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Researcher of the Year: Research Ally Award

Posted: 25 July, 2023

The Call for the IRC Researcher of the Year Awards 2023 opened on 14 July 2023. Alongside nominations for Researcher of the Year, Early Career Researcher of the Year, and the Impact Award, the IRC invites submissions to celebrate “Research Allies”. Research Ally prizes are awarded to mark the crucial role of mentors, supervisors, and research and technical support staff in supporting the academic research community across all career levels. Postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, academic and research-active staff and alumni are invited to nominate the allies who have supported their work and careers, and contributed to the betterment of the Irish research ecosystem. The 2022 awards saw 56 Research Allies recognised by the IRC.

Good mentorship is crucial to the nurturing of talented early career researchers, a fact reflected in the volume of appreciative nominations of research supervisors and postdoctoral mentors in last year’s awards. Nominators praised mentors for their compassionate responses to changes in personal circumstances, fostering of healthy and manageable research environments, and establishment of networks that placed mentees in contact with global research communities. Many submissions also praised their mentor or supervisor for deftly accommodating strategic changes made necessary by Covid 19 conditions.

Commandant David Farragher nominated Angela McGinn of Maynooth University for her unfailing support in overseeing thesis work and fostering a passion for research. Farragher said:

Throughout my academic journey Angela afforded me a level of support that supressed any apprehension which I may have had about completing my thesis. Her encouragement and selfless availability throughout the challenge of the Covid 19 pandemic contributed to every aspect of what has proven to be an enriching academic and social experience beyond my expectations. Angela’s positive engagement and direction released an eagerness to explore, assimilate, analyse and interpret knowledge culminating in the production of a thesis I am unquestionably proud of.

Industry mentors in the Enterprise Partnership Scheme were also highlighted in the 2022 awards cycle. Michael Nagy of Endotronix Inc was nominated by mentee Tejaswini Manavi for providing invaluable insights into “real-life industry challenges”:

The intellectual guidance fostered essential employability skills along with enhancing my academic growth. He has shown a great zeal for mentorship, be it research training during my visit to the United States, virtual attendance at key conferences (taking into account the six-hour time difference between US and Ireland), introduction to influential colleagues, and opportunities for national/international exposure. (…). Some qualities that I look up to in my Mentor are demonstrating integrity in professional and personal interactions, being an active listener and a dynamic leader, and his exemplary work ethic.

Postdoctoral and more general academic mentors were also valued for their contribution to research development. Dr Arjumand Younus, Assistant Professor of Computational Social Science at UCD, was praised by Dr Min-gyeong Jeon for her interdisciplinary expertise and warm mentorship:

From the very beginning Arjumand has been not just an active mentor but a trustworthy partner and reliable co-worker. She has helped me in various phases of the InEire project and it has indeed been a fun journey learning from the way she networks with the research community in Ireland along with her way of weaving together interdisciplinary ideas.

I can easily approach her with any problem related to my current research or future career goals; and she is always happy to help. It is indeed rare to find such valuable and friendly mentors within the academic community; and particularly for a migrant woman trying to settle down in Ireland like myself.

The immense contributions of technical staff were also highlighted in the 2022 awards. Among the awardees was Gordon O’Brien, Chief Technical Officer in the Department of Mechanical, Manufacturing & Biomedical Engineering in Trinity College Dublin. His nominator, Professor Caitriona Lally, praised the role his work played in her project:

Gordon has helped our group to develop an inflation bioreactor for testing heart valve tissue. This bespoke bioreactor system can test up to 20 samples simultaneously and provide both positive and negative pressure, via a fluid driven diaphragm. Gordon helped design and build the system following discussion with myself and the researchers on the project. This project is a joint project with industry and the industry partners have been hugely impressed by the system resulting in further collaborative grants.

Numerous Research Officers were featured in the most recent list of Allies. Lorna Walsh, Funded Research Manager at Technological University of the Shannon Midlands Midwest, was lauded for her contributions to both research management and campus wellbeing. One of her nominators, Dr Sean Lyons, gave the following synopsis of her contributions to life at TUS:

Lorna acts as a nexus for communication with staff, students and researchers, and is hugely involved in the pastoral care of staff and students alike, listening to their challenges or issues and helping them chart a path through the supports that the university can provide.

She supports the research community with all of the technical and legal aspects of grant management and is one of the most important supports for ensuring the success of our research efforts. Lorna plays a crucial role in the development and management of our policies and procedures driving the creation of an ethos and environment that allows for research to take place in a collegiate, supportive community where students and staff feel their research is valued and encouraged.

The Irish Research Council would like to congratulate and thank all of the 2022 awardees again for their considerable contributions to Irish research culture. Assistant Director Dr Gráinne Walshe said that: ‘The Irish research ecosystem could not function without the essential supports provided to researchers at all stages of their careers by research officers, technical staff, mentors and supervisors. As a research funder, we rely on and interact with research allies on a daily basis. We are delighted to recognise the crucial role they play in ensuring that Ireland’s research and innovation system continues to thrive and excel.’

We encourage anyone working with a supportive or inspiring advisor or colleague to consider making a nomination in the Researcher of the Year Awards 2023.

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