Inspirefest 2017

UCC Athena SWAN’s administrator Anne Marie Curtin attended Day One of Inspirefest 2017.

How We Learn and New Pedagogies.  Tech and Society.  Surviving Fake News.  Games, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.  These were some of the topics to be covered on day one of Inspirefest 2017.

The format was a mix of fire-side chats and talks.  The first fireside chat, which took place just before the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD addressed the audience, was with Dr France A Córdova, Director, National Science Foundation.  She wove a wonderful tale of relentless upward movement through the ranks but made it sound effortless – being invited to head this, asked to direct that – it was quite magical.  And behind the affable exterior, you could sense the towering intellect, depth of understanding of her subject matter, professional brilliance and invaluable curiosity that had facilitated this.  As she said: “If you don’t have curiosity, you don’t pursue knowledge deeply.”

In Tech & Society, Dr Michelle Cullen of Accenture, who brought us ‘Women on Walls’, reminded us of the stark reality that ‘we become so used to inequality we don’t see it’, that the 1937 Constitution of Ireland “erased with the stroke of a pen” the inclusivity & visibility of women, that “visibility matters.”

Multiple speakers came and went, filling the space with ideas, advice and innovation.  A fireside chat between Raju Narisetti, CEO, Gizmodo Media, Anne-Marie Tomchak, UK editor, Mashable and John Kennedy, editor, Silicon Republic advised that the way to survive fake news is, at its most basic, to read the article first.  They advised that the way to be able to tell the difference between good and bad journalism is to educate yourself, and to do so outside of your comfort zone, to explore beyond the confines of your personal ‘bubble’, and to be wary of reinforcing your biases – intentionally broaden your horizons and challenge your beliefs.

And DEBRA Ireland reminded us why we do all this research – to simply make someone’s life a better place to be.

The speakers showed criss-crossing professional paths linked by two things – passion for their craft and determination to find a path: the communicator and performance artist who is on the road to becoming an astronaut (Niamh Shaw), the ballet dancer who became a bioengineer and then brought science and the arts together yet further through the creation of Raw Science TV (Keri Kukral), the journalist who loved both gaming and storytelling so much she became lead writer for Tomb Raider (Rhianna Pratchett), or the soft robotics engineer who learned to use a sewing machine to make a life-saving heart cuff to prevent strokes (Ellen Roche).

Lessons learnt?  Diversity is key, be it diverse paths in a career, diverse sources of information or diverse views around a table.  As David Moloney, Director Of Machine Vision Technology, Intel Corporation put it, “Bias is our single greatest challenge… diversity is our greatest ally.”  Inclusivity is equally important and must be practiced by all; we must as individuals take responsibility for change.  To quote Michelle Cullen, “Inclusion starts with I.”  Curiosity is absolutely vital, and you must be determined, courageous and unafraid of failure, for, to paraphrase Eimear Noone, conductor and composer for World of Warcraft, you cannot be good at something without first being very, very bad at it.

But let us end at the beginning, with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, who said “Greater diversity makes for a stronger science and technology sector. … Let us hope that events like Inspirefest will continue to inspire us to wonder.”