The SURE Network hosted its seventh Science Undergraduate Research Conference on Friday 16th October online, which was organised into three streams led by TU Dublin, GMIT and CIT.
Speaking at the opening of the SURE2020 conference, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD talked about the Government's recognition of the value of research and Higher Education. "If in future years, we can find that sweet-spot where higher education interacts with research and innovation, we can future-proof our country. Successful societies and successful economies will be those that invest in and embrace talent, scientific research, creativity and knowledge."
Continuing Minster Harris spoke about the meaning of the 'Irish Advantage' – "It needs to be our talent and creativity. It needs to be our ability to be agile and to innovate - things that you, the participants of the SURE conference, all have in spades. The SURE Network provides students with real learning opportunities, and highlights the value of research careers, whether in academia or industry."
Minister Harris finished on a note of recognition and thanked the presenters who will inspire the next generation in the SURE2020 audience, embarking on their research. "The SURE conference is an opportunity to celebrate the success of students and to mark the development of students, which is a key focus of the Irish Higher Education system. It is an opportunity to bring your research work to a national audience and allows graduates to inspire current students, and I really want to thank you for your generosity in that regard, because it is your work that will inspire the next generation."
These remarks echoed those of Ciaran O'Leary, Chair of the SURE Network, who spoke of the remarkable resilience of those completing their research during a global pandemic that forced upon us huge changes in how we live and work and study. "To have completed the most important year of your academic life under the conditions that we've all experienced since March demonstrates remarkable resilience, commitment and strength from all of you. To have gone further, as all of today's presenters have, and submitted your work to a national conference and been accepted as a presenter is further evidence still of an ability complete high-quality work under stressful conditions, and commit to sharing that work with others in your research community."
Ciaran O'Leary had a special word of welcome for Clodagh King from Dundalk IT who embodies the SURE Community, as an audience attendee of SURE2018; a winning presenter at SURE2019; and returning to share her journey to date as a researcher to SURE2020's postgraduate workshop led by Prof. Mary McNamara, Head of TU Dublin Graduate Research School.
President of TU Dublin, Prof. David FitzPatrick, also spoke at the SURE2020 award ceremony, where he was joined by Dr. Barry O'Connor, President of CIT, and Dr. Orla Flynn, President of GMIT, to present the awards for the TU Dublin 'Nutrition and Health Sciences' stream. "It is wonderful to see the progression of the SURE Network from its roots as one of the first collaborations between the founding institutions of TU Dublin, and which grew in 2018 to a National Network comprising nine Higher Education institutions, which went on to be awarded "Best Academic Partnership" at the 2019 Education Awards, and now to today's online conference.
The ability to innovate and respond to change is at the heart of the TU Dublin mission. To date, as well as running six conferences for undergraduate students and launching an undergraduate journal, the SURE Network has also implemented a number of curriculum enhancement initiatives. Most notably, it responded to the global pandemic by forming a community of practice to support partners adapt their final year laboratory research projects following the closure of buildings due to Covid-19.
It is also fantastic to see the graduates adapting to this online environment, and to share their discoveries with each other, and with those commencing their undergraduate research journey this year. I look forward to reading some of their research through the SURE Network's undergraduate research journal."
Other keynote speakers throughout the day included Prof. Paula Bourke from UCD; Mary Good, COO American Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Ian O'Connor from GMIT. Each was a graduate of the Irish Technological Higher Education sector who have gone on to establish successful research careers in both industry and academia. They shared the highs and lows of their pathways, including entertainingly to the music of Freddie Mercury!
Barry Ryan, Editor-in-Chief of SURE_J, provided the conference with an update on the peer-reviewed journal of the SURE Network, commenting on the impressive international reach and range of the nearly 1000 downloads of papers from the first issue. He encouraged the presenters of SURE2020 to consider publishing their research in the next edition, explained that supports that would be provided to novice authors by the Editorial Board of SURE_J.
Speaking after the event, Dr. Julie Dunne, Chair of the TU Dublin Conference Committee, thanked the members for their contribution to the very successful first online SURE Network conference. "Dr. Greg Byrne, Dr. Alan Casey, Dr. Denis O'Shea and Dr. Aine Whelan from the College of Sciences and Health City campus; Dr. Yurgos Politis from the Learning Teaching and Technology Centre; and Dr. Sinead Loughran from Dundalk IT have worked enthusiastically throughout the considerable planning for SURE2020. They have given of their time and expertise, and reacted with positivity and with competence to migrate the conference to the virtual world."
Closing the day's proceedings, Ciaran O'Leary thanked the members of the Network and its committees for their hard work and commitment during his three-year inaugural chairing of the SURE Network. Recounting the beginnings of the Network, he noted particular acknowledgement to his colleagues in TU Dublin. "I would like to acknowledge the beginning of the SURE Network, and the role played by my colleagues Dr. Julie Dunne and Dr. Barry Ryan whose vision for an Undergraduate Research Conference and Journal contributed so much to the establishment of the network, and Dr. Mary Deasy who helped build it into a network across institutions."
The closing proceedings marked the official transfer of the Network to the incoming Chair, Dr. Therese Montgomery from Athlone IT, and had an air of celebration, and was met with numerous comments in the virtual chat from members of the Network thanking Ciaran for his exceptional leadership and dedication during his tenure as Chair, and wishing Dr. Montgomery well in steering the Network to continued success.
Further information on the SURE Network and Conference, including the prize winners, can be found on http://sure-network.ie/.