The following article was kindly contributed by Dr Graham Love, Director of Policy and Communications at Science Foundation Ireland.
When one imagines what a typical scientific researcher might look like or do, images of men in long white coats locked away in some laboratory shrouded in secrecy usually spring to mind. But the reality of research is very different. Becoming a researcher is not akin to running away to join a 'scientific' circus. The door to this world is permanently open. Everyone is welcome to participate, to share in its benefits and to suggest new ways of doing things. Albert Einstein once said that ‘If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?’
Research is not necessarily about discovering the 'holy grail' of physics, biology or any other discipline. The old adage that 'success is a journey, not a destination' is one which we should reminder ourselves of. There is trial and there is error. We need only look at the persistence of Thomas Edison, one of the most outstanding inventors in history, to be inspired to continue our quest to progress. Edison is believed to have conducted more than 9,000 experiments before finally creating the world's first light bulb. The daily routine of a researcher is often intriguing: collaboration, travel opportunities, liaising with colleagues around the world, channelling your curiosity into productive processes and pushing the boundaries of your particular field. From your PlayStation, iPod, laptop and iPhone to the medicines you take or the energy sources used to power our homes, factories and office blocks, everything around you is rooted in science and innovation. Imagine being part of research that developed a new way of communicating or of delivering healthcare, or of heating our universities and hospitals?
Once upon a time, Ireland followed other countries when it came to innovation. We were always playing catch-up! Times have changed, and we are beginning to earn a reputation internationally as a scientific research hub. There has arguably never been a more exciting and opportune time to be a scientific researcher in Ireland, either established or just embarking on one's journey of discovery. The quality of research being conducted by Irish-based researchers today is recognised globally as being higher than ever before, as evidenced by international ranking: Ireland is now in the world's top 20 countries for research quality.
The popularity of initiatives such as Ireland's Science Gallery and the Dublin Web Summit continue to grow, while recent years have seen a steady stream of multinational corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, eBay, AOL, PayPal and Yahoo choosing Ireland as their European headquarters.
Furthermore, Ireland's scientific research community is currently preparing for Dublin becoming 'European City of Science' in 2012, a prestigious honour in recognition of our rapidly developing research landscape.
CAO statistics from July of last year (2011) showed a large increase (6,876) since February in applications for science courses through the 'change of mind form' mechanism. This clearly shows a shift towards science, which is very welcome. The Irish Government has invested strategically and substantially in science for over a decade, and it is hoped that this will continue. But just as science in Ireland needs financial investment, it also needs a healthy supply of young, talented minds who will bring fresh thinking and vitality to research activities.
There are currently over 500 companies working with Science Foundation Ireland-funded researchers. Over the past two years, the number of industry-academic collaborations reported by SFI-supported researchers has more than doubled.
At an international level, SFI-funded researchers are working on over 1,700 collaborations with researchers across 58 countries. Recent Irish breakthroughs in the world of medical and technological research include the treatment of thyroid disorders, diabetes, asthma and the superbug C difficile; while the development of the world's first junctionless transistor was developed by a research team at Tyndall National Institute in Cork. Researchers at UCD-based CLARITY research group are working closely on new sports television broadcasting capabilities in partnership with the research division of the world-renowned Walt Disney Company. Exciting times!
The most outstanding achievements by our up-and-coming researches are recognised at the highest level by Science Foundation Ireland. The President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (PIYRA) is Science Foundation Ireland's most prestigious award to recruit young researchers currently based around the world to carry out their research in third level institutions in Ireland. The award recognises outstanding engineers and scientists who, early in their careers, have already demonstrated or shown exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge.
Whether your strengths are in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, agricultural science, engineering, geography or technology, there is a clear path of research in front of you here in Ireland, and opportunities to establish a successful career on Irish soil.
If you have any questions about scientific research supported by SFI, please see www.sfi.ie.
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