In Conversation with Claire MacEvilly…

blog_ClaireMacEvillyAs we continue to prepare an exciting line-up of events for the Midlands Science Festival, I recently caught up with Claire Mac Evilly, the Communications Manager of ‘Food for Health Ireland’ at University College Dublin. We are delighted to have Claire as one of our key speakers for this year’s festival and we wanted to find out a little bit more about her love of science and where it all began…..

When did you decide to work in a science field and what inspired you?
I really liked Biology and Home Economics in school so a BSc in Nutritional Sciences was a perfect fit for me. I particularly found that the science behind the food we eat and what reactions happen in the body really interested me. A prize winning nutrition scientist Dr Elsie Widdowson inspired me. She was one of the trail blazers in nutrition research and I did a project on her when I was in transition year. I was lucky enough to get enough points to study in UCC but the story does not end there. I was doing my final year and I got chatting to my advisor at the time. I knew that I didn’t want to do further study in the lab but I was interested in how you translate nutrition science into messages aimed at the public that would encourage them to change their behaviour when it comes to food choice. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to Tufts University in Boston to complete a Masters in Nutrition Communications and the journey of getting science out to diverse audiences began!

Why in your view is science so important in society today?
Science is important in society today because I believe we need a society that is excited by science, values its importance to our social and economic wellbeing, feels confidence in its use and supports a representative well-qualified scientific workforce. It is particularly important for Ireland as we need science to help our future economic prosperity and our ability to become an innovative nation depends on the successful exploitation of science and technology.

Do you think there are any really exciting research outcomes we can hope to see in the next 10 years?
In Ireland, we are lucky enough to produce great quantities of milk but is there more to this white liquid than meets the eye? Researchers are currently mining milk to look at the functional ingredients that could be of benefit to human health. Finding out what bioactives are in milk and how can we make more use of them is exciting because it will put Ireland at the forefront of an area of research that has huge commercial potential.

Why is it important for those working in science to take part in such events as the Midlands Science Festival?
Scientists work really hard in the lab or with populations in the field to give them data to publish in scientific journals. Building this body of knowledge is important. But what is also important is about getting the science out to have real impact – on people, on policy, on changing practice. Public engagement events like the Midlands Science Festival provide a unique platform to bring the science to life. It’s not enough to do activities because we think they are worthwhile, we must be clear about impacts we are trying to have and then to go about trying to measure and assess them and the processes we’re using. After the Science festivals are over – that is the critical time. Then we must reflect and consider how we might change and improve what we do and share what we’ve learnt.

Are there are any specific challenges for women in science now?
A real challenge for women in science is to learn the skills to lead and become a good leader. For example, starting an academic lab is like launching a small business. But does scientific training really prepare women for the challenges of leadership like dealing with a difficult co-worker or motivating students? More support needs to be given to women to develop their leadership skills, which will undoubtedly help in the progress of their science.