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 – The Development of Natural Sustainable Materials for CO2 Capture

Article by Aoife Donohoe (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, Chemistry)

This summer I spent 6 weeks working in a research lab and realized that I was exactly where I wanted to be. Since secondary school I knew I wanted to do something “sciencey” but was unsure about the exact career path I wanted to go down. This project was such an incredible opportunity for me being able to carry out research into a topic that I am so interested in and that had the possibility to make a difference in the fight against climate change. My experience this summer doing independent research in an area that I feel passionately about has made it clear to me that chemical research is the career I want to pursue.

My research project aimed to develop materials capable of capturing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. The increase of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere is a direct cause of climate change and is something that needs to be tackled in order to prevent further climate disasters. Fighting the climate crisis is something I am very passionate about, and I was so excited to be given the chance to research technologies that are really making a positive difference to our planet. In the months leading up to the project all I was feeling was excitement and anticipation to begin working on such a topical project. I was focusing solely on how much I was going to learn and all the fun I was going to have in the lab, and I think there was a small part of me that genuinely believed that I was going to solve climate change and save the world. However, as the project got closer, I realized that I had no real idea what I was doing. In theory I knew what I wanted to achieve, and I had a list of reactions I planned to carry out in the lab, but I had no clue how to actually do them. I, of course, had lab experience from my college course, but with Covid restrictions the lab time I had was extremely limited and everything was always planned and laid out for me. By the time my first day in the lab came around I was so nervous, but luckily I was not expected to know how to do everything. When I arrived, everyone working in the lab with me was so lovely and accommodating, they all were eager to help me learn and made me feel completely at ease and able to focus back on the reason I was there; to research.

My research involved developing materials from natural sugars and testing their ability to capture carbon dioxide from the air. The sugar I was using, Chitosan, is naturally occurring in shrimp shells and so is a waste product of seafood production making it very sustainable. The project idea was to make this sugar porous so that it would be able to trap carbon dioxide molecules from the air. I wanted to test different ways this porosity could be achieved. My initial plan was to make structures known as Metal Organic Frameworks, MOFs, with the sugar and abundant metals. MOFs are known for their porosity and are a very big part of the ongoing carbon capture research. Unfortunately, when the sugar was reacted with the different metals the products were not porous when tested. Although the reactions did produce some very cool, vibrantly coloured compounds.

It was very disheartening finding out that I did not manage to synthesise the MOF type structures that I wanted. I was extremely disappointed to have such negative results just 2 weeks into the project. Thankfully, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by a group of seasoned researchers who were well versed in the ups and downs of chemical research. I received great support and advice from my supervisors, and I was able to pick myself back up and switch up the direction of my research. I ended up using a cross linking technique to make the sugar porous. This technique involved making Chitosan beads and reacting these in different ways with a compound known as TEOS. This proved to be much more successful than the MOFs and 6 of the compounds synthesised were porous. The porous compounds were then tested to determine if they captured carbon dioxide, and most of them did! Although only to a very small extent but as Tesco says, “every little helps”.

Even though the results were not very promising, and my compounds are not about to go and save the planet, I was so thrilled. It was such an amazing feeling to have something that came from my own initiative and that I made with my own two hands making a positive impact on our world. Granted, this impact is very limited as I only managed to capture a few grams of carbon. This lack of big results made me even more determined to keep researching and developing new ways to make my materials better at capturing carbon, but alas the summer ended all too soon.

My summer spent researching has been one of the most rewarding periods of time in my life. I felt such a sense of accomplishment having completed my own independent research project. I am now more eager than ever to keep researching and can’t wait to continue to learn about the exciting world of research in summer 2.

Research – Ionic Liquids: A novel green approach to the development of anti-inflammatory drugs

Article by Isabella Stein (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, Pharmacy)

I’ve had six weeks of mayhem. Beautiful mayhem. Some things work, some things don’t. However, to quote The Mandalorian “This is the way”, and rightly so.  

The six weeks of research have flown. I find that when you are working in a lab-based environment you feel a little disconnected from the outside world. It’s like living in a microcosm; I breathe recirculated air, I listen to the conversations of the radio, I live within the boundaries of glass flasks.  

I spent a large part of my summer in a lab. My project at the most basic level, was essentially making tablets and then, ironically, finding a way to destroy them. As I type this blog post, I realize that I truly enjoyed this process, albeit it sounding futile. My research focused on the development of ionic liquid medicines. This is a novel type of formulation approach which minimises or cuts out entirely the need for harmful solvents. I focused in particular on anti-inflammatory based medicines, those that help reduce pain and inflammation. My goal was to create a novel “green” formulation approach which would increase the drugs solubility (ability to dissolve) whilst simultaneously being a more environmentally friendly method than current approaches.  

Research does not always follow a clear-cut path and may not always yield tidy results. This is to be expected. It is hypothesis driven. It is okay to admit that a project had hiccups or didn’t go as planned. In my case, there was a period of time that was incredibly challenging, and I questioned whether I would ever get to the tabletting stage of the process. I spent the bones of a week trialling different quantities of constituents to spray dry. Spray drying allowed me to convert the liquid into a powder which had key characteristics enabling it to be compressed into a tablet. At first, nothing seemed to work. The spray dryer was not my friend. Hours were spent cleaning the machinery, reassembling the parts, pinpointing the exact part of the process that let me down. The most challenging part of my research, and indeed any research, is the unpredictability of the process. Nothing is definite. It is so much easier to interpret the past than it is to predict the future. I have never felt more reliant on chance and coincidence. Formulating ionic liquids seems easy when written down on paper, but the truth of the matter is that when dealing with ill defined concepts, it is impossible to know in practice with 100% certainty whether the exact combination of constituents will form an ionic liquid. 

There were times I felt drained, weary and exhausted from repetitive experiments, altering minor parts in the hopes of subtle change. I now see that this was part of the research process. Smooth sailing is rare and almost something to be suspicious of, and yet, my summer was entirely rewarding. I became engrossed in my work, caught up in the excitement of the chemistry and lost in the fascinations of small actions with big consequences. 

Towards the end of the project, the pieces began to come together. I found myself enjoying interpreting data and comparing results across various analyses. I experienced and learned good laboratory practice, experimental and critical evaluation skills and collaboration. I became confident with lab techniques and became comfortable critically analysing and interpreting data. One of the key skills to learn from my summer research was how to work as a team member in a collaborative research environment. As my research evolved I found myself developing contacts within the lab, learning from people and introducing myself to new perspectives, which shed light on gaps in my research. Even at such an early undergraduate stage, I feel as though I have been given an experience which will vastly broaden my horizons.  

I am not looking back through rose-tinted glasses; this research was difficult and at times exhausting. Of course, it is going to be hard, never easy. At times in a game of chess, one meets a stalemate. However, the beauty of research compared to chess is that in this standstill moment, the game does not end, it is not announced a draw. It is with perseverance and returning to the drawing board that it can be overcome, and other avenues can be explored. It is after trial and error that learning follows. The mistakes you make and challenges you face today, provide reason for tomorrow’s success. 

It’s worth it. It’s mayhem. Beautiful mayhem.  

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. 

Research – How can we diagnose sleep apnoea without bringing patients to the hospital?

Article by Sarah Waicus (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Medicine)

During COVID-19 many patients with suspected obstructive sleep apnoea have been reluctant to come to the hospital for overnight sleep studies with concerns about contracting or spreading the virus. This leads to my research question: can we diagnose these patients at home? 

“I was afraid to go to sleep because I would gasp for air and my whole body would shake. But, I’m just thankful that I was able to wake up, but then I was afraid to go back to sleep, fearing that I might not wake up.” 

This is one account that reflects how many patients feel when suffering from sleep apnoea. Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat block breathing. These muscles include the back roof of your mouth (soft palate), uvula, tonsils, and tongue. Obstructed sleeping ultimately limits the amount of oxygen reaching your body, leading to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and heart failure. In addition to physical symptoms, poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness are associated with increased road traffic accidents and mental health disorders.  

Anatomy of the Upper Respiratory Tract: BioRender

Sleep apnoea is traditionally diagnosed in hospitals, where patients come for an overnight sleep study to monitor breathing, heart rate, and oxygen saturation. During COVID-19 many sleep laboratories were shut down due to patient and staff concerns about spreading the virus, as a result, many hospitals switched to at-home testing. The goal of my research was to compare the efficacy and accuracy of diagnosing sleep apnoea at home compared to in hospitals. 

The first part of my project was data collection, taking patients’ histories and interpreting diagnostic test results that were taken at home or in the hospital. My favourite part involved interviewing and following up with patients, where I had the opportunity to listen to their life stories. The most common theme that I began to hear from patients was snoring (often from their partner) and excessive sleepiness interfering with their life. The second part of data collection was interpreting the polysomnography results. I had the privilege to learn from an experienced respiratory physician and physiologists in the hospitals who were running these diagnostic tests. These tests are incredibly difficult to run and interpret (see an example below) with much appreciation for such a hard job. For me, I was extremely lucky to have such a knowledgeable, kind team willing to help me sift through, collect, and begin to understand the data. 

Polysomnography for Diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (Jordan AS, McSharry DG, Malhotra A. Adult obstructive sleep apnoea. Lancet. 2014;383(9918):736-747)

A major challenge for me during this stage was commuting between the hospitals to collect data during my medical electives. Many hours were spent on the bus going from one side of Dublin to the other in between my other hospital rotations (See map). Regardless of the commuting, I felt more connected to the community since I was physically there and could hear their stories. I would not have gotten this exposure if I was solely working virtually. Additionally, meetings at the hospitals allowed me to bounce ideas off my supervisor and see if they were feasible, because the patients, laboratory, physiologists, and data were there to help.    

Hospital Rotations with Project Collection at Starred Sites: Google Images 

The second part of the project involved data interpretation. After anonymising and inputting the patient data, I had to brush up on the most difficult kind of math (in my opinion) – statistics. Trying to navigate this unfamiliar environment, I went through my notes from STATS 1 and 2 and asked for advice from a previous professor. I began to slowly analyse the data and feel like I was on the right track. This was the most difficult part of the project, as I wanted to accurately represent the data from each patient without skewing results or using the wrong test. I began to feel reassured and confident in the results after getting several rounds of feedback from my supervisor.  

The results from the study are encouraging that home-sleep apnoea testing is similar to in-hospital testing. The only significant difference between patients being assessed at home is that there are fewer witnessed apnoeas and more supine (back) sleeping. This may be for many reasons, one of which includes the equipment in the hospital being heavier than at home and may force patients to sleep on their back during the assessment. In addition, medical comorbidities (high blood pressure, cardiac problems) and occupations (shift-workers) were expected, as many are risk factors for and are consequences of sleep apnoea.  

Statistical Results Comparing In-Hospital and Home-Sleep Apnoea Testing
Frequency of Co-morbidities and Occupation in those with Suspected Sleep Apnoea

My main takeaways from this project:  

  1. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help from others (especially for stats). 
  1. Taking the time to listen to patients and their stories is not only rewarding but the cornerstone of good medicine and research.  
  1. Seeking continuous feedback to allow reflection is necessary for growth and improvement (my protocol, objectives and ideas have flourished under both scrutiny and encouragement)  

I am honoured to have worked with such a great team in and outside of the hospital. I hope to continue this project as a follow-up study to assess patient experiences and treatment compliance in other hospitals in Ireland. The conclusions from this study may alleviate hospital resources and patient burden when participating in hospital sleep apnoea testing.


In the future, I hope that patients can have their whole sleep journey in terms of diagnosis, treatment, monitoring, and follow-up done entirely in their own home, without the need to visit a hospital. 

LiA Project – Who Gets a Say? (Ceola Daly)

Article by Ceola Daly (Laidlaw Scholars 2020, TSM English and Drama)

This past summer I did an infield application of research that had me working with Dr. Miranda Fay Thomas as a Research Assistant. My time working with Dr. Thomas had two objectives; the first was to assist on their editing of an edition of a play called The Taming of A Shrew, sometimes considered to have Shakespearean authorship, and the second was to create an educational resource aimed at secondary school students. Both of these objectives taught me a lot about not just how I work as a leader, but how I work with others in general.

When working with Dr. Thomas, I was to do the research they assigned (books, articles, etc) as well as independent research I found relevant to the topic. At the end of the week I would send them on a document with a summary of relevant findings and discuss with them how this would alter the editing process. Because we were working with editing an old text, Dr. Thomas and myself discussed the nature and ethics of editing; we were now creating the text that students and scholars alike would use and quote from. Furthermore, A Shrew features problematic themes like violence against women, domestic abuse, and gaslighting – how were we to present this text to students? Although it may seem small, the responsibility of choosing what to cut and footnote in a play that features on educational syllabuses was not lost on us, and it made me realise the importance of addressing problematic messages in media whenever they appear. While blatant misogyny or racism is often obvious, a lot of the patriarchal structures in place operate implicitly everyday, especially in the literary and cultural canons that fill our schools and homes. If these implicit forms of oppressions are not recognised from a young age, they become harder to recognise when we grow older. It was our job as the editors to identify the problematic elements of these texts.

As someone who wants to go into Early Modern academia it can sometimes be difficult to picture how ‘leadership’ fits into it. Why can’t I just read my plays and poems and be done with it? However, the conversations I had with Dr. Thomas have completely changed my perspective. Leadership isn’t always rousing speeches and leading huge teams of people, sometimes it can be having the power to identify and condemn oppressive societal structures. Furthermore, in such an old and male-dominated field, this can be a scary thing to want to do. Fears of ‘Political Correctness’ gone too far has created a divide in academic fields that sees progressive changes as insulting instead of necessary. 

With this in mind, I worked on a set of infographics aimed at secondary school students that would show the importance of recognising gendered frameworks. Once drafted, I reached out to multiple different organisations that worked in Shakespeare, education, theatre, or a mix of the three. Unfortunately, I either didn’t hear back or was given rejections.

It was difficult to accept that what I had thought so important over the summer was difficult to get out into the public, but after talking with other Laidlaw scholars about their projects I realised that I do not have to measure my success within a given timeline. I reached out to DU Players and talked about my research and they offered me a part in their Theatre History festival later this term where I can talk about the importance of identifying implicit oppression in Early Modern texts. It is exciting and gratifying to know that what you think is important is worth pushing and fighting for, even if it took you a while to get there.

Research – How did the digital LGBTQ+ community use nostalgia and social media to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic? (Kyle Ginsberg)

Article by Kyle Ginsberg (Laidlaw Scholar 2021, TSM English and Sociology)

My research project investigated how the LGBTQ+ community on Twitter utilised nostalgia and social media to cope during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. By looking through tweets from March – August 2020, media consumption, social wellness, and lockdown fatigue can all be retrospectively analysed. Four sub-questions assisted my research beyond my initial focus: what are the trends in quarantine habits and coping mechanisms among LGBTQ+ Twitter accounts; what are the most popular posts from the March-August time period about quarantine habits; what coping mechanisms do COVID-19 mental health posts promote surrounding queer communities and is there a focus in posts centred around nostalgia-inducing products/media? These questions aided my research process by guiding my investigation into broad subject matters.

Before the six week research period, a thorough literature review was conducted focusing on three main topics: online mental health, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community; COVID anxiety and emotional stressors; and nostalgia’s influence on media consumption in isolation. This in-depth literature review guided the creation of the coding scheme, pilot test, and overall expectations of the study. The first step of the research process once the literature review and research questions were settled was the coding scheme. This consists of the coding schedule and coding manual, which outline the categories of interest to examine within the tweets and their different options. Every option within a category is assigned a number to be coded under and having the manual ensures there are no mistakes by the coder or interpreter. All options within a category must be accurate, exhaustive, and mutually exclusive to all other options. For example, one category in the coding schedule was gender identity and the options listed in the manual were Unknown/Not applicable, Female, Male, and Non-Binary/Other. This demographic info was taken down if provided publicly by the original poster. To ensure the applicability and accuracy of the coding scheme, a small pilot test was conducted and the manual and schedule were adjusted accordingly.

Once the coding scheme was polished, data collection began. For this process, I took a systematic random sample of all tweets posted between March and August of 2020 included at least one of the following keywords: LGBT(Q), gay, mental health, COVID(-19), isolation, and quarantine. All tweets were anonymised when copied down and posted publicly according to Twitter’s terms and conditions. With the coding scheme applied, all data was coded using SPSS Statistics ver 26, as this software can aid in statistical analysis and the creation of tables, charts, and graphs based on the input data. Upon the completion of data collection began the lengthy process of data analysis, a two-pronged approach with both quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative analysis focused on frequencies and descriptive statistics based on the information coded during data collection while the qualitative analysis found themes and trends present in the tweets. Throughout the analysis, my main research question and sub-questions postmarked the applicable literature from the initial review to further investigate based on the findings from my analysis.

By synthesising my findings and methods, the final outputs of my project are a research article about my research, my Laidlaw research poster, and a reflective essay on my experience with independent research. Overall, I would consider my project a success with few mishaps. There were obstacles to overcome during the process, such as the Twitter Research Archive denying me academic access to the full archive based on my undergraduate status, but I was able to persevere and rework my process around basic Twitter access. I connected well with social research surrounding topics I am interested in and this experience has been highly beneficial to my understanding of research and leadership. My position as a queer transgender man has provided unique insight and care towards the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.

‘The worst part [about] the pandemic is realizing just how many people only hold a full conversation with me when they think it’s a possibility that I’ll sleep with them in the very near future… being gay is bad for my mental health’ (User 250)

This quote embodies only some of the struggles with mental health, body image, and loneliness queer people experienced through isolation as found in the sample. I hope with my research I can provide a platform for further investigation on the effects of isolation on queer people, and the implications of social media moving forward.

LiA Project – Development of a Bio-Inspired Soft Toy for Hospitalised Children and a Trinity Robotics Team (Dylan Cuskelly)

Article by Dylan Cuskelly (Physical Sciences, Laidlaw Scholar 2020)

For my leadership-in-action project this summer I leveraged my familiarity with the engineering design process and the skills I learned during summer 1 in an infield application of research to develop a version of a bio-inspired soft robotic toy for hospitalised children, previously developed by Molly O’Mara, a master’s student who was supervised by my supervisor. During this project, I worked alongside five other undergraduates from across Trinity’s engineering and science departments.  

We had three main goals for this summer. The first of which was to set up a robotics team in Trinity  College Dublin which will be used in the future as a platform to encourage students from all backgrounds to learn about and get involved in the exciting field of robotics.  The second was to get up to speed with robotics development and learn how to simulate, design, and build robots for a range of applications; initially focusing on care robotics. Our last goal was to each apply what we had learned to a project to demonstrate our skills. 

The overall shape and design of the affectionately named TACO robot I developed were based on previous research and in-field testing performed by Cara O’Brien and Molly O’Mara. The previous robot was too large to be easily used by children less than 5 years old. I reduced all the functionality of TACO into a shell that is 66% of the original size. This outer shell is covered by a soft microfibre layer with memory foam in between, making it easy to clean and removing all sharp edges.  TACO has a breathing mechanism and heat pads to provide warmth, as well as a simple LED face which all together provides comfort and a sense of life in the room to hospitalised children.  

During this project I learned how to use robotic operating system (ROS) software which is a software development package used to program and simulate almost all modern robotic systems including the  Curiosity Rover that recently landed on Mars. As well as this, I became familiar with Git, the main tool used by software engineers to collaborate and track progress on coding projects. Having learnt how to use these tools, I will now be able to manage future coding and robotics development projects more effectively.  

We are now in the process of setting up social media and a website to show who we are, document the work we have done and encourage other students to get involved in the future. All the code we produced has been made open-source with supporting documentation to allow future members to easily get up to speed and contribute to the team. 

This in-field application of research served as an excellent platform for developing my skills as a  scientist, engineer and leader and raised my awareness and understanding of how my research can be directly applied to real-life situations. 

Lord Laidlaw: Benefactor Recognition Reception

Article by the Laidlaw Team, Trinity Careers Service

On September 15th 2021, we were delighted to welcome guests from the Laidlaw Foundation, Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay and Susanna Kempe (CEO), to the Trinity campus. The visit was a significant occasion which brought together an array of student Laidlaw Scholars, academic supervisors, and staff from the diverse areas that work to develop the Laidlaw community at Trinity.

To acknowledge Lord Laidlaw’s generous ongoing support of Trinity students through the Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Programme, a special event was hosted by the Provost, Prof Linda Doyle.

Thanking him for his commitment, the Provost unveiled the inclusion of Lord Laidlaw’s name on the Benefactors Wall, embossed at the entrance to Trinity’s Dining Hall.

Image attribution: Fennell Photography, 2021

We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Laidlaw Foundationas we further the shared aim of enabling students to become active global citizens and future leaders.