Introducing the Irish Research Council 2020 Researcher of the Year

Posted: 9 December, 2020

The annual Researcher of the Year awards, recognise the very best of the Council’s awardees and alumni working in academia, industry, civic society and the public sector.

The Researcher of the Year category, recognises a current or former Council awardee, who is working in research in an academic institution and who has made an exceptional contribution to research in their field.

Expert on disinformation and democracy Dr. Jane Suiter, Dublin City University (DCU), was this year’s winner of the Researcher of the Year award.

Dr. Jane Suiter, Dublin City University was awarded the 2020 Researcher of the Year award for her research on the public sphere and the information environment in referendums and elections.

Dr. Suiter’s research includes analysing populist messaging and the political communication characteristics and systems that support or hinder it, as well as the impacts of citizen’s participation and deliberation and the role of citizens in renewing democracy.

Dr. Suiter is an Associate Professor at the School of Communications and Director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at DCU. She is a senior research fellow on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly and is recognised as a national and international leader in citizen engagement and deliberation.

To hear more about Jane’s impressive career to date, watch the video below.

The standard of entries this year was so high, that the judges made two commendations in this category. They were to: Professor John Goold, Trinity College Dublin and Professor Orla Muldoon, University Limerick.

Professor John Goold is an Assistant Professor and Royal Society University Research Fellow at the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin. He is a theoretical physicist, focusing on the interface between quantum mechanics and far from equilibrium thermodynamics. Thermodynamics describes how energy is interchanged in physics. It can be used to understand how familiar objects such as engines and refrigerators work, but John’s work focuses on how the laws of thermodynamics emerge in the microscopic domain of quantum mechanics. The formulation of this theory will help develop an understanding of how heat is managed and controlled in future quantum technologies.

Commenting on what draws him to do work in this area, Prof. Goold said: “Since I was a kid, I was very curious and fascinated by the power of mathematics and how, through physics, we could understand the laws of nature. In university I was very drawn to some of the counter-intuitive features of quantum mechanics and in particular the role of measurements. It was just unlike anything else that I had thought about and I just kept studying. What is incredible is that due to the pace of technology, we are now able to isolate quantum systems in labs worldwide. They are expected to play a transformational role in technology, and I feel very privileged to do research in this domain.”

Further details on Prof. Goold’s work can be found here.

Prof Orla Muldoon is the Founding Professor of Psychology at the University of Limerick. Her research is centred around a paradigm shift in understanding the social, psychological and physiological cost of stress, trauma and adversity; and offers explanations for how and why some people are damaged by stress, whilst others are resilient.

Prof. Muldoon’s research contributions share a key feature: they prioritise the importance of collective identities and shared social relationships to understanding the impact of stresses such as brain injury, domestic and political violence and latterly the impact of the COVID19 crisis on health.

Her most recent work highlights the potential for stress and trauma to revitalise social connections with consequent impact on clinical and biometric markers of stress.  A  European Research Council Advanced Grant received this year will  allow her to take her work forward to check if in fact there is any truth in the idea that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’.

When asked what drives her to do work in this area, Prof. Muldoon said: “Serendipity! I left school at 16 with no clear idea of what I might do with my working life.  I had never heard of psychology and was not at all clear what social science was.  I bumped into psychology when I was on a very different career path. So, I applied to do a degree in social science and was accepted at Queens in Belfast. I was very nearly derailed from psychology by my interest in sociology and anthropology!

“I loved research from my first foray into it as an undergraduate. I thought then it had the power to change the world, and I still believe that.  I was advised as I finished my degree to do what I was interested in, and so I chose to do a research degree rather than become a practicing psychologist.  I have had a rich, varied and rewarding experience as a researcher. And though I am being awarded this commendation, my work is the product of the many generous and inspiring collaborations and collaborators that have buoyed up my research efforts over these years.  So, though my interest in the area and the belief in the value of the work drives me on, without question it is the relationships with students and collaborators that keeps me going.”

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