Quercus Postgrad Scholar 2017/18

By Naomi Kilroy (Studying for MSc Audiology)

My first month in UCC has been a bit of a whirlwind. I moved to Cork on a Sunday and began my course the following day. It’s taken a few weeks to familiarise myself with the city and campus but (with the help of google maps) I’m getting there!

Cork is a great city, there’s always a good buzz around town or college. The streets are vivid and lively, and you can stumble across some cool street art (as pictured above) in lanes and alleyways. The bars and restaurants are constantly busy but there are also plenty of cultural things to do including visiting museums, galleries and whichever festival may be on offer that week. So far I’ve managed to attend events for the Cork International Short Story festival, the Folk festival and Oktoberfest. I’m looking forward to the famous Jazz fest that will take place at the end of this month.

The course I am undertaking is a 2-year Masters in Audiology. It’s the only course of its kind in Ireland and it focuses on clinical experience. UCC has a state-of-the-art Audiology clinic located in the Brookfield Health Sciences building and I have been observing patients and training with the equipment there since day one. The course interested me due to the unique nature and hands-on teaching approach (it consists of over 1000 hours clinical placement). I am already very impressed by the organisation of the course, despite it being a relatively new one (the first set of graduates will be conferred this month). There are 11 of us undertaking the course this year. It’s a lovely class size for getting to know one another and we’ve already become very close 🙂

“I see the effects of social policy everywhere”

By Julie Brosnan (Studying for a MSocSc Social Policy)

Many years have passed since my first visit to UCC.  One of my sisters was a student here and I was fascinated when she showed me around campus.  It looked a little different to what you see today but it was impressive nonetheless.  The world seemed like a different place back then. The Berlin Wall was standing, Gorbachev was coming to prominence in the USSR and Liverpool FC regularly won trophies in UK and European soccer.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d have been busy reflecting on the rise of neo-liberalism in many powerful countries and on how, almost unthinkably, it would ultimately spread to the Soviet Union.  I’d have studied Liverpool’s role as a pivotal city of the British Empire, where goods and people were imported and exported. I’d have been busy exploring how and why those economic policies accelerated the decline of many great cities and how the division, inequality and social problems they created still exist today. But all that critical thinking and Social Science was in the future!

This autumn, I’ve begun working towards my 4th qualification from UCC, thousands of hours, years of study, many miles travelled.  On returning in September, the worries are the same. Trying to get to know a new class group, will I remember all the names, where did I put that reading list, what books should I read first and more pertinently, what am I going to write 25,000 words about? Didn’t we cover social economy somewhere before, I could have sworn we had a handout about it from 2nd year, now where could I have put it?

There seems to be so much in my course that interests me, more social policy issues to debate and examine, research to plan and carry out, new and different speakers to engage with and more books to read and enjoy.  Housing, health, education, welfare.  Each comes with the word ‘crisis’ attached in contemporary Ireland.  Why is this so? Does it have to be so?

The challenge of combining work with study continues. At undergraduate level I had a work placement throughout the academic year. Now as a postgraduate, I learn to set the work/study balance anew.

I see the effects of social policy everywhere.  I note how decisions made at different levels touch many lives.  I learn about my own strengths and weaknesses as I try to help people I work with and their communities.  I like to write so I help people for whom writing is a challenge. I love to read so I guide those to whom reading doesn’t come so easily.  I live a future that’s very different from what I imagined all those years ago.   I’m often drawn back to a quote from John F.Kennedy, often used by Tom McGrath, a mentor and friend of mine-“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

“Explore my passion for research and address a key gap in my knowledge of research methods”

By James McCleane Fay

My decision to study the MSc in Data Science and Analytics was an odd one. I’ve just graduated from Applied Psychology, from the excellent and extremely supportive School of Applied Psychology (SOAP). I like research, so I looked at several PhD programmes in my final year, wondering what I was going to do next.

The main barrier to what I was interested in (games design and human-computer interaction research) was my comparative lack of experience with maths and computers. Despite having an excellent introduction to statistics in Applied Psychology, the focus was on social science research and I wanted to broaden my statistical skills further. Data science was a natural choice: it provides a wealth of knowledge on managing, interpreting, analysing and applying models to huge datasets. For somebody excited by research and data, it prepares you for both an industry focused job and a research focused job.

Changing colleges from Arts to Science was daunting. Would I be able for this? Is this all a bit beyond my abilities? What if I don’t know x, y or z? Despite my apprehension, this year has been extremely enjoyable so far. I’ve had to grapple with probability (trust me, it’s unintuitive and approximately half the people who say they understand it don’t understand it), databases, coding and a lot more contact hours. But I’ve also been exposed to challenging concepts that require a lot of work to understand, new friends from different countries, lecturers with different styles, a lot less reading and a lot more practice.

Quercus has provided me with the ability to explore my passion for research and address a key gap in my knowledge of research methods. Without the monetary support, I would not have been able to afford my masters course. I work part-time 20 hours per week, pay rent, bills and study Monday to Friday as a fully independent student. Without the support of Quercus, I may have had to take a year out and put my plans on hold. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to continue my studies and learn fascinating things that will make me a better researcher and hopefully earn me the moniker of ‘Data Scientist’ at a company who will value my experience and education. It’s a relief not to worry about my second semester fees, and to be able to focus on my studies without worrying all year about how I’ll pay them. The Quercus Scholarship rewards hard work and perseverance, so if you’re in a position to work hard and apply, go for it! You might be able to do your dream course after all.

Postgraduate Cafe for Research Students October 2017

Postgraduate Café for UCC Research Students – October 18th 2017

On Wednesday October 18th from 11am to 1pm we will be sponsoring another Postgrad Cafe for UCC Research Students in the Postgraduate Common Room, No. 4 Carrigside

DAY: Wednesday October 18th

TIME: 11am to 1pm

WHERE: Postgraduate Common Room, No. 4 Carrigside (no. 17 grid reference F6 on this map)

We will provide coffee, tea, biscuits and handmade Irish chocolate, yes handmade Irish chocolate by Ó’Conaill’s Cork.

This is a chance for UCC research postgraduate students to meet other students and use the university postgraduate common room. This is a friendly and comfortable environment to meet other students for both social and academic conversations. We encourage our students to come along, enjoy a hot drink and meet some of the UCC research student community.

Spaces of austerity: experiences of youth in Dublin and Cork

Photo by Piet den Blanken www.denblanken.com

The 2008 economic crisis and subsequent austerity undoubtedly affected everyday life for people living in Ireland. From the bailout of the so-called Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, the foundation of the National Asset Management Association to the attempted implementation of water charges, the aftershocks of a homegrown property bubble combined with an international financial crisis left no one untouched.

Although Ireland successfully left the Troika programme and an economic recovery is underway, the lives of many did not return to ‘normal’; in 2015, 25.5% of the population was living in deprivation – compared to 11.8% in 2007, precarious working conditions expanded, take-home pay fell or stagnated for many, and homelessness is still rising sharply. It is therefore critical to move beyond economic figures to investigate the lived realities of austerity and recession as experienced by those affected.

Austerity particularly ‘bites’ in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods harbouring those most vulnerable to layoffs, most dependent on state supports and thus vulnerable to retracting and reforming state practices. Youth is particularly vulnerable to recession and austerity. Young people are often the first to lose employment, lack the experience to regain employment and do not possess financial reserves to fall back on. Furthermore, several austerity measures specifically addressed youth, such as the age-specific reductions of Jobseeker’s Allowance and certain activation programmes. My investigation engaged youth aged 18 to 25 from Knocknaheeny in Cork and Ballymun in Dublin to illuminate the experiences of austerity by disadvantaged urban youth.

As a geographer, I investigated the role of place and the neighbourhood in shaping the localised emergence of austerity. Indeed, nationally implemented austerity did not arrive equally in both neighbourhoods; its arrival was shaped by local histories of regeneration, the embeddedness of neighbourhoods within their city, and their level of institutional and governmental penetration. Such deeper institutional penetration in Ballymun, for example, channelled austerity experience to spheres of training and social services, while in Knocknaheeny it was often experienced in the income-related spheres of work and social welfare.

Furthermore, the interactions of reduced social welfare, falling income through work and minimised access to affordable housing restricted opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth, excluding them from social networks, employment, support and leisure options that the city traditionally offered. Not only did inhabitants have less money themselves, facilities and services left their neighbourhoods through processes of austerity. This increased costs of access and thus reduced availability. This was most visible in housing; youth cannot leave the parental house and becomes trapped in unfavourable living conditions in an urban landscape without possibilities.

Austerity, thus, has differential effects beyond the socio-economic characteristics of individuals and groups, it is also spatially variegated. Austerity and recession create new urban spaces. Understanding the socio-spatial variations of austerity’s impacts is essential to create a more inclusive society. Dedicated policy and support in these urban spaces is required, especially now that the economy is recovering, to prevent the consolidation of such spaces of exclusion as a permanent legacy of the financial crisis.

PhD Scholar discusses involving the patient in research from the study design stage

Kieran Walsh, PhD Scholar and Research Pharmacist, UCC

As a research pharmacist, I am interested in understanding the patient’s perspective on issues. For instance, why a patient doesn’t take his/her statin as prescribed, or what a patient thinks about being prescribed antipsychotics. Historically research has been conducted by researchers ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ patients, with little regard as to what actually matters to the patient.  However, there has been a shifting attitude by the research community towards involving the patient in research from the study design stage, asking them “what’s important to you?” Involvement of members of the public and patients has the potential to increase the utility of findings to both researchers and to patients. My PhD research is focusing on developing strategies to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of antipsychotics in people with dementia, utilising participatory methods.

So, when I saw the advertisement for PG6025, Community-Based Participatory Research, I was naturally intrigued. Although I had no experience of conducting participatory research, I was very interested to get involved, learn the skills and apply them to my own research. The 5-credit module involved a blend of classroom-based theory and discussions as well as on-site participatory activities with our community partners. The cohort of PhD students that I was part of, consisted of a huge range of disciplines from, for example, pharmacy, public health and sociology, and our diverse perspectives enabled rich discussion and analysis. We also received top-class direction from the knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturers, Catherine, Kenneth and Ruth. Engaging with our community partners was also a really rewarding experience. I felt honoured to listen to their stories and I believe they really enjoyed somebody asking “Well, tell me what’s important to you?” As a group of PhD researchers, academics and community partners, we collectively gathered, prioritised and created novel research questions that were important to this community. These research questions were subsequently answered by undergraduate students the following year to the satisfaction of our community partners.

I came away from the module with a better understanding of the principles of community-based participatory research and strategies for applying them to my own research. As a result of participating in this module, I was better able to engage with my advisory group members who had dementia, and enable true discussions on the issue of antipsychotics. I would highly recommend this module to any PhD student in STEM, Medicine and Health, particularly if you are considering involving members of the public or patients in the design or conduct of your research. I learned valuable skills and knowledge in this unique module, and I also found it a really enjoyable experience.

Module Details
Target Audience: PhD Students
Credit Weighting: 5
Proposed Start Date: Semester Two 2018
Registration and further information: Contact Dr Ruth Hally – email: ruth.hally@ucc.ie

Modules for PhD students – Community-Based Participatory Research

Community-Based Participatory Research – PG6025 
2016 Recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

What is Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and why should it be part of your/your students’ PhD journey?
Community based-participatory research focuses on the reciprocity and democratization of knowledge production between stakeholders. Students engage in community-led authentic research projects with the attendant benefits of increased societal engagement and enhanced employment prospects through the development of research skills; project management skills; an engaged orientation, and a critical and inquiring mind-set. Through engaging with community partners on real-world research issues, students are made aware of the role of research beyond the university’s walls and gain an increased sense of responsibility, civic engagement and increased motivation in supporting community partners. This module was first introduced in semester 2, 2016. UCC partnered with The Westgate Foundation in 2016 and Before 5 Family Centre in 2017. In 2018, UCC will partner with a new community group. The feedback (below) from participating students has been very positive and we are looking forward to working alongside a new group of PhD students.

Student Feedback
“This module provides a unique opportunity to engage in and experience CBPR. So often PhDs can feel isolated in their research. This engagement with UCC and the community feels ground breaking, empowering and democratic in that everyone has a contribution to make. We all have something to learn from each other – we need to stop and listen.”

“I have learned something valuable from my encounters with everyone involved in this module. The module coordinators were all pretty inspirational in their own way. The PhD group were all empathetic and engaged.”

Module Details
Target Audience: PhD Students
Credit Weighting: 5
Proposed Start Date: Semester Two 2018
Registration and further information: Contact Dr Ruth Hally – email: ruth.hally@ucc.ie

Finding the Best Places for Growing Old

“Hand in Hand” by Garry Knight https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/5836253352 CC BY 2.0

By Marica Cassarino PhD
School of Applied Psychology

We all want to grow old being healthy and happy, and we all deserve to live in places that promote our autonomy and quality of life. In a world that is becoming increasingly older and urbanised, it is important to understand the impact that growing cities have on healthy ageing. This is a global priority set by the World Health Organization in 2007 to encourage the development of “Age-friendly” places that promote health, safety and participation as we grow old.

While living longer is a positive demographic change, ageing comes with a higher risk of developing chronic conditions, such as dementia and cognitive impairment, which can have a significant negative impact on wellbeing, independence and quality of life, and, by consequence, considerable economic and social costs. Creating age-friendly places that can help to contrast cognitive decline is one of the main challenges faced by the scientific community and policy-makers for the coming years. A first step in addressing such challenge is to map the places where older people are more cognitively healthy, and I did so in my doctoral project by investigating whether urban or rural places in Ireland support better cognitive health in adult age. In my studies I used data from the Irish Census, the All-Island Research Observatory (AIRO, Maynooth University), and The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) – a large study conducted by Trinity College Dublin on the health, socioeconomic and lifestyle circumstances of over 8,000 healthy people aged 50 and older. I explored whether living in a more or less urbanised area would be associated with differences in multiple cognitive abilities, such as memory or attention. I found that, despite the participants in Tilda are overall healthy and relatively young, those living in cities have better executive functions than rural residents, independent of socioeconomic or health status: Executive functions are cognitive skills which allow us to solve complex problems, multi-task, plan our actions, and successfully interact with the surrounding environment (for example, when we cross the road while holding a conversation and paying attention to the traffic), and which can be severely impaired in dementia. Maintaining good executive functions contributes to be cognitively fit for longer, and the more mental stimulation we receive from the variety and novelty in the environment the longer we keep our brain active and engaged. Finding differences in such skills among people who are still young and healthy based on levels of urbanisation supports the idea that the places where we live can influence how well our brain ages, and suggests that rural areas might lack in opportunities for mental stimulation in adult age, calling for interventions to enhance accessibility to stimulating activities. The project represents the initial phase of an ongoing multi-disciplinary investigation which will inform policy-makers and local communities on how the built environment can be improved to support cognitive health with ageing.

Postgraduate Cafe for Research Students June 2017

Postgraduate Café for UCC Research Students – Summer 2017

On Wednesday June 28th from 11am to 1pm we will be sponsoring another Postgrad Cafe for UCC Research Students in the Postgraduate Common Room, No. 4 Carrigside

DAY: Wednesday June 28th

TIME: 11am to 1pm

WHERE: Postgraduate Common Room, No. 4 Carrigside (no. 17 grid reference F6 on this map)

We will provide coffee, tea, biscuits and handmade Irish chocolate, yes handmade Irish chocolate by Ó’Conaill’s Cork.

This is a chance for UCC research postgraduate students to meet other students and use the university postgraduate common room. This is a friendly and comfortable environment to meet other students for both social and academic conversations. We encourage our students to come along, enjoy a hot drink and meet some of the UCC research student community.

Please email graduatestudies@ucc.ie for more information.

The Impact of Biofuels on Food Security: From Global to Local

by Stephen Thornhill

Biofuel production rose sharply in the early years of the new millennium as governments promoted their use in petrol and diesel fuels as a way of reducing fossil fuel use and encouraging rural development. However, in recent years biofuels have been criticized for causing increased hunger by reducing food availability and driving up global food prices.

Biofuels are made from various feedstocks, including maize, sugar cane, oilseeds and by-products such as molasses, and they also produce large volumes of co-products in their production processes, particularly protein meals for animal feed. A number of biofuel feedstock operations have been established in developing countries to either supply local needs or for export to processors in developed economies.

In contrast to much of the media coverage and public perception surrounding the food versus fuel debate, Stephen’s thesis finds that biofuel operations can, under the right conditions, help improve food security in rural areas of low-income countries where poverty and hunger is most rife. It also finds little evidence that biofuels have significantly reduced global food availability or have been responsible for rising food prices over the past decade.

The results of household surveys in Mozambique and Tanzania showed that those households with employees of biofuel operations were likely to be significantly more food-secure than other households in the same locality. His analysis, which controlled for key influences on food security, such as household size and crop area, confirmed “biofuel involvement” as a significant factor behind a better food security status. Most households involved in biofuel operations attributed their improved food security to better and more stable income from salaried employment.

Stephen’s analysis of the global biofuel sector found that the rise in the biofuel feedstock area over the past decade represented little more than 1 per cent of the world’s arable and permanent crop acreage. It also found little evidence that US biofuel production (the world’s largest producer), had accounted for any substantial proportion of maize price changes over the past decade. Moreover, there appeared to be limited transmission between US maize prices, used as the global benchmark, and local maize prices in Mozambique and Tanzania.

Stephen also developed a novel food security indicator during the study – the Household Nutrient Deficit Score. The new metric and its methodology can help measure the impact of agri-based and other interventions on food and nutrition security, assisting policymakers, private sector operations and organisations involved in such projects, as well as those involved in sustainable certification systems. Stephen is currently seeking funding to improve the metric and methodology further and develop an app-based tool for use on ipads and phones.