“Growing up, it was just me and my mam. From an early age, I loved reading and wanted books rather than toys, something that my mam always supported. I was a very quiet student but I really enjoyed school.
Although only a small number of students from my secondary school typically went to university, I always saw myself going to college. My mam also shared this vision. She had left school before her Leaving Certificate, and so when I secured a place to study Common Entry Science at DCU, I became the first person in my entire extended family to attend university.
My mam works as a stock assistant with a local wholesaler, and so we worried if we could afford college. When my guidance counsellor told me about the SUSI grant and DCU Access Programme, it really put our minds at ease that we didn’t need to come up with €3,000 for registration fees each year. I also successfully applied for the Ernest Walton Bursary for STEM, a competitive scholarship for students in disadvantaged (DEIS) schools who want to study STEM. These supports enabled me to go straight to university instead of taking a year out to save up.
In school, I did Biology and honours Maths, which was enough to get me into Common Entry Science. However, not having Leaving Certificate Chemistry initially made my course more difficult. I worked hard though, and I grew to love Chemistry. In fact, it actually ended up being my best subject. I went into the Analytical Science stream of my course, and in third year I chose to specialise in Chemistry.
In fourth year, I started working on a research project with Dr Mary Pryce, who would later become my thesis supervisor. I loved working in a lab, using my hands and doing experiments. I also loved that the research was my own work and that I could think about what I wanted to do, rather than just doing what I was told. When Mary offered me a PhD position with the Pryce Research Group, I was delighted to accept it and to continue with our research.
My research seeks to harvest solar energy to produce clean hydrogen fuel more efficiently. Many scientists around the world use photo sensitisers to capture energy from the sun, but the problem is that they don’t work very well at a large scale. I am exploring how new sensitisers that use fake chlorophyll can more efficiently capture the sun’s energy. I also do some work on capturing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and I due to publish a peer-reviewed paper on this shortly.
I have really enjoyed my PhD studies so far, it’s great to have the opportunity to work on something that will hopefully make a cleaner and more sustainable world. I’m also very lucky that I’m from Dublin and that I’ve been able to live at home. Otherwise, living on a PhD stipend would be very difficult.
I’m now in the fourth and final year of my PhD, and was both incredibly shocked and honoured when I was chosen to receive the Sinéad Strain STEM Scholarship this year. My mam has had a tough year as my granny recently passed away, and so it has been really nice that I’ve been able to help her a bit more, especially with the cost of living soaring at the moment.
I’ve had a lot of supports that have made my journey to do a PhD possible. Looking back, I have a better appreciation of the difference they make in helping people from underrepresented backgrounds to overcome barriers and break the cycle of not attending college. I hope that many more girls from my old school in Finglas will follow in my footsteps to study STEM at DCU in the future!”