|Dr. Catherine Deegan talks to Smart Futures about her career as a researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.
What type of scientist are you?
I qualified in applied physics but I’m working in an engineering department. So the main scientific area is physics crossed with engineering.
What type of research do you do?
The main research I do is applied research which is related specifically to real-world problems. For the last three years, I’ve been involved in the commercialising of research that we spent the previous 10 years working on. There’s a spin-out company on the campus now marketing that idea.
Our idea involves road signs and markings. In the EU and United States, in particular, there are very strict requirements for road signs and markings for how reflective they are, particularly at night. We have designed and produced a prototype of a device that can be attached to any vehicle. It takes pictures of the road signs and gives back a number which shows their reflectivity.
What drove your interest in road signs?
Twelve years ago, I was having a conversation with someone and they said ‘I’d really like a device that will do this’. I put in a grant application for a masters on the topic and it went from there.
What subjects did you do in school and did they influence your career path?
I was always very curious about how things worked and what made them work. In secondary school, the subjects I took were physics, chemistry and maths. Funnily enough, I feel a good command of the English language is very important for a career in science and technology. I felt the benefit of English much later on when writing grant applications and explaining scientific concepts to a non-technical audience.
What courses did you do after school?
I did a degree in applied physics in Dublin City University. I felt applied physics was a good bridge between physics and engineering. I then completed a PhD in applied physics in DCU. Immediately after my PhD, I worked in St James’s Hospital as a clinical engineer for a year. While there, I completed a postgraduate diploma in clinical engineering at Trinity College Dublin.
How did you progress to your current job?
The Institute of Technology Blanchardstown opened in 1999 and I applied for a position there the following year. ITB attracted me as it was new and I knew I’d have an input into how it developed.
Could you describe your typical day?
It varies quite a bit. My time is roughly spread 50:50 between teaching and research. I teach undergraduate students and also take postgraduate students who are completing masters and PhDs.
What do you wish somebody had told you before you started out?
There’s a certain amount of failure involved in scientific experiments. I wish I was told that failure is part and parcel of science and you learn more from failure than you do from success. If I knew that in my student days I wouldn’t have been so freaked out by it.