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.

LiA Project – International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (Shane Coleman-Macken)

Article by Shane Coleman-Macken (2020 Laidlaw Scholars, TSM 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. 

Leadership Session – “Communication and Connection in Leadership ” (ft. Cathal Quinn, Head of Voice, The Lir Academy)

Article by Eimear Kearins (Economical and Political Science, 2021 Laidlaw Scholars)

When we were told our Leadership 2 workshop was planned to be in person, to say I was ecstatic is an understatement. But due to the nature of the past 15 months, I kept waiting for an email breaking the news that it was to be held on Zoom due to new restrictions. Yet August 12th drew nearer and nearer until I found myself in a room on Trinity Campus with 5 of my fellow Laidlaw scholars- masks on, socially distanced, but together in person at last. It was the first in person college event I had attended since March 2020. I don’t think it was until I was in the room with everyone, did I realise just how much I missed it. Zoom has been great don’t get me wrong– but to me, the atmosphere created when people are in an actual room together, reading and working off each other’s energies is inimitable. Not only did it make the workshop more enjoyable, but also more beneficial, as we embarked into the day to develop our public speaking and presentation skills. 

The whole four hour workshop was facilitated by the consistently enthusiastic Cathal Quinn, Head of Voice in the Lir and has been working in developing others’ public speaking skills for over 25 years. He opened the workshop with a quote by Louisa May Alcott who said, ‘I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail’. I think this quote really set the precedent for the workshop: public speaking is quite the intimidating task, but highlighting that this was a learning experience, not a test, relaxed us all. What I loved about the experience was how hands on in nature it was– we weren’t sitting down and listening to someone speak for the four hours. Straight away, we were assigned the task of introducing someone else in the room, with whom we had 5 minutes to exchange information. Already we were engaging in public speaking and Cathal gave each of us individual notes right after our presentations. We then discussed our fears when it comes to speaking in public, and I felt so reassured when I saw that many others in the room shared similar fears to my own. 

Something that really stuck with me from the workshop was when the actual purpose of public speaking and presenting was called into question. Cathal put it quite plainly to us that public speaking was not about the speech-giver, but the message you wanted to get across. He painted us as messengers whose aim was to share our knowledge as best as we could, and that successful public speaking is simply a vessel to share this information.

In preparation for the workshop, we were asked to prepare a presentation on a topic of our choice. As the day drew to a close, we each gave our presentations, taking on board all we had learned, observed, and practiced throughout the day. I definitely noticed a difference and improvement in my presentation, and even my mentality entering into the speech- all which had been achieved in the few short hours a change which I also noticed in the other scholars when they were giving their presentations.

The workshop was far from comfortable as we were pushed to stretch our boundaries and discover what we could achieve when we really use our voices. It was an invaluable experience overall, as communication is essential in all walks of life, and effective communication is a necessary trait if we want to be accomplished leaders. By discussing our fears centring our breathing, shaking out our worries, and trying new public speaking approaches in a non-judgemental and encouraging environment, not only do I have more confidence in my communication skills, but I feel better equipped to continue to develop them with surety and awareness throughout my leadership journey. 

Laidlaw Foundation Visit (September 2021)

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

On the 15th September 2021, the Laidlaw community at Trinity College were invited to take part in a presentation and reception as part of a visit to Trinity from the Laidlaw Foundation. It was a day where we finally got to see each  other face to face after a year and a half of being under lockdown and meet some of the important members of the Laidlaw Foundation, which included both the CEO of the Foundation, Susanna Kempe, and Lord Laidlaw himself. I was super excited to not only meet them  but finally meet my cohort in person for the first time.  

On top of that, however, I was given the opportunity to give a presentation about my  project and my experience with the programme alongside my supervisor. It may not seem  like it, but this was a huge step for me! Back in August, I took part in the public speaking  workshop and ever since then, I’ve been itching to give a talk to a wider audience. I never  felt so confident, and everyone seemed to enjoy my talk. Being able to comfortably talk in  front of an audience just highlights many of the benefits the programme has to offer. If I  was asked to give this talk back in 1st year, I would have declined in a heartbeat! 

Here’s a picture of me giving my talk! Don’t let them know my barber ruined my hair before this talk! 

Afterwards, me and two other members of my cohort were invited to attend a speech in  honour of Lord Laidlaw for being a benefactor of the college. It was also the first time I met  our Provost, Linda Doyle, in person too. I also got to talk with some members from the  other cohorts, which was very fun!  

Once the speeches were done, we ended the day at the Provost’s estate with food and  wine. Not to undermine everything I’ve done on the program so far, but this was the  moment where I knew that the Laidlaw Programme was one of the best things to happen to  me during my time at college! Getting to talk with people in person for the first time,  sharing stories, and enjoying the atmosphere was amazing to experience.  

Here’s a picture of me and one of my cohort friends, Sophia from Psychology 

I talked about it with Joel McKeever (programme coordinator) and Lord Laidlaw, but I highlighted what puts the Laidlaw  Programme at a different league than other scholarships. What I love most about the  programme is the time they put into developing every Scholar to their fullest potential. I feel that  they try to get to know each Scholar, and give them advice on how to develop as a leader. It  makes it easier to be excited about these events and to give back for all they have done for  me.  

I also love being able to talk to people outside of my course and get to learn about their  experiences at Trinity College. Without the programme, I wouldn’t have made the effort to talk to people outside of Engineering and would have missed the opportunity to become friends with  some wonderful people! 

So, that was what I had to say after the first big Laidlaw event. I hope you enjoyed the read, and  I look forward to sharing more of these stories and experiences in the future!

Leadership Reflections (Laoise Murray)

Article by Laoise Murray (Law, 2021 Laidlaw Scholars)

To me and many others the Laidlaw Leadership Programme has been a distinctive turning point in our lives. I mean just who in the world gets the chance to spend a whole summer learning about the idea that intrigues them the most?

My granny is my educational inspiration. She was the typical housewife of the 1970’s and  80’s, forced to give up her fulfilling position in Aer Lingus when she married because of social convention – and not because she wanted to. She attempted to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree by means of a night-course in UCD. Unfortunately, waiting for her husband to come home from work on time every night with the car so that she could travel out to Belfield was an obstacle too great to conquer. 

Instead, she focused her attention on her children’s – and eventually her grandchildren’s – education. It paid off; our entire family is well educated because of her influence. She marvels at the opportunities I have received from this programme, the wealth of luck that seems to flow in my direction. She regrets not succeeding in her own education. 

It astonishes me that her experience of education in Ireland is in such direct opposition to mine when relatively little time has passed. The world seems to give me a helping hand at every turn where doors were shut for her. But her life has given me the perspective that all I can feel is gratitude for the people of her generation who turned things around, who made the effort to change the system for the sake of their children.

I think this example highlights the potential of good leadership. We know the world is not perfect, and it often feels like with every fire  extinguished, another one is discovered. Yet if we can remember and appreciate the history of how we got to today, we might have a greater idea of what is possible tomorrow. 

My grandmother’s influence in combination with the Laidlaw leadership programme activities has provided me with the opportunity to see leadership in this light, to reflect upon the world around us and to motivate my actions in the present and future. Leadership has many forms in this modern world, and those who strive to make a positive difference in their communities are just as valuable and integral to our society as the leaders of our Nation States. Learning how to be a good leader in my case has always been about how to make things happen, and how to do so well and efficiently. I have learned that leaders are frequently called on to make choices at the highest level when executing their mission, and consideration of many different perspectives on the world and having a deep understanding of the consequences of the decision are two points integral to the rightness of that choice. 

Indeed, personal experiences such as my grandmother’s influence have broadened my perspective on the world, and the Laidlaw programme has taught me to reflect and consider consequences in a way I had not done before. I have no doubt that this combination of life lessons, which is learned by all Laidlaw scholars in some form, has and will continue to create really well-rounded and thoughtful leaders who will inspire great change in our future. 

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Leadership Session – “Foundations of Leadership and Research” (ft. Provost-elect Linda Doyle)

Article by Julie Dory (English Literature and German, 2021 Laidlaw Scholars)

The 28th of May 2021 marked the official beginning of the series of leadership workshops with the Laidlaw programme at Trinity. Bleary post-Zoom eyes have become the norm since the transition to online events, and it’s rare to find yourself walking away from a virtual meeting without feeling totally zapped of any energy or little motivation that might have been there before. This time, however, something was different. 

Most of us have in some capacity drifted through second level education surrounded by buzzwords about careers, personality types and leadership or teamwork in a peripheral sense. Over time these words and concepts lost their meaning to me and became things that I should slot into interviews or applications for the purpose of making myself look like a more suitable and aware candidate. In preparation for our leadership session, we were provided with several articles on career guidance theory to read and relate back to our own experiences. This was invaluable in terms of equipping us with the background information to articulate and understand our preferences and styles when it comes to how we feel most comfortable working, leading, and approaching the process of career or pathway decision-making.  

We met up to discuss the articles in small groups before the session and in talking about our approaches to trying new things and exploring different pathways, we found that a lot of us were surprisingly similar – we had spontaneously taken opportunities as they appeared, but a lot of us believed that in the process of applying to the Laidlaw Programme, we didn’t think we were “that kind of person” or that we were what the programme was looking for.  We brought our findings back to the wider group at the beginning of our session when Sarah Jones of the Trinity Careers Service came to speak to us. In our conversation, Sarah helped us to acknowledge how we felt about Imposter Syndrome and being there by mistake (conclusion – we’re not!). We really learned that we should trust the judgement of the Laidlaw Team and the application process as a whole to know that we earned our places here. Articulating these concerns with Sarah and relating with each other was a reminder that we are worthy of things that we put work into, and even in perceived failure, something is to be taken away from the experience. Nothing is a waste of time.   

Dr Tamara O’Connor from Student Learning Development built on that foundation of confidence that Sarah Jones had built up with us. We went through time management practices to help prevent feeling overwhelmed and how to communicate with our supervisors effectively and healthily throughout the research project. By reminding us that our supervisors are interested, enthusiastic and willing to help with our research projects, Tamara strengthened our confidence in contacting our supervisors, allowing us to take further steps in taking ownership of our research and building professional relationships.

The final part of our session was a Q&A with provost-elect, Professor Linda Doyle, where she answered a range of questions we posed to her, all whilst instilling us with the idea that predefined career boundaries are there to be remoulded and that when working together in a team full of initiative, anything is possible.

My understanding of the value of professional relationships, research, and even my own self-worth has begun to shift and completely rearrange itself. This change is challenging, exciting, and pretty scary since the future is so uncertain and there are new opportunities we don’t even know about yet that will present themselves. But the new sense of self-awareness and team spirit after just our first Laidlaw leadership session signifies the beginning of an exciting and rewarding experience that is sure to be full of growth. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for everyone in the programme. I know that we’re sure to learn a lot from each other and as I said in the intro, this online meeting was different – instead of leaving drained and depleted, I believe that we all left inspired.

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Leadership Session – Laidlaw Induction 2021

Article by Rucha Benare (Bioengineering, 2021 Scholars)

Imagine this. Starry night, little earthen lamps called “diyas” shimmering across a terrace, the warmth of vanilla incense hugging you, and sitting atop a long wooden table is a variety of delicacies catering to every kind of taste bud you could imagine. So is the general setting of Diwali, a famous Indian festival known to celebrate the spiritual victory of lightness over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance. 

Such a recollection of an amalgamation of experiences is my attempt to capture what my experience of Laidlaw has been so far, and especially during our first session for the scholars of 2021, which was the online induction.

The amazing trio of supervisors Joel, Ann, and Orla made us feel right at home from the first moment, the ice-breaker session. I was thrilled to meet such a stellar group of minds that shimmer distinctly for their strong research goals and memorable fun facts (shout out to a certain someone who can eat 8 slices of toast in one sitting!)

Next, we were introduced to the variety of duties and exciting challenges that we would be conquering during our long journey as the 2021 family. This included diligently working and producing our research outputs, partaking in outreach and volunteering activities, constantly assessing our own leadership styles, and so on.

Last but not the least, we were assured that we will be supported with an invaluable and very generous inventory needed for our steep character development. This consisted of leadership workshops, personal coaching, skills sessions, networking opportunities; the list is endless.

Such a riveting induction has certainly marked the beginning of our journey of gaining knowledge and to be better leaders. Quite an exciting one!

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