In an era where females in STEM leadership positions only account for 22% it is always exciting to see incredible women be promoted. Dr. Susan Rea, who has been with Nimbus since it’s conception, has been appointed to the role of Nimbus Research Group Lead. As a principle investigator and mentor to many PhD students over the years, Susan encompasses robust research capabilities with a strong sense of team work. She has a clear vision for research in Nimbus, for the role of Nimbus in wider MTU research and for national and international research supported by research agencies and industry. That vision is empowerment.
Dr.Rea’s started out with an electronic engineering undergraduate, followed by two research masters in information theory coding cryptography in UCC and the then, CIT. Once in CIT Susan took a detour into a PhD with telecommunications and wireless networking. After her PhD she stayed in CIT under the Nimbus Research Centre, doing post docs. Over the last number of years Susan’s insights and dedication have led her into research management, research development and strategy of programmes in Nimbus which inevitably led to her current promotion of Research Lead coordinating and leading research activities for the Nimbus Research Centre.
What sets Susan apart from many researchers is her holistic approach to STEM management. She refers, often, in her interview to the people behind the research and the importance of giving empowerment to those who need it, especially addressing the gender balance issue in science and technology.
Susan is an Athena Swan champion and advocate for the promotion of women in STEM and is actively engaged with a wide network across the HEI sector to support her commitment to leading and advancing gender inequality in MTU. In our interview we touch on that feeling as females in STEM referred to as “Imposter Syndrome”.
“By building leadership skills early in females, I think we can help at least instil confidence so that we don’t feel like imposters, that we are not good enough even though as women in these roles we have demonstrated we are absolutely good enough and our track records show it.”
Susan is not just focused on female empowerment but using her promotion to ensure the core values of Nimbus Research are Equality Diversity and Inclusion. She goes on to state “We need to have parity in the workplace – and I aim to bring that in my new role”.
When asked what she will do in her new role to address these challenges of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Susan without hesitation discusses looking at the make-up of teams, the hiring practices, how family friendly are the policies in relation to work. She highlights how MTU is incredibly progressive on that and it is now becoming a top-down initiative from the EU, international and national funding bodies and local institutions.
Dr.Rea emphasises how the global pandemic has reshaped our working weeks. With most of the researchers working from home more issues have arisen that need to be addressed. Isolation is a big one, especially in STEM.
“COVID shifts how we work and engage; we need to be adaptable going forward.PhD can be lonely; how do we engage the students and ensure everyone is included. We will create open communications, facilitate these channels and ensure further collaboration between researchers. This can really help research blossom when we come together to discuss ideas”.
She goes on to highlight how in our modern society, people have different lifestyles and working styles and as management there needs to be an acceptance and recognition of that, and the flexibility needs to be accommodated and worked around so that everyone can be involved and no one is left behind.
A Mindshift is needed, the working week is a finite amount of time and Susan states that “you’re not a hero if you’re working 80-90 hours a week, you’re actually pushing yourself towards burn out. The person with a work life balance is the hero in my book. We are all guilty of it and It is a struggle, and we need to adapt and find the new normal.”
Susan’s overall aim for Nimbus is to harness the transition from CIT to MTU and allow this to be a new opportunity to position Nimbus as a flagship for ICT research. The aim is to be “bigger and bolder”, to build research capacity, but most importantly build the supports around research capacity.
In order to grow the research capacity, it all comes back to the core values of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Susan feels improved contract security for researchers, clear career trajectories will lead to satisfaction in the job role. That to truly believes that to build capacity you’re retaining the people you have and growing them. She feels research needs a backbone of core staff that can drive and deliver the programmes.
“Unless you’re looking at the bigger picture, the happiness of your colleagues then you’re losing excellent people. You have to recognise the strains and stresses of individuals and it’s hard to leave it at the door so to be an effective manager it can’t just be the project and technical aspects you need to manage the people.”