Building your own heart rate monitor

Today my colleagues and I taught 40 high school students to build tiny super low-cost heartbeat monitors using off-the-shelf parts. You can learn more about the project, see a blog post with details and photos from the workshop, and view our assembly instructions and code on various pages of our website.

A superb electronics design by Ted Burke and workshop delivery by the School of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at TU Dublin!

Virtually back in-person at TU Dublin

I’m finally coming out of laptop-induced hibernation. I’m ready to move between in-person and online realms, and hoping this will ensue rather seamlessly. It’s been hard to muster enthusiasm for blogging after working behind the laptop all day, every day. Maybe spending time outside will provide inspiration to blog, as it has today.

This morning, I delivered a seminar (7-8 AM) to the Center for Research on Engineering Education (CREE) at the University of Cape Town. The topic was writing research proposals for publication and securing grants and fellowships. I delivered a similar session earlier in the year as part of a workshop series conducted by the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN), and CREE asked me to bring it to their group.

A really enthusiastic group attended and I received several follow-up emails. I really appreciate hearing what attendees valued and how we might connect more in the future. I met most of these folks in delivering Master Classes in South Africa when I was working at UCL, and also when attending the Research in Engineering Education Symposium in Cape Town in 2019. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them better through regular meetings, online during Covid. I’m currently developing a special focus journal issue with one of them, Anita Campbell. We had a meeting about that project yesterday that was so exciting I had trouble sleeping last night!?

Cover slide for the talk I gave today, virtually in Cape Town.

Logging off the Cape Town session, I headed over to Bolton Street TU Dublin to help lead a field trip for Transition Year (high school) students to visit sites in Dublin.

One-half of the students toured the “waste to energy” facility in Dublin (which they don’t call an incinerator, as that word seems politically incorrect here but is easy-to-envision thanks to Toy Story). The other half of the students came with Kevin Gaughan and me to see a construction site downtown. I included two photos of our site visit below, but you can see more about the visit, including a full gallery of images, at

While I was busy on the tour, some of my colleagues were preparing for tomorrow’s activity for the same students, a BioSlam. You can view the instructions for making little blood flow monitors on our RoboSlam site, at

A photo of the project for tomorrow. See for more.

I’ll have to step out of the BioSlam for a while to attend an online Meeting on engineering ethics — I hope earbuds do the job and I can attend from the corridor outside the electronics lab.

At the moment, I am taking a breather, listening to an online talk by a leading expert in the history of Grangegorman. The speaker, Brian Donnely, Senior Archivist in the National Archives, is currently talking about Richmond Surgical Hospital (a block from my flat) and as well as TU Dublin’s campus site at Grangegorman, which was used as an “insane asylum” with a prison placed between the two in the past.

And, I’m multi-tasking (a rarity for me) and posting a blog (also very rare these days).

Online lecture by Brian Donnely, Senior Archivist in the National Archives.

In just over two hours, I’ll be teaching an online evening class on Research Methods for my BSc students in BIM/Digital Construction. Before then, I’ll read the peer reviews I’ve just received for the European Journal for Engineering Education, so that I can recommend tomorrow to the Editor in Cheif how to move forward toward publication of the manuscript.

A slide for tonight’s Research Methods class.

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.

I’ve also posted an example grant proposal for Marie Curie (individual fellowships):
Abstract and Eval
• Excellence Section 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
Notes on using tables
• Impact Section 2.1, 2.2
Implementation Section 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4
Ethics Section
Final Report from 2016 submission

Global leadership with REEN

Reflecting professionally on my past four years, REEN is a definite bright spot.

I’m delighted with what we have accomplished since 2018 when I joined the Governing Body of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN), and since I took on the role of Chair for 2020 and 2021. I got to put many of the theories to work that I learned in my PhD in Higher Education Administration (Policy, Planning and Leadership).

During my term as REEN Chair, my team and I have met our existing goals of organizing a bi-annual Symposium (REES, or Research in Engineering Education Symposium), publishing a special focus journal issue from each REES, and hosting an informational website. We seek to build momentum and capacity to generate new knowledge, publish quality research, and implement research-informed teaching approaches in regions all around the globe.

We aim to host REES in geographically diverse regions, and we see this Symposium as a way of introducing new areas and communities to EER. I helped recruit and select the hosts and locations for REES 2021 in Perth Australia, and REES 2023 in Hubli, India. REES has been/will be held in:

  • 2007 – Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
  • 2008 – Davos, Switzerland
  • 2009 – Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia
  • 2011 – Madrid, Spain
  • 2013 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • 2015 – Dublin, Ireland
  • 2017 – Bogotá, Colombia
  • 2019 – Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2021 – Perth, Australia
  • 2023 – Hubli, India

I’m delighted to notice that REES has now been held on every (inhabited) continent!

We recognize that attending REES in person involves global travel and is thus prohibitively expensive for many — as well as taxing on the environment — and we seek to make it more accessible, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. So, the organizing team has developed multiple avenues for online participation.

We started innovating this way at the outset of the pandemic, when we organized with UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education a full-day online Engineering Education Meet Up. We co-organized a second one on International Women’s Day 2020.  People attended these online events from all over the globe and we facilitated all time zones in the first event.

We built on this success with virtual events in the design of the upcoming REES in Perth, which has a global “relay” type structure. Events will happen face-to-face in Perth but will include paper presentations in a hybrid format (with face to face + online participation). Each research paper will be discussed three times:

  • first in the afternoon in Perth (hybrid)
  • second online at a time comfortable for the Middle East westward across Europe and Africa and across the Americas, and
  • third at a report back to the Perth group the next morning.

We have a host of facilitators enlisted to carry the dialogue across the time zones during REES 2021, to support continuity. We will use collaborative tools (e.g., Padlet, Miro, Jamboards, or similar) to record and add ideas at each stage of the global relay. I’ll be facilitating two of these relay sessions, scheduling and helping the facilitation leaders prepare, and moderating the online keynote sessions. Our keynote speakers have agreed to deliver their talks twice: once to people in time zones near Perth (hybrid format), and again to the other side of the world (online only).

REEN will provide awards for the REES Best Paper and best student paper (the Duncan Frazier Award), and a sub-committee of REEN Board members is now in the process of selecting winners for 2021.

During my term as Chair, the REEN Board has developed a practice of building capacity among board members and empowering each other so that there is continuity in transition and handover over responsibilities among Board members.

In the past two years, we have expanded our Board to provide a better representation of non-Anglo regions; the prior naming and allocation of representatives previously privileged the USA and Australia, but it now provides two representatives per continent with some sub-divisions specified to ensure geographical diversity (here’s an example call for applicants). We’ll modify further soon, to make the Middle East and Russia two separate regions.

We have innovated and grown. In the past two years, we have developed many new policies and procedures (such as for recruiting candidates and conducting elections) and programs (e.g., virtual Meet Ups, hybrid conference formats, capacity-building groups, and a capacity-building workshop series that we’ll soon pilot test).

We established a new transition period, to bring the incoming Chair on board 6-12 months prior to taking the full role of Chair, and the outgoing Chair to transition out gradually over 6-12 months to provide advice and support to the incoming Chair.

We also established a new rotation cycle for elections that helps stabilize membership so that we have a consistent level of turnover each year. Our new practices for recruiting and selecting Board members provide a common and transparent approach across regions that will help REEN fill its needs for diverse skills, interests, and expereince. We developed a more balanced approach that allows seasoned and emerging researchers alike a chance to serve.

As we are a larger group, we have not had trouble recruiting people to take on new roles or expand our repertoire of offerings. These were problems encountered in the past, when sitting Chairs couldn’t find replacements, for example. In the past three years, we have had extensive competition for the Board positions we have advertised, typically with 6-10 people running for each open position.

To help ensure engagement among Board members and address a few cases of under-performance, I implemented an annual benchmarking activity wherein Board members submit a written reflection at the start of each year, summarizing what they contributed the prior year, and setting forth goals and aspirations they have for the coming year. This approach has been successful in helping build a sense of ownership and accountability. It helps us identify and build momentum around shared goals. Thankfully, it also gave individuals who were not contributing very much a chance to see that for themselves and modify their behaviour by either stepping up their efforts, better stating what they intended to contribute so they could deliver, or stepping down to allow others a chance to serve and lead.

As REEN itself does not have a bank account, we have successfully controlled costs. We moved our website to a less expensive/nearly free provider, and we upgraded the content. During my time on REEN, we have added a page on EER journals, and our team continues to cultivate and refine this list, trying to provide trustworthy and consistent information to authors to aid their selection of publication venues and help them avoid predatory publishers. We still have the annual cost of the website domain, and I’ll try to find a sponsor for that as I don’t like that obligation passing from Chair to Chair as we’ve been doing.

Over the past 24 months, we produced a special focus journal issue on ethics in engineering, published in hard copy in May 2021 via the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education. I was the Editor, supported by the Editor-in-Chief Sally Male, and Associate Editors from REEN Teresa Hattigh, Andrea Mazzurco, and Valquíria Villas-Boas.

A full list of past REEN publications is available on our website and this list is being expanded this very week to include updated content and a new page of domain-specific journals as well.

REEN also conveys news and communicates happenings via a new blog feature on our website, with a new email subscription list, in addition to a new Twitter handle, @BoardREEN and the LinkedIn Discussion Board that we have operated for years. I’ve been a major player in posting to social media, and hope to soon recruit someone to help with the job. Perhpas when we bring new Board members in, early in 2022.

The special focus issue of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (that I mentioned above) adds to the global body of literature on engineering ethics education. The introduction by the guest editor Shannon Chance presents the nine manuscripts and explains ties across them. Overall, the set covers ethical decision-making models and pedagogical techniques, philosophical aspects of ethics in engineering practice and education, ethics in accreditation, and the role of extra-curricular activities and gaming platforms in students’ ethical development. The set has been released digitally and will soon be published in hard copy as well. Many of the articles are open access, and a link to each is provided below.

In the special issue, authors Gwynne-Evans, Junaid and Chetty argue for a repositioning of ethics at the heart of engineering graduate attributes. Martin, Conlon and Bowe examine how “cases” (or detailed examples) are used in the teaching of engineering ethics; these authors argue for the development of immersive scenarios and active stakeholder engagement, as well for the development of local repositories and metrics of effectiveness. Stransky, Bodnar, Anastasio and Burkey explore the power of immersive environments that encourage authentic, high-level engagement by students. Sivaraman proposes a 4-tier rubric for evaluating engineering students’ ethical decision-making skills in the context of hypothetical scenarios. Lawlor offers a dissenting perspective to the teaching of engineering ethics through case studies and he recommends mirroring practices used in the education of philosophers—reading, lectures, discussion, and assessment—so that students are equipped to think critically about the profession. Hess, Miller, Higbee, Fore and Wallace explore empathy and ethical becoming, with the aim of helping Biomedical students recognize issues in practice environments. Frigo, Marthaler, Albers, Ott and Hillerbrand bring to the forefront the role of phronesis and virtues in engineering education. Advocating an authentic approach to teaching ethics, Polmear, Chau and Simmons highlight the role that informal, out-of-class, or extra-curricular activities play in the students’ ethical development. Finally, Chance, Lawlor, Direito and Mitchell assess the ramifications of traditional approaches to teaching ethics by asking civil engineers how they had learned about ethics and find that lessons of codes and professional practice were likely present in their engineering courses but completely unmemorable.

Frankly, I’m over the moon that this last article, “Above and beyond: ethics and responsibility in civil engineering“, by my own team, has already been downloaded from the publisher’s website 1371 times. It’s free to download, so please click this link to download the paper and learn what we discovered.

As REEN wants to help more regions build skills in EER and a sense of community working together, our Board members launched, in late 2019, a group we are now calling the “Engineering Education Research Network – Africa”. This group shares resources and ideas via WhatsApp and meet online to share similarly. Our Board has been working diligently to develop a series of workshops to introduce this community to EER and examples of how to do EER. We will run this workshop series in January-February 2022. I’ll meet with the group (online) later in November to launch that workshop initiative and encourage people to sign up.

Board members are hoping to extend these support activities into additional regions, eventually providing video recordings translated into local languages to help people learn EER. Our long-range plan for these EERN communities includes Latin America, the Middle East, and China.

In the role of Chair, I also developed a new logo with input from all Board members:

Our little Board is small but mighty. My wholehearted thanks go to the current Board members who made possible all the accomplishments I outlined above:

2021 (serving until the end of 2021)

  • Valquiria Villas-Boas (Central and South America)
  • Brent Jesiek (North America)
  • Shannon Chance (Europe)


  • Teresa Hattingh (Africa)
  • Mahyuddin Arsat (Southeast Asia)
  • Sarah Dart (Australasia)


  • Aida Guerra (Europe)
  • Cindy Finelli (North America)
  • Camilo Vieira (Central and South America)


  • Jiabin (Emily) Zhu (China and Northeast Asia)
  • Xiangyun Du (Middle East and Russia)
  • Esther Matemba (Africa)

Special projects

  • Sally Male (REES 2021)
  • Mike Klassen (ad hoc)
  • John Mitchell (ad hoc)
  • Sohum Sohoni (REES 2023, Indian sub-continent)

Hot off the presses! Opportunities and barriers faced by early-career civil engineers enacting global responsibility

Taylor & Francis has just published my team’s newest article, “Opportunities and barriers faced by early-career civil engineers enacting global responsibility” in the European Journal of Engineering Education!

It’s Open Access, so you can download it for free at

I collected interviews for this project with civil engineers recruited by Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK). Dr Inês Direito helped with interviews and data analysis and Professor John Mitchell helped us with editing.

This is a sister article to one published in May 2021 via the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education that was titled “Above and beyond: ethics and responsibility in civil engineering“. That article has 1,354 downloads to date! It’s also Open Access, and free to read.

We hope you’ll find the various insights revealed about the ethics and experiences of early-career engineers interesting and informative.

Four-Year Flashback: Proudest Achievements

I haven’t been blogging much during the pandemic, as I spend far too many hours sitting in front of a computer monitor for things that must be done. Hours for hobbies like blogging just weren’t available – my eyes and thighs couldn’t take more. Moreover, since I posted advice and examples of Marie Curie final reports and applications there has been a deluge of visitors to those pages and posting more would cause those visitors confusion.

But, the traffic slowed down this year after the 2021 deadline for applications. You can see the cliff edge, where traffic dropped off, in the image to the left, below. These web materials were heavily visited in 2020 as well as 2021, as shown to the right, and I anticipate MSCA applicants will return for the 2022 application cycle.

In any case, I’m delighted with having over nine thousand visitors this year!

Most visitors came from my home (USA) and host (Ireland and the UK) countries, but I also reached people far away!

It’s time to update you! And, as I’m currently preparing to put my best foot forward in a local interview, it’s also a good time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the past four years:

  • Marie Curie Research Fellow and Visiting Professor at UCL
  • Programme Chair for the TU Dublin’s BSc (Honours) in BIM (Digital Construction)
  • Governing Body member and Chair of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN)
  • Guest editor for three special focus journal issues
  • Journal Associate Editor, Editorial Board member, and mentor for new reviewers
  • Author of multiple publications, having collected data for additional new publications as well
  • International speaker and workshop coordinator
  • Licensed Architect with up to date CPD
  • Supervisor and mentor for emerging researchers, appointed Senior Fellow of the (UK) Higher Education Academy
  • Blogger sharing examples to build human capacity in research and research-informed teaching
  • Manager of a portfolio of funded projects

In this post, I’ll tell you a bit about the first two items. Hopefully, I can detail other items in subsequent posts — so examples are fresh in my mind come interview time!

After successfully completing a two-year Marie Cure individual fellowship at UCL, I returned to Dublin, but I have kept my networks and collaborative activities at UCL going strong. The fellowship opened so many new doors for me — it exposed a new world of opportunities. My host institution, a global powerhouse in research and in engineering education as well as architecture education, provided an ideal place to grow new knowledge and skills. The fellowship’s generous training/travel budget, plus the exciting assignments UCL sent me on (e.g., leading two Master Classes in South Africa), helped extend my network into many new regions. Even today, nearly two years after leaving the UCL campus, I work daily with my UCL colleagues. As Visiting Professor, I attend online lectures and research sessions, provide leadership on research and gender issues, and engage in collaborative projects. Today, UCL Consultants pays half my salary, straight to TU Dublin, to provide me time to develop curricular materials for a brand-new degree programme in Architectural Engineering. This curriculum development work has been challenging, but also incredibly interesting and rewarding.

Just a month after returning to Dublin and just a month before the pandemic came crashing in, I accepted the role of Programme Chair for TU Dublin’s BSc (Honours) in BIM (Digital Construction) and launched that programme. I had an amazing Dean, but the two layers of supervisors between the Dean and me (as Programme Chair) were vacant for over half a year and so I learned quite a range of new skills. As my new line manager pointed out to me yesterday, I left my own personal stamp on the programme as it developed. Thankfully, he described this as a positive! Developing the structure and content of the “Research Methods” and “Work-Based Learning” modules for this BSc has been particularly rewarding. The “Honours” part of the programme name indicates that the students must complete a research thesis to graduate, and we’ve done an impressive job guiding the students to topics where doing research will benefit them, their careers, and the organizations where they work. We graduated our first cohort and have a second nearing completion. The tough part of this role, for me, is keeping up with technologies and standards that evolve so fast.

In upcoming posts, I look forward to reflecting on REEN, journal, and mentoring work. But for now, I’d better get back to my “To Do” list!

Best Paper on Diversity and Inclusiveness

Today we received the Prof. Susanne Ihsen Award for Best Paper on Diversity and Inclusiveness!

I’m both delighted and surprised that our gender and diversity group’s work won this very high honor at the closing ceremony of SEFI, the European Society for Engineering Education, at its 2021 conference.

Before explaining what we did, I’d like to give special recognition to Dr. Inês Direito for leading this project, bringing our authoring team together, and helping ensure we got things done! It’s a pleasure watching you achieve new heights in your work as chair of the Diversity, Equality and Inclusivity Special Interest Group of SEFI!

Inês made a video introduction to the paper:

Here’s the abstract:

Significant efforts have been made to promote gender equality in higher education (HE) in Europe. Examples include the establishment of the Athena Swan Charter in the UK in 2005 and the 2019 launch of the Irène Curie Fellowship scheme by Eindhoven University of Technology. But which initiatives address broader diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges in HE? And which are specifically focused on engineering education? This exploratory study aims to improve our understanding of the ways in which a set of European HE Institutions engaged in engineering education address DEI at an organisation level, and how this is communicated within the public domain. The analysis of online data provided by a purposive sample of institutions is guided by the following research questions (RQ): 1. How is DEI addressed and defined in institution-wide strategic frameworks? 2. How many institutions describe having an institution-wide DEI organization? 3. What specific policies around DEI are being developed, and what areas are mentioned, defined, and prioritized? 4. What structures and resources noted as part of their DEI activities are specific to engineering faculties and departments? 5. What engineering-specific DEI initiatives exist that are not available in the public domain or are not written in English? Our sample is composed of the host institutions of the authors of the paper, and represent different European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK. The findings of this exploratory study will be used to inform the design of a large-scale survey to identify DEI practices across the SEFI community.

And the APA citation is:

Direito, I., Chance, S., Clemmensen, L., Craps, S., Economides, S., Isaac, S., Jolly, A-M., Truscott, F., & Wint, N. (2021). Diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering education: an exploration of European higher education institutions’ strategic frameworks, resources, and initiatives. The 49th Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI 2021), 13-16 September, Berlin, Germany.

You can download the paper here, because the full proceedings will not be posted online until October.

Many thanks also to the members of Best Paper awards committees, who are tasked with reading many papers and attending all the related presentations. It’s a great deal of work and we appreciate the time and effort that these dedicated folks contribute!

Get paid to earn a PhD in STEM education at TU Dublin

Would you like four years of PhD tuition/registration fees, with a €18,500 annual stipend and annual project budget of €2,600? The goal is to research STEM education and earn a PhD at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), in Ireland’s capital city. Applicants for this project are required to complete an Expression of Interest and email it to both  AND The application deadline is October 14, 2021.

Specifically, TU Dublin’s Research Scholarship Programme 2021 awarded me funding to hire a PhD researcher/student to study the topic of “Supporting Diversity in STEM by Enhancing Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Practices”. EU and non-EU citizens are welcome to apply, but those coming from outside the EU will need to obtain proper visas to study and work in Ireland. Registration Fees/Tuition each year would cost €4,500 (EU full-time) or €9,000 (non-EU full-time) but are completely covered, meaning that this grant is worth €102,400-€120,400. The stipend and project costs “will be paid annually, based upon successful completion of the annual assessment by the student”.

Applicants must have obtained a minimum of a 2.1 honours degree (level 8), or equivalent, in a relevant (e.g, STEM or social science) subject. A Master’s degree and/or some prior experience in qualitative or quantitative research is desirable but not essential. The ideal candidate will be highly self-motivated, with keen interest in STEM education and theories on learning and teaching and the ability to work both independently and collaboratively. We welcome applications from candidates from diverse backgrounds and from anywhere in the world. Applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements. Non-Irish can convert thier qualifications using an online conversion calculator (e.g., the US equivalent would be a four-year bachelor’s with B+ or better GPA).

What are we studying?

Our Research Question is: What challenges do women face with collaborative, peer-to-peer and Problem Based Learning while studying engineering and other STEM courses at university, and how do they deal with these challenges?

Why are we doing this?

Across engineering in Ireland, skills shortages represent “a major concern” and “barrier” to growth, and “the continuing gender gap requires greater attention and action”[i].Addressing shortfalls and increasing diversity requires shifting the culture of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and STEM learning – it must start with understanding the experiences of the students who enrol in STEM.

[i] Engineers Ireland. (2020). Engineering 2020: A barometer of the profession in Ireland.

How will we do it?

The proposed mixed methods study involves phenomenological analysis of 71 existing interview transcripts, complemented by a quantitative survey of STEM students to identify patterns across TU Dublin. These longitudinal data provide a unique window into students’ experience of engineering and the active, inquiry-driven, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) used at TU Dublin.

I’ll be the lead supervisor for this PhD researcher, and the advisory supervisor will be Professor Brian Bowe. I’ve provided the Detailed Project Description in the body of this post. A brief description of the project that is being advertised by the University is provided here:

The full proposal that I submitted for funding (linked below) provides details about both of the supervisors, about strategic alignment with organizational and governmental goals, and how this project will enhance research capacity. I’ve also provided a few details at the bottom of the post about terms of funding. Many thanks to the people who gave input and advice on my application: Brian Bowe, Oluwasegun Seriki, Clare Eriksson, Marek Rebow and a consultant Marek secured.

Here’s a link to the the award letter, with the evaluation scores and comments:

Detailed Project Description

In 2020, Irish firms aimed to hire 5,152 engineers but 91% of engineering leaders listed skills shortages as “a major concern” and “barrier” to growth (Engineers Ireland, 2020). In Ireland today, more students are choosing STEM studies at second level, but many don’t continue into STEM higher education and “the continuing gender gap requires greater attention and action – in Ireland and internationally” (Engineers Ireland, 2020).

‘Pipeline’ or ‘conversion’ rates – persistence to graduation and into STEM careers of students who do enrol – are an issue. Globally, half of all students starting in engineering exit the major within a year[i] and in Ireland “drop-out rates in some third-level STEM courses [are] hitting 80%”[ii]. Moreover, most who graduate in engineering are male; in Ireland, men account for over 80% of all graduates in engineering, manufacturing and construction[iii]. Today’s culture of engineering study and work is largely shaped by males, and this may discourage some prospective applicants from joining the field.

Prior research suggests experiential, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) increases student engagement and helps address reasons women avoid STEM subjects[iv], [v], [vi]. Yet, task allocation and peer evaluation in teams continue to reflect gender bias, even when students do not recognize inequity[vii], [viii]. Time and project management, group coordination, and communications often fall to women – and often go unrecognized[ix]. Such dynamics can influence students’ perception of how they fit, if they belong, and whether they should stay in engineering. Engineering culture is often described as “chilly” to those who don’t fit the engineering stereotype[x]. Women who experience an unwelcoming environment have shown less commitment to stay in STEM programs than those who feel accepted[xi]. Although women who enter STEM courses are typically high achievers with strong self-confidence, their experiences can cause significant drops in their confidence levels, especially in their first two years[xii]. A US study found female participants felt dismissed, ignored, and unacknowledged when working in small groups of men in both work and academic settings[xiii]. Profanity, semi-sexual double entendre, and violent metaphors used by male faculty and students in engineering classrooms, although typically not intended to offend, contribute to a chilly climate[xiv].

PBL, which inherently involves group work, is promoted at TU Dublin by the Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC), and so it is important to assess how well the pedagogy is working here. This study will investigate women’s experiences with PBL and other forms of collaborative peer-to-peer learning in engineering at TU Dublin, compare and contrast this with experiences of women from other engineering schools in Europe, and assess how the PBL experience changed over time for the Dublin-based women. This will be assessed via qualitative, phenomenological analysis of existing interview data. Findings will be extended via a survey of women in STEM at TU Dublin. 

Addressing shortfalls and increasing diversity requires shifting the culture of STEM and STEM learning – it must start with understanding the experiences of STEM students. The First Time Supervisor (FTS applicant) has amassed a valuable, longitudinal dataset to help answer the research question: What challenges do women face with collaborative, peer-to-peer and Problem Based Learning while studying engineering and other STEM courses at university, and how do they deal with these challenges?

Phenomenological interviews collected 2015-2019 via the applicant’s two MSCA fellowships[xv], [xvi], provide insight regarding the experiences of diverse female students (see Figure 1).

Methodologies. The proposed two-part mixed-methods study involves qualitative and quantitative components. Ethics clearance will be sought for each phase, as the second phase will be built upon findings of the first.

Composition of the dataset

In the first phase, extensive qualitative, phenomenological analysis of 71 existing interview transcripts will be conducted to assess how women have experienced PBL and other forms of collaborative learning (e.g., studying with peers in- and outside class) at TU Dublin across their four years of engineering studies and in other institutions in Portugal and Poland. The TU Dublin sample studied using formal PBL methods as part of their B.Eng. degree programs, starting from day one of their course – they include 24 of the 26 women on the inaugural cohort of TU Dublin’s common core engineering programme. These students completed their course in 2019 when the final set of interviews were conducted — analysis of these data is urgently needed. Additional interview data, collected in Poland and Portugal, provide a counterpoint to help assess the degree to which findings are localized to TU Dublin, versus representative of women’s experiences in PBL and collaborative learning more broadly. Phenomenology helps researchers investigate structures of consciousness and explore how specific phenomena are experienced from the first-person point of view. Van Manen’s interpretive, hermeneutic method will be used for analyzing interview data.[xvii] TU Dublin has expertise in this: Brian Bowe and Rob Howard have supervised theses using phenomenological methods[xviii], [xix], [xx] as well as closely related phenomenographical methods[xxi], [xxii], [xxiii]. As 33 prior doctoral theses using phenomenology in EER had sample sizes of 7-28 participants, this is an ambitious study, feasible explicitly because the qualitative data have already been collected and checked for accuracy.[xxiv]

In the second phase, a widescale survey will be conducted with women studying on four or more STEM courses that involve PBL across TU Dublin to assess the degree to which the qualitative findings hold true more broadly. Survey questions will be based on analysis from the phenomenological phase and piloted before use. Preliminary analyses conducted by the applicant indicate that many women in the engineering sample at TU Dublin had to adjust to working on teams with male students for the first time, as they came from single-sex schools. Many felt they had less preparation to start engineering than their male counterparts because their secondary schools provided limited access to physics and other engineering-related courses. The survey will provide a broader, and more current, perspective on these topics, to see if these barriers were experienced by many women in STEM at TU Dublin and assess what this might imply for Irish education policy. Specific sources of stress will be distilled from the interviews, and the follow-up survey will help assess how widespread these challenges have been. Thus, the follow-up survey will allow the PhD researcher to confirm and extend findings of the phenomenological phase.

Objectives of the studyare to:

  • Distil lessons from interviews and surveys to improve attraction, delivery, and retention in engineering and STEM education and employment
  • Assess the degree to which PBL pedagogies support women in engineering
  • Describe how women experience PBL in engineering at TU Dublin
  • Identify positive and negative aspects of the PBL experience
  • Make full use of the existing longitudinal interview data via in-depth analysis
  • Extend the value and generalizability of the findings via a quantitative survey
  • Assess data for gender, ethnic, and intersectional dimensions

Workplan (Figure 2). Upon arrival, the PhD researcher will be provided longitudinal data and guided in career planning, literature review, and target methodologies (Year 1) as a foundation for phenomenological analysis (Y2) and collection and analysis of survey data to achieve generalizability (Y3). The researcher will take part in the Graduate Research School’s structured PhD programme, annual Doctoral Symposia provided by the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), summer schools of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE) or similar, and online workshops organized by the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) and other leading organizations for engineering education research (EER). The research will be disseminated via SEFI, regional symposia, and either the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) or REEN’s Symposium (REES) and journal articles, submitted to the European Journal of Engineering Education (EJEE) and Journal of Engineering Education (JEE).

Work Porgramme including Timetable, Ethical Considerations, Methods, and Dissemination

Feasibility, limitations and risks. The level of funding available, the existence of an extensive dataset, high-quality mentoring from the FTS applicant[xxv], [xxvi], [xxvii], and the supervising team’s track records help ensure this project can be completed on time[xxviii]. The sample size, considered large for qualitative research, will facilitate transferability but not generalizability; to address this limitation we propose rigorous methodologies and inclusion of a survey. Possible risksinclude a low return of surveys (however, ample qualitative data exist to make completion of a thesis viable) and Brian Bowe’s timetable (however, Rob Howard represents a viable backup). A primary risk is that the interview data will grow stale if they are not analyzed soon.

Originality. A longitudinal dataset of this depth is extremely rare in EER, and it presents unique opportunities. Using phenomenology is an innovative approach to study this topic [xxix] and having an extensive pre-existing dataset will allow time to extend qualitative findings via a wide-scale survey. Prior work of similar nature is US-based and quantitative in nature [iv], [xxx], tracking what happens (e.g., patterns of enrolment and retention), but failing to identify what keeps them engaged in the field or compels them to leave. The stressors they face and the why behind departures remains unclear so a deeper, more qualitative, study is needed. In early interviews, TU Dublin students reported some unique factors – a high proportion of single-sex schools, difficulty registering for physics in some schools – that warrant follow-up[xxxi], [xxxii].

[i] Mills, J.E. (2011). Reflections on the past, present and future of women in engineering. Australasian Journal of Eng. Educ., 17(3), 139-146.

[ii] O’Brien, C. (March 29, 2021). ‘Drop-out rates in some third-level STEM courses hitting 80%”. The Irish Times.

[iii] Turcinovic, P. (2013). EU knowledge triangle: ‘Renaissance or ocean of papers?’ Donald School Journal of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 7(3), 272-277.

[iv] Boedeker, P., Nite, S., Capraro, R. M., & Capraro, M. M. (2015, October). Women in STEM: The impact of STEM PBL implementation on performance, attrition, and course choice of women. In 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) (pp. 1-8). IEEE.

[v] Marra, R.M., Rodgers, K.A., Shen, D., & Bogue, B. (2012). Leaving engineering: A multi-year single institution study. Journal of Engineering Education, 101(1), 6-27.

[vi] Kokkelenberg, E.C., & Sinha, E. (2010). Who succeeds in STEM studies? An analysis of Binghamton University undergraduate students. Economics Of Education Review, 29(6), 935-946.

[vii] Fowler, R. R., & Su, M. P. (2018). Gendered risks of team-based learning: A model of inequitable task allocation in Project-Based Learning. IEEE Transactions on Education, 61(4), 312-318.

[viii] Hirshfield, L. J. (2018). Equal but not equitable: Self-reported data obscures gendered differences in project teams. IEEE Transactions on Education, 61(4), 305-311.

[ix] Neumann, M. D., Lathem, S. A., & Fitzgerald-Riker, M. (2016). Resisting cultural expectations: Women remaining as civil and environment engineering majors. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 22(2).

[x] Wyer, M., (2003). Intending to stay: Images of scientists, attitudes toward women, and gender as influences on persistence among science and engineering majors, J. Women Min. Sci. Eng., (9),1, 1716.

[xi] Wyer, M., (2003). Intending to stay: Images of scientists, attitudes toward women, and gender as influences on persistence among science and engineering majors, J. Women Min. Sci. Eng., (9), 1, 1716.

[xii] Brainard, S.G. and Carlin, L., (1998). A six-year longitudinal study of undergraduate women in engineering and science, J. Eng. Educ, (87),4, 369 – 375

[xiii] Wilkins-Yel, K. G., Simpson, A., & Sparks, P. D. (2019). Persisting despite the odds: Resilience and coping among women in engineering. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 25(4).

[xiv] Tonso, K. (1996). “The Impact of Cultural Norms on Women,” Journal of Engineering Education, (85), 3, 217–225.

[xv] European Commission. (2016). Re-Engineering Europe’s STEM Pipeline.

[xvi] European Commission. (2019). Designing Engineers: Harnessing the Power of Design Projects to Spur Cognitive and Epistemological Development of STEM Students.

[xvii] van Manen, M., Researching lived experience1997, Ontario, Canada: The Althouse Press.

[xviii] Chari, D. (2014). What is nanoscience?‘-A hermeneutic phenomenological study of nanoscience researchers’ experiences.

[xix] Sloan, A. (2015) A Phenomenological Study of Computer Science Lecturers: Lived Experiences of Curriculum Design, Doctoral Thesis, Technological University Dublin. doi:10.21427/D7QC75

[xx] Bates, E. (2011). How do Apprentice Painters and Decorators on the Irish Standards Based Apprenticeship Experience their Learning? Dissertation. Technological University Dublin.

[xxi] Beagon, U. (2021) A Phenomenographic Study of Academics Teaching on Engineering Programmes in Ireland: Conceptions of Professional Skills and Approaches to Teaching Professional Skills, Doctoral Thesis, TU Dublin, 2021, DOI:10.21427/K4MD-2571

[xxii] Irving, P. (2010). A Phenomenographic Study of Introductory Physics Students: Approaches to their Learning and Perceptions of their Learning Environment in a Physics Problem-Based Learning Environment. Doctoral Thesis.Technological University Dublin. doi:10.21427/D7K888

[xxiii] Walsh, Laura. (2009). A phenomenographic study of introductory physics students: approaches to problem solving and conceptualisation of knowledge. Technological University Dublin. doi:10.21427/D73598

[xxiv] CHANCE, S., & Direito, I. (2018). Identification and preliminary review of doctoral theses in engineering education that have used phenomenological methods. In Proceedings of the 46th SEFI Annual Conference 2018. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for engineering education excellence. Societe Europeenne pour la Formation des Ingenieurs (SEFI). Copenhagen, Denmark.

[xxv] CHANCE, S. (2021). An Editor’s Job is … sometimes a success! Ireland By Chance.

[xxvi] CHANCE, S. (2021). A new doc is born: Dr Diana Adela Martin. Ireland By Chance.

[xxvii] CHANCE, S. (2019). Meet emerging research star: Carlos Mora. Ireland By Chance.

[xxviii] CHANCE, S. (2021). Résumé & CV. Ireland By Chance.

[xxix] CHANCE, S., & Direito, I. (2018). Identification and preliminary review of doctoral theses in engineering education that have used phenomenological methods. In Proceedings of the 46th SEFI Annual Conference 2018. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for engineering education excellence. Societe Europeenne pour la Formation des Ingenieurs (SEFI). Copenhagen, Denmark.

[xxx] LaForce, M., Noble, E., & Blackwell, C. (2017). Problem-based learning (PBL) and student interest in STEM careers: The roles of motivation and ability beliefs. Education Sciences, 7(4), 92.

[xxxi] CHANCE, S. M., Bowe, B. & Duffy, G. (2016). Policy Implications of Irish Women’s Experiences in STEM Education. Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conference in Columbus, Ohio.

[xxxii] CHANCE, S. M., Eddy, P., & Bowe, B.  (2016). Implications for education policy: A comparative study of women’s experiences in engineering and physics education in Ireland and Poland. Joint conference of Irish Social Sciences Platform (ISSP) and National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in Dublin.

Some of the pertinent details from the TU Dublin Research Scholarship Programme 2021 handbook are:

Each award will provide a scholarship to support a full-time graduate research student and include a stipend of €18,500 and €2,600 for project costs. Funding is available for supervision of full-time students up to a maximum of 4 years for PhD students … and will be paid annually, based upon successful completion of the annual assessment by the student. 

15. Non-EEA students must comply with all immigration regulations as determined by the Department of Justice and Law Reform. 

16. Research students in receipt of funding must engage full-time in research. Although teaching, and other work, is considered a valuable experience, it should not exceed a total of 4 hours per week. 

19. Expenses may include: • project materials and consumables; • project equipment; • software and hardware critical for the proposed research; • a maximum limit of €1,000 for computers or laptops applies unless required for high- performance computing and all must be in line with TU Dublin IT procurement policy; • pay-as-you-go access to national research infrastructures; • archival research costs; • reasonable and vouched travel (use of own car without prior approval of the Head of the Graduate Research School and first class or business travel will not be considered) • reasonable and vouched hotel costs • reasonable and vouched subsistence (all subsistence must be vouched and per diems will not be considered.) Subsistence claims cannot exceed and must be in line with Government rates. • registration costs for conferences/workshops/meetings directly related to the award; • normal (not emergency/express) visa costs for travel to conferences/research events; • skills training directly related to the objective(s) of the award; • publishing and write-up costs, excluding proof-reading costs; ανd • reasonable travel and refreshment costs for subjects and volunteers in studies  

Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering

A recent cover from the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education.

It’s been a long time coming, but a study I’ve been working on since the fall of 2018 has finally resulted in a publication–the first of several, I hope!

The article “Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering” was released digitally this week, by the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education.

The publication process is often slow and suspense-ridden. I submitted the first draft of this paper at the start of March 2020, and now, just 15.75 months later, we’re nearly in print! The first step is digital release, and paper copies will come later.

Chance, S., R. Lawlor, I. Direito, and J. Mitchell. 2021. “Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering.” Australasian Journal of Engineering Education. [Taylor & Francis Online]

University College London paid the Open Access publication free, so that you can download and read this article for FREE, without any special library access. My co-authors and I started this project at the request of Engineers without Borders UK, as the organization’s CEO, Katie Cresswell-Maynard, wanted to assess engineers’ perceptions and experiences related to “global responsibility”.

We prepared this specific report in response to a call for papers on ethics in engineering education and practice. To support the study of ethics, extracted data from our interviews that had to do with the topic, and studied it for patterns. As such, we’ve called this an exploratory study, on a topic where little prior research has been done.

Here’s the abstract:

This exploratory study investigates how nine London-based civil engineers have enacted ‘global responsibility’ and how their efforts involve ethics and professionalism. The study assesses moral philosophies related to ethics, as well as professional engineering bodies’ visions, accreditation standards, and requirements for continuing professional development. Regarding ethics, the study questions where the line falls between what an engineer ‘must do’ and what ‘would be good to do’. Although the term ethics did not spring to mind when participants were asked about making decisions related to global responsibility, participants’ concern for protecting the environment and making life better for people did, nonetheless, demonstrate clear ethical concern. Participants found means and mandates for protecting the health and safety of construction workers to be clearer than those for protecting society and the natural environment. Specific paths for reporting observed ethical infringements were not always clear. As such, analyses suggest that today’s shared sense of professional duty and obligation may be too limited to achieve goals set by engineering professional bodies and the United Nations. Moreover, although professional and educational accreditation standards have traditionally embedded ethics within sustainability, interviews indicate sustainability is a construct embedded within ethics.  

I want to wholeheartedly thank the research participants and the co-authors who stuck by my side and helped see this project to fruition. It was great to have an ethicist on board in authoring this paper, Dr. Rob Lawlor. It has been a joy to work with him, and with Dr. Inês Direito and Professor John Mitchell, throughout this project. We also enjoyed a helpful and astute advisory panel comprised of Professor Nick Tyler, Jon Pritchard, Dr. Rob Lawlor, and Katie Cresswell-Maynard. The study was supported financially by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions fellowship from the European Union (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016, Project 747069, DesignEng), with additional support provided to Engineers without Borders UK by the Royal Academy of Engineers.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the article and will find it helpful.

Emerging from five-month hibernation

The pandemic closed life down on our little island just days after Christmas.

After a long winter’s hibernation, Ireland has just started to lift the lid. For months, I’ve rarely left home. Aongus got Covid the week his worksite opened back up, just after Easter. But despite staying right by his side, I didn’t contract the illness. I actually tested negative twice, but had to isolate (for what seemed like forever) nonetheless.

I did, though, get a wave of something while Aongus was sick. I felt drained, although not to the same extent as Aongus was.

It hasn’t helped that the big volunteer/publication project I’m currently wrapping up has taken five-times the effort it should have. I couldn’t be happier to see the backside of this lockdown. Or this project….

Fortunate for my sanity, things are gradually opening back up in Dublin, and the sun sometimes shines. My flat is still a nice sun trap which makes life bearable.

In the past couple weeks, Aongus and I have had a few nice outings.

We had a lovely coffee and pasta last weekend sitting outside the Clayton Hotel in Ballsbridge on our cycle ride to Dun Laoghaire. I’ve always admired this majestic Victorian building but had never ventured onto the grounds.

Last weekend, visiting friends’ back gardens was finally allowed again. We had an absolute ball visiting our friends Diana, Stefan, and Diana’s mum on Sunday evening. We’re looking forward to the day we can welcome them to our place for a meal. (Inside visits are off limits until one of the two families is fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid. We’re well in our way to meeting the criteria!)

Yesterday we ventured out again, taking the local commuter train down the coast to Bray—the town where Aongus and I met over five years ago—and this time we hiked to the top of Bray Head.

I thought I’d been to the summit before, but I’m now sure I remembered wrong. It’s a surprisingly steep and rugged path. Back in the 50s and 60s, there was a chair lift, seen as necessary since it’s so steep.

We chose the climb since part of the Bray to Greystones cliff walk had collapsed, and that favorite path wasn’t an option yesterday.

There’s a spectacular view from the summit, and I’m glad we’ve had that experience. It’s not likely I’ll have it again!

I can’t wait to get fit again. The gym opens tomorrow and I’ll be in the pool bright and early!

Although tomorrow is a bank holiday here, Aongus and I working so we can take off Friday for a new adventure on wheels! We’re going to re-live a favorite itinerary from last summer. Stay tuned!

An Editor’s Job is … sometimes a success!

I am very proud of a manuscript that was released digitally by Taylor and Francis publishers this week, authored by Dr. Mathana Amaris Fiona Sivaraman. I served as the Editor for this manuscript, as it is part of a set that will be published in hard copy in May in The Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE). The set comprises a special focus issue on ethics in engineering education and practice. It’s an output of the global Research in Engineering Education Network ( that I Chair.

The title of Fiona’s paper is “A 4-tier rubric for evaluating engineering students’ ethical decision-making (EDM) skills: EDM model as a tool for analysing and assessing ethical reasoning” and it can be donwloaded from (If you need access and your library doesn’t have it, please let me or the author know and we may be able to get you a copy for free.)

Here’s the official abstract for Fiona’s paper:

“Ethical decision-making (EDM) is an important element in the engineering profession. This paper explores the use of an ethical decision-making model (EDMM) as a tool for analysing and assessing the ethical reasoning skills of student engineers and their ability to apply the rationale of EDM process for ethical vignettes. The tool, distilled from several existing EDMMs, was tested against interview data collected from 12 graduating students at one private university in Malaysia. The students were asked to examine two ethical vignettes of varying scenarios and difficulty levels. This was followed by a semi-structured, face-to-face interview (corresponding to the first four steps of EDMM) to gauge their ethical reasoning behind their decision for each vignette. Their verbal responses were analysed and categorised into a four-tier rubric developed in accordance with the four steps of EDMM. Findings revealed that generally, students were able to identify the underlying issue (step 1) and the affected parties and the consequences (step 2), but they did not give much thought to potential course of action (step 3) or to testing available options (step 4). Levels of development of ethical reasoning provided by students varied between the first and second vignette. Findings suggest that the EDMM holds promise as a way to better understand and diagnose students’ readiness to face ethical challenges in their profession.”

Sivaraman, 2021

I worked really, really hard to support Fiona as she’s an early career scholar — a “Baby Doc” like Diana — and fairly new to publishing in academic journals.

I was delighted to receive this thank you note over the weekend, from Fiona.

She said I was welcome to publish it in a blog, so here you go! It’s rare to have an author who had to work so very hard thank me for the effort. Dr. Robin Fowler was another person who sent thanks, and I cherish both their comments. The editorial Fiona linked below is really quite interesting to read as well!

Dear Professor Shannon Chance,

I want to take this opportunity to thank you personally for all that you have done for me in the past 1 year (though I am a complete stranger to you).

In my little experience of publishing a few indexed journal articles since 2014, I have come across very few editors who were helpful, and more so many unpleasant experiences with editors who hold on to the manuscript for over a year without any feedback or status update leaving you in agony waiting for a response. The response matters a lot to junior researchers like me, who need to show publication input to sustain in academia.

Of all the editors I have worked with so far within my limited correspondences with them as an author, I remember the late Emeritus Professor Ray Spier (Editor of Science and Engineering Ethics Journal) left a lasting impact on me.  Prof Ray personally found time not only to reply to newcomers like me (I was still doing my PhD then), but also provided suggestions for the final revision of my manuscripts.

And, you are phenomenal. I have never come across an Editor who works closely with the author, who replies to the author’s emails and who cares so much for the final output.  Even during my PhD, I did not have the comfort of experiencing such care and supervision, and yet again I had to work on my own without a Principal Investigator during my postdoctoral fellowship. That is why I am really touched by your care and mentoring.  This paper would not have been possible without your guidance and personal attention.  Thank you so much.

Occasionally, I contribute write-ups to the local dailies in Malaysia.  Exasperated with the system, as a junior researcher, I have written about the culture of bullying and practice of ‘free riders’ in academia.

The other day, I was going through your blog. I wonder how you find time to multi-task on so many things, and also find time to reply to ‘small fry’ like me. You are doing such amazing, wonderful stuff as a global leader in Engineering Education Research, STEM education, Ethics and Sustainability, Gender Inclusion and Diversity etc.

Once I land into my new job this year (I pray it will be sooner), then perhaps I can find ways to connect with you in terms of future work. 

I have taken note of your contact details undersigned in your email.  Do allow me to WhatsApp you on special festive occasions (i.e. Christmas).

Till then, thank you and take care.  Virtual Hug 😁



(Mathana Amaris Fiona)



Google Scholar Citation: Mathana Amaris Fiona Sivaraman