Dr Jennifer Daly, Research Strategy Officer, in the Office of the Dean of Research, in Trinity College whets our appetite for European Researchers’ Night at the end of the month.
Can you tell us about the Researchers’ Night, its origins, and what you hope to achieve with it?
European Researchers’ Night is a Europe-wide event, where people come together to celebrate and learn about research. It has run annually since 2005 and Trinity has held an event each year since 2013, usually with a focus on activities taking place around the main campus. In 2019, over a million people participated in European Researchers’ Night events across 400 cities. It’s kind of like Culture Night for universities! Our plan for 2020 was to develop a programme that would highlight Trinity’s presence in Dublin to the general public, with activities and events taking place at Trinity’s various sites around the city as well as at the main campus. We’ve called it START because we want people to Start Talking About Research Today!
In light of the uncertain times we’re currently living through, however, this year’s event will be entirely online. While this is a challenge, it’s also a great opportunity for Trinity’s researchers to reach a wider, more diverse audience around Ireland and Europe. Our main aim with START is to open up Trinity – even if it’s not physically on campus – and give people a chance to see who researchers actually are, get involved in activities, and hopefully dispel some of the misconceptions of research and researchers being detached from the world outside the university.
Research is the lifeblood of academia and progress, how integrated is research undertaken in Trinity with the world outside its gates?
Much more than people might think! Trinity launched its first ever research strategy back in 2019 and one of the core principles of it was to better at communicating just how connected the research that happens in Trinity is to the world around us. Researchers work on everything from trying to find cures for all types of disease, to creating robots, to analysing cultural trends, to just generally thinking about how they can make the world a better place.
“It’s kind of like Culture Night for universities!”
What is your role as Research Strategy Officer? How has it had to change and adapt during the pandemic/lockdown?
I work in the Office of the Dean of Research and work on a number of different projects related to Trinity’s research strategy. My main focus is on managing the research website (tcd.ie/research), developing content for the online magazine researchMATTERS, and running events like START, so a lot of my time is spent thinking about ways that we can tell our stories and make research more accessible to people outside the university! I’m very lucky in that my job can be done remotely without much inconvenience. Having said that, START was originally planned to be an in-person event on campus that would have seen (hopefully) thousands of people visiting Trinity in one night. We had to scrap that and change our entire plan very quickly as a result of all the restrictions. I’m learning the hard way just how much work goes into planning and running virtual events (spoiler: it’s a tonne!).
What would you suggest for those curious, but possibly intimated, about research?
Have a look at what we have planned for START and pick something to come along to! Researchers love to talk about their work, and all the events and activities are planned with the general public in mind so all you need to bring along is your curiosity – which is the starting point for all research!
How important is having clear and concise information about research for the public? How is this being improved in Trinity?
We’re lucky that we’ve got some really excellent research communicators in Trinity, but we can always be better and there’s an increasing focus on how we can improve this. There’s all sorts of initiatives around public engagement and research communications happening over the next year. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important clear information about research is for the public. Researchers collectively work for the betterment of society so it’s imperative that society understands what research is and how it works.
“One very rare bright spot in the last year has been seeing the shift in attitudes towards research and researchers. Experts are in high demand and people want to hear from people who know what they’re talking about.”
Any discernible trends in the world of research?
Something that has been slowly but steadily happening in the world of research is a move towards more interdisciplinary research and collaborating with colleagues in different areas. A lot of research is highly specialised and obviously needs very specific skills and knowledge, but the research itself can often be brought to another level entirely when researchers from different disciplines collaborate – they can look at the same thing, but see it differently, or ask questions that others might not have considered. It’s a noticeable trend and it’s a welcome one particularly when all kinds of developments are happening in the world of science and technology that would benefit greatly from the perspective of researchers in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Any recent breakthroughs to report? What is exciting you and your colleagues most for 2021 in terms of research being undertaken in Trinity?
One very rare bright spot in the last year has been seeing the shift in attitudes towards research and researchers. Experts are in high demand and people want to hear from people who know what they’re talking about. It’s very hard to break through the noise of our information pandemic, and while there is a huge amount of misinformation out there, it has been reassuring to see people seeking out trusted voices and recognising the importance of expertise. So I guess we’re excited to embrace people’s interest in research and how it works!
European Researchers’ Night* is on Friday November 27.
For programme details please visit https://www.tcd.ie/research/start/
*This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 955428