Example SOC proposal for MSCA IF: Capacity of researcher (1.4)

In this post, I share the subsection 1.4 on “Capacity of the researcher to reach and re-enforce a position of professional maturity in research” of an MSCA Individual Fellowship proposal submitted in 2015. In this section I include the CV, to show how I tailored it to support the application. I’ve had a non-standard career path, with engineering education research (EER) being something I’ve tried mastering late in my academic career, so I used the CV to show what I am doing, why, and how it builds on my past experience. I aimed to show how things about my record that might first appear to be weaknesses can also be framed as strengths.

I also needed to provide very clear justification for receiving a second MSCA IF. I had to show it would be a good investment.

The full suite of posts on this topic includes:
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 (here)
• Impact Section
• Implementation Section
• Ethics Section

1     EXCELLENCE

1.4  Capacity of researcher to reach and re-enforce a position of professional maturity in research (see CV)

Since completing a PhD in Higher Education (with an honors designation and her School’s Award of Excellence), Dr. Chance has transitioned her career focus from teaching to research, and been selected as:

  • Fulbright Core Scholar to Ireland in Engineering Education (2012-13)
  • Scholar in Residence for the University of Oregon’s Study Abroad program in Rome (2013)
  • Fulbright Inter-Country Lecturer to both Portugal and Belgium (2013)
  • Marie Curie International Incoming Fellow to Ireland (2014-16) where she learned phenomenological methods.

Dr. Chance has a long history teaching architecture and supervising Master’s thesis students (at Hampton University). She has evaluated architecture programs at the highest levels (having served on seven teams of the US National Architectural Accrediting Board, and having chaired a team in 2015). She coordinated university accreditation activities at Hampton U. She has taught educational planning (at William and Mary) and Problem-Based Learning and design projects in engineering (at DIT). She has developed curricula (for Hampton and DIT). A focus on diversity and inclusion has always formed a part of her research efforts, dating back to her first conference paper in 2000. Over time, Dr. Chance has demonstrated scholarly productivity through completion of: 37 peer-reviewed conference papers, eight peer reviewed journal articles, seven book chapters, two thesis design projects, a PhD dissertation, and an edited volume. She has delivered 87 academic lectures in Europe, USA, and Asia. For all research and grant-funded projects, Dr. Chance pursued projects that she conceived. All research lines—including her PhD research—were separate from her advisors. This attests to Dr. Chance’s capacity for independent thinking/research. Google Scholar now lists her h-index at 4 [note: I’m happy to report it’s now at 7, but I wish I could get it to climb faster], above the average among full professors in social science (3.67), political science (3.43), and law (2.83), according to the London School of Economics. Her work has been cited in over 36 publications (excluding self-citations). She is now requesting approvals from publishers to upload more of her articles on freely accessible sites so as to extend the reach of her work. Her citation index is on an upward swing.

Dr. Chance’s foundation in phenomenology and statistics give her a strong base for EF research to be conducted. Due to the novel hybrid topic and innovative approach she is proposing to use in future work, Routledge publishers recently asked her to submit a book proposal on epistemology and design thinking. She was interested in—and has committed to—the book idea. However, if she secures EU funding, she would prefer to opt for the UCL Press instead of a profit-driven publisher. UCL Press (see Capacities Chart) will ensure the content is as openly accessible as possible, as per EU policy. Over time, Dr. Chance has steadily accrued skills that will enable her to conduct pioneering and truly groundbreaking research and spearhead the development of a seminal new book.

The value of Europe’s IIF investment will be hugely increased if the IIF study is followed up by an EF that brings the discipline to a whole new level. The innovative, pioneering, and ground-breaking findings from the IIF can be harnessed and brought to use in the EF study, creating the potential to revolutionize teaching methods and to fast track a new generation of creative and challenging engineers. It is imperative that immediate action is taken to address the dangerous shortfall of engineers that precipitates the EU’s low number of patent filings and top tech companies, and lagging industry R&D. We must protect and enhance the EU’s reputation for producing quality goods. Whereas the IIF focused on bringing skills from the USA, developing curricula and phenomenological research skills, the EF will focus on: 1) achieving more powerful, substantial and tangible findings (by enhancing phenomenology with quantitative data), 2) disseminating the findings globally, and 3) equipping Dr. Chance with the necessary skills to manage complex large-scale research projects and teams. The EF study will be conducted in a completely new arena of the discipline; one that will have tangible and far-reaching effects on the teaching of engineering in Europe. The most common route for European researchers to develop these skills is through taking an intermediate step between the IIF and an ERC Starter Grant via a nationally funded project. However, due to the fixed-term of the MSCA contract, Dr. Chance is not yet eligible for all of Ireland’s grant programs. Yet she is firmly committed to life and citizenship here, and to basing all her future research operations in the EU. The proposed EF work is significantly different from the IIF in scale, complexity, and range of exploitation activities. It also includes extensive training in research management that only a world-class research institution like UCL can provide. UCL is truly unique in that it has achieved success in engineering diversity and retention. This work is of such a standard that is has been recognized by MIT4. This new educational methodology needs further study, development, and promotion. The EF will equip Dr. Chance to establish an independent research team at DIT leading the new research strand on epistemology and design thinking. 

Attached CV

4          CV OF THE EXPERIENCED RESEARCHER

In this portion of the 2015 proposal, I started by listing my degrees, earned in the USA. I provided reviewers with the text below to put things in context before listing my Employment History (Research Positions, Teaching Positions, Professional Practice), Professional Registrations, sentences on Invited Lectures, Supervising Activities, Organization of Conferences, and lists of Professional Memberships, Special Recognition, Grant-Funded Projects, and Publications.

I’ll provide an example of the list of Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles at the end here, as I inserted info to help them assess my reach and impact.

Note that in the text below, I highlighted specific qualities asked for in the guidelines: Independent Thinking, Leadership Skills, and Results of some past projects. It’s important to use the specified words as it makes evaluators’ work easier. They are very busy people and you want to make it easy for them to find evidence to base their scores upon.

Dr. Chance is uniquely qualified for this interdisciplinary study. In the last two decades, working in the USA, she taught in two different institutions—one with a special focus on diversity and the other a research-intensive institution. Educational research is her second career. Her focus on research began with PhD studies (2006-10), her introduction to the field of engineering education research as a Fulbright Fellow (2012-3), and development of phenomenological research skills at DIT (2014-now). Results are now beginning to accrue from Dr. Chance’s current Marie Curie research studies. Preliminary results have revealed a promising new stream for investigation—overlaps of design thinking and epistemological development. As a result of the IIF, Dr. Chance is on track to produce at least: 3 journal articles, a book proposal, a book chapter, 10 conference papers, and 6 grant applications (with 3 of them funded to date at €2-10k). She benefited tremendously from IIF supervisor Prof. Brian Bowe’s phenomenological expertise, EER connections, and work chairing the 2015 Research on Engineering Education Symposium (REES). Through ongoing career planning and networking, Dr. Chance identified further training needs and career development opportunities. She discovered a number of surprising findings and developed an innovative stream of research for detailed study and development into a book. As an IIF, she gained acceptance in EER and has made the successful transition into a new research career. She identified sources of funding that she can target in the future; DIT has agreed to host her should she get future funding in place. As a result of participating in a 2015 EER conference and working group, Dr. Chance secured an exciting opportunity to join UCL, a world-class research institution. After the conference, she attended CEE’s launch and organized meetings for CREATE and CEE to come together to share ideas. So, as a direct result of successes in the first phase at DIT, she was presented with the opportunity to help plug DIT into a much bigger community—most notably the embryonic UK and Ireland Network on Engineering Education to be launched 6 November 2015. By making such connections, Dr. Chance realized she needed to develop a set of specific skills in order to get to where she aims to be in five years [note: they want to see your trajectory and goals, but I feel these were a bit too lofty], having: secured an ERC grant [note: this was an admirable goal, and MSCA fellows win these awards at higher rates than non-fellows, but it’s still out of my reach–I’m focusing now on strengthening my publication record to get here], published a widely respected book [note: I broaden this option in the final proposal to book or special focus issue–I delivered two of special focus issues during the fellowship], and be leading an independent research team [note: I’m doing this one to some degree now, but my collaborators aren’t on my campus]. She is on track to apply for ERC funding and this fellowship at UCL will help her achieve these aims by providing strategic management and research skills and giving her time to recruit new members to her research team and secure ERC funding (or help them secure MSCA IF funding) for future training at DIT. A potential candidate is [name removed], an engineer from Spain who is interested in earning a PhD in EER who Dr. Chance has been mentoring informally.

Table 7: Match between the project objectives and Dr. Chance’s profile

Independent Thinking. Dr. Chance has authored 5 opinion/editorial columns, expressing her independent views on: (1) Architectural registration and its diversity vortex published by Crit Magazine; (2&3) HU: Forerunner in architectural diversity and HU to host national diversity conference published regionally by American Institute of Architects; (4) Architect—Visionary or order filler?, published by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; and (5) Green aesthetic: Seeing beauty in clotheslines and weeds in Virginia’s Daily Press.

Leadership Skills. Dr. Chance chaired the 20th National Conference on the Beginning Design Student and serves on the organization’s steering committee. She has headed Construction Administration for a $7 million library and managed grants from the US Department of Education ($75k) and the ROTCH Foundation ($20k). She has planned and managed 10 study-abroad programs (6 to Europe, 4 to Africa) and secured ongoing support from charitable foundations. She has received formal leadership training (through both the 4-H youth organization and William and Mary university). She provided leadership to the City of Portsmouth (Virginia) as a Commissioner of Architectural Review (2002-5), also serving as Vice- (2004) and Acting-Chair (2005). Within the Port Norfolk Civic League (1999-2009) she served as President, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, and Stabilization Chair. As a member of the international Congress on the New Urbanism, she served as Accessibility Taskforce Chair (2006-10), Session Organizer (2006-10), and Panelist (2009, 2010), advocating for accessibility and universal design.

Results of 3 Major Projects

Results of dissertation research (using quantitative methods). Dr. Chance’s dissertation investigated the use of the LEED® Green Building Rating system by higher education institutions (HEIs). It tracked implementation of LEED® over time and helped assess the degree to which HEIs have been meeting the program’s stated goals, particularly in the areas most critical for environmental sustainability. Dr. Chance used MANOVA and multiple regression analyses to identify Energy and Atmosphere as the most important category in predicting overall ratings achieved by HEIs—indicating that this category, which is expensive to achieve but is most important for controlling climate change, also carries incentive because it most influences ratings. The study contributed new understanding of both the organizational learning that has resulted from refining LEED and how such rating systems can be used to generate and apply new knowledge. Dr. Chance presented the study to NASA scientists at Langley Air Force Base. The project resulted in several publications—including an article in Planning for Higher Education that garnered 800+ downloads the first week it was posted on the Society for College and University Planning’s (SCUP’s) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The original work received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the International Society for Educational Planning (ISEP) in 2010.

Results of PBL research (using qualitative, phenomenological methods). During her nine-month Fulbright fellowship, Dr. Chance developed a range of foundational skills in qualitative research: conducting semi-structured interviews; identifying invariant meaning units; and developing descriptions to capture the essence of specific phenomena. Prior to arriving in Ireland, Dr. Chance had only basic coursework in qualitative research methods, and no experience with phenomenological research. She knew CREATE had expertise in phenomenology and also provided highly valuable examples of organizational learning. As a Fulbright she collaborated with colleagues from CREATE to research what motivated engineering educators to change the way they teach. During data analysis, Dr. Chance distilled a model for creating change in engineering education that is transferable and can help others facilitate change. Findings of the study have been published in two conference papers and a book chapter to date.

Results of identity research (using mixed-methods approaches). As a Fulbright fellow, Dr. Chance spearheaded quantitative components of an exploratory, mixed-methods study conducted with Drs. Mike Murphy and Eddie Conlon. She drew from past experience, using new skills in combination with existing skills, to develop survey instruments, analyze data using t-Tests and Chi-Squared procedures, and describe the sense of identity reflected by DIT engineering and technology students. Results indicated that, when choosing engineering, design and other hands-on aspects of education had been important considerations for many DIT students. These design and hands-on aspects appeared to be even more important to (the small sample of) women than to men in their degree choice. The resulting book chapter was recently published by Springer, ensuring dissemination to a wide audience.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles                     

CHANCE, S.M., Mitchell, J., & Duffy, G. (in press). Using architecture design studio pedagogies to enhance engineering education. International Journal of Engineering Education. h5-index 16. SJR h-index 30.

CHANCE, S.M., & Bowe, B. (in process). Phenomenological study of how women experience collaborative learning in engineering education.

CHANCE, S.M., Duffy, G. & Bowe, B. (in process). Understanding lectures’ experiences of group learning in engineering.

CHANCE, S.M. (Nov. 2012). Planning for environmental sustainability: Learning from LEED and the USGBC. Planning for Higher Education, 41(1). h5-index 9. Cited by 1.

Seymour, M.W., & CHANCE, S.M. (2010). Assessment Formats. International Journal of Learning, 17(10), 137-154. h5-index 5. SJR h-index 6.

CHANCE, S.M. (2010). Strategic by design: Iterative approaches to educational planning. Planning for Higher Education, 38(2), 40-54. h5-index 9. Cited by 10.

CHANCE, S.M., & Williams, B. (2009). Assessing university strategic plans: A tool for consideration. Educational Planning: The Journal of the International Society for Educational Planning, 18(1), 38-54. Indexed in the H. W. Wilson Education Index. Cited by 14.

Fisler, J., Agati, H.A., CHANCE, S.M., Donahue, G.A., Eickhoff, E.J., Hack, A.E., Gastler, S.E.K., Lowder, J.C., & Foubert, J.D. (2009). Keeping (or losing) the faith: Reflections on spiritual struggles and their resolution by college seniors. College Student Affairs Journal, 27(2), 257-274. Cited by 5.

CHANCE, S. M. (2008). Proposal for using a studio format to enhance institutional advancement. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 8(3/4), 111-125. SJR h-index 4. Cited by 1.

CHANCE, S.M. (2004). Architectural registration and its diversity vortex. Crit: Journal of the American Institute of Architecture Students, 58, 36-40.

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Southside (5/)

Aongus and I feel so fortunate to live close to the city center. During Ireland’s lockdown, the entire central core fell in our allowable exercise area–a 2km radius from home. We got out and about on weekends, though we sorely missed our gym (1escape, we love you!).

This blog pictures how our world expanded southward as Dublin’s lockdown lifted. Prior posts show the first days of lockdown, isolating at home, our escapades in Phoenix Park and 2/5/20km northward.

Central Dublin, South of the Liffey

The streets of downtown Dublin were particularly tranquil for morning bicycle rides, and the weather blessed us during March and April. We eventually explored all around Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Synge Street, Portobello, and the Liberties.

We normally returned home before sunset. They can be so beautiful when viewed across the Liffey.

Here we’re at South King Street, near the still-asleep Gaiety Theater and St. Steven’s Green:

Docklands

Our cycles brought us through Grand Canal Docks several times, with the Board Gaís Theater, designed by the office of architect Daniel Libeskind.

Ballsbridge

We found Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, which I knew of from Collene Dube’s “100 Days of Walking” Tweets. It’s near Dublin’s big Arena.

Riding out here, I felt that drivers gave me more space when they saw the orange vest. Aongus says it’s probably the style of vest I’ve chosen, which evidently suggests I do maintenance in the social housing complexes of Dublin. Whatever–it works! And yes, my sense of style is surely all my own!

Sandymount

We could only access the inner part of Sandymount in our 5km radius, but we made the most of it and dreamed of cycling even further southward, toward Booterstown, Blackrock village, and Dún Laoghaire in coming weeks.

Here we are playing around at Sandymount Strand:

Seapoint

Low and behold, we discovered the beach at Seapoint as our zone opened to 20km, permitting our ventures toward Dún Laoghaire. It was a bit crowded, but still possible to find the needed distance from others:

Dún Laoghaire

We made it to Dún Laoghaire, with its mega-sized harbor and its vibrant People’s Park. The harbor is so much larger than Howth’s. We always brought a picnic and planned for the lack of bathrooms. Although Howth opened thiers prior to our visits, Dún Laoghaire did not.

We have talked about a cycle out to Dalkey, which is just inside our 20km, but we haven’t made it there yet by bike. Something to look forward to…..

An Irish Welcome-Home!

Welcome to the homepage of Ireland by Chance, a blog sharing the adventures of an Expat architect/urbanist/teacher/engineering education researcher who moved from the United States in 2012 to make Ireland her home.

You can view archives (2012-present) by clicking the folder icon to learn what it’s like to be Fulbright and Marie Curie Research Fellow, to teach at university in Ireland, and to explore the cities and landscapes of Ireland, the UK, and Europe.

Example SOC proposal for MSCA IF: Quality of supervision (1.3)

In today’s post, I share subsection 1.3 of the MSCA Individual Fellowship proposal submitted in 2015–it’s on “Quality of the supervision and the hosting arrangements.”

As the 2015 call allowed for a chart highlighting the capacity of the host organization to support my development, I’ve included that chart in the blog as well (down at the bottom).

Although this 2015 submission was unsuccessful, I revised it based on evaluators’ comments and the revision was funded in the 2016 call.

The full suite of posts on this topic includes:
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 (here), 1.4
• Impact Section
• Implementation Section
• Ethics Section

1     EXCELLENCE

1.3  Quality of the supervision and the hosting arrangements       

Qualifications and experience of the supervisor(s). Prof. Nick Tyler has unique expertise to support Dr. Chance’s development into an independent researcher. He has implemented EER findings4 and has supervised 17 PhD completers and as many post-docs. He is currently part of the UK Royal Academy of Engineering’s Engineering Education hub. He is advising universities in Argentina, Colombia, UK, and Japan in renewing their approaches to education. From 2003-13, Prof. Tyler headed UCL’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. During this period, he developed new educational approaches to combat problems, introducing a new curriculum based on detailed analysis of quality and gender4. It was launched in 2006 and graduated it first students in 2009; this provides a valuable case study and a wealth of experience that can be transferred to other engineering programs. For this work, Prof. Tyler’s group received the inaugural Athena SWAN Silver awarded to an engineering department.

Prof. Tyler’s successes—in project management, social science methodologies23, diversity and inclusion research24, and book publishing25—support a portfolio of £20 million in research that is funded by research councils, industry, and government. His CV features well over 70 publications. Prof. Tyler has been named a Fellow of multiple organizations, including the UK’s: Institution of Civil Engineers; Royal Society of Arts; Transport Research Foundation; and most recently the Royal Academy of Engineering. Most noteworthy, however, is his 2011 appointment, by Her Majesty the Queen, as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to technology. The CRUCIBLE research center he directs will provide Dr. Chance a plethora of research consultants. It involves experts, from all eleven faculties at UCL, who conduct interdisciplinary research.

Prof. Tyler’s experience is well aligned with the proposed project. At the outset of the EF, Professors Tyler and Chance will create a Career Development Plan. They will meet frequently as part of larger research meetings, and will hold EF-specific meetings twice monthly to monitor progress and quality. They will conduct formal milestone assessments every six months. Throughout, Prof. Tyler will provide strategic advice on data collection, analysis, methodologies, gender and diversity, engineering education pedagogies, UCL’s culture and curricular innovations, and the creation of design projects. He will assist/mentor Dr. Chance in dissemination and outreach activities and budgetary matters, help her gain ethics approvals, and help with the recruitment of research participants. She will learn highly effective techniques by observing his team meetings, grant writing, and project management activities.

Hosting arrangements.

UCL Human Resources and EURAXESS UK will provide assistance in relocating and settling in (see Capacities). UCL offers many induction activities she will attend. UCL is ideal for her project because:

1) Its design-focused civil engineering programs achieved notable successes among women, meriting more study4.

2) Dr. Chance will be well integrated into UCL’s organization. She will work in UCL’s new Centre for Engineering Education (CEE), which is physically located in the office of the Dean of Engineering at UCL. She will collaborate closely with the Vice-Dean for Education, staff members of the CEE, and the Centre’s two co-directors.

3) CEE has been set up to support training and two-way transfer of knowledge. Formally launched in April 2015, it brings together UCL’s Institute of Education with its Faculty of Engineering Sciences. CEE hosts a bi-weekly “Engineering Education Seminar Series” on topics central to engineering education. These seminars facilitate conversation among educators, professional bodies, and industry about how to attract and nurture engineering talent. Dr. Chance will participate fully in these sessions and will deliver seminars early and late in the Fellowship to familiarize her colleagues with the topics at hand. Industry representatives also attend these sessions.

3) CEE is establishing industry partnerships. These include Creative Industries Federation (CIF), which advocates integrating art and design in industry and has already expressed great interest in Dr. Chance’s research proposal.

4) UK policy requires all new 3rd level teachers to study pedagogy. As such, CEE will launch a new Masters program in 2016, geared toward practicing engineers and people who teach engineering. Dr. Chance will help create activities and module descriptors for this program—an ideal platform to exploit her research findings.

Career development.

UCL provides a healthy research environment as evidenced in its HR Excellence in Research Award from the European Commission (see also Section 3.2-3.4 and the Capacities Charts). UCL publicizes all successful promotions, including those by researchers, and has clear promotion procedures for research staff. UCL offers open training and development programs to all staff; as detailed above, Dr. Chance will make use of UCL’s Professional Development Programmes (PDPs) on: 1) Academic & Researcher Development, 2) Financial & Resource Management, 3) Leadership & Management, and 4) Project Management. She will also attend courses and events offered through VITAE, designed to help researchers realize their full potential, such as Vitae Connections for Supporting Open Researchers and the Vitae Researcher Conference. Based on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, Dr. Chance’s fellowship at UCL will focus on building skill in areas: B3-Professional and Career Development, C2-Research Management, C3-Financial, Funding and Resources, and D2-Communication and Dissemination. Her training will also include: a) conferences on gender/technology; b) writing/submitting proposals to Irish, UK, and EU Research Councils, Horizon 2020, and Science Foundation Ireland; and likely c) serving on an evaluation panel for Horizon 2020, the Irish Research Council, or similar. She is registered as a CORDIS expert.

Capacities Table

The following table appeared in the Appendices and thus it didn’t count against the page limit. It was restricted to a single page. I included a second page with the three possibilities I had identified for secondment, but I ended up omitting them in my resubmission.

Note that because I made no mention of a secondment in the resubmission, I wasn’t allowed to add one later. Had I mentioned one in any form (I was told by my Project Officer later when trying to add one in), I could have altered the destination. I wasn’t allowed to add one later, however, as I hadn’t mentioned one in the 2016 proposal. Adding one after acceptance would have required a new formal review of the project. I don’t like to over-complicate things, yet I did manage to work closely with a non-profit organization (Engineers Without Borders UK) while I was in London, and produce research of value to them.

Top half of the capacities table.

You’ll see I tried to personalize this chart by including photos of the people I’d be working with because I wanted to highlight the diversity of this team. Plus I managed to make a fairly nice graphic arrangement to add appeal to the page! By the time I started the Fellowship, Paul, Greening had moved to a different university so I worked with the Vice Dean for Education, Prof. John Mitchell–as well as the rest of this group. By the time I arrived to start my MSCA-IF, UCL had brought a new full-time researcher on board who isn’t pictured above, so I got to work with the brilliant Dr. Inês Direito as well.

This was a truly amazing team to work with!

The research facilities and supports at UCL are world class, as the bottom half of the Capacities Table illustrates:

Bottom half of the capacities table.

Example SOC proposal for MSCA IF: Transfer-of-Knowledge (1.2)

1     EXCELLENCE

In this post, I share subsection 1.2 on “Clarity and quality of Transfer-of-Knowledge/training for development of the researcher in light of the research objectives” of an MSCA Individual Fellowship proposal submitted, unsuccessfully in 2015. I revised it based on evaluators’ comments provided in a previous blog. The revision was funded in the 2016 call. This blog provides one sub-section of the “Excellence” section, the section that has to do with the researcher and the design and merit of the work being proposed.

Please note that my home institution, formerly known as DIT, changed its name to TU Dublin (Technological University Dublin) while I was in London doing my MSCA-IF.

The full suite of posts on this topic includes:
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2 (here), 1.3 , 1.4
• Impact Section
• Implementation Section
• Ethics Section

1.2  Clarity and quality of Transfer-of-Knowledge/training for development of the researcher in light of the research objectives

UCL offers crucial knowledge, models, and training programs (see 1.3 & Capacities). At UCL, Dr. Chance will build on her solid foundation in the emerging field of EER by developing new research and management skills and by catapulting her work well beyond her already notable capabilities. Working under the expert supervision of Prof. Nick Tyler, a global leader in research productivity, she will develop specific, crucial new skills in: quantitative and qualitative social science research, project organization and leadership, financial management, grant writing, and PhD supervision. This training will have enormous positive impact on the research career of Dr. Chance and will positively impact UCL, UK and Irish EER, and a host of project partners across the EU (see Table 2). Specific stretch-goals for the EF period are: (1) publishing two articles in the highest-ranking journals in EER and higher education, (2) leading the production of a seminal new guidebook for educators, and (3) securing grants to establish an independent research team, recruit/train new researchers (see Implementation).

Dr. Chance’s career goals are to permanently base her research operations in Ireland and to spearhead research teams via European Research Council and industry funding. She possesses many of the skills necessary to do this, however she and CREATE need specific experience in securing and managing large-scale research grants, conducting advanced statistical procedures using statistical modeling tools, and using programs like SPSS. To gain crucial experience, Dr. Chance needs mobility out of DIT for a period so she can work alongside extremely high-research producers and in industry. A three-month secondment will develop her understanding of what this sector needs and how it uses social science research and education programs. It will help exploit her research more fully.

Table 2: Training and project support provided by partner organizations.

As an EF, Dr. Chance will spearhead two-way transfer of knowledge between UCL and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT, her current employer), and will coordinate EER efforts between the two. This will enhance her leadership and project management skills. She will transfer to UCL specific knowledge gained at DIT regarding phenomenological research methods, design of a new Master of Philosophy degree in EER, and implementation of engineering design projects. Dr. Chance will transfer crucial knowledge back to DIT through ongoing exchange and her planned return to DIT at the end of the EF—at which point she aims to lead a new research strand for DIT’s CREATE research group via grant funding secured under Prof. Tyler’s mentorship (details in CV). She will apply to organizations like the European Research Commission (ERC) for large-scale Starter Grants. Her new research and project management skills will render Dr. Chance more competitive in accessing this type of large-scale funding, and her support network (from UCL, DIT, and industry) will provide valuable assistance. Her work will support DIT’s evolution into Ireland’s first Technological University and help grow CREATE into a full-fledged research center. UCL is a global leader in the training of researchers, and Dr. Chance will take full advantage of its excellent Professional Development programs. She enjoys this type of learning and is committed to completing a wide range of Researcher Development and Leadership and Management programs at UCL. She will participate in either Springboard Women’s Development Programme (researcher cohort) or Taking Control of Your Career. Both of these run over the course of a year. She will definitely take Writing Targeted Grant Proposals and 4 specific Financial and Project Management courses (see 3.3). She will watch the schedule for Quality Papers, Writing a Peer Review, Leadership in Action, Professional Skills for Research Leaders, Effective Delegation, and Breakthrough Conversations and will complete as many as possible. If Writing a Book is offered upon arrival, she will take it.

Table 3: Plan for transfer of knowledge to host

New collaboration opportunities will open for the host institution, notably a new symbiotic relationship with DIT that will further enhancing UCL’s successes in engineering education pedagogy while also adding to CREATE’s record of producing quality phenomenological and phenomenographic research. Dr. Chance’s work will include clarifying and refining a distinctive niche for each institution, and positioning each for maximum impact. To UCL, Dr. Chance will bring existing international connections, as well as an engaging new research project that includes R&D of educational activities. She will help infuse practice and pedagogy at UCL with findings from her research.

Example SOC proposal for MSCA IF: Quality of research (1.1)

1     EXCELLENCE

This blog provides the first sub-section of the Excellence section, on “Quality, innovative aspects and credibility of the research” of a grant proposal I submitted for an MSCA Individual Fellowship in 2015. This submission was NOT successfully in 2015, but I revised it based on evaluators’ comments provided in a previous blog.

I note that, in social sciences, it is likely that your methodologies and your research design will evolve while you are conducting the work. They will change based on what you are finding as you are collecting data and working in-situ. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that your proposal convey sa solid understanding of your field, its literature base, and the methods used to study it. The plan you propose has to be realistic, respond to the most cutting-edge knowledge in your field, and also explain how your proposed work is innovative–and needed by Europe.

The reviewers took off points for this proposal being too ambitious, lacking specificity regarding methods, and not integrating specific enough info on cutting edge research on the topics within my specific sub-field of engineering education research. I also lost points for mentioning a secondment but not having a clear enough secondment plan. I addressed those criticisms in my application the following year. The revision was funded in the 2016 call.

The full suite of posts on this topic includes:
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1 (here), 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
• Impact Section
• Implementation Section
• Ethics Section

1.1  Quality, innovative aspects and credibility of the research

Over the two-year period of the MSCA European Fellowship (EF), Prof./Dr. Shannon Chance’s research and training efforts will be based at the new Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) at University College London (UCL). Dr. Chance intends to complete a 3-month secondment during the fellowship—if an appropriate partnership can be arranged with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Science|Business, Creative Industries Federation or similar—so as to maximize and exploit her research. Her primary research project will investigate overlaps between epistemology (which asks: What is knowledge?) and design thinking (How is knowledge created and used in the process of design?). Her research will evaluate the role of design projects in the learning, retention, and epistemological development of engineering students, particularly women. She will collect qualitative and quantitative data in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, the UK and USA. Simultaneous outreach in these places will promote Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) research and careers. Creating and pilot testing new activities for 2nd, 3rd, and post-graduate students will provide Dr. Chance another important avenue to exploit her research findings. Overall, Dr. Chance’s research will address grand societal challenges, specifically the lack of diversity and the ominous shortfall of engineers in Europe. Overarching research objectives are to: (1) develop and promote better ways to teach/support engineering students, (2) help transform engineering into a more diverse and creative field, and (3) track results via five primary research questions (Table 1) surrounding the theme: To what extents do design projects influence the cognitive and epistemological development of undergraduates in engineering and architecture?

The interdisciplinary approach draws from Dr. Chance’s unique skill set and synthesizes state-of-the-art in three realms: (1) practices from architecture education, (2) research on engineering education, and (3) theories on college student development. Architecture education provides a long-standing focus on pedagogy (through immersive, active design-based education). Innovators in engineering education are creating new ways to facilitate group learning and are slowly shifting the focus from teacher to student in the engineering classroom. Dr. Chance believes leveraging theories on student development can provide new opportunities in reforming/transforming engineering education. Such work can make engineering more attractive to students in design and creative fields—a category of students who may never have considered engineering as a field of study or career. Scholars of student development provide ways to conceptualize and monitor student learning, particularly with regard to contextual and generative ways of thinking and knowing. Dr. Chance’s initial investigations at the intersection of these three realms (which have involved exploratory analysis of students’ blogs) yielded encouraging preliminary results. Even though the findings were extremely tentative, they were solicited for a peer-reviewed journal1. To derive extensive benefit, we must strike while the iron is hot. She needs to pursue promising leads immediately, while momentum is strong.

Table 1: Research Methods and Methods

The need for further study is eminently clear. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching argued that architecture’s design-based model should be incorporated into curricula to improve the teaching of engineering2, 3. The UK Royal Academy of Engineering4 and the US National Science Board5 demanded engineering schools do more to cultivate creativity and flexibility among graduates. Yet, very little has changed6. At UCL, however, Prof. Nick Tyler’s department accrued success by integrating design projects into civil engineering—dramatically increasing its enrollment and graduation numbers, particularly among women, as is documented in a case study by the UK Royal Academy and MIT4. Outcomes of their work deserve additional analysis via this project. Two primary resources on the overlap of design thinking and engineering education are a 2014 article on how to prompt informed thinking among novice designers7 and a 2001 book on Design Thinking and Cognition8. Contemporary student development theory stems from Perry’s 1970 schema of ethical and intellectual development of (male) college students9. Refinements to Perry’s work include gender-related investigations10, 11, ways to assess epistemology12, 13 and reflective judgment14, and synthesis across theories15. Dr. Chance believes applying these theories can make engineering education more effective. She aims to provide educators with the necessary tools to do so—and to disseminate them widely. Her cross-cultural project utilizes novel concepts (overlapping theories on development and design), novel methods (phenomenology along with surveys and field tests), and novel approaches (new project applications and a new guidebook to help revolutionize teaching and shift the knowledge frontier).

Dr. Chance’s EF study is being carefully designed to address criticism that “engineering education scholarship is still characterized by a lack of explicit and consistent theoretical engagement.”16 Her innovative mixed-methods study will start with cutting-edge qualitative methods for collection and analysis of in-depth phenomenological interviews with 60 women in 5 countries—a very large and diverse sample. Phenomenology provides means to investigate structures of consciousness and to explore how specific phenomena (in this case, design and engineering education) are experienced from a first-person point of view. Dr. Chance will use Van Manen’s interpretive, hermeneutic method for analyzing data17 and will help adapt phenomenology for widespread use in the emerging field of engineering education research (EER). To extend and magnify the impact of her qualitative findings, Dr. Chance will follow up with confirmatory surveys. Guided by Prof. Tyler, she will gain mastery of advanced statistical analysis procedures. She will use ANOVA, multiple regression, and other statistical modeling tools, to study results of surveys with 500+ women and men in 4 different EU countries. This will help achieve generalizability across EU engineering education. The proposed work is unique in scale, because no other engineering education researcher in Europe has collected such extensive data from participants from such diverse countries.

Such work is crucial to address today’s social and economic challenges. All over the world, there is a realization that engineering education is not working effectively—that engineering graduates are not equipped to handle ill-defined problems or address grand societal challenges—but no one is sure what the solution is. Even in places where the educational system is conservative (like Japan, Singapore, China, France, and Germany) it is widely realized that things must change, but exactly how to change them is unchartered territory and entirely up for grabs. The way engineering is conceived and taught simply isn’t attractive enough to students. Of all learners entering higher education in the UK in 2010, just 4.8% applied in engineering or technology18. Globally, half of all students who enter engineering drop out by the end of their first year19. These are problems for the engineering profession of course, but also for individual nations and for Europe as a whole.

The EU urgently needs more engineers, particularly ones who can work collaboratively and creatively. The EU is suffering an enormous deficit of engineers. In 2011, Germany alone fell short by 76,400 engineers20. Failure to attract women exacerbates the crisis. Today, women comprise 26% of engineering professionals in Sweden, 20% in Italy, 18% in Spain, but just 9% in the UK21. In Ireland, there are nine times more male than female engineers21. In the UK in 2010, applications to study engineering from women represented 0.58% of the overall applicant pool and were outnumbered by those from by men more than 7:118. Even in countries like Australia, where women who enter engineering now outperform men in persistence-to-graduation, half of all female engineering graduates still choose to leave the profession within ten years after graduating. This suggests a need to shift the educational and professional cultures of engineering. To address shortfall and diversify perspectives, the EU must find ways to attract and retain female students in engineering—as this study seeks to do.

Reference list, formatted for maximum density

Example SOC proposal for MSCA IF: Abstract and Eval

I’ve decided to share an example proposal submitted to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowship (IF) program. It was prepared for the SOC panel, which reviews all the social science research proposals, including educational and learning sciences, where my proposal resides.

Specifically, I do engineering education research (EER). I moved to Europe from the USA to develop mastery in EER, and MSCA funding has been fundamental to me developing as a researcher. Of the three proposals I have submitted to MSCA, two were funded (the first for the 2013 call and the second for the 2016 call) and one (submitted for the 2015 call) was not. I will be sharing parts of the 2015 proposal that was not funded along with the evaluators’ comments.

Over the course of the week starting August 3, I will be posting blogs on each of the following topics:
Abstract and Eval (here)
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
• Impact Section
• Implementation Section
• Ethics Section

After enjoying a 2014-2016 IIF (International Incoming Fellowship under FP7) to Ireland, I was eager to stay in Europe with my new research skills rather than return to the USA. I submitted this proposal in 2015, hoping to go to the UK to work for a couple years. Although this 2015 version of the proposal was not funded, the score wasn’t terrible (87.8/100), and it left me with hope that I could secure funding if I did not meddle with the content too much. I had specific review comments in hand to guide me. A score of 92-93 is normally needed to garner funding.

I submitted a modified version of this proposal in 2016 and was funded for a 2018-2020 IF. It enabled me to spent two glorious years living in London and working at University College London–ranked #7 in the world for research. What a truly amazing opportunity!

I had spent 5-6 weeks full-time writing the 2015 version that I am sharing, and in 2016 I dedicated just about three days to revising that proposal using the evaluators’ comments. That version succeeded in winning the funding I needed to pack my bags for London.

I am sharing the 2015 submission because I feel this version is most helpful to others writing proposals. They can use these resources to learn to critique to their own proposals.

Just look to see what the evaluators said, and to what degree you agree with them….

In today’s blog post, I will share the abstract and the evaluators’ comments.

MARIE SKŁODOWSKA-CURIE ACTIONS

Individual Fellowships (IF)

Call: H2020-MSCA-IF-2015

PART B

“Designing Engineers”

Abstract

Europe is suffering an enormous deficit of engineers and this adversely affects the number of patent filings, top tech companies, and level of R&D. In 2011, Germany alone fell short by 76,400 engineers. We urgently need more engineers, particularly ones who can work collaboratively and creatively. Failure to attract women exacerbates the crisis. Today, women comprise 26% of engineering professionals in Sweden, 20% in Italy, 18% in Spain, but just 9% in the UK.

As an MSCA fellow, Prof./Dr. Shannon Chance will receive crucial training at at University College London and will investigate overlaps between epistemology (‘what is knowledge?’) and design thinking (‘how is knowledge created and used in the process of design?’). She will evaluate the role of design projects in the learning, epistemological development, and retention of engineering students, particularly women. She will collect data in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, the UK and USA. A three-month secondment in industry will help her extend and exploit her research.

Overarching research objectives are to: (1) develop and promote better ways to teach and support engineering students, (2) help transform engineering into a more diverse and creative field, and (3) track results via five primary research questions surrounding the theme:

To what extents do design projects influence the cognitive and epistemological development of undergraduates in engineering and architecture?

Dr. Chance will produce: mixed-methods research in a ground-breaking field; new design project briefs (and pilot test them); outreach and dissemination to crucial target audiences; and publication of an educator’s handbook intended to revolutionize engineering teaching methods. The interdisciplinary approach draws from Dr. Chance’s unique skill set and synthesizes state-of-the-art in three realms: (1) practices from architecture education, (2) research on engineering education, and (3) theories on college student development. 

List of Participants

Evaluation Summary Report

Total score for my proposal: 87.80% (Threshold: 70/100.00)

Scoring Rubric

Scores can range 0-5. Interpretation of the score:
0– The proposal fails to address the criterion or cannot be assessed due to missing or incomplete information.
1Poor. The criterion is inadequately addressed, or there are serious inherent weaknesses.
2Fair. The proposal broadly addresses the criterion, but there are significant weaknesses.
3Good. The proposal addresses the criterion well, but a number of shortcomings are present.
4 Very good. The proposal addresses the criterion very well, but a small number of shortcomings are present.
5Excellent. The proposal successfully addresses all relevant aspects of the criterion. Any shortcomings are minor.

Criterion 1 – Excellence

Score for my proposal: 4.50 (Threshold: 0/5.00 , Weight: 50.00%)

Reviewers are scoring based on:
* Quality, innovative aspects and credibility of the research (including inter/multidisciplinary aspects)
* Clarity and quality of transfer of knowledge/training for the development of researcher in light of the research objectives
* Quality of the supervision and the hosting arrangements
* Capacity of the researcher to reach or re-enforce a position of professional maturity in research (You must earn at least 70/100 in this category to be eligible to receive funding)

Strengths:

  • This is an ambitious interdisciplinary proposal which includes original and innovative features.
  • The research objectives and questions are clearly formulated.
  • The proposal clearly illustrates the new competence and knowledge that the researcher would gain through training and supervising at the host institution.
  • The supervision and hosting arrangements are credibly described and match the needs of the proposed research.
  • The proposal demonstrates that the proposed research would contribute to the professional maturity of the researcher. The methodological framework is appropriate and gender considerations are taken into account.

Weaknesses:

  • Certain aspects of the research methodology are not explained in sufficient detail; for example, the sampling procedure and the quantitative survey, data analysis and the comparative aspects of collected data.
  • Some aspects of the state of the art are not well elaborated, e.g., no adequate information is provided on theories of student development as related to research on engineering education.

Criterion 2 – Impact

Score for my proposal: 4.20 (Threshold: 0/5.00 , Weight: 30.00%)

Reviewers are scoring based on:
* Enhancing research- and innovation-related human resources, skills, and working conditions to realise the potential of individuals and to provide new career perspectives
* Effectiveness of the proposed measures for communication and results dissemination

Strengths:

  • There is clear evidence that the researcher would benefit from the hosting institution’s participation in research and the international
    collaborations.
  • The strategy for communicating results to non-academic audiences is well elaborated and is likely to be effective.

Weaknesses:

  • The proposal does not convincingly demonstrate that the measures planned for the dissemination of results are feasible within the duration of the fellowship.
  • The issues related to intellectual property are insufficiently addressed.

Criterion 3 – Implementation

Score for my proposal: 4.40 (Threshold: 0/5.00 , Weight: 20.00%)

Reviewers are scoring based on:
* Overall coherence and effectiveness of the work plan, including appropriateness of the allocation of tasks and resources
* Appropriateness of the management structures and procedures, including quality management and risk management
* Appropriateness of the institutional environment (infrastructure)
* Competences, experience and complementarity of the participating organisations and institutional commitment

Strengths:

  • The work plan is clear overall.
  • The proposal provides a clear structure of the project organization and management, taking into account financial and administrative
    aspects.
  • The institutional environment proposed for the project is well described and matches well with the needs of the proposal.
  • Quality and risk management are taken into due consideration and a basic contingency plan is described.
  • The institutional commitment of the host to the project is well described.

Weaknesses:

  • The level of institutional commitment of the participating organisations is difficult to assess given that not all of the partners are already secured.
  • The Gantt Chart has some imprecisions, e.g., it does not precisely indicate when the activities occur within the project timeframe.
  • It is not clear whether the deliverables proposed can be finished within the timeframe of the project.

In summary, you can see that the evaluators thought I was trying to accomplish an unreasonably high amount, and I also lost points for mentioning a possible secondment without providing a convincing level of detail.

Discovering Dublin: Isolating at Home (3/)

At the start of Ireland’s lockdown, we had some adjusting to do. New ways of living and working, for sure! Aongus was working from home for about six weeks, with the occasional visit allowed to his work site to make sure things were locked up tight and everything looked right. We found new ways to exercise and study together, expanding out the balcony during nice weather. Such weather is rare here, and even our south-facing balcony isn’t usually warm enough for outdoor work.

I really started to notice little things, like how dramatically the sky changes from hour to hour, day to day here. The view from my balcony was every-changing–a painting of gorgeous pastels and a hundred different types of clouds.

Early on, Aongus was completing a training model online. I tried to stay fit with online zumba and Down Dog yoga.

This day was warm enough for balcony use, so I took a little break with one of the books I’ve read this spring, a gift from Inês, called “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”. Appropo for this period of isolation!

On the other hand, the look of work didn’t have much diversity. As I do educational/social science research, I don’t require access to a lab. I already had plenty of data collected that I could work with and study during Lockdown.

For me, life during lockdown looked a lot like this, each and every day:

Don’t get me wrong, each of these images captures something I found interesting! The diagrams, for instance, came from a UCL ‘show-and-tell.’ Researchers in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) are doing fascinating work tracking Covid—looking for patterns—from how droplets move, to tracking the flow of a sequence of coughs by someone tapping to pay on a bus (shown here), to transmission patterns across cities and countries. Really interesting and important stuff! I was Tweeting up a storm that day, to share knowledge with others. Took care not to give away too much detail as the researchers were reporting, to close colleagues, research they had underway.

For me, it has been fun to attend meetings and events in places and with people I’d not have had easy access to in the spring of a teaching semester—like these UCL events and the Big Engineering Education Research Meet Up.

Here’s a screenshot of our UCL team coordinating one of the EER Meet Ups of the spring–Paula, John, Inês, and me (providing perspectives from REEN and TU Dublin). I love this group of people and was glad to work with them over the spring even though we live in two different countries.

There was also teaching to be done online, and new teaching arrangements to be planned for next year as well. I’m preparing materials for the Tech Graphics modules on hand drawing for the autumn, as the pile of tools on my dining table testifies.

And there was meal after meal after meal to prepare, as you’ll be well aware. Sometimes fancy, sometimes new (fried peaches on the suggestion of my cousin, Rebecca). A colleague from TU Delft, Dr. Gillian Saunders, crated this nifty mask and mailed it over to me. It’s coming in handy, especially since the Irish government has recently stated asking us to wear masks, and requiring them on public transit.

In addition, there’s been the occasional birthday party, with Zoom allowing us to gather from all around the world. Happy b-day, Tarrah Beebe and Mike Miminiris!

Aongus has gone back to work now, and I’m here working from home as has been my norm. I like working at home better when it’s sunny, but I pray most for sunny weekends. I must admit, most of my religious/spiritual intentions have gone for those less fortunate than we’ve been—this facing sickness, stress, and hardship due to Covid or living with addicted or abusive people.

We’ve been blessed and have been able to grow together during this time. We attempt to make each day new and interesting, whether it’s learning a new theory or just pulling out our Frank Lloyd Wright socks (a gift of my recently departed Dad). Other ways I’ve passed the Covid-time include studying for the Driver Theory Test (scored 40/40, yeah baby!) and—now that businesses have opened—finally getting haircuts and new glasses to match my improved prescription. I didn’t buy the Corbu specs (shown below) but they were fun to try!

Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Northside (4/)

During lockdown in Ireland, we started with an allowable 2 km radius exercise zone from our homes. This eventually increased to 5 km, then 20 km. For Aongus and me, the entire center of Dublin falls within 2km. If you’re thinking “Wow, that’s small!” I agree, yes, Dublin’s central core is quite small.

Our circle expanded, very slowly, from our immediate neighborhood of Smithfield, to 2km with Phoenix Park (described in another post), Blessington Basin and the Royal Canal (described below). At 5km, we expanded to the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park. At 20km, we cycled further, challenging ourselves to 20km there and 20km back, which would get us to Howth, cycling along the greenway at Clontarf or even over onto Bull Island and along Dollymount Strand. I’ve shared photos of all this below, as it’s just too picturesque to miss.

I wanted to document the experience for historical purposes (the life of empty nesters in Dublin during lockdown!?). I think the post has wider value, too: if you’re ever visiting Dublin, these are great places to explore!

Smithfield Plaza was empty for weeks.

Days before lockdown started, I reminded myself that I wanted to climb the tower at Jameson’s Distillery, shown above, which one could then access for a €5 fee paid to the Genesis Hostel on Smithfield Plaza. The tower could, I told myself, become inaccessible again, for any reason, at any time. It had been closed most of the time since I moved to Smithfield in September 2012.

Due to Covid, the tower certainly became inaccessible once again.

During lockdown, I rarely ventured out Monday-Friday. I tried to get indoor exercise during the week, but it wasn’t easy. With the Liffey four blocks from home, I motivated myself to get out and walk that far some evenings, between work and dinner. Below, Aongus and I are pictured on one of Dublin’s two Calatrava-designed bridge, which is five blocks from our home:

You can see the tip top of the giant obelisk in Phoenix Park peeking from the trees between our heads.

Below are photos of “northside” streets close to our home: (1) along the Liffey with Smithfield to the right/north, (2) cycling the new protected lanes along the Liffey, (3) the lovely steeple of St. Paul’s @ Smithfield shown as second time, and (4) a morning view of, vacant, taken by Aongus on his way to work once lockdown started to lift.

During the height of lockdown, the streets of central Dublin were actually quite eerie in the evening. The Irish police (called the Gardí) set up checkpoints all around Dublin—mostly to prevent drivers from exceeding their boundaries without reason.

On one walk we were stopped on O’Connell Street by a Guard. He asked us why we were in town, and since exercise was allowed and we were within our allowable zone, there was not problem and the guards let us pass. Other acceptable reasons were shopping for medicine or food shopping, or assisting someone who was cocooning.

We got stopped one other time, on the way to Phoenix Park because unbeknownst to us, a right-wing radical individual was trying to stage a protest. It didn’t work for her. People didn’t show up to join her shenanigans. The Irish are quite reasonable politically, in my opinion, and such radical views are unpalatable here.

Blessington Basin

Although Aongus initially thought 2km would be too restrictive, it turned out there was more to see than he realized. Within our 2km small radius there were urban delights to be found: we joyfully ‘discovered’ Blessington Basin for ourselves.

I’d seen it on the map while searching the web for property (I might as well be looking for leprechauns or unicorns as a sunny and affordable flat or house in Dublin). Though I knew its name and location, I’d never had reason to venture there. Until lockdown. It’s easily reached from our flat by foot or bicycle.

Ultimately, we ended up near the Basin while exploring on Dublin Bikes (which we both subscribe to for a very reasonable annual fee).

Aongus was flabbergasted. He had no inkling of the existence of this Basin– even though he was raised not far away, on the Northside of Dublin in Glasnevin!

There are several delightful murals in the park surrounding Blessington Basin, and the one pictured above, with me sliding through an illusionary door, is appropo. A step into Blessington Basin park feels like you’re entering Sinclair Lewis’ Narnia or Alice’s Wonderland!

Royal Canal

A week into lockdown, I got my previously non-working bike up and running. At about the same time, Aongus borrowed a bike from his sister, because he was the one appointed by his family to keep his 82 year-old aunt supplied with food and meds.

With these bikes, we were able to explore more easily and we found more joys, like the footpaths, the little canalside park beside Shandon Gardens, and cycle paths aside the Royal Canal (with one of its locks shown above). We determined to return again when we’re allowed more distance to roam.

National Botanic Gardens

Our allowable zone eventually expanded to 5km. Inside that we found the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park, although these photos were taken after we’d gotten 20km access. The Botanical Gardens had been closed for months before opening its gates to the public. The caretakers must have been there during lockdown, as the place is still meticulously manicured.

When amenities began re-opening on the northside of the city, the gates of the National Botanic Garden sprung open with colorful life:

The flowers had been developing nicely in the peace and quiet.

Aongus loves this place. It’s near his childhood neighborhood and one if his mum’s favorite spots for a weekend walk.

Griffith Park

Aongus brought me through Griffith Park one day. It’s just to the south of his auntie’s house. Here’s I’m decked out in bright orange and a crash helmet, which I found helpful as cars returned to the streets of Dublin. Most drivers allowed me plenty of space, but of course, I was only cycling on weekends.

We had a snack beside the canal this day in Griffith Park, and then enjoyed a short and distanced front-year visit with his aunt.

Dollymount

Bull Island with its Dollymount Strand fall just beyond our 5km, so we had to wait for the 20km radius to enjoy these coastal amenities again. Fairview and some of Clontarf were allowed, but we couldn’t go up as far as Bull Island. It’s too bad that we couldn’t enjoy the Wood Bridge without cars.

Our visit to Dollymount Strand came after our cycle to Howth (described below). We took the long route on the way home from Howth, to enjoy the views, and the challenge of cycling in the sand. It’s much easier to cycle where the sand is wet than dry!

The wildflowers were stunning! Which is why I couldn’t decide which photos to include… so you get a bunch!

Howth

The real jewel in the crown of our 20km radius northward from Dublin is the little fishing village of Howth.

There’s a picturesque little harbor, protected by a lighthouse (and seagulls), that is today filled with pleasure craft in addition to work boats.

We have cycled out to Howth twice now. Once we bumped into friends of Aongus and enjoyed a distranced chat (after months of isolation seeing them was a highlight of the day).

The pictured below show us getting caught in the rain. We ended up taking the DART home that day and, as I had no mask, I had to improvise with a beach blanket.

Fortunately, there was also lots of space and sun in Howth.

And so very many eye-catching views.

Plus, some darned good company.

I couldn’t be more blessed than to spend this lockdown with the fun, kind, generous, patient, energetic, optimistic, healthy, share-the-load and ever-loving Mr. Aongus Coughlan. Now, if only I can get him hiking that Howth cliff walk with me (see the map below). Since the 20km rule has been lifted, it’s in our currently allowable zone. And yet, it’s still a bit too steep for the man. Never on a windy day!