Career Profiles: Daniel Keaney

What is your name?

Daniel Keaney

Company Information 

Name of Company/Organisation you work for:

Munster Technological University, Cork.

What is your position in the company/organisation?

Astrobiology Researcher/Part-time lecture at Munster Technological University

Tell us a little about the company you work for and how it’s involved in the space sector

MTU is heavily involved with different space-based initiatives, with ties to Blackrock Observatory and the SEE’s satellite-based work/research, and my of course my own astrobiological-based research. Supervised by Dr Brigid Lucey and Dr Karen Finn, my research focuses on designing bacteria for bioremediation on Mars. This could help us to detox the soils on Mars with the hope of someday growing extraterrestrial crops which are safe for colonists to eat from the effects of sodium perchlorate. Some of my work involved examining the influence of Mars-like environmental factors on the growth of our candidate strains, the best ways to promote biofilm to protect the bacteria both separately and in co-cultures, new ways of quantifying perchlorate bioremediation using Raman Spectroscopy, the invention of a novel bio-housing unit to be used both on Earth and beyond, and the genetic modification of our candidate strain.


Questions about your current Job

How did you get your current job?

I was successful in obtaining a highly competitive RISAM research scholarship after graduating with a first-class honours from my undergraduate course, Pharmaceutical Biotechnology.

Describe a typical day.

My days are highly variable depending on what stage of my research I am at. When breaking ground on a new chapter I will be researching the literature and physically sketching and troubleshooting new designs to bring to my supervisors, while other days I will be engrossed in my lab work, analysing data, forming conclusions and attending meetings to discuss the data. All the while, I balance this work with demonstrating undergraduate labs part-time and occasionally lecturing students.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Research allows for a very flexible work-life balance. Being your own boss can be fun and rewarding but requires strict discipline and knowing how to organise yourself.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

I like sitting down with my iPad at the start of a chapter with a research question in mind and figuring out the best experimental path forward to achieve it. Being extremely creative and resourceful are some of my biggest strengths and they really translate into my work. Creating my novel bio-housing unit and seeing it become reality with the use of 3D printing was pretty cool. I also got to work with a Martian soil stimulant derived from the Mojave Desert, Arizona, but chemically enhanced to be comparable to that of Mars. You also can’t beat seeing the cumulation of data being transformed into a great graph.

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

Within research, especially as a former PhD student, nothing is guaranteed and more often than not, experiments will fail. Research is purely about how you approach failure and what you can learn from it. Resilience builds over time but sometimes taking failures personally can be an issue.

Questions about education and training


What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

In secondary school I studied Biology, Chemistry and Geography. Biology was always my A1 subject and I used to be chapters ahead of the class. Studying Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in MTU incorporated a lot of what I loved about the natural world spanning from microbiology, cell culture, biotechnology and genetics. All of these learnings have helped direct me on my career path.

What non-technical skills are necessary for your job?

Creativity, resourcefulness, communication, analytical, problem-solving skills and resilience.

How did you develop those 21st Century Skills?

Conducting a Mars-focused research project without NASA-level budget came with its own issues. But being creative and resourceful allowed me to overcome these obstacles. I was able to create numerous experimental designed by putting pen to paper with nothing but my imagination as reference. I was able to create an entire thesis narrative by doing this. As data rolled in and as I began to hit walls, communicating my difficulties and using critical thinking allowed for the transformation of obstacles into even deeper research questions and greater conclusions. With my research being such a multi-disciplinary body of work, I was fortunate to network and collaborate with CAPPA, MTU, expanding the dimensions of my project work even further.

Questions about yourself


What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

That is a tough question. I think seeing how people react to my work with genuine curiosity and engagement at conferences is very rewarding. Seeing my invention come to actuality with the bio-housing unit was also amazing. Overall, I think being allowed to take control of my own research and turn it into a narrative of my own creation as time went on was extremely rewarding, especially in the end where everything came together and I created a modified strain, capable of remediating higher levels of perchlorate than wild type counterparts. It was very satisfying to see my PhD research narrative conclude on a strong, successful conclusion.

What is your dream job?
I have a passion for Marine Biology and the aquatic natural world. While maybe taking my bio-housing unit work further, or incorporating it into future Marine/coral research, I think I would like to work in a research area dedicated to Coral Reef conservation using innovative and exciting methodologies and research designs (I already have ideas!)

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.

People think you need to be super-humanly smart to do this job. Granted, intelligence tends to come with the area, but it is perseverance and dedication that stands to a candidate more. A curious mindset and the ability to think abstractly is key, along with a strong attention to detail and forward thinking/organisation. Volunteering in a research lab or conducting a lab-based final year research project of your own design and conceptualisation is a good way to see if research is right for you (that is what I did).