Women In STEM: Ciara

Ciara on her graduation day

My 56th guest is Ciara, a PhD student, a science communicator and a passionate scientist.

Hi Ciara! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

Hey! My name is Ciara and I’m a 22 year old PhD student in Ireland. During my first two years of my undergraduate I was in a ‘common entry’ biological sciences course. Before my third year I had to choose the discipline I wanted to continue my studies in. The options were Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Nutrition and Health Science, and Agri-Biosciences. When I first went into the course was gravitating toward doing Nutrition, however I ended up falling in love with the modules catered towards Pharmaceutical Biotechnology. So here we are 5 years later, with a BSc in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and a first year PhD student.

When did you start your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?

I started posting on my Instagram account in October 2020 when I was starting my PhD. At first I started it to follow other PhD students and science communicators because I wanted a space where I could find some inspiration and motivation. However, starting my PhD from home meant that I was feeling very isolated and my mental health wasn’t in the best spot. I started properly posting on my account in December, and in all honesty my only motive was to use it as a chance to connect with other students. I’ve found it a huge help so far and the academic/science community on Instagram is wonderful.

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

This is something that can often be easier said than done, but it’s something I’ve been trying to consciously work on since I’ve been working from home. I’ll try to make out a to-do list with tasks I want to get done during the day and set boundaries between work time and home time. If I get all my tasks done earlier than expected, I’ll try to reward myself with an earlier evening off and not start tomorrow’s tasks. In the evenings I’ll usually try to do some sort of workout or go for a walk, and either chill out with a book or some TV time.

Ciara in the nature

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?

When I started off in the common entry course in a class of around 40 students there was only 5/6 men. When I went into the Pharmaceutical Biotechnology discipline the number of men increased, but I want to say it was 50/50ish.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

Thankfully, throughout my time in education I haven’t had many experiences like this as I’ve been lucky enough to have mostly female educators in STEM subjects, both in secondary school and University. Outside of education though I have experienced derogatory attitudes and harassment, especially in my part-time job. I’ve had men tell me I’m not smart enough, I’ve had men try to touch me inappropriately, I’ve had men call me unrepeatable words, and I’ve had men try to take advantage of me being a ‘young’ female staff member thinking I’m just naive.

How did you become passionate about science?

Pinpointing an exact moment is hard if I’m honest. I remember always being very excited for our ‘science’ day in primary school and seeing my teachers do fun little experiments. My biology teacher in secondary school was also wonderful, and helped me develop a passion for biology. I think it was during my undergrad that I realized just how much I loved science, I just loved evolving my knowledge.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

I’m only in my first year of my PhD so I still feel very much new to research. My PhD project focuses on bacteriocins and their potential is antibiotic alternatives as UTI therapeutics. At the moment I’m writing out my literature review, so by the end of most days I can hardly put together a coherent sentence after writing and reading, but it’s all part of the end goal.

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

You can do anything you put your mind to, your gender doesn’t define your limits or capabilities.

Follow Ciara on Instagram, Twitter and her blog.

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