Diverse researchers at your service!

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The campus of DIT Grangegoreman (soon to be TU Dublin) which is now under construction

I found myself surrounded today, by dozens of brilliant scholars. I’d been invited to speak at a workshop on Gender Equality held by the Irish Alumni Chapter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA). The half-day workshop was held in St. Laurence Church on the Grangegorman Campus of DIT.

Marie Curie fellows, past and present, traveled in from all over Ireland to attend the event. The Irish MSCA Alumni chapter is just two years old and it covers the whole of the island, welcoming researchers from north and south, east and west.

A lovely group of early-career researchers arrived in last night from Cork for the workshop, for instance. They came to Ireland from many different countries across Europe and beyond to work with the excellent researchers here.

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Dr. Chiara Loder, with Ireland’s MSCA office, helps researchers write winning proposals

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Dr. Geraldine Canny, the MSCA National Contact Point and Head of Ireland’s MSCA Office.

Dr. Amir Tabaković, a Strategic Research Proposal Coordinator housed in DIT’s Research Enterprise and Innovation Services office organized the event. Amir was formerly a Marie Curie Fellow to TU Delft in the Netherlands. Several other alumni assisted in organizing, including Dr. Declan Devine, the  Chair of Ireland’s MCA Alumni chapter who was a Marie Curie fellow–following his wife’s own MSCA fellowship. They have spent time doing research in Switzerland, the US, and now back home in Ireland.

The day’s line-up of speakers was both exceptionally accomplished and full of insight. We started with introductions by our hosts, Amir and Declan, and a talk by Dr. Geraldine Canny, who is Head of the Irish Marie Skłodowska-Curie Office and National Contact Point – H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Programme. She is responsible for the delivery of the office suite of application supports and also provides input into MSCA policy as a Programme Committee member. The program continued as follows:

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Jean Cahill, one of my mentors and heroes

I’ve included photos of many presentations. During the coffee break and post-workshop lunch, we got to socialize and network. I asked Jean Cahill–a Head of Research at DIT and one of the people who has helped me with writing various grants in the past–how many Marie Curie Fellows we’ve had at DIT. She rattled off five, and I was two of them! I think, for institutional records, I’m counted as an incoming MSAC Fellow (2014-2016) and an outgoing MSCA Fellow (2018-2020). The reason I’d asked Jean about this was that I had just met DIT’s newest incoming MSCA fellow, and she’s female. Interestingly, all the five fellows to DIT who Jean identified are female. The program is open to men and women alike, so the success rate for women applying to DIT is very high! I’ve always found DIT to be a very supportive environment. In fact, Jean and others like former National Contact Point Dr. Jennifer Brennan, helped me draft both of MSCA applications–going well above and beyond their job requirements and providing loads of pertinent advice that was crucial to my success in securing funds. For both of my MSCA applications, Professor Nancy Stenson and Dr. Marek Rebow helped with editing as well.

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Chatting with Professor Brian Bowe in DIT’s Rathdowne House

For today, Amir had asked me to talk about my experiences as a Marie Curie fellow and identify some gender aspects of my research work. I encouraged the audience to push beyond gender and seek inclusivity for all types of diversity. I asked them to promote wider considerations of diversity in European funding calls and evaluations, as well as in their own research. I asked them to consider publishing gender-related aspects of their findings in journals that reach more than one type of specialty audience and I provided examples. Then I described one of the research projects I’ve done as an MSCA fellow and the data analysis I have underway now that I will report via the Society for Research in Higher Education.

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Dr. Shanonn Chance with DIT’s Dr. Barry McCauley, an expert in BIM and Quantity Surveying

At the conclusion of the workshop, I met up with my former Fulbright and MSCA supervisor, Professor Brian Bowe. Then I walked from DIT Grangegoreman to DIT Bolton Street by way of our new path–which connects the two sites and takes just seven minutes to walk. There at Bolton Street, I returned a library book (Marton and Booth, 1997) and had a chat with Dr. Barry McCauley, who was serving as my temporary replacement but has since been appointed to a permanent full-time position of his own at DIT. I couldn’t be more pleased, as Barry is an excellent teacher and researcher and is excelling even while adjusting to his new prosthetics. Barry was injured on a construction site when he was 21 and his legs were crushed, but he has not let this stop him. He went on to get his Ph.D. and he’s a force to be reckoned with! We are lucky to have him at DIT; I really enjoyed learning Navis Works and CostX from him in prior years and he has done some very important research on uptake and implementation of BIM (Building Informational Modelling) globally.

If you are a researcher reading this who is interested in applying for a fellowship to come do research in engineering education at either DIT (soon to be TU Dublin) or at my other institution which is UCL, or in BIM implementation here at DIT, please contact me and I’ll help you write a grant proposal (IrelandByChance at gmail dot com).

Meeting my bosses at London DIT Alumni’s annual chapter gathering

Maintaining professional connections is important, and although I’m on a Marie Curie fellowship in London, I still meet frequently with leaders from my home institution, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). Last night I met with Dr. Avril Behan (my direct line manager at DIT) in London, our recently-retired boss Professor Kevin Kelly, and DIT’s president Professor Brian Norton.

The London DIT Alumni chapter hosted a brilliant get-together, an annual event, at London’s Irish Center. This gave me a chance to meet DIT alumni working in London and also catch up with Avril, Kevin, Brian, and other DIT staff like Ciara Ahern.

I also had the pleasure of meeting anew many DIT graduates: MBA Tania Eyanga, Architecture Technologist John Heaney, daylighting designer Dr. Ruth Kelly Waskett, and engineers Paul Sheridan and Stephen Sunderland who work with WSP.

I’ve attached photos of the event as well as a few pics from Professor Kevin Kelly’s retirement party, held at DIT a couple of weeks ago.

At last night’s gathering, Professor Brian Norton provided updates on DIT’s new campus at Grangegoreman, and delivered the exciting news that a pedestrian route connecting Grangegoreman with DIT Bolton Street has just opened. The walk now takes just seven minutes and cuts through Kings Inn Law building, a truly stroll walk up Henrietta Street to Constitution Hill. Can’t wait to use this route! It will cut about 15 minutes off the current walking time between the two DIT sites.

Data Galore: Research on Engineering Education

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Opening day of the Bridge project last fall.

I’ve collected oodles of data on this project where I’m studying women’s experiences in engineering education across Europe, and I admit it’s been a fierce new challenge for me to manage all the data and use it effectively. Last week alone, I conducted three new 60-90 minute interviews that will need to be transcribed, read and reread and reread, coded and analyzed in concert with others.

I’ve had quite a bit of help getting as far with this project as I am–having completed 47 initial interviews in three countries (Ireland, Poland, and Portugal) and about 15 follow-up interviews (in Ireland) to date.

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Two of the teachers for DIT’s bridge project.

Many thanks go to Allison Wagner, who did a two-month internship with me last spring, for her help conducting and transcribing five of the follow-up interviews with Middle Eastern women. Additional thanks go to Bill Williams and Raquel Barreira for their help with the Portuguese interviews, as well as to Tais Carvalho, Ivan Garcia, and Michael Carr who assisted with translation. In addition to this, my past PhD supervisor, Pam Eddy, is (still today, seven years post-PhD) always ready and willing to offer astute advice and for that I am extremely grateful. DIT’s Brian Bowe was instrumental in early work on this project, and my colleagues at DIT have provided insight and enthusiasm on a daily basis—most recently Ted Burke and Claire McBride.

img_3438It’s a lot of work and a big team effort, but it has its benefits. What I am learning directly improves my teaching and it also helps me advise my colleagues, with whom I often discuss teaching strategies.

On other fronts, I have a long way to go. Although I’ve presented findings to policy makers and researchers, I still struggle to finalize manuscripts for publication. This is a focus on my current fellowship at UCL–developing proficiency in publishing. I have made really swift progress though, and I look forward to showing you some results soon!

Learning London–one month in!

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Tower Bridge selfie in the mirror above to the bridge floor and Thames River, far below.

Learning the lay of the land in London—the best way to spend the cold, wet month of January. I’ve been in my new position as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College London’s Center for Engineering Education for one month.

In this time, I’ve also settled into a new apartment, where I’m flat-sitting for some friends. They travel quite a bit, so it all works fine.

I’ve been getting to know Shoreditch and its surrounding areas. Turns out, Shoreditch is one of London’s hippest addresses and my place is surrounded by local markets, many dozen vintage clothing stores, and Boundary Estate, the world’s first social housing community, which is architecturally stunning. I’ve joined Nuffield Gym and have been enjoying its pool and yoga classes. I got a wonderfully positive health screening when I joined and will soon meet with a personal trainer to get anti-aging tips!

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One of the many vintage shops off Brick Lane, buzzing on Sunday afternoon. Surprises at every turn–here a photo booth at the back of the shop and selling vintage clothes by the kilo downstairs.

Mostly, though, I’ve focused on making headway with my fellowship work. In the four weeks I have been working at UCL, I have:

Completed UCL induction/orientation

  • Got my employment contract, work visa, and bank account set up and obtained my British Residency Permit
  • Completed including face-to-face and on-line training and earned certificates in (1) Safety, (2) Green Awareness, and (3) Green Champion
  • Updated my research profiles, including UCL Engineering, IRIS, and LinkedIn

Contributed to peer reviewed conferences

Provided leadership in evaluation

Made two research trips to Dublin

  • Conducted four research interviews, and successfully scheduled five more for February
  • Was invited to collaborate on a policy project with 6 civil service professionals in Dublin
  • Met with several dozen DIT colleagues about current and future projects
  • Transcribed two interviews
  • Was invited to present at DIT research event on March 2nd
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UCL workshop on “Leading Collaborative Projects.”

Completed researcher development workshops at UCL

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A slide from architect Ken Yeang’s lecture on eco-architecture, delivered at the Bartlett.

Attended lectures at the Bartlett School of Architecture

Scoped research funding programs

  • Attended an information session on opportunities to collaborate with UK-based researchers, hosted in Dublin by the Irish Research Council
  • Identified promising funding program for gender studies and downloaded guidance materials

Reviewed literature pertinent to my research projects

  • Three PhD dissertations using phenomenology
  • Seminal texts in epistemological development
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Professor Nick Tyler (left) at PAMELA (Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory) aiming to improve transport and access to transport for people with barriers to mobility.

Studied art and design

  • Met twice with Kindall Brantley, NYU grad student in sustainable urbanism
  • Attended transportation design class at PAMELA, UCL’s transportation research hub
  • Joined the Tate and visited three times
  • Studied the special exhibition on Modigliani
  • Studied the special exhibition on “Impressionists in London” at Tate Britain
  • Studied bridge design topics at Tower Bridge Exhibition
  • Studied transportation and product design topics in two visits to London’s Science Museum
  • Even learned a bit of history by watching The Post at the RichMix cinema near my home, with a new membership to help support local culture and arts.
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Tower Bridge as see from below. The glass-floored walkway joins the two, tall middle tower (nearly visible to the left of this image).

Met with colleagues at UCL

I’ll say that of all this, the interviews I conducted in Dublin were probably the most fun. Two of the participants provided two-hour interviews that were chock full of insight. These are follow-up interviews with students I’ve previously interviewed. They are women studying engineering at DIT and hearing how their stories unfold from year to year is fascinating.

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A reflection from the Liffey River in downtown Dublin, taken during one of my two January overnights to the city.

I’m working hard to get participants in Dublin scheduled for follow up interviews in February — before the final-year students get too busy with final exams and graduation.

Stay tuned for more work photos from the places I visited this past month.

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UCL’s central library building.

Life as a Roving Academic

Shannon teaching at HU Point

Flashback: Teaching architecture students about sun angles at Hampton University, circa 2007.

I keep shifting roles in higher education so I can learn new skills. I spent 15 years teaching in the USA (advancing my way up to Professor of Architecture in 2014) before coming to Ireland as an education researcher and now Lecturer.

Transitioning from teaching to researching was more difficult than I had anticipated, partly because the work is more sedentary, but mostly because I missed interacting with students every day. And while I do enjoy engineering, I also miss discussing architecture and urban design on a daily basis. Fortunately though, I also enjoy interviewing engineering students.

As part of my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (2014-2016), I conducted 60-90 minute interviews with 47 women in Poland, Portugal, and Ireland. The interviews I conducted as a researcher allow me to connect with students in new ways.

 

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Flashback to Portugal, where my colleagues and I have interviewed 11 women studying engineering.

Since the end of that initial Marie Curie fellowship, I’ve continued this research project alongside new responsibilities. I’ve recently conducted follow-up interviews with 11 of the 47 women in my study, for instance.

After that Marie Curie fellowship ended, I also found work as a Lecturer on the teaching staff in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies and found my way back into the classroom. Today, I get to work with wonderful teaching colleagues, and to teach undergraduate as well as Masters-level students. I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this blog, showing a typical week of teaching.

So these days, I divide my time between teaching in-class 16 hours per week, learning new content for the classes I teach, advising thesis students, serving as a year tutor in our MSc program in BIM technologies, and doing research. (I’ve taken a break from grant-writing this semester and have enjoyed the respite.)

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Planning for future studies in London.

I enjoy exciting new adventures, though, and so I’m preparing to transition back into full-time research for a while, so I can develop new skills by working for two years at University College of London. UCL’s website provides more details  via a press release about the fellowship).

I’ll look for opportunities to teach informally while I’m at UCL, as well, and I’ll look forward to my return to DIT’s classroom in two year’s time to apply what I’ve learned through observation and research.

DIT has granted me a Career Break so that at the end of the fellowship I’ll be able to come back to my current lecturing post. I’m excited about this because I feel I’ve found my feet and my voice teaching here. Aongus (my partner) says it’s clear I selected the right profession since my passion for teaching and for students comes through in the stories I tell at the end of the day.

Now, in the month before I leave for London, I’m trying my best to track down the 10 students from my DIT cohort who I haven’t yet met for follow-up interviews and move to this research project ahead.

 

 

Collecting Data

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Wednesday’s RoboSumo class was going a-ok!

I’m gearing up for the new research fellowship by collecting data here in Ireland–data that I can analyze once I’m situated in London.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing women who are studying engineering in Dublin. Most of the women I’ve interviewed in this country have completed the design projects that you’ve seen in my prior blogs (RoboSumo, bridge design, and Energy Cube). Although I can’t show you the actual participants in my study for reasons of confidentiality, I’ve included a photo from this past Wednesday’s RoboSumo lab. Our big tournament is in two weeks, and excitement is mounting.  I’m asking students who took these courses three years ago about their experiences with engineering and with working in teams.

I truly believe that interviewing women from DIT over a period of years has helped me become a better teacher, particularly since I started teaching on these projects last autumn. In prior years, I was lending a hand occasionally in Energy Cube, RoboSumo, and bridge design, but most of my time was spent observing classroom and team dynamics.

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Trinity College’s main courtyard in all its mid-day splendor.

Today, I got to sit down and talk with a lovely young woman who started in DIT’s program four years ago, and who transferred to Trinity’s engineering program half-way through. To do this, I hiked across town to Trinity’s campus and the two of us chatted for 80 minutes, over coffee at Trinity’s Science Gallery. I hope the audio recording is clear enough, as I normally work in a much more controlled environment. There were far more distractions today than usual, yet the content of the interview was fascinating.

I interviewed all these women in the past as well, when they were first year engineering students, and now I’m catching back up with them after they completed several years of study. This is what’s referred to as a “longitudinal” study, and I am looking at changes and development over time. I have three more interviews lined up for next week, and I can not wait to hear about these students’ adventures in education and engineering.

 

Back to School: Engineering Induction at DIT

The first year students have arrived at DIT and are getting orientation this week. Today, the whole group of incoming engineering students were at our Kevin Street campus to learn about electrical and electronics aspects of their first year curriculum. Dr. Ted Burke led the introduction.

I really enjoy the chance to teach in various programs and on multiple campuses of DIT. I’ve posted images from my morning walk from DIT Bolton Street to DIT Kevin Street.

Research Internship at DIT

Learning to train new and upcoming researchers, I recently welcomed an intern from the States. Allison “Allie” Wagner has been here at DIT since the start of January, as part of the Masters in Higher Education Administration she is completing at the Central Michigan University. She is working with me for a total of two months.

In her time here, Allie is learning about how we manage programs at DIT and what it is like for students to live and study here. She is also doing a research project with me. We have conducted phenomenological interviews with five female students from the Middle East, and we hope to interview 2-3 more. This adds a “longitudinal” component to my prior research, since I interviewed all five of these women two years ago. Allie and I are following up to see what new expediences these women have had and how things have changed for them.

Overall, we want to produce a journal article with findings to help teachers do a better job in supporting international students — and particularly Muslim women studying engineering in Western contexts.

 


 

 

Vantage Points

What you see depends upon where and how you look....

What you see depends upon where and how you look….

In engineering, the teaching-from-the-podium-by-manual-and-textbook approach simply isn’t working.  It’s not attracting enough students to study engineering.  It’s not engaging and fascinating enough of them.  It’s not spurring their creative thinking skills in enough ways.

I’m clearly not the only one who has noticed this.  The National Science Foundation and oodles of engineering scholars agree.  And now that the engineering profession — as a group of individuals bound by common knowledge, education, and language — has come to acknowledge these shortcomings, it is time to address the problems head-on.

Fergus Whelan commented that I need to think outside this box....  Thanks to Frank Daly for the fabulous photo.

Not liking to be trapped inside the box….

Making such a change is difficult.  It’s messy and complex.  It requires thinking outside the vocabulary and methods that created the profession in the first place. In line with the old cliché: engineering has to starting thinking outside its own box.  Most people today agree: We need engineers to see and think in new ways.  And indeed, many teachers are:

  • working to prompt the needed type of thinking in engineering
  • testing new teaching methods
  • working to evaluate results

I am one of them.

I have two sets of skills that I am hoping can help in positive ways.  First, I’m an architect and seasoned educator.  Second, I’m an education researcher.  From this vantage point, I see that engineering (programs and pedagogies) can benefit from what architecture programs do.

The architecture profession, for instance, has always used hands-on teaching.  Architecture schools are full of students and full of creative energy.  Architecture and engineering aren’t so different, yet our ideas about what they “are” differ, and the way they are taught differs as well

“Engineering,” I insist, can benefit from design thinking, from techniques used in design education, and from sharing ideas with architects as well.  Upcoming blogs will explain how.


Below is a little gallery of recent research activities, including a short promo video (shot with my iPad in a single take) for our RoboSlam exhibit this weekend’s Dublin Maker event.

Sinead’s Slammin’ TV Production

RTE's Sinead Morris filming DIT's Ted Burke using a kitted-out iPhone 5.

RTE’s Sinead Morris filming DIT’s Ted Burke using a kitted-out iPhone 5.

TV journalist Sinead Morris came to DIT’s Kevin Street location today to film robot construction in action. Our RoboSlam team leaders — Ted, Damon, Frank, and I — are preparing for the upcoming Dublin Maker event, to be held at Trinity College on Saturday, July 26.  Sinead wanted to capture the activity.

The Dublin Maker event served as the impetus, Sinead explained, but the main intention of her piece is to show what the RoboSlam group is doing with robotics.

Sinead’s production is likely to air on RTE’s digital news channel, News Now.

Ted and Sinead set up for a shot of the robot underworld.

Ted and Sinead set up for a shot of the robot underworld.

Sinead is testing photojournalism innovations. The Irish television company where she works, RTE, wants its journalists to gain experience with spontaneous, low-tech approaches — so staff members can shoot, edit, and post “on the go.”  At the end of this innovation project, RTE staff will have the skills needed to disseminate news on the run… when opportunities arise.

RTE asked its staff to take this challenge: produce interesting and informative pieces wholly on their iPhones.

Hampton University journalism students were learning to do the same when my friend Tony Brown was dean of the program so, for me, watching this process firsthand proved fascinating.  The move toward spontaneous creation of new content aligns with the goals for our RoboSlam project; we want our workshop participants to take their robots home and start creating new “home grown” code for operating the ‘bots.

TV news technology has come a long way in my lifetime. When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, my parents were television journalists. They used 16mm film equipment, and I learned to use the same when I was in college studying architecture.

Today’s capture-edit-and-post culture speeds the process. Mom and Dad used to shoot the footage and put it on a Trailways bus bound for the TV station one hour away. While it was in transit, they’d phone the station to make a voice recording of the text for the station to overlay.

It would appear in its synchronized form on that night’s news.

Now, Viola!, Sinead can do, alone and in moments, what it took dozens of people hours to create in the 1980s.

Robot show down.

Robot show down.

So, I was able to learn quite a bit from Sinead today, about software as well as hardware, and perhaps now I can give her videography techniques a go.

She also inspired me to write up this blog on site, while she’s finishing up her interview with Ted. Moments ago, she asked him what it’s like to work this type of job. He said he loves coming in every day to build robots and work with students.

He didn’t mention that he and his colleagues are currently on vacation and aren’t at all required to be here.  They just can’t keep themselves away!

We actually had quite a few interesting projects underway in the lab today while we were filming… a veritable Santa’s workshop of robotics. For instance, one of DIT’s third year students, Shane Ormonde, was here developing a new robot to show at the Dublin Maker event. He just completed a degree in Electrical and Control Engineering (DT009) and will pursue yet another degree in the fall.

Shane is conducting a robotics experiment while on summer holiday.  It’s a nice break, he says, from his call-center job.  (Gotta love that initiative!)

Shane Ormonde's new global robot arm.

Shane Ormonde’s new global robot arm.

Shane is building and programming a robotic system that, using a globe, can show in real time what the International Space Station is actually tracking at the same moment. Eventually, his robot will also be able to point to any location a person requests, using the laser on the end of its moving arm.

The globe itself moves to set the correct longitude and the arm moves to pinpoint the latitude.

He originally wanted people to be able to tune in via internet to ask the robot to identify specific locations and complete other such actions.  Shane’s creation will be featured as one part of our DIT RoboSlam exhibit at the Dublin Maker event.

Come join us next Saturday – near the cricket pitch at Trinity – and see!