Cognitive neuroscientist

Muireann Irish

An encyclopedia, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and a desperate drive to help others. That’s what kicked off the career path of cognitive neuroscientist and Superstar of STEM, Muireann Irish.

Getting her start in STEM

Growing up in Ireland, her family’s house was filled with intricately illustrated volumes on art, human anatomy and other sciences. When it came time to choose a university course, she thought she’d study medicine but couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

“Around the same time, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and I desperately wanted to understand what was happening and hopefully find some way to help her.”

She enrolled in psychology, majoring in cognitive neuroscience instead and has never looked back.

“What began as a curiosity to discover has led me to finding my true calling.”

Becoming a cognitive neuroscientist

Now she’s a research fellow and Associate Professor of Psychology at the Brain & Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, leading the Memory and Imagination in Neurological Disorders research group (MIND).

Becoming a Superstar of STEM

Armed with years of career experience, Muireann was selected for the prestigious position of one of 30 inaugural ‘Superstars of STEM’.

It’s a program designed by Science and Technology Australia that aims to battle stereotypes by promoting the visibility of women in STEM careers.

Muireann herself debunks the stereotype that women in STEM careers can’t ‘have it all’; she was pregnant with her son Oisín at the time.

“It’s a ground-breaking campaign that places female scientists squarely in the public eye, and more importantly, provides relatable and positive role models for young girls to aspire to.”

Mentorship and training

As well as receiving specialised training in media and communications, these Superstars are both mentees and mentors; receiving valuable feedback from other prominent women in STEM careers, and providing career advice to younger students in STEM too.

“A highlight for me was speaking at Auburn Girls High School for International Women’s Day 2018. We were treated to a tour of the science labs and saw the truly inspirational robotics projects being conducted by the students. They were a group of articulate, eloquent, and passionate young scientists.”

The Superstars have taken the opportunity to act as each other’s mentors, too.

“Over the year, the Superstars cohort has formed an extremely tight bond – we regularly check in with each other, share our highs and lows, and turn to each other for advice. Everything is much easier when you have 29 cheerleaders standing behind you!”

A bright future

After the first successful year of the program, Science and Technology Australia will be electing a whopping 60 new representatives for this year’s stereotype-kicking, female-power movement. What are Muireann’s hopes for the future?

“I look forward to the day where it will no longer be remarkable to be a women in science, but where remarkable scientists just so happen to be women.”

“I look forward to the day where it will no longer be remarkable to be a women in science, but where remarkable scientists just so happen to be women.”

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Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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