Friday, February 26, 2016

Sincerely, a feminist

The following is a blog post in response to a report by the BBC about a science fair where a boy was awarded first prize. I would suggest that before reading this you refer to the article to understand what I have to say.

Now, this is probably a controversial opinion, but I feel it has to be said. Below is my understanding of the key details of the situation regarding the EDF Science Competition controversy.
  • EDF Energy science and technology competition was originally for girls only but later opened up to boys too.
  • It had the ambition of encouraging girls in STEM.
  • The competition was gender neutral and the adjudication panel contained a majority of female members.
  • A boy won, and three of four runners-up were female.
My question here is, what is the problem? Boys were eligible to enter the competition, and the best project in the eyes of the adjudication panel won. Yes, the competition had the intention of promoting girls in STEM, but who’s to say it hasn’t done that?  It’s not about the prizes, it’s about the involvement. I’m sure most of the participants of that science fair came away from the experience with pride, enthusiasm and of course, many new ideas.

To those criticizing the idea that a contest to promote females in STEM would have a male winner, I ask: is allowing a girl to win by default really a way to promote girls in STEM? There is no worse feeling on earth than feeling like your success is because of your gender, or feeling like the token female and I have been in that situation more times than I care to count. I would truly hate for a fellow girl in STEM to ever feel the same.

The first two times I entered a science fair (the BT Young Scientist) it was won by first an individual male and then a group of two boys. Did that discourage me? NO. I marched up to their stand, quizzed them on their projects to see what made them better than mine, then went back to the drawing board and made improvements to my own project, until eventually myself and my teammates were good enough to win.

Us girls have more grit and determination than to just give up because we don’t win a competition. We are not dolls that need to be rolled up in cotton wool and placed on a shelf, protected from the outside world. Please give us more credit than that.

If we try to promote girls in STEM by making ‘female only’ competitions or insisting that girls should win science fairs rather than boys, all we teach them is that they aren’t good enough to stand their own ground and fight their own battles. We teach them that they aren’t good enough to compete against the men.

So if you really care about increasing the rate of STEM uptake in females, why not be a bit more tactful about it. Don’t say ‘a girl should have won because she’s a girl.’ Instead, track down the three girls who came runner-up and use them as the role models. Why not celebrate their success? Don’t forget about them – because who knows, maybe next year one of those girls will take first place.

Let’s not forget what feminism is about guys: equality for both genders. We fight against the elevation of one gender over another, but we cannot be seen to want to tip the balance the other way as it undermines our cause.


Sincerely,
A feminist, and a girl in STEM.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

How to overcome your education

‘How to overcome education.’ It’s quite sad to have to write that, isn’t it? But unfortunately with the way our system is built today, often young people are faced with that challenge.

We hear stories like it all the time, young people who are essentially forced with giving up their lives during an exam year: no more sports, no music, or something which I find most upsetting - no creativity. Now before I go ahead and say anything, I have so much appreciation for our education system. We are blessed in this country to be provided with free, quality, diverse education when so many all over the world are deprived of it. That being said, for teenagers who want to break from the mold, it can represent an obstacle rather than a tool.

Last month I spoke at TEDxTeen to portray a belief of mine that everyone has the potential inside them to change the world from inside their bedroom, in their pyjamas. It was an incredible experience, but what really stood out to me is that every young person who approached me after my talk asked the same question: “How did you manage to do this and balance school at the same time?”

Upon reflection, this question is quite upsetting. There in front of me I saw dedicated, passionate young people who actually cared about making a difference, who wanted to get involved, and they felt like school was holding them back. Education is a tool that should empower young people, not get in the way of their dreams and ambitions. Before me I saw boundless potential going to waste because young people felt like they couldn’t manage both education and innovation in their schedule.

But why is it so essential that young people innovate? Because, put simply, we have something which older people do not: naivety. We are brave enough to try the most crazy ideas because we haven’t yet learned about all the reasons why it might not work. And sometimes that pays off, because sometimes those ideas work.

So for all those kids who have an idea they really want to pursue, but can’t think of a way to figure out the balance between school and work, I have one piece of advice for you:

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

From personal experience and from speaking to my friends, most students would be finished studying and homework by 9pm at the latest, and goes to bed at approximately 11pm. That gives you two hours with which to get stuff done. Now I don’t mean you should use all that time, or you’d probably go insane (and I wouldn’t blame you). But if you give over 20 minutes of that time, three nights a week, that adds up to an hour per week. Progress will be slow, but it takes hundreds of nights to become an overnight success. And soon you’ll see that begin to pay off. It’s all about baby steps in the right direction. Take inspiration from your everyday life, from friends, family and school. The education system doesn't give us the scope to apply what we learn to our everyday life, but there's nothing to stop us doing that ourselves and finding ways to make life better for everyone.


Take that first bite of the elephant, and wait to see where it takes you. But one final tip: when you overcome your education, don't forget what you learned in school.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Web Summit and why it was awesome.

Awesome is such an American word, so I cringe when I use it (so does Emer), but it’s the only way I can describe last week at Web Summit.

Now, I’m sure when Project Zilkr announced that it would be exhibiting at the summit it would have raised a few questions in people’s minds, ranging from ‘how in God’s name can you afford a booth at Web Summit’ to ‘aren’t you like, 12?’. So I think I should probably begin by explaining how we got there. It was a total gamble really. So I was sitting in the front room at the Outbox House in London, reviewing Zilkr’s marget seg which had just been emailed over from my compadre Campbell when I lost concentration and my eyes drifted to the Facebook window on my browser. “Okay, just 5 minutes,” I told myself, as I started scrolling, and then suddenly an advertisement for WebSummit popped up and I was transported back to this time last year, when I stood in the midst of the Alpha exhibitors and vowed to myself that I would be there next year with a startup of my own. And then I decided to play a guessing game.

I grabbed a notepad and wrote down all the possible email addresses for Paddy Cosgrave I could think of. ‘@websummit.net’ was a no brainer, it was his username that I had to brainstorm. Eventually I narrowed it down to the most likely four: ‘paddy,’ ‘paddycosgrave,’ ‘paddy.cosgrave’ and ‘cosgrave.’ So I sent an email to each, explaining who I was, what Zilkr does, and adding in a guilt trip at the end about doors in faces and such. Clicked send, closed my laptop, and went to grab a glass of milk. And promptly spilled milk all over the floor when, 15 minutes later, my phone beeped and an email entered my email from the man himself:

“Ciara,
What a story! Congrats! Love getting emails like this, even at 12am while in Hong Kong with the team...”

And so on and forth, referring us to people on the media team etc who would work with us on Zilkr’s involvement in the summit.

So that’s how we came to last Tuesday evening arriving at the RDS fresh from flights from Austin, buses from Lucan and cars from Kinsale. I had the pleasure of speaking at the Schools Summit that evening on the Main Stage, which was a wonderful experience, especially when the young audience did 'Z's for Project Zilkr.



Wednesday was when the party started for real, as that was the day we were exhibiting. We had a fantastic time with all the other ‘Alphas,’ taking photos with our @projectzilkr sign, meeting many corporate influencers and pitching to Accenture (watch this space).



I was actually supposed to go back to Cork for school on Thursday, but after asking really nicely, my parents agreed to let me stay (provided I caught up on schoolwork of course). And aren’t I glad I did, as that morning we were interviewed by Sky News for Project Zilkr. Thursday was wonderfully chill, we got to hang out in the speaker’s lounge, catch up with Dublin based friends, see some of the interesting talks and recruit some mentors for Project Zilkr. I’m not gonna lie, I felt super cool flashing my Speaker wristband to the security guards outside the Spiegeltent whilst being followed by a volunteer holding an umbrella over my head (I think she thought I was someone important), before losing all pretence of maturity when I saw the free food in the Facebook lounge. I also think my lack of experience may have been given away when I made eye contact with Dan Brown while grabbing some free ice cream and subsequently melted to the ground in awe.



I wasn’t expecting to, but I did feel a little sad knowing that this was the last Websummit in Dublin for the time being. I feel like Irish culture is part of what really makes the Summit work, but I respect their decision to move to Portugal. I only hope that one day the Summit will return.

So that was my Web Summit and it was honestly so much fun. I’d like to thank Paddy for taking the time to read that email, and for taking young people seriously – it doesn’t happen enough unfortunately. So what I’d say to everyone is, don’t be afraid to send that DM, or make that phone call, because you never know where it may lead you. The worst anyone can say is no.



Wow, what was a light hearted blog post got a little deep there. So please enjoy this video of me skiing into a wall to lighten the mood.




Thursday, October 22, 2015

More about me than you ever, ever will want to know.

Roll up, roll up! Time to learn some useless facts about my life for the 'Liebster Award' that, let's face it, nobody actually wants to know. Cheers Harry for the nomination, because lets face it, as a Leaving Certificate student running two startups, I have loads of time on my hands. Well, lets begin, shall we?

How would you describe yourself using only 3 words?
Determined, Enthusiastic and Blessed. Not in the holy way, in the 'I am so lucky and I cannot be more grateful for all of the incredible opportunities I've had'.

If given €1,000,000 for only 24 hours, what would you do with it?
Well I guess that depends. I mean, I don't want to get super deep here, but does everything I buy with it disappear after 24 hours too? If so, I'd probably spend some of it on a cool experience, like skydiving or something, donate €100,000 to the Chernobyl Children's project for their heart operations program (and make sure operations happened within the 24 hours), give a large amount to the Malala Fund (also warning them to spend it within 24 hours), and I'd also more than likely buy a horse. Not that I don't love my pony but he's getting a bit small. I think I'd probably buy a round-the-world plane ticket (if that sort of thing exists) so I could see all my friends.

What’s your favourite TV Series?
Watching TV is a toughie for me given the fact that I barely fit in sleep. However, when I have time, I watch 'The Office' on Netflix (you can get it dubbed in French, so it counts as study, kinda).

IOS or Android? Why?
IOS for sure. I just feel like it's significantly more intuitive. Also I'm learning to code for IOS on top of everything else, so I'm probably a little biased.

Supposen, supposen, the old man got frozen, how many men got frozen?
How many men got frozen ever? During what time period? Where? What even are the criteria for someone to be classified as 'frozen'? I guess I should let it go ;) See what I did there?

What is your favourite colour?
Probably green. Not like a bright, artificial green, but the mix of all the different shades you see when you're flying over Ireland.

What drink do you order in Starbucks?
Yeah, because with all the free time I have I routinely visit Starbucks. Anytime I do make it in to the single establishment we have in Cork I usually get tea - they don't take kindly to my asking for a cup of milk.

Favourite word?
That's so tough, I don't think I can choose one. If I had to pick one I'd say pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.

Favourite Book?

'Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 steps to a successful startup' by Bill Aulet. Or possible Harry Potter.

How many hours old are you?

I've just done 2 hours of maths, I'm nable sorry. When I turn 18 in December I will be 157710.

Favourite food?

I'm an extremely fussy eater unfortunately. I love basically any type of fruit, and any type of meat. Not a food, but I love milk. And I have this weird reluctance to eat of green food - yes, I know my favourite colour is green but I'm a mass of contradictions. If a food is brown, red, yellow or similar I will more than likely eat it.

My nominations go to:
1) Aoife Kearins
2) Christine Costello
3) Joana Baptista

You guys now have the pleasure of answering my questions before nominating three more bloggers to answer questions of your own:
1) If you had 3 days to live, what would you do first and why?
2) What's your last played song on itunes/spotify?
3) What's your favourite memory from the Outbox House?
4) If you had to choose one quality in a business partner what would it be?
5) Ever been stung by a wasp?
6) Guacamole or Salsa?
7) Richard Branson or Elon Musk?
8) Where was your favourite holiday?
9) What's your earliest memory?
10) If you could have any animal as a pet (no cruelty cause this is imaginary) what would it be?


Okay so that's me done, and now I have to go do more study. On a side note, look out for Project Zilkr at Web Summit. There's a lot of news coming out in the coming weeks and I'm super excited to share our progress with everyone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One year on from the Google Science Fair - reflecting back on a rollercoaster journey

Today marks exactly one year since myself, Emer and Sophie were crowned winners of the Google Science Fair. I still remember exactly how I felt when our names were called out that night - my stomach was a clenched into a tight ball, my shoulders (I know, my shoulders?) were trembling, and my brain felt like there was fireworks going off inside - I remember a particular tingling sensation at the very top of my skull, just behind my forehead. That's the thing folks, it wasn't the pretty picture of butterflies in my tummy or anything like that. It was a wall of raw and complex emotion smacking me full force in the face. I remember very little about those first few minutes as a Google Science Fair winner except grabbing someone's hand (which I later found out to be Emer's) and squeezing it with all my might to make sure this was real. However, I'm glad to say I can recall the following year - it was certainly one to remember.

Here are a few highlights.

The Travel
Adventure. Who doesn't love it? And I was lucky enough to go on more than my fair share of adventures this year. Soon after we won GSF, the invites started rolling in to conferences all over the world which we (of course) accepted, and before we knew it we were jetting off to a new country almost every second week, sometimes more. The most exciting of these experiences for me included WeDay UK in Wembley Arena, where we graced the stage with Sir Richard Branson addressed 12,000 students from schools all over Britain and encouraged them to follow their dreams and to try to change the world. Getting to chill backstage at Wembley was one of the craziest and wonderful opportunities I have ever had, and sitting in Sir Branson's dressing room with HRH Princess Beatrice and the man himself is a memory I will never forget.




Not to be forgotten here is the Thought For Food conference in Lisbon last February, a working lunch in Brussels for International Women's Day with Commissioner Moedas, and of course, the Do Lectures in Wales last June.

The Do Lectures really stood out to me as I have literally never attended an event of it's kind before. The first indication that this was a conference with a twist is when we were informed our accomodation would be in tents. Ever the optimists, Emer and I looked forward to this as it would make an interesting change from our usual routine. We arrived in Wales fresh from the stress of our summer exams, and honestly, nothing could have kickstarter our summer better. It was incredible - healthy discussions around a campfire in a small farmyard; lectures in a beautiful, airy barn; and workshops from speakers in open fields. The Do Lectures undoubtedly places in the top 3 of my favourite conferences ever.






The Friends
In a world where teenagers are fixated by the amount of likes on their profile pictures, I will never have to worry. Because if there's one physical, indisputable thing this experience has given me, it's friends for life. Through my trips to California, Boston, London, Ecuador and more, I have met some of the most inspirational and wonderful young people that I now have the honour of calling my friends. I still talk to my fellow Google Science Fair 2014 finalists as if we only left Mountain View yesterday, and I even managed to meet up with Eric and Sadhika during my time in Boston. Brian and Simone, our loyal compadre's from our trip to the Galapagos Islands still tease me about a disastrous bike ride (but that's another story). We're also planning a reunion in Antartica whenever one of us makes our first million. My Launchies, as I affectionately call the friends I made in Boston, are only a skype call away as we move forward working on our businesses together. And the phenomenal young ladies I met at the Outbox Incubator in London, well, let's just say I carry their milk-stealing, tea-drinking, fan fiction reading spirit with me wherever I go. It's those people, those friends, that made the last year special. Here's to reunions!






New Skills
What's an experience for unless you learn from it, right? Well I sure did learn from this experience, in more ways than one. I have known deep down since I spoke at the EU Innovation Convention in 2014 that I wanted to expand beyond science. I realised quite quickly that I have a business mindset, and wanted to explore this area further.
Shortly after winning the Google Science Fair, Emer and I launched Germinaid Innovations, a research company under which we are going to continue research in the agricultural area. Making this transition would not have been possible without the help of the Stemettes and Outbox Incubator, so it was fitting that we launched the company at the launch of Outbox last April. By that stage I had already got the good news that I had been accepted to study at MIT Launch that June, and I was really looking forward to acquiring new skills which would help me to succeed in the startup world.
So I packed my bags and it was off to America with me, where I went through the intense business bootcamp which is MIT Launch and founded PurchaseMate with Campbell, Simone and Jacob (aka three of my favourite people in the world). I have had the incredible opportunity to work with this team whilst learning all about entrepreneurship and bringing PurchaseMate into reality.



The Galapagos!
Technically this is travel, but it needs its of section because oh my god. The experience of a lifetime, literally, and it was just placed into our hands by the kind gods of National Geographic. As someone who wanted to be a zoologist for 10 years of my life, obviously I was pretty excited to head off to Equador. But honestly, the experience surpassed all expectations. We swam with sealions, seaturtles, iguanas, and octopi. A tortoise bit my foot. Emer got attacked by mosquitos. And I conquered my fear of sharks (but I'm still not their biggest fan). To be honest though, I think it's the pictures that really do the experience justice (even though I have misplaced the best ones unfortunately):

      


  

Jeff
Yeah, Jeff (our Nissan Juke) definitely has to get his own section. I mean, Nissan gave us a frickin car! That is hands down one of the most random things to happen to me this year. Thanks to Jeff, I have learned to drive and plan on taking my test as soon as I can. I honestly and truly can't wait until I have my full license so I can drive myself to events which will be awesome, and put a lot less pressure on my taxi drivers (aka my parents).



Oh gosh, all these highlights. There has been more, of course, I mean MIT Launch and Outbox Incubator deserve their own sections, but you'll have to refer to other pages of my blog to find more on them. I'd really just like to thank absolutely everyone who made this year amazing (and who made it happen, really): My family; my friends; Google; the BT Young Scientist; EUCYS; Silicon Republic, Excited and Accenture for their continued support and friendship; MIT Launch; Do Lectures; WeDay; the European Commission; Thought For Food; National Geographic; Outbox Incubator; Dots (Brilliant Noise; and Kinsale Community School for letting us take so much time off!


ps: Catch me next week in Belfast at the Festival of Icons. Be there or be a triangle!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Outbox IncuBAEtor

45 teenage girls under one roof, 24 hours a day, for six weeks. It sounds like a nightmare, right? That’s not the case, and here’s why:

I think everyone who will reading this will have been aware of the Outbox Incubator. If you haven’t heard of it yet, I simply have to ask: under what rock are you living, and does it not get wifi?



The Outbox Incubator has been three busy weeks of captivating sessions on entrepreneurship, run by impressive session leads, and organized by the incredible Stemettes. Girls from all over Europe with an interest in STEM have been brought together to be prepared for life ‘outside the box’ in the world of business. Outbox has featured surprise pitches, a trip to Birmingham, all-nighter coding sessions and of course, plenty of food! My experience culminated at pitch day yesterday, where I presented my company PurchaseMate and was awarded the title of Most Investable!


To be honest, it’s really impossible to express what the Outbox Incubator means to me after my three weeks at the program. The Stemettes have succeeded in creating a warm, welcoming environment for the OB Execs. The house almost feels like a cosy little bubble where we can de-stress, take a break from the outside world, and focus on what really matters: us and our projects.



What’s interesting in programs like this is that I’ve often found that the very reason we are there fades into the background, and other things become much more important. For example, if a girl is in STEM it is common for society to define that girl by that interest. Her enthusiasm for science becomes her defining characteristic. She becomes ‘the science girl,’ and her personality becomes secondary to this preconceived notion others have of her. But bring a number of these people together, and the very characteristic they were brought together for becomes obsolete, because everyone shares this interest, and it just cancels out. In these situations, you can be defined for who you really are: your personality, sense of humor and passions, which are so much more important. In these situations, people can be seen for who they really are, which is what makes friendships formed at places like Outbox so much more special and genuine.



Anyway, what I’ve found over the past few weeks here is that the core of the Outbox Incubator is not really about the sessions where we learn business skills, or the esteemed guests and speakers we have welcomed into the house, or the endless swag we have been treated to by Salesforce and our other generous sponsors. It’s about the friendships formed, the connections made between participants, the global network being visibly fused together with every singsong, conversation, or laugh shared between new friends. It’s about late night tea parties, midnight conversations where the topics of conversation range from physics, to politics, to one direction. It’s about the people.

No matter the environment you are put in, it’s the people that make the place. Which is why the Outbox Incubator house is not a nightmare, it’s a home. It’s a family.