Ciara is a PhD candidate in infectious disease modelling at the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She works on new methods of tracking and mapping
outbreaks that use both epidemiological and genetic concepts and data. During the COVID-19
pandemic, Ciara worked with the European Bioinformatics Institute and Cambridge Department
of Chemistry to build a pipeline for modeling SARS-CoV-2 evolution to help design
variant-robust antibody treatments. She has a BSc in Genetics from University College Cork
and is a past winner of the Google Global Science Fair, the European Union Contest for Young
Scientists and the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Ciara is very passionate about
science communication and youth outreach, and has addressed audiences worldwide about her
research - most recently attending the United Nations General Assembly last September to
attend high level meetings on pandemic preparedness and public health.
I have been extraordinary lucky to have had the most incredibly opportunities at a young age. Here is a (fairly)
exhaustive list of my story, from start to finish, for anyone interested. Because I have been so fortunate, this list is LONG.
I have tried to be brief, and there are options to find out more for some of the elements.
BTYSTE Runner Up Group
In 2011, together with my teammates Sophie and Royanne, I won the Overall Runner Up Group Award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), Ireland's National Science Fair. We conducted a large scale statistical analysis of the awareness and attitudes of the Irish public to cholesterol related health issues.
BTYSTE Junior Individual Biology Winner
At the BTYSTE in 2012, I won the Junior Individual Biology category for a project examining the effects of various plant extracts on invertibrates, aiming to assess the validity of a selection of homeopathic remedies.
BTYSTE Overall Winner
In 2013, I won overall first place at the BTYSTE with my teammates Emer and Sophie, for our project entitled 'A Statistical Investigation of the Effects of Diazotroph Bacteria on Plant Germination'. We found that we were able to increase the speed of germination of wheat, oats and barley seeds using a naturally occurring nitrogen fixing bacteria called Rhizobium.
Junior Certificate State Examinations
In September 2013 I was awarded 12 A grades in the Irish Junior Certificate State Examinations (GCSE equivalent), one of only 13 out of the 60,000 students.
EU Young Scientist Overall Winner
In a continuation of our BTYSTE project, Emer and Sophie and I represented Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. We had furthered work of our project and found that we were able to increase dry mass yield of cereal crops by up to 74% using Rhizobium bacteria. We won the overall first prize for our work, and an additional travel award.
London International Youth Science Forum
At the EU Young Scientist we won a scholarship to attend LIYSF, the London International
Youth Science Forum, which is hosted annually at Imperial College London.
Google Science Fair Grand Prize Winner
In 2014 I won the Google Science Fair, a global science fair of more than 100,000 entries,
with my teammates Emer and Sophie.
Founding Chairperson - Irish Digital Youth Council
In 2014, Harry McCann founded the Irish Digital Youth Council to advise policymakers
on the integration of technology into the education system. I served on the council for a number
of years and was the chairperson in 2014.
Time Magazine most influential teens
In 2014 I was named by TIME Magazine on a list of their 25 Most Influential Teens
WEDay, Wembley Arena
I have done a lot of public speaking over the last decade, more than I could possibly
include on this list, but the largest crowd I ever addressed was 12,000 students at Wembley Arena
for an event called WEDay. We did a segment with Richard Branson about the potential that young people
have to positively impact the world around them.
MIT Launch Entrepreneurship Incubator
In 2015 I was accepted to the Launch (now LaunchX) Entrepreneurship Incubator
hosted at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Here I started a company
called PurchaseMate, a smartphone app that gives consumers brand CSR information
about products by scanning their barcode.
In 2015 I had the chance to attend the Outbox Incubator in London, a summer
program for women in STEM run by the organisation STEMettes.
In 2015 I had the chance to both speak and exhibit at the Web Summit in Dublin.
Nissan Generation Next Ambassadorship
In 2015 I became an ambassador for the Nissan Generation Next program. I was sponsored
a Nissan Juke and vlogged monthly for the Nissan youtube channel for a year.
In 2016 I fulfilled a major life goal and delivered a TEDx talk at
TEDxTeen at the O2 Arena in London. My talk was called 'Changing the World in
Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit
In March 2016 I was named a Global Teen Leader by the We Are Family Foundation, and had
the chance to attend their Three Dot Dash summit in New York City. I later spoke at the We
Are Family Foundation annual gala, addressing an audience including President Jimmy Carter and Bono.
JCI Ten Outstanding Young People
In 2016 I was named by Junior Chamber International as one of the 10 most outstanding young people
In 2016 I was awarded a Quercus Innovation and Entrepreneurship Scholarship to undertake
graduate studies at University College Cork. I started pursuing a BSc in Genetics in September,
when I was also awarded an Entrance Scholarship for my Leaving Certificate (A Level equivalent)
results of 9 A grades. Furthermore, I maintained a College Academic Scholarship for all four of my
years at the university.
APC Summer Research Bursary
In 2018 I was awarded a bursary by the APC Microbiome Institute to carry out a two month
summer research project with the Claesson Lab at UCC. This was my first experience of bioinformatics.
UN Youth Summit
In 2019 I attended a Youth Summit at the Headquarters of the United Nations.
LaunchX Education and Training Coordinator
In 2019 I worked for LaunchX (formerly MIT Launch) Summer Entrepreneurship Incubator as
Education and Training Coordinator across their three locations of MIT, University of Michigan,
and Northwestern University.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking off, I found myself very frustrated
with all the misinformation circulating online, so I made an animated explainer video outlining some
key facts about the pandemic, citing peer reviewed sources. The video amassed more than 15,000 views on Facebook.
In 2020 I was named a fellow of the Interact Community, a community of technologists
passionate about social good.
LAPTI Lab Internship
In 2020 I did an intership with the LAPTI lab in UCC as an extension of my
undergraduate thesis. I worked on SCAMP, a pipeline for automated visualisation
of proteomic data.
BSc in Genetics and Graduate of the Year
In 2020 I graduated with first class honours from University College Cork with a BSc in Genetics.
I was later awarded Graduate of the Year from the 2020 Graduating Class for my academic performance and
European Bioinformatics Institute
As part of my MPhil Thesis at the University of Cambridge I interned with the Goldman Group at the
EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute. I build a pipeline for analysing SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences from
GISAID and modelling the evolution of the virus to develop variant robust antibody treatments.
MPhil in Computational Biology
In 2022 I graduated with distinction from Darwin College in the University of Cambridge,
where I did an MPhil in Computational Biology.
NUI Travelling Doctoral Scholarship
In 2022 I was awarded the NUI Denis Phelan Memorial Scholarship from the National
Universities of Ireland. This scholarship confers funding for conference travel and
equipment for the remainder of my PhD studies.
UN General Assembly
In September 2023 I had the opportunity to attend the 78th General Assembly of the
United Nations as a We Are Family Foundation Youth To the Table Ambassador. I was able
to attend many events on public health and pandemic preparedness, as well as general youth activism.
UKHSA ECR Internship
From September to December 2023 I took an interruption of studies from my PhD
to go on secondment to the UK Health Security Infectious Disease Modelling team. I
worked on variant surveillance and assessment for SARS-CoV-2.