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A Festive Research Showcase

On December 4th in the Science Gallery, five researchers from across all three of Trinity’s faculties gathered to share their research in the second annual Festive Research Showcase. Organised by the Office of the Dean of Research, and first run in 2018, the showcase aims to present the diversity of Trinity’s researchers and the work they do to as wide and varied an audience as possible.

Completely free and open to the public, no special knowledge is required beyond a curiosity to find out what happens in a university! This year’s showcase included talks that touched on ritual and climate ethics, the evolution of the Christmas card in Victorian print culture, navigating the life course, the link between obesity and cancer, and the effect that social exclusion has on health. Dean of Research, Professor Linda Doyle, hosted the event and kicked off proceedings by praising the huge range of work that goes on in Trinity and the importance of trying different ways to talk about what we do.

Jacob Erickson, Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics in the School of Religion, began the showcase with his talk, 'Laughing in the Anthropocene: Climate Ethics as Desolation, Humor and Ritual'. Jacob’s research focuses on the creative intersections of religion, theology, ethics and the environmental humanities and his talk looked at how different forms of ritual are used to navigate environmental despair. Jacob noted that his research interests are also of personal significance, with the Standing Rock protests taking place not far from where he grew up on the Western Prairies of North Dakota. The audience was given an insight into the activities of the Rev. Billy Talen and the Church of Stop Shopping, the Green Sisters, and the Cathedral of Hope among others, and the role of performative joy in tackling some of the most serious issues that the world currently faces.

'Bah Humbug!: Christmas and Victorian print culture' was the title of Clare Clarke’s talk. Clare is an Assistant Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature in the School of English, and her research and teaching focuses on Victorian popular culture, especially detective fiction and the Victorian press. Clare talked about how the idea of sending cards at Christmas began with Henry Cole, the founding director of the V & A Museum, in 1843 but only became really popular after 1861 with the abolition of the duty on paper, also known as the ‘tax on knowledge’. With paper now much cheaper to use, and the price of postage also dropping, the Victorians embraced the concept of sending each other cards with great enthusiasm. The idea that the Victorians were a serious, humourless bunch was also dispelled as Clare shared a series of images taken from popular cards of the time that ranged from the cute and funny to downright bizarre!

The Co-Director of the Trinity Research in Childhood Centre, Trevor Spratt, talked about ‘Our journeys through life: Helping navigate the routes’. Trevor is a Professor in Childhood Research in the School of Social Work and Social Policy. A social worker for some ten years before embarking on his academic career, Trevor’s research interests stem from his ‘first career’ experiences, or how best can researchers help families and children. His talk discussed the Growing Up In Ireland study and the opportunities this presents for improving policies affecting children. Trevor also discussed the importance of early and effective interventions, and the significance that even one positive, sustaining relationship with an adult can make in a child’s life.

Roisin Loftus helped the audience answer the question 'How can we rescue Santa's immune cells in time for Christmas?' Roisin is a postdoctoral researcher in the Lynch Lab at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, and earlier this year she was the only person in Ireland awarded the Irish Cancer Society 2019 Biomedical Fellowship to fund her research on the effects of obesity on cancer progression. Roisin opened her talk by noting that obesity is set to overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of cancer. She then focused on natural killer cells that fight cancer, and how the response of these cells is impaired in people living with obesity. Roisin also discussed how this can be reversed, with exercise and healthy choices being key, and reminded the audience that the old saying ‘you are what you eat’ also applies to our immune cells!

The final speaker was Clíona Ní Cheallaigh. An Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Trinity, and a Consultant Physician in the Inclusion Health Service at St James’s Hospital, Clíona’s research looks at the effect of socio-economic status and psychosocial stress on ageing. The Inclusion Health Service that Clíona leads at St James’s is a dedicated service to tackle health and social inequities among our most vulnerable and socially excluded populations: the homeless, people with substance use disorders, sex workers and prisoners. Clíona discussed the ways in which poverty and homelessness affect every facet of a person’s health and life, with the average age of death for homeless men and women being just 44 and 38 respectively. She also spoke about how our society commits structural violence on its most vulnerable citizens, how shame is a powerful human emotion often attached to things over which these people have no control, and how social interactions can make a huge difference.

Over the course of the afternoon, the resonances and intersections across all of our speakers’ research became increasingly apparent. Indeed, one of the advantages of a showcase like this is that it brings researchers together who would not normally share a panel or have the opportunity to engage with each other’s work. By opening up our research to be more accessible for the general public we can also find opportunities to deepen the nuance of our own work. This year’s showcase touched on subjects that are relevant to all parts of our society and did so in a way that was smart, entertaining, and inspiring, and reinforced just how much research matters.


Article written by Dr Jennifer Daly, Research Strategy Officer in the Office of the Dean of Research

Find out more about writing for researchMATTERS here.