Siobhán O’Connor | Smart Futures

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Siobhán O’Connor
My name is Siobhán O’Connor and I am a Lecturer at the National University of Ireland Galway. My background includes degrees in information systems and nursing, with a PhD in health informatics. My job is lots of fun as I get to research new technologies nurses can use to care for patients in both hospital and community settings. I also teach nursing students about digital health such as how software and hardware like wearable devices, health apps on your smartphone, or telehealth can be used in healthcare.
Job title
Lecturer at the National University of Ireland Galway
  1. Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?

Yes, when I was young, I thought you had to like and be good at all the science subjects in school to have a career in STEM but that’s not the case. It is important to study a least one science subject (Biology, Chemistry, or Physics) and take mathematics at honors level if you can but STEM careers are hugely diverse and there are lots of jobs and industries to work in, so you can pick and choose what suits you and your interests.

  1. In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?

One myth about a STEM career is that you only need to be good at science, which is important, but you also need lots of other knowledge and skills such as excellent interpersonal and team skills to work in different types of organizations and industries. Having language skills can also be hugely helpful as small start-up companies all the way to large multinationals need people to travel and work in different parts of the world, so being a good communicator is a great asset in science.

  1. Do you believe that enough is being done to encourage girls to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?

Yes, there is a lot of investment in STEM in Ireland which is great to see. The governments’ current STEM Education strategy provides a helpful roadmap for schools, universities, and other stakeholders to follow. But I think the media, particularly TV, film, and social media, can be quite influential among young people and girls, in particular, so more could be done there to encourage them into STEM. It would be great to see more employers offer students internships or placements while they are in secondary school or at university because seeing science, engineering, technology or mathematics, being applied in the real world can transform students understanding of these subjects, dispel some of the myths around STEM, and encourage more girls and young women into careers in these scientific areas.

  1. Describe an interesting day in your current position.

Well, for example, I might spend the morning teaching clinical skills to nursing students and chatting to them about the technology they use or discussing upcoming technology such as virtual reality and how we could use that to help care for sick patients. In the afternoon, I could have a series of research meetings or go out to a local hospital or care home to visit clinical colleagues to see what problems they are having and how we could help address those and support their nursing practice using technology. For example, robots are now being developed and tested in care homes to support older adults in various ways so there are lots of ways we can improve people’s physical and mental health through current and emerging technologies.

  1. What do you love about your current role?

I enjoy the creativity in my current role, as I can pursue any health informatics research that is of interest to me and there aren’t many jobs where you can develop your ideas and see them to fruition to the same level as you can in academia. I also get to choose who I work with within science, so that type of freedom is wonderful and it makes for a very diverse and interesting career. You can work with other scientists and industry partners from around the world to develop and test the technology in healthcare, so seeing the whole creative process of science from beginning to end is very stimulating and rewarding.

  1. What has been the most surprising element of your job?

The investment and growth in digital health in Ireland have been great to see over the last few years, which informs my teaching and research. The eHealth strategy ( from the Department of Health in Ireland has been instrumental in driving the implementation of electronic health records and other technologies in the HSE, and having a dedicated Chief Information Office team in the form of eHealth Ireland ( means you can keep up to date with digital developments in the fantastic health service.

  1. What has been your most exciting career moment to date?

There have been lots of highlights but one exciting moment was when I participated in a health hackathon at a European health policy conference in Austria in 2018 ( Our team of five, healthcare practitioners and scientists, from all over Europe, were shortlisted in the top three teams to present our solution to a panel of judges and the conference attendees at the plenary session on the last day. We had spent two intensive days brainstorming and developing a way to address alcohol-related injuries and road deaths across Europe and as the only native English speaker in the group, I got to deliver the three-minute elevator pitch of our “SPIRIT” solution for our team. Although we didn’t win the overall prize, it was a great experience and we got lots of positive feedback on our idea.

  1. Do you get to work with any new technologies?

Yes, I am lucky as my research is exclusively on technology in healthcare, specifically nursing, and there are always new gadgets and apps on the market so I get to try them out. Last year, I got to use a really nifty Augmented Reality (AR) technology called Magic Leap ( which was great fun. Being immersed in a visual experience can help solve some problems. For example, you can upload photorealistic, 3D images of things like patient anatomy to help nurses understand the fine-grained complexities of the heart, lungs, digestive system, and other bodily systems which can improve their clinical knowledge and care delivery. 3D printing is another technology that is coming on in leaps and bounds and it is being used in healthcare, particularly in surgery, but I haven’t had a chance to use that yet – it’s on my to-do list!

  1. Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?

Yes, I usually travel abroad for work at least once a year to attend a research conference in my specialist area. For example, the annual nursing informatics conference ( has been on in Mexico and Switzerland in previous years but it was canceled in Australia in 2020 due to the coronavirus. However, it is now online this year which is great so I can reconnect with other nurses working in informatics internationally.

  1. What kind of other experts do you work with on a day-to-day basis?

It takes a large team of people to deliver good quality technical solutions in healthcare, so I often work with people in computer science and engineering to create digital tools that nurses and patients need. I might also work with other clinical colleagues so medical doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, or other allied health professionals if the technology needs a more holistic approach and the input of a range of experts. That’s what makes the research so interesting, as you can learn a lot from working with different groups of people and develop a digital product, service, or system that really helps patients, nurses, and the health service.

  1. Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?

Yes, I think so. Teaching students how to be safe and competent nurses is very important, particularly now during a global pandemic when nurses and other health professionals on the front lines are responsible for saving the lives of many people infected with the coronavirus, education is hugely important. My research also has real-world applications, as new technologies can change how nurses practice and help them deliver care to patients more effectively and efficiently.

  1. What do you hope to achieve in the next year in your current position?

I am working with colleagues in Hong Kong at the moment on a research study exploring virtual reality technology for teaching clinical skills to nursing students, so I hope to be able to visit in person and work with Dr. Jung Jae Lee and his students on that. Now that international travel is starting to reopen after COVID-19, I also hope to get back to Scotland next year to the University of Edinburgh where I worked previously, as I have plans with colleagues there for a pan-European research project on co-designing health technology with older adults.

  1. Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?

Yes and no. I did not take the “typical” route in my nursing career as I went back to study nursing as a mature student, having done a degree in information systems first, which is a little unusual. There aren’t many nursing working in health informatics research exclusively, only a handful in Ireland as most are in the United States, but I do fit the typical academic profile as I have a Ph.D. and combine teaching and research in my scientific field.

  1. If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them to study a science or technology subject at university and once they have a few years of work experience in their chosen industry, to go back to postgraduate education as a Masters or Ph.D. can accelerate your career in STEM and give you more knowledge and skills in a specialist area. I would always encourage people to be open-minded as careers in STEM are always changing and expanding, meaning you can move in and out of different roles over time, and so your career trajectory can benefit from having a diverse background.

  1. What do you want to see the change in the industry in the next 10 years?

A big change happening everywhere is around Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it is being integrated into lots of private and public computer systems and while it could bring many benefits, it also has limitations and risks. I would like to see more Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) in the development and use of AI in healthcare over the next 10 years, and a lot more transparency about how it works and who benefits from this technology. As we’ve seen with the recent hack of patient data in the HSE, people’s health information is very sensitive, as are the decisions based on it, so having patients involved could help make this particular technology more robust and reliable.

  1. What are your priorities for the year ahead in your role?

With the coronavirus vaccine being rolled out, one of my priorities is to return to working with clinical colleagues and patients in care homes to see what technologies can support nurses in this setting as well as older adult health. The last 12 months have made researching care homes and hospitals quite challenging but luckily we have been able to continue some research using virtual means and continue to teach online so our nursing students can remain in their studies while contributing to the workforce in the health service.

  1. Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?

Yes, I had a great industry placement with Motorola, which has a base in Cork city. At the time, they had a software development center in Mahon and I worked there for three months one summer at university which was a fantastic experience to get some insights into the global telecommunications industry and how they develop, test, and roll out complex software across different countries and regions. Those few months were extremely helpful in understanding how different teams of people contribute to front-end and back-end computer systems and the software architecture that needs to be in place for telecommunications to work. I would recommend a placement or internship as the real-world experience of the sector you are interested in can be invaluable when you graduate from university and start your career.

  1. Name one thing on your bucket list.

I would love to do more traveling and go back to the Philippines. I took a holiday in Boracay many years ago and it was amazing, so it would be great to return and visit more of the islands. Palawan is a UNESCO World Heritage site with fantastic places to swim, dive, and hike and the whole Bacuit Archipelago is very biodiverse so you can see a huge range of plants, animals, birds, and fish. Definitely one for the bucket list!

  1. What television series are you currently watching?

I am watching Mare of Easttown at the moment, with Kate Winslet as the lead character. She plays a local police officer trying to solve a murder in a small town. There is a great ensemble cast and the storyline is interesting, so it is worth a watch.

  1. What living person do you most admire, and why?

At the moment, I think Kamala Harris is amazing as the first woman and first Black person as Vice President of the United States. She has had a great legal and political career, and during her inauguration speech, she mentioned the importance of science and research, as her mother had worked in cancer research for many years, so she’s a great advocate for STEM.