations, Project Leadership Essentials, Networking as a Laidlaw Scholar, Exploring Trust and understanding how to use Laidlaw Programme in the best way possible. The last session, Making an Impact as a Leader in Research in Conversation with Assoc. Prof. Helen Sheridan seemed to get the most interest from our scholars. She managed to take us through her life story with such charm and gloss, but without hiding any ups and downs which are part of a researcher’s daily routine. Her honesty and enthusiasm really brought us more clarity about the whole process which we went through in our projects.  

We also had a chance to talk with each other about our projects more in-depth and explore each other’s interests, while learning so much about topics which we were sometimes unfamiliar with. There were topics from pure engineering, to science and ones related to completely new concepts in arts and social sciences.  

The next morning we were much more relaxed and already come comfortable with the group so we also enjoyed the sessions much more. Workshop Understanding Leadership Development with Dr Wladislaw Rivkin gave us a completely different perspective on how science looks at leadership and what techniques are available. Although most of us were a bit unsure how the following session will be, The Clear and Confident Voice Applied Workshop by Mr Cathal Quinn, Head of Voice of the Lir Academy, might be one of the best sessions I ever attended. As we were a small group he managed to interact with all of us and help us improve our presentational and pitching skills, teaching us how to better communicate our ideas. It is interesting how all the guest speakers were chosen to come from different fields which led us to new understandings and more clarity on what leadership is and how we, as undergraduate students, can already influence societies and give our time and effort to create the little benefit and change which will bring something better in the future.