Questions about your career and it’s development
1. What is your name?
2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
Research Assistant at University College Cork’s MaREI Centre
3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
Deciding to stick with what I liked in College (ending up with a Degree in Applied Ecology), and then deciding to develop that with an MSc in Earth Observation & GIS applications under one of those Erasmus Masters programmes. Not quite sure how I ended up in EO though, I originally did the masters for the GIS…. Whoops… but I did land on my feet.
4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Woah… there’s been a few…. Well firstly my dad, then my secondary school biology teacher (Shout out to Mr. Guiney!!!), then ‘twould have to be my BSc and MSc thesis supervisors (dr. Simon Harrisson and Dr. Kees de Bie), and lastly my Mentor at work Dr. Ned Dwyer (absolute LEGEND!!!).
5. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes – bear in mind that research doesn’t pay amazingly well, but it is a trade off with doing something I love. I leave work happy on a Friday, and arrive at work on a Monday genuinely excited and looking forward to the next challenge. Money can’t buy that.
Questions about your current Job
6. How did you go about getting your current job?
Erm… did a degree in Applied Ecology, then took two years out, worked in a bar and travelled Central America, then committed to doing an MSc. In EO and GIS, and from there did some voluntary work helping some PhD students with GIS queries. From there, landed a short nine week contract looking at Earth Observation data use for peatlands, and just rolled with it from there. 9 weeks of work has turned into 5 ½ years of working on national, international and European Space Agency projects, which is pretty mind-blowing when I actually think about it! Onwards and upwards eh!!
7. Describe a typical day?
Arrive at work, look at my to-do list from yesterday. Open my emails… and discard yesterday’s to-do list. Then plunge into a hectic day either pulling together presentations, doing a bit of actual research, writing funding proposals, meeting industry and stakeholders, meeting end users of EO products (fishermen, farmers, local authorities, and educators). It’s all a bit random, and definitely interesting. Finish up about 5 o clock, and head home to train, chill out with my mates and pan out. Alternatively I’m on a work trip racking up the air miles. This year alone I’ve been across the pond to Canada, travelled to the continent (France, Italy, UK and Portugal etc.) a number of times, and finally ticked visiting the Southern Hemisphere for a conference in Cape Town. Have to keep pinching myself to believe it to be honest.
8. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
At the moment, I’m mostly doing science communication, stakeholder engagement, and outreach, with a bit of core research science, and a chunk of project management. We also just moved into UCC’s new Beaufort Building, so there’s a fair bit of meeting folks and thinking of interesting ways to save the world etc., to be done.
9. What are the main challenges?
Put bluntly – There’s so much to do. I’m only one Rory, I have only two hands two feet and one body. If I could clone myself that would be awesome.
10. What’s cool?
When you see your work making a difference. For example, about two years ago we ran a training course for forecasters and modellers on the potential for EO data to be fed into storm surge forecasting models and systems…. And now the folks who attended are actually seeking ways to implement it. This would mean better warnings for millions of folks living on our coasts in the coming years. It’s brilliant that the job actually makes a difference.
11. What’s not so cool?
The paper-work. Every project comes with a mountain of reporting, every workshop a summary, every trip abroad an expense claim. But it’s what makes the world go around, so you just grin and bear it. Also, dealing with computers – I’m not a techie (I use the turn it off, and back on again and cross your fingers approach), so when you have to set up an Earth Observation data processing thingy on the computer, I’m near reduced to tears. When it works though, it’s brilliant, just frustrating getting there.
12. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Woah… ah… this is a difficult one. I suppose enthusiasm, and I can join the dots pretty well. I’m good at visual communications too, and de-mystifying science speak…. Working in a bar taught me that.
Questions about education and training
13. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Leaving Cert – English Irish Maths Biology Physics Geography and French. I loved Biology, and was passable at Maths and English (and woeful at physics), but I focused on biology, followed this through my degree, and figured the physics out during the degree and masters.
14. What is your education to date?
Junior Cert & Leaving Cert, Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science
15. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Surprisingly enough the English. It’s unreal how much English class teaches you how to communicate. I work with many absolutely fantastic scientists who simply don’t get how to extract their message and communicate it to those that need the information. Basic principals in English taught me how to do this. And I had to struggle to get a B!!!!!
16. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Yup… I’ve found an idea/avenue of research that I’m really interested in, so hoping to develop it into a PhD proposal and follow it through. Have to find the funding for it, but I’m kinda committed to doing the PhD by now (only took seven years of avoiding the thought like the plague!!!)To be honest, you never stop training and learning in science. It goes with the territory. Scientists are wonderfully curious folk, we love to learn and explore something new. As a scientist you are either teaching yourself, or being taught by your peers and colleagues, and it’s fantastic.
Questions about yourself
17. What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Attending a global storm surge forum in Venice, as the city was being flooded by a storm surge. Very much a surreal moment! Not being able to find the North Star when in South Africa the night before my flight back from a conference. Blew my mind to think my career had brought me to the other side of the planet.
18. What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Not sure really, I’m curious (you need to be), I’m also a skeptic (though not a pessimist), and I suppose I’m chatty and personable (helps with the stakeholder stuff).
19. What is your dream job?
David Attenboroughs… though I’ll never have the voice for the telly/radio…. I speak waaaaay too fast (pure Cork like)!
Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice
20. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
– Follow what you are interested in and just plough through the tough bits (e.g. I dislike physics, but I like looking at how the Earths biosphere works, so I put my head down and learned the physics).
– Follow your own passions – this is your life and nobody elses!
– Understand that it’s okay to fail at something. “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential” – JK Rowling – 9 times out of 10 in science, it simply doesn’t work, so just get used to it
21. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Curiosity, perseverance, and…. Passion.
22. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Get out and see the world. Live abroad for a few years, in far off cities and places, and see how we as humans live in our explosion of cultures and personalities, Volunteer in national parks – see how real people are trying to make stuff happen, and how you as a growing scientist can help them do what they do better.