August 23, 2022: CÚRAM has celebrated the achievement of the 21 participants of the inaugural undergraduate research opportunities programme (UROP) with a research symposium event.

UROP, funded through the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme, was designed to support underrepresented undergraduate student development by providing 20 fully paid summer internships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) laboratories across NUI Galway for six weeks between May and August 2022. 

On completion of the programme, participants were invited to present the outputs of their research activity at a research symposium and awarded certificates of achievement from NUI Galway President Ciarán Ó hOgartaigh.

Noel Fahy, one of the interns who took part in UROP, spoke of his experience, “My time in the UROP programme has been amazing. It has provided me with the existential experience one can only gain by working daily in a research laboratory. The programme has helped me realise a career in research is not hard to reach, an unattainable career that is only for the elite or the perfect.”

Professor Eilis Dowd, who took part in the programme as a project supervisor, reflected on her experience, “The UROP Programme allowed us to host a brilliant biomedical science student, Saoirse Ryan, to work alongside my research team on a project funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation. During the placement, Saoirse generated fascinating data showing that repair of the Parkinsonian brain by adult stem cells can be enhanced using biomaterials. But perhaps more importantly, Saoirse got to experience first-hand the reality of working in a research laboratory and collaborating with, and learning from, other researchers. Throughout her placement, Saoirse was exceptional in every way – a delight to host – and I hope we will see her back in the laboratory sometime soon.”   

The research symposium included a special guest talk from Katie Gardiner, Narrative Designer at Romero Games and NUI Galway graduate, who spoke to the students about the vast opportunities for STEM careers in Ireland and the importance of encouragement and mentorship along they way. The event was attended by project supervisors, interns, their families and peers.

The UROP project is a collaboration between CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WiSTEM) student society, the College of Science and Engineering and the University of Sanctuary Initiative at NUI Galway. It was funded by the SFI Discover Programme, an investment which aims to improve public understanding of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). The Programme is designed to grow and encourage participation in STEM education and public engagement, inspiring our young people to explore STEM roles in the future.

Over 50 senior academics across NUI Galway offered projects for consideration to the programme, receiving over 500 applications from UG students for the 20 places. Interns will develop practical research skills and training in public engagement and communications as part of this project. 

Prof Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM and Project Director, explains: "We developed this initiative to highlight STEM research as an exciting, long-term career option for secondary level and undergraduate students and encourage underrepresented STEM students to achieve their full potential. We hope these internships will address the low levels of participation of underrepresented groups in research careers and third-level education."

Prof Helen Maher, Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at NUI Galway, says:  "I am delighted to see this initiative be established at NUI Galway. It exemplifies our commitment at NUI Galway to the public good, partnership and education as a critical catalyst for equality, diversity and inclusion."

Commenting on the 2022 SFI Discover projects, Prof Philip Nolan, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland, said: "STEM is such an exciting area to study and work in, and we want to make it more accessible to a wide range of people. We look forward to working with these fantastic, creative education and engagement programmes."