This blog post discusses the outreach activities I engaged in during my 2018-2020 Marie Curie Individual Fellowship (MSCA IF). The reason for doing outreach is to help spread knowledge to others and help diverse audiences–particularly kids and people outside academia–understand the value of research. The funding organization, which is the European Commission, wants to public to know it is getting its money’s worth by investing in research. So, during my recent MSCA IF at University College London in the UK, I dedicated one whole work package (WP4, out of six total WPs) to outreach.
WP4 Outreach Activities
The MSCA application promised to deliver a total of 19 outreach events under WP4, and I ultimately delivered at least 20, involving (1) outreach to kids, (2) outreach via social media, and (3) outreach to adults. Although I hit my targets, I didn’t exceed them to my normal degree. I was able to do far more outreach during my Fulbright Fellowship (2012-2013) to Ireland and my first MSCA research fellowship, also to Ireland (it was an Individual Incoming Fellowship, IIF under FP7) than I managed to accomplish during this MSCA Individual Fellowship. I’m still proud of the work but hope to do even more outreach in the future.
Outreach to kids
served as expert advisor for Usbourn publisher on 2 STEM activities book for kids that have been published and are for sale in stores
helped organize and lead 4 RoboSlam workshops (on computer programming and robot building)
helped organize and lead 2 RoboSlam educational exhibition booths (on computer programming and robot building)
I helped conducted four robotics and electrical engineering workshops for kids in Ireland with colleagues from my home institution (TU Dublin). Having co-founded the RoboSlam robotics outreach team in 2013, I continued to be active in RoboSlam during my MSCA fellowship, as one of the four main coordinators of events. In 2018, I was part of a team that ran a number of robotics and electrical engineering workshops for kids in Ireland over the month of August with the Wexford library service. I assisted in running two workshops in Bunclody (17th August) and two in Enniscorthy (18th August). The workshops were attended by approximately 120 children in 8-12 years old. The children built an electronics arcade game that they brought home afterward. The intention of the workshops was to encourage an interest in electronics and programming. Feedback and pictures are available here. Technical resources used (instructions, and code) at those workshops can be found here.
I also provided advising/support for the Engineering Your Future Week summer school for Transition Year students, sponsored by Enterprise Ireland. In 2018 the week focused on Robot Building and Biomedical Engineering.
I helped operate educational booths on electrical engineering, at Dublin Maker 2018 and 2019 in Ireland, with colleagues from my home institution. A large team of volunteers (staff and students) from the school participated in Dublin Maker. The theme of the 2018 stand was “paper programming” and the 2019 theme was “arcade games through the ages”.
maintained and continually updated 1 LinkedIn Discussion Board moderated (for the Research in Engineering Education Network, REEN)
maintained and continually updated 2 Facebook pages featuring grant activities (one public page and one private page)
maintained and continually updated 1 Twitter feed of engineering education activities
I hosted and created content for an educational blog on being a “researcher on the move.” The blog has 209 followers who receive direct emails of every post. In 2018 had 3732 visitors and 13,106 views (discrete clicks indicating engagement) and, in 2019, had 4316 visitors and 9887 views. I promoted the blog posts using social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and two Facebook accounts.
CHANCE, S. (2012-present). Ireland by Chance: Research Adventures in Ireland and the UK. www.IrelandByChance.com showcasing research and fellowship activities.
On the LinkedIn platform alone, my most recent 2020 blog re-post before submitting my final grant report to the European Commission garnered an additional 1520 views and 46 reactions.
I also provide content for a blog on robotics that I collaboratively manage with colleagues from my host institution. In 2018, this site had 3299 visitors and 6505 views. In 2019, it had 2437 visitors and 5642 views.
Burke, T., CHANCE, S., Berry, D., & Duignan, F. (2012-present). RoboSlam: Robot-building for Beginners. www.Roboslam.com
Outreach to adults
delivered 1 public presentation in Dublin on gender aspects of research (photo above)
provided 1 data source to UNESCO for a global engineering report
evaluated 1 sub-section for UNESCO for a global engineering report
authored 1 encyclopedia entry on the application of PBL in engineering education (and taught on this topic at a Master Class in South Africa, as shown in the photos below)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!).
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:
Our cycles brought us through Grand Canal Docks several times, with the Board Gaís Theater, designed by the office of architect Daniel Libeskind.
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!
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:
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:
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…..
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!
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
I just attended an online event called “Racism in Science and Society”. It involved an hour-long interview with Angela Saini, and it was supported by six or so organizations in Ireland, including Women in Research Ireland (WiRI) which a colleague of mine from the Marie Curie Alumni Association, Dr. Susan Fetics, helped establish. Susan was one of the moderators today.
Interestingly, Saini has two different master’s degrees, the first in Engineering from the University of Oxford and a second in Science and Security from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Since I research engineering education and I also taught at a Historically Black College/University in the States for 15 years, I follow her work closely. Simply put: it’s close to my heart.
In this blog, I share content from Tweets I posted during the event. I’m sharing this because the event wasn’t recorded, so I wanted a way for others to learn about the topic and what went on today.
The event was well-organized and they sent helpful reminders. The hosts of this online event even provided a sign language interpreter. I wondered: if this method was more effective than auto-captioning?
Siani said medicine is keeping race science alive today, more than any other area. Medicine perpetuates the belief in genetic differences that don’t exist. Genetics is the last place to look, she insists, it’s best to look first at social and cultural factors.
Histories of oppression have led to differences in health outcomes, not underlying genetics.
But, even now during Covid, people jump straight to the racial myths, Saini says.
Saini says some of the most promising work to rectify racial myths in medicine is happening in the USA, as there is the recognition that racism is still occurring. There’s more happening in the USA than in Britain and elsewhere in the world, she believes, as in the UK (where she lives and grew up) there is clear reluctance to accept how pervasive racism is.
Incidentally, Saini is of Indian heritage and grew up classified as black in the UK, I learned from her book. This helped me understand why a UK-based collegiate of mine calls herself black, whereas she’d probably use a different term if she were of Indian heritage and living in the USA.
These ideas about race are steeped into us from a very young age. It’s all about power, she says. The dominant group frames their dominance as if they have some innate… superiority.
Saini left Twitter earlier this year due to experiencing abuse, which explains why I couldn’t locate her to tag her. Those with extreme views try to engage journalists and scientists via social media, and suck them dry. They and the algorithms they use are clever; often they have few followers but they cause frustration because they aren’t going to change their opinions but they demand ongoing conversation, they dish out abuse, and they drain energy that can go to something more productive.
Of course, for those without other outlets (Saini is a very well-known journalist in Britain), social media does give us a voice, she acknowledges.
I, for one, miss having her on Twitter.
She helped found “Race and Health” @raceandhealth, a group that looks at issues identified above.
Saini says she wrote “Superior” to get things straight in her head. She hopes readers share in some of this clarity she found by writing it.
She spoke about being surprised things have changed so fast right following the death of George Floyd, such as the re-naming of lecture halls and theaters.
I, myself, have seen Floyd’s murder as a tipping point. I’d been expecting things to boil over in the US–I envisioned another summer of 1968 as the only way that an adequate level of change would happen. Things just weren’t improving fast enough. It was one of the frustrations that caused me to leave the USA and move to Europe. I am glad to finally see change, but I am sad that it’s going to be painful to acknowledge the past and heal.
Recently, UCL announced, via campus-wide email I received, that it is changing names of a building and a lecture hall. Eugenics and race-science had a home at UCL, and the university is seeking to right some wrongs.
Saini says that universities need better systems of accountability; the balance of power in universities is still out of whack. Accountability has to come from the top. Groups like the ones hosting this session today need to work together to lobby universities for better accountability, she says.
She ended by saying that our societies need to change through education and by teaching empathy from a young age.
I was glad to hear Saini say this, as my colleague, Dr. Carlos Mora, and I are working to study empathy in engineering education. And in a similar vein, I’m working to create a special focus issue on empathy in engineering practice and education to be released next spring.
A Marie Curie Research Fellowship is–first and foremost–about developing researchers by giving them a chance to research new things, in new places, with new people. For an MSCA Fellowship, you’ve got to travel. You can come from anywhere in the world, but you can’t have lived in the country where you do the MSCA Fellowship for any more than 12 months of the 36 months before the application date.
The intention of WP5 was to increase my research skills and encourage me to share my own knowledge and skills with others (i.e., transfer knowledge to them). The MSCA application listed the following deliverables for this work package: 26 Training and Transfer-of-Knowledge sessions completed by the end of the grant period. I’m able to list 70 specific research training workshops and conferences that I attended–and there were actually more!
Yet, it is important to note that the most important training and knowledge transfer actually resulted from me providing leadership in EER. As a result of having a Marie Curie research fellowship at University College London (UCL), many doors were open to me and I was able to learn from the wealth of opportunities that emerged.
Via this MSCA grant, the I have provided: (1) leadership in publishing and (2) leadership in research events. These are summarized directly below.
Under that, a list of the completed researcher training session is provided.
Finally, in this blog, I identify outreach activities I conducted to support educators and researchers, including workshops I conducted and supervision and mentorship I provided to early career researchers (like the one pictured below, in South Africa, to help engineering teachers learn more inclusive teaching attitudes and behaviors).
As part of my training, I also earned a new teaching qualification in the UK while serving as an MSCA fellow:
Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Teaching Academy (SFHEA)
Earning this credential helped me build proficiency on the vocabulary used in educational research in the UK, which differs somewhat from the USA. Earning it will also help me demonstrate the skills needed to teach at third level in the UK and Ireland. Since earning SFHEA, I have subsequently applied for the highest available credential in this program (Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Teaching Academy/PFHEA), although the application wasn’t successful. I’ll hone my record and try again.
Research Supervision/Mentoring Skills
I have been advising a full-time PhD student at London South Bank University (LSBU) since the start of my MSCA fellowship. The student’s viva is scheduled, and on track, for August 2020. I have also mentoring 5-6 early career researchers. My activities in this realm include:
Mentoring a physics researcher through TU Dublin’s researcher mentoring program
Serving as PI for a new MSCA IF application in engineering education submitted September 2019 (which was not funded in 2019 but will be enhanced and resubmitted)
Mentor for peer reviewers with the Journal of Engineering Education (appointed in 2018)
Expert/external reviewer for applications to Fulbright Ireland (2018, 2019)
Leadership in Publishing
In the realm of journal production, I was appointed and has served as:
Associate Editor, IEEE Transactions on Education (2018-present)
Editorial Board, European Journal of Engineering Education (2018-present)
I serve as a peer reviewer for an academic journal in my field:
Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (2019-present)
IEEE Transactions on Education (2017-present)
European Journal of Engineering Education (2016-present)
Journal of Engineering Education (2013-present)
Incidentally, I also provided expert advice to the publisher of two children’s books, although I generally consider this activity to be “Outreach”:
Scribble Architecture, STEM activity book by Usborne Publishing Ltd.(in press)
Scribble Engineering, STEM activity book by Usborne Publishing Ltd.(2018)
Leadership in Research Networks
Opportunities to provide leadership that emerged as a result of this MSCA include:
Chair, Research on Engineering Education Network (January 2020-present)
Vice-Chair, Research on Engineering Education Network (2019-2020)
Governing Board, Research on Engineering Education Network (2018-present) and member of sub-committees including recruitment and selection of upcoming conference hosts
Nathu Puri Institute at the London South Bank University (2018-present), serving on, for example, an interview panel for new director of the Institute (2018) and a member of the Institute’s think tank.
Marie Curie Alumni Association, Ireland chapter organizing committee (2018-present)
Leadership in Funded Projects
Providing grant-writing leadership, I advised Dr. Carlos Mora in securing €56,000 in funding from the Cabildo of Tenerife in Spain to conduct education projects under a project titled “INGENIA” or “Ingenuity” to support sustainability education (I am listed as the co-PI on this grant). I also secured a £11,200 donation to UCL CEE from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineers via Engineers without Borders UK (the funds will support my ongoing work with UCL’s CEE).
This MSCA is intended to broaden career prospects, and it definitely has. Even though I chose to return to my home university at the completion of the fellowship, I brought with me a contract valued at €237,727 allowing me to provide curriculum development services to the University College London Contracts (UCLC) over the three-year period following my MSCA fellowship (2020-2023).
In 2019, I also served as an expert evaluator for the European Commission (COFUND fellowship program).
Researcher Training sessions completed
I could provide images to go with each of these, but then I’d never get this posted… so I’ll just share the list. Each was interesting and informative and most of these activities opened a pandora’s box of ideas and possibilities.
UCL online training module and certificate earned in Safety
UCL online training module and certificate earned in Green Awareness
UCL online training module and certificate earned as Green Champion
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Finding Your Voice as an AcademicWriter
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, An Introduction to Research Student Supervision at UCL
Researcher information session organized by the Irish Research Council, Opportunities to collaborate with UK-based researchers
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Creative Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Taking for Researchers
Informational workshop on MSCA programs held at DIT
UCL Arena Guidance Sessions: Initial Guidance
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Leading Collaborative Projects
UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education’s event, In Conversation With… Angela Saini and Louise Archer
UCL Astrea Voices workshop: Choosing your journey
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Writing Books and Book Chapters
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Managing Your Reputation
UCL Arena Senior Fellow Guidance Session: Developing your application
UCL day-long Education Conference 2018 at the UCL Institute of Education
Nathu Puri Institute Thought Leadership discussion and dinner in April
SRHE day-long workshop, Migration and academic acculturation
SRHE day-long workshop, Developing curriculum, learning and pedagogies in STEM subjects: the case of Engineering
SRHE day-long workshop, Phenomenography: An approach to qualitative research in higher education
UCL LLAKES Seminar by Louise Archer Why can’t we solve the science participation ‘crisis’? Understanding young people’s (non)participation in post-16 science
Attended a UCL “Town Hall” to better understand the administrative structure of this research-intensive university, Finding a new place in society for universities
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop Publish or Perish: Getting Collaborative Social Science Published
One-day Inaugural Spring Colloquium of the UK-Ireland Engineering Education Research Network, held in Newcastle
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, The Superior Performer: How to Work to Your Strengths
SRHE day-long workshop, Publishing Academic Articles: A way through the maze
UCL Researcher Development Workshop, Induction for New UCL Research Staff
Attended a half-day of UCL conference on Impacts of Gender Discourse on Polish Politics, Society & Culture Comparative Perspectives reservation
UCL workshop, Provost’s Welcome to New Staff
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Writing and Publishing Research Papers
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Increasing Impact – Gaining Positive Media Coverage
Attended two-day Inspirefest celebrating women in technology, held in Dublin
Attended four-day conference of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) in Salt Lake City
Attended one-day symposium at the Royal Society sponsored by the RAEng and UCL CEE, Inclusive Engineering Education Symposium
Second Nathu Puri Institute Thought Leadership Event at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG
Attended two-day 7th International Symposium of Engineering Education (ISEE 2018), hosted by UCL
UCL day-long Researcher Development Workshop, Storytelling Skills for Teachers and Presenters
UCL Arena training for fellowship applicants at principal level, PFHEA Lunch session
Attended five-day conference of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI 2018) in Copenhagen
Attended three-day International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL 2018) plus events of the International Conference on Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP 2018) in Kos Island, Greece
UCL online training module and certificate earned in GDPR
SRHE day-long workshop, IS THERE (STILL) ROOM FOR EDUCATION IN THE CONTEMPORARY UNIVERSITY? Exploring policy, research and practice through the lens of professional education. Seminar 3
Lecture organized by the Irish Fulbright Commission, Creative Minds: In Conversation with a NASA Astronaut
TU Dublin (formerly DIT) online training module and certificate earned in GDPR
TU Dublin 2.5-hour workshop by Dr. Bill Williams, Getting published in engineering education research journals
Attended half-day IEP Research Away (Half) Day
UCL full-day workshop, Building Research Leaders
UCL Career Centre workshop, Effective Academic Interviews
UCL workshop, Providing learning experiences that enable students to acquire the right mix of knowledge, skills and competences
UCL two-hour workshop, Using and understanding bibliometrics
UCL full-day workshop, Influencing and Negotiating
UCL two-hour workshop, Copyright for Research Staff
UCL Arena Principal Fellow Guidance Session: Developing your application
Expert evaluator training briefing for the European Commission
Attended two-day spring symposium, EERN 2018 (UK & Ireland Engineering Education Research Network) in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Attended two-day Inspirefest (women in tech) in Dublin
Attended two-day engineering education conference, ISEE 2018 (7th International Symposium of Engineering Education) at UCL
Attended four-day engineering education conference, ASEE 2018 in Salt Lake City
Attended five-day engineering education conference, SEFI 2018 in Copenhagen
Attended three-day engineering education conference, ICL/IGIP 2018 in Kos
Attended three-day higher education conference, SRHE 2018 (Society for Research in Higher Education) in Newport, Wales
Attended three-day annual conference, MSCA General Assembly 2019 in Vienna
Attended two-day spring symposium, EERN 2019 (UK & Ireland Engineering Education Research Network) in Dublin
Attended four-day engineering education conference, ASEE 2019 in Tampa
Attended two-day MSCA IF monitoring event, education sector, in Brussels, June 2019
Attended three-day engineering education conference, REES 2019 in Cape Town
Attended four-day engineering education conference, SEFI 2019 in Budapest
Attended one-day conference of UK Engineering Professors Council and the Institution of Engineering and Technology, New approaches in practice, 2020
Attended two-day annual conference, EERN 2018 (UK & Ireland Engineering Education Research Network) in Coventry, UK
Attended 14 lectures at UCL Bartlett School of Architecture’s International Lecture Series (2018, 2019) and at least 7 other lectures in the Faculty of Engineering.
Outreach to Support Educators and Researchers (Workshops and Invited Presentations Delivered)
I provided workshops on research techniques for Early Stage Researchers as well as experienced researchers. I also provided workshops on teaching (learning theories and innovative teaching techniques) for educators. These are presented alphabetically by country:
Edström, K., Bernhard, J., van den Bogaard, M., Benson, L., Finelli, C., CHANCE, S. M., & Lyng, R. (2018). Reviewers, reviewers, reviewers! Workshop at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2018 annual conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Edström, K., Bernhard, J., De Laet, T., CHANCE, S. M., (2018). Doctoral Symposium. One-day pre-conference workshop at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2018 annual conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
De Laet, T., Williams, B., CHANCE, S. M., & others (2018). Engineering Education Research. Workshop by EER Working Group at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2018 annual conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Edström, K.,Benson, L.,Mitchell, J., Bernhard, J., van den Bogaard, M., Carberry, A., & CHANCE, S. (2019). Writing Helpful Reviews for Engineering Education Journals. Workshop at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2019 annual conference in Budapest, Hungary.
Hannon, P. K., Berry, D., CHANCE, S., Core, M., & Duignan, F. (2019). Physical computing: A low-cost project-based approach to engineering education. Workshop at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2019 annual conference in Budapest, Hungary.
Miminiris, M., CHANCE, S. M., & Direto, I. (2019). Recognising and understanding qualitatively different experiences of learning in engineering: Variation as a learning tool. Workshop at the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) 2019 annual conference in Budapest, Hungary.
CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Gender Equality in STEM Education. Presentation delivered at Irish Marie Curie Alumni Association’s Gender Equality Workshop Programme on 3rd December 2018 in Dublin, Ireland.
CHANCE, S. M. (2018). MSCA fellowship experiences. Presentation delivered for Dublin Institute of Technology’s EPA & IUA MSCA Research Information Workshop Programme.
Govender, S., CHANCE, S., & Direito, I. (2019). Fostering Inclusivity in Engineering Education in the South African Context. Two-day Master class conducted for the University of Cape Town’s Engineering Education Existing Staff Capacity Enhancement Programme.
Akinmolayan, F. & CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Facilitating group & Problem-Based Learning in the context of engineering education. Two-day Master class conducted for the University of Cape Town’s Engineering Education Existing Staff Capacity Enhancement Programme.
CHANCE, S. M. (2020). Becoming Civil: Outcomes of a Marie Curie Fellowship with CEGE and CEE. Lunch seminar for UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education in London.
Bathmaker, A., CHANCE, S. M., & Wheelahan, L. (2019). Understanding and conceptualizing knowledge in professional and vocationally-oriented higher education: Beyond time management and interpersonal skills. Workshop provided Thursday 16 May 2019 for the Society for Research on Higher Education in London, UK.
CHANCE, S. M. (2019). Learning theories in engineering: A US perspective on student development. A class session for UCL’s new MSc in Engineering and Education.
CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Summary of National STEM Educational Policies in Relation to Girls’ Experiences in Physics in Europe and into the Engineering Pipeline.Society for Research in Higher Education conference 2018 in Newcastle, UK.
Direto, I., Malik, M., & CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Conducting Systematic Literature Reviews in Engineering Education Research. Workshop to the UK & Ireland Engineering Education Research Network (EERN) annual conference 2018 in Portsmouth.
Leão, C. P., Soares, F., Williams, B., & CHANCE, S.(2018). Challenges, experiences and advantages in being a female engineering student: voices in the first person. Presentation at the UK & Ireland Engineering Education Research Network (EERN) annual conference 2018 in Portsmouth.
CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Implications for Irish policy of women’s experiences in STEM education in Ireland, Poland, and Portugal. UK & Ireland EERN Spring Colloquium 2018 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
CHANCE, S. M. (2018). Supporting diverse students: Findings from a longitudinal study of female engineering students in three countries. Lunch seminar for UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education in London.
As part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship (MSCA IF), which ran 2018-2020, I learned new skills in project management. Two of my six work packages (WPs) focused on project management: WP3 was for developing a special focus issue (which turned into producing two issues of in the journal IEEE Transactions on Education), and WP6 was for managing the MSCA grant itself.
In this blog post, I describe activities in these two work packages. I also identify what impact I wanted to have with the MSCA grant and share photos with colleagues.
Incidentally, the photo above was taken with Prof. Emanuela Tilley (of University College London, UCL) and Dr. Folashade Akinmolayan (of Queen Mary University London). Emanuela is a highly organized and productive manager and she serves as the Director of UCL’s award-winning Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP). She’s been a fabulous role model for me in learning these types of skills.
Below are two more colleagues from UCL, who worked with Emanuela and me in the Engineering Faculty Office.
The other three pictures are taken with colleagues from the States, showing how I helped transfer knowledge and learning across the Atlantic and back as a result of this grant.
WP3, Special-Focus Journal Issues
The intention of WP3 was for me to learn publication skills related the engineering education research (EER). In the MSCA application, I promised to deliver a publication-ready document to a publishing house by month 24 of the two-year grant. Ultimately, I found I was able to spearhead development of two different special focus journal issues. I exceed my own expectations by working proactively. In fact, both of these journal issues were already published by month 24, and are currently informing the EER community.
The special focus issues I spearheaded are cited as follows:
CHANCE, S., Williams, B., Goldfinch, T., Adams, R. S., & Fleming, L. N. (Eds.). (August 2019). Special Issue on Using Enquiry- and Design-Based Learning to Spur Epistemological and Identity Development of Engineering Students. IEEE Transactions on Education, (62)3. DOI 10.1109/TE.2019.2923043.
CHANCE, S., Bottomly, L., Panetta, K., & Williams, B. (Eds.). (November 2018). Special-focus issue on gender in engineering in the IEEE Transactions on Education, (61)4.
At this point, I am leading the development of a third special focus issue–this last one is for the Australiasian Journal of Engineering Education–and this project is extending my reach farther across the globe.
The third special focus issue, now under development is:
CHANCE, S., Strobel, J., Mazzurco, A., Hattingh, T., & Villas-Boas, V. (Eds.). (forthcoming May 2021). Special Issue on Ethics in Engineering Education and Practice. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE).
An intention for this new issue is for the two lead editors (Chance and Strobel) to help mentor the three other guest editors through the process to enable them to lead development of future special focus issues in EER. I’m thus delighted to report that Teresa Hattingh was recently appointed as Associate Editor of a new EER journal out of India.
WP6, Project Management
The intention of WP6 was to keep the grant well managed from financial, quality assurance, and reporting standpoints. The main requirement was to provide essential information to the European Commission regarding the progress of the grant.
During the MSCA IF, I followed University College London data management guidelines. My research projects were identified as “low risk” to human participants and followed the established guidelines.
Under this WP, I had promised the following deliverables: a Career Development Plan (CDP), a mid-project report, and a final report. The CDP was developed and uploaded to the Participant Portal in the required timeframe. I also developed a mid-project report but, as there was no portal available for uploading it on the EU reporting platform, I posted the mid-term report to my blog and sent a link to my program officer.
Three-quarters of the way through my MSCA-IF period, I participated in a monitoring session in Brussels. It was held for Marie Curie Fellows doing projects in education and learning sciences. The set up was new, and this session was one of the first of its kind. Feedback I received there for my MSCA work was positive; no alterations to my projects were requested.
A PDF of the overall final report is available on my website for anyone to see and it has now been downloaded 234 times since I made it available. The blog page where it is posted has been viewed 486.
I believe posting the PDF is making a contribution in that a lot of MSCA fellows are curious to see what a report looks since there isn’t much information available online, meaning that most people can’t work on their reports until their grant actually finishes.
From the outset, I wanted my MSCA work to enhanced public perception of engineering as a fun and creative field. I also set out to help:
increase the focus given by engineering educators to the developmental patterns of engineering students;
improve student retention as a result of increased support;
enhance diversity, as techniques to support minority students are increasingly utilized;
improve overall teaching in engineering education as a result increasingly credible and useful research;
provide increased focus on ethics and sustainability in engineering education; and
produce tools and models to help engineering educators foster creativity and engineering firms contribute to realizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
My plans for dissemination and exploitation of results was fully realized (and, in fact, exceeded). I believe that all critical objectives proposed in my MSCA application have been fully achieved, and the list of deliverables exceeds the original promises. Many additional manuscripts that are currently under development using data collected during this fellowship will continue to achieve impact in coming years.
Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.
We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.
Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.
Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.
Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.
The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.
We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.
Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.
We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!
The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me.
After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home.
Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.
The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home.
As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend.
Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!
This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them.
County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!
Something was about to change here in Dublin on the night of March 11th. I knew this, and thus felt hesitation as well as excitement for an interesting day as I headed into work on the 12th.
You see, TU Dublin had an Open Day planned to show female high school students about our apprenticeship courses. My colleagues and I had put a lot of work into planning this, although we anticipated things could change due to coronavirus. Later this day, life was to shift decisively about our world here in Dublin.
The Last Day ‘Open’ at TU Dublin
We waited anxiously for word from the university about closures. In the meantime, we took care. Although plans went ahead and during this Open Day, the new norms of hand sanitizer and social distancing appeared. Wee conscientiously worked to hold intimate conversations about life plans at a two arm’s length–not an easy feat in a loud and active space like the lobby of Linenhall, home of the TU’s Dublin School of Architecture.
Attendance on this Open Day was higher than one would expect given the uncertainty of life, but not as high as the past year. Only a portion of those who reserved places made it to D2 that day. It was well worth my own four-block walk into work to meet girls from as far as Wicklow who’d ventured up to meet us.
I provided tours of the facilities–bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, metal fabrication, painting and decorating, laser cutting and 3D printing, automated fabrication–at Linenhall and Bolton Street where apprentices learn. Those taking our sampler program, “Access to Apprenticeship” get to use to all these workshops, and to complete a small project in each to help them determine which to specialize in by completing a full course.
At the end of the event we heard that campus buildings would close that night at 18:00; after this, classes would meet only online.
The BIM modules we offer in my program did indeed meet that night, all online, thanks to the collaborative working platform my colleagues use to teach BIM. Kevin Furlong, Barry McAuley, and Emma Hays took it all in stride and kept on delivering! I was truly impressed.
Working it out during Covid-19
I already worked half time on research, so I actually labored from home 50% of my working hours, pre-Covid. For me, work life after the 12th of March looked pretty similar to before–lots and lots and lots of time at my laptop. There was less variety, though, and much less human contact.
I missed feeling creative. I wasn’t able to blog, as I didn’t feel reason to celebrate during a time of fer and hardship.
I got work done, but not with my normal level of zest.
The first two weekends after the campus shut down, we weren’t yet asked to isolate (we never officially ‘locked down’) but the government was asking us to keep our distance from others.
My household has one other person, Aongus, and this fact has kept me sane during isolation. I’m glad I haven’t had to go through this pandemic living alone. That said, my guy has much higher exposure to the outside world than I do, and could inadvertently drag Covid-19 home at any time.
As you probably know, Aongus and I really enjoy our weekends. We love getting out, exploring the world, getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. In fact, not feeling pangs of guilt for taking weekend off is a major reason I moved to Europe from the USA. You’ll recall that Aongus and I made the most of every minute in London during my two-year fellowship there. We had plans to make the most of our precious weekends together in Dublin upon our return.
A Sunday at Greystones Beach
Sliding into a new normal, we had a couple weeks to adjust to freedoms and habits that were slipping away. We were still allowed to drive and explore, but were required to stay away from others. Our gym was still open during this time, as well, though we were distancing.
On Sunday, March 15, Aongus and I drove out to Greystones, where we were able to distant from others on the beach. We enjoyed the solitude in the cool winter breeze off the Irish Sea.
And we learned that lunches and loos were few and far between. From this day forward, we packed sandwiches whenever we ventured out, and planned ahead for long period of loo-less-ness.
The difficulty finding these that day told me that things were going to change more radically. We drove to some favorite spots hoping for lunch, but couldn’t stop because they were packed with people.
We did, however, find joy in simple pleasures: an apple, the sunshine, and loving company.
Holi-day at Bull Island Marshes & Dollymount Strand
St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday, so we made another trip trip to the sea, still pre-lockdown (to use the phrase lightly–we’ve never officially ‘locked down’ in Ireland to the degree of many other European countries).
Although Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been cancelled, and tourists discouraged from coming, we residents were still allowed out, but asked to keep our distance.
Aongus and I headed out to Bull Island, by car, as was typical for us before coronavirus. Walking and Dublin Bikes were our other main forms of transportation, and where they didn’t bring us, a bus or car would. “Back then”, we would never have dreamed of cycling to Bull Island or Dollymount Strand; they seemed so very far away.
Bull Island is a favorite among Dubliners though, and when we arrived the beach looked far too crowded to allow the distance I required, so we instead explored the marshes.
My colleague Damon Berry had recommended that I check them out, and this was the first time I latched onto the idea. Aongus and I had a nice picnic in the dunes.
Of course, we hoped to find passage across to the beach by way of the dunes, but the waterways prevented that. Nevertheless, we enjoyed discovering a tranquil strip of Bull Island where few people venture.
By the late afternoon, the beach had cleared out (it was the bottleneck along the wall that had presented the problem passing others) and we were able to visit the strand, which is called Dollymount.
As you can see, Dublin is quite chilly during March, but any opportunity to go outside, walk, and soak in the sunshine is prized.
The lifestyle we had known was quickly sliding away. Soon after our visit to Bull Island, the period of isolation began. Aongus and I essentially hibernated for weeks. I was able to keep working from home. He, as a construction site project manager, was able to do some limited amount of work from home and was allowed on site, alone, occasionally, to do essential work, or check for security.
As we have a range of grocery stores (Fresh Market, Lidl, two Centras and a Daybreak) within 1-4 blocks of our flat and the food supply chains serving Dublin never let us down, we were able to source food easily and have learned many new recipes with what we can find in these stores.
That 2km radius we were allowed to travel from home for the purpose of exercise kept us sane, and we looked forward to weekends, hoping and praying for sunshine.