What is Smart Futures?

Smart Futures is a government-industry programme providing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers information to second-level students, parents, teachers and careers guidance counsellors in Ireland. On this website you can:

  • Browse STEM ‘Career Stories’ about people working in all kinds of STEM-related roles or look up a specific career area by entering a keyword (e.g. chemistry) in the search box (top left hand corner). 
  • Request a STEM volunteer to visit your school for free here or become a volunteer yourself!
  • Watch careers video with people working in areas such as food and sports science, cybersecurity, engineering, energy, app development, biotechnology, medical devices and lots more hereSTEM Infographic

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Career Stories: Dr Avril Kennan, Head of Research and Advocacy, Debra Ireland

Avril bio pic April 13

Avril Kennan tells Smart Futures about her research and advocacy work for the charity Debra Ireland.

What is Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) and what research is happening?

EB is where the layers of the skin are not properly attached to each other. In severe forms, it can occur in the internal lining (such as the mouth and intestines). Any knock to the skin results in a blister.

We’re involved in aspects of research worldwide. In particular, there is a gene therapy research programme in the Charles Institute of Dermatology in UCD.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy is working on behalf of others to improve their situation. For people with EB, it might be working to improve health entitlements, clinical care or research.

Describe your typical day?

Every day is different. Most of my time is spent talking to and supporting people. This includes getting researchers from around the world together as well as linking them with someone who could help commercialise a therapy they have in development.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

My PhD has been invaluable and is the toolkit that I draw on. Day-to-day in the job, you need to really like people. You also have to be a bit of an activist at heart as you’re fighting on behalf of other people every day.

My science background is very useful in helping me to explain research developments to patients and their families. Understanding both the science and the patient perspective allows me to effectively act as a translator between the scientists and the people they work so hard to develop therapies for.

What subjects did you take in school?

I did biology in school and it was my passion. I didn’t do physics, chemistry or higher level maths, which I needed when I started my science degree. I had to overcome that but I managed.

What did you do after school?

I completed a degree in microbiology in NUI Galway and a PhD in human genetics in Trinity College Dublin.

Then I spent eight years working in a genetics lab in Trinity.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

My PhD has been invaluable and you need to really like people. You have to be a bit of an activist as you’re fighting on behalf of others.

My science background helps me explain research developments to patients and their families.

What’s cool about your job?

Working for people who have among the most challenging lives on the planet.

What are the main challenges?

Wanting things to happen faster, and a lack of resources and money.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started out?

I wish someone had advised me to move from science in a lab to being a patient advocate in a medical research charity sooner.

This role brings me into contact with so many exceptional people and is more varied than lab science. It allows me to use everything I learned to help patients in a very direct way.

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Parents Urged To Support Leaving Cert Students To Look Beyond Stereotypes When Making CAO Decisions

Second-level students, their parents and influencers encouraged to visit Smart Futures while considering their CAO options


Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has called on parents to talk to Leaving Certificate students over the Christmas break and ahead of the CAO deadline on 1st February 2015 to help them avoid ruling out science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) courses simply because of misperceptions or stereotypes.

According to new research with over 2,000 Irish third-level students, conducted by Amárach Research as part of SFI’s Smart Futures programme, students’ main concern when making their CAO choice is whether they will “fit in”, ranking it higher than other factors like career prospects.

Dr. Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications at SFI, said: “We know that there are a number of stereotypes about STEM careers that may discourage a student from choosing these subjects for their Leaving Cert, or as part of the CAO. The reality, however, is that there is no end to the variety of careers in areas like technology or science. There are exciting prospects for graduates in STEM in well paid roles that are making a real difference to our society. From 2004 to 2014 employment in ICT companies grew by more than 30% at a time where overall employment in the Irish economy grew by only 1%. Salaries in these companies are also 29% above the national average.

“Given that one of the most frequent conversations with anyone sitting their Leaving Certificate over the next six weeks will be to ask what they are choosing for the CAO, we want to ensure that people are fully informed before making their decisions. Sometimes potential career routes aren’t as obvious to parents when thinking of science, technology, engineering or maths. SmartFutures.ie offers the opportunity for students and parents to hear from people studying and working in a variety of exciting areas like pharmaceuticals, cybersecurity, data science and biotechnology.”

The Smart Futures programme, which is managed by SFI Discover and coordinated in partnership with Engineers Ireland, is an online resource for students and parents, featuring real life career stories and video interviews with people working in a range of industries. Parents are encouraged to visit www.smartfutures.ie to help support their children in making CAO and career decisions.

As part of the research, a number of perceptions about science, technology, engineering and maths were uncovered. The main findings include:

  • 62% of all students (STEM and non-STEM) identified feeling that they will ‘fit in’ as the most important factor in deciding what to study at third-level. The ‘fitting in’ factor is even more prevalent among female students, with 65% highlighting it as their biggest influence;
  • Career prospects are deemed the second most important factor (56%) with the entry requirements and academic reputation of the institution less important at 23% and 28% respectively;
  • When queried about their positive perceptions of STEM subjects, 51% of students felt STEM courses offer good career prospects, with 84% of STEM third-level students surveyed confident they will find a job they enjoy after college;
  • When asked about negative perceptions about STEM subjects, there is a perception that STEM courses are difficult (51%) and 49% believe they require too many hours’ commitment per week;
  • 91% of students agree that STEM is important for the development of the Irish economy.

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Career Stories: Eimear O’Carroll, Co-Founder, CTO, Restored Hearing

Eimear_Profile Photo

Eimear O’Carroll talks to Smart Futures about how her Young Scientist project led to Restored Hearing.

What subjects did you take in school?

For the Leaving Cert, I did French, history, physics and chemistry.

In transition year, we started doing projects for the BT Young Scientist. In sixth year, we completed a more advanced project and developed the product for tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ear) that we now sell.

What courses did you do after school?

I completed a masters in physics in the University of Edinburgh in May.

When did you set up the company?

We competed in the  Young Scientist Exhibition in January 2009.

The company was founded that May and we sat the Leaving Cert in June. We spent that summer setting up everything. The website launched that August, a month before we started our degrees.

What inspired you to keep up the work you started at the Young Scientist Exhibition?

The massive public response we had at the BT Young Scientist made us think that we had to bring our product to more people.

I don’t know if we quite knew what we were getting ourselves in to!

What products have Restored Hearing developed?

We treat and prevent hearing damage due to noise.

For tinnitus, we’ve continued to develop the therapy that was originally launched at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. That’s an online streamed sound therapy.

This has been clinically proven and I completed this work as part of my masters.

A lot of noise damage that happens is totally avoidable so we hope to empower people to prevent it.

We’ve developed a hearing protection product. Our headphones are eight times better than the current standard and will be on the market next year.

Describe your typical day

There’s no such thing as a typical day.

If I’m in Ireland I have team meetings, work on developing the products and make sure they are delivered. I also talk to retailers and do a lot of science communication work.

We travel a lot. I was in the United States recently and next month we’re in the UK visiting tinnitus sufferers, talking to researchers and speaking about tinnitus to raise awareness of it.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started out?

Get good legal advice.

A lot of people who are starting a company don’t invest on the legal side and this can be a pain later on when trying to get investments.

There are so many people out there who are really keen to help start-ups, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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Thinking about STEM for the CAO?

Students will be exploring their CAO options over the Christmas holidays and coming weeks as the deadline for submissions closes on 1st of February 2015. Parents and guidance counsellors are often involved in helping answer student’s questions about career and college course options and it can be tricky to navigate what is out there.

Smart Futures is here to help! Browse our career profiles to get an overview of the many diverse opportunities that a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can offer.

Simply search a keyword on the homepage search box to explore career profiles in areas that might be of interest, and read about people working in exciting and dynamic STEM careers, to get the low down on what they studied in school and college and where they are today.

Our STEM careers infographic can give you a taster and we have some useful videos too!

IBM recently shared two word clouds with us, that show the scope of roles and skills that a tech company like theirs would have. Check them out below:

IBM roles wordcloud

IBM skills and Education WordCloud



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