Access to the new research funding scheme let WIT lecturer think outside the box and strive for goals that previously were not within reach
Dr Mary Doyle-Kent, a lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)’s School of Engineering, was successfully awarded funding for research as part of WIT’s Research Connexions support scheme.
Research Connexions provides the WIT research community the opportunity to apply for internal funding to enhance their research activity and to increase the quality of research at the Institute. The Research Connexions scheme is underpinned by the HEA under the Systems Performance Programme. The scheme comprises of thirteen possible funding Pathways designed to enable and support research activity across each of the Schools.
Dr Doyle-Kent secured funding under Research Connexions Pathway 5 – Multidisciplinary Publishing, and Pathway 8 – Conference Participation. Pathway 5 seeks to promote the highest standards of excellence in academic publishing, based on peer review and critical reading of texts prior to publication. The Pathway exists to support the costs associated with publishing an academic journal article or book. The Conference Participation Pathway supports travel costs associated with presenting at a national or international conference or costs associated with the participation at an online national or international conference.
We asked Dr Doyle-Kent to describes the advantages of the Research Connexions scheme for WIT researchers and the outcomes of her work.
Support awarded through Research Connexions
In 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, I was granted funding to attend conferences through the Research Connexions funding scheme. In 2020-2021, I was granted funding through the Connexions Publications Pathway and had my lecturing timetable reduced by three hours both semesters.
Overview of current research
I have a number of different research areas that I am currently active in. In terms of engineering I work in the area of Industry 4.0 and 5.0 and have recently completed a technical doctorate in TUWien (Technical University of Vienna) which is one of the leading European University’s in Engineering and Science. As chair of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC), which is a worldwide organisation with over 50 member countries, and chair of D&I working group for IFAC’s technical committee 9.5, I am research active in the area of diversity and inclusion in engineering, collaborating with an international team from over 20 different countries.
On an annual basis, I work with both postgraduate and undergraduate engineering students to encourage publishing and this has seeded research in various different areas, primarily in cooperation with local industry and other communities in the southeast region of Ireland.
Making a difference
Over my 20 years in WIT, it has been difficult to find both the personal time and professional time and resources to undertake a PhD. As a mother of three working full time, there was never enough hours in the day or night to get involved in a research community to the extent that I could publish and be research active in any meaningful way. Completing a PhD was the elusive dream.
In 2016, I joined the Centre for INformation SYstems and TEchno-culture (INSYTE) in WIT and this proved to be the turning point for me. Dr Larry Stapleton and my INSYTE colleagues surrounded me with enthusiasm and encouragement, and, in addition, gave me a platform to get my research out to an international audience through IFAC conferences.
Before Connexions came on-stream it was not straightforward to access funding for international conferences and thus publishing research material for peer review was difficult. This all changed suddenly when the lifeline of Connexions was thrown in my direction. Now I could get funding to attend conferences without any difficulty and in addition the Research Support Unit (RSU) were beside me offering support whenever I needed it.
This simplified the research process, which in turn allowed me to think outside the box and strive for goals that up to this were not within my reach. By tentatively publishing and travelling to international conferences, the engineering research community opened up for me and facilitated networking which, in turn, brought me on the path to a technical doctorate in Vienna Austria. In addition, I came to the realisation that a PhD was critical on the international stage.
In the academic year of 2018, I took the unusual step of starting a PhD in Vienna. This required a significant personal commitment as it is composed of several online modules, publications and a thesis. I really had no idea how this could be possible with full time lecturing hours and family commitments but was determined to make it work. In September 2020, I was awarded a Connexions publication grant, which meant practically my lecturing timetable was reduced by three hours over two semesters.
In the midst of a global pandemic when we were working from home anyway, these three hours gave me the space that I needed to concentrate on finishing my thesis and completing my modules, resulting in me finishing the PhD completely on 28th of April 2021 with the Viva vox on Zoom, a few months ahead of schedule.
Building research credibility
Engineering in general is perceived to be a practical, problem solving type of career and the goal is to become chartered by a professional body. The idea of obtaining a doctorate, publishing research and working with international researchers is not generally something engineers aspire to. By attending conferences and publishing it helped me to understand that this is an important way of connecting with academics and world experts in particular fields of research. When your publications are a source of positive discussions and seen as inspiring this in itself brings credibility and self-belief which are vital.
Where to next
This is an interesting question as there are unlimited possibilities. Becoming a Technical University with Carlow IT, will I believe, open up new research avenues into the future. Being part of the interdisciplinary INSYTE research community is dynamic and this also will bring new opportunities. The connections here with IFAC and the international community are very strong which facilitates several different opportunities in different fields of research. The world of engineering needs a diverse workforce to ensure into the future that every member of society is represented and their needs taken into consideration in future engineering designs. The work of reaching out to this diverse cohort will continue into the future and it is an area that I intend to continue to work in.
We are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution and this high tech environment is changing how we work and live. Over the coming years, my intension is to continue to publish in this area with a view to exploring best practices I witnessed in TUWien. In terms of technical education and interaction with industry, TUWien have a proven track record and these practices could be adapted for Irish education.