My name is Fiona Blighe, I am a Scientific Programme Manager in Science Foundation Ireland. Science Foundation Ireland is the largest funder of research in the country. I am a physicist and my job involves making awards for scientists so they can carry out cutting edge research that benefits Ireland. I also keep track of how the awards are going so that I can help scientists make the most of the opportunity.
I am married and have two little girls aged three and five that I love spending time with. My hobbies are keeping fit and seeing my friends. When I was in secondary school I loved science and maths and also played sports.
Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?
Yes and no, I always found the science subjects the most interesting in school and that feeling of curiosity and interest hasn’t changed. However, when I was a teenager I had never met a scientist and had no idea what jobs would be possible. I chose science because I wasn’t really concerned about what I would do after university and just wanted to do something interesting, thankfully my parents supported me with this decision. Now that I am 15 years post graduation, I know lots of scientists and have seen the many different ways my friends and colleagues have used their science qualification to build their careers. I’m really glad about the choice I made way back then as an optimistic teenager.
In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?
The biggest myth is that you have to be a so called “nerd” or “weird” to be good at STEM and enjoy it, STEM is for anyone who loves digging in and finding the answers.
Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls and minorities to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?
Yes, I’m very impressed with the initiatives these days, it’s fantastic to see so much positivity around women in STEM. What there should be more of is initiatives to keep women in once they choose a STEM career as that will increase the number of role models for girls and younger women. Having role models you can relate to is massively important.
Describe an interesting day in your current position.
My job often involves going to universities and Institutes of Technology around the country and reviewing how the research SFI funds is doing. I get to hear first hand from the students and Profs about the fascinating things they are studying and how their research will benefit our lives. The enthusiasm is infectious and I often come back to the office feeling inspired.
What do you love about your current role?
I love meeting scientists and hearing about cutting edge research. I get to work with interesting people who are passionate about what they do.
Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?
Sometimes but more often I get to travel around Ireland.
Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?
Well probably not, I’m a physicist so the stereotype is probably an old man with crazy hair and glasses but hopefully that is changing.
If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?
My advice is always follow your passions and study what you find interesting that way working hard to be successful will come a lot easier than if your motivations come from somewhere else.
Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?
I did a 5 month placement in a lab in Germany in my 4th year of college and that experience made me consider doing a PhD because I enjoyed the lab work.
Do you feel secure in the fact that you can earn a living from a career in Stem?
Yes, very secure, a STEM qualification is a great asset.
Name one thing on your bucket list.
I want to be able to do a handstand.
What television series are you currently watching?
I’m watching Mindhunter on Netflix, it’s a bit grim but very interesting