Cailbhe Doherty

Insight Alumni: Cailbhe Doherty, Assistant Professor, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science

Submitted on Tuesday, 27/06/2023

Dr Cailbhe Doherty spent four years as an Insight member from 2015 to 2019. He is now Assistant Professor (Ad Astra Fellow) in UCD’s School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science. After completing a PhD in sports science, he joined Insight and completed post-doctoral research and a research fellowship.

After completing my PhD which involved studying the biomechanics of injury, I wanted to move on to something more impactful. I had no real plans to do postdoctoral research, but I met Professor Brian Caulfield who told me about a project, it was an industry collaboration with Fujitsu, which was trying to monitor recovery post-concussion. – that was my introduction to Insight.

‘It was a special time, there was a group of early-stage researchers – Martin O’Reilly and Darragh Whelan who are now better known as the team behind Output Sports, Alison Keogh, Rob Argent and others – it was this fantastic melting pot of researchers from different fields. We worked together, we played tag rugby together, it was a really inspiring, collaborative environment. You can’t help but come up with ideas and ambitions in a group like that.

‘Moving from a PhD to a post-doc was interesting. I had never had a problem publishing but securing funding was a whole other challenge. Brian gave me great guidance in that, but he also gave me the headspace to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.

‘I collaborated on an application for an Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund for what became the Pace-Man Project. Pace-Man used several terabytes of Strava data with the aim of helping runners to ‘prepare for, predict and pace their race’. We worked with software developers and released an app which at its peak, was downloaded by nearly 5000 users. Because it was a commercialisation project, the focus was very much on solving a problem for the person on the street. Even though we didn’t end up following through with it, two years of working in that mindset was really, really helpful.

‘Later on (in separate work), I collaborated with computer scientists with expertise in machine learning and natural language processing to create a chatbot that would be able to search and synthesise research and produce an answer when healthcare workers asked it a question at the ‘point of care’. We got an Enterprise Ireland grant for that one and we developed an app called Sci-Scanner for healthcare workers to use, and were subsequently funded by the HRB to determine its utility to researchers. It was about three years too early – we could have put Chat GPT to good use! We did get a couple of papers from it though and it was a very useful project.”

‘So while I was working in Insight teaching was something I was very interested in but I suppose it ran parallel to my research work, it was adjacent to it I suppose. I had the opportunity to apply for a UCD Ad Astra Fellowship which gives researchers resources to pursue research and also to take on a teaching role. It’s a competitive process but I was very happy to be awarded a place. That started in January 2020. Three months later of course, the Covid pandemic meant that we all needed to shift to remote teaching. I was still pursuing the Sci-Scanner research, visiting healthcare professionals in their workplaces and learning about their needs, and that stalled completely for obvious reasons. From a teaching perspective, I guess I wasn’t the only one who was on a steep learning curve, so I took it as an opportunity to really lean into the teaching. I did a diploma in university teaching and I did some upskilling in video editing.

‘My work on Sci-Scanner had really demonstrated how the way information is packaged really determines how it’s used and the impact it has. You can really capitalise on that in education and healthcare. I decided to create video lectures for students and I soon found that manipulating the design of the videos can increase engagement. I’ve published some research around that, and I’m still engaging with wearable sensor research from my early days at Insight. I submitted a funding application with some people from that original Insight group – Alison Keogh and Rob Argent – we applied to SFI’s Future Digital Challenge fund with the idea of working on a philanthropic digital platform for wearable data. The issue is that a huge number of people use wearable devices that are gathering data all the time, which could have huge potential for remote monitoring in healthcare, disease prediction or for the wide scale implementation of initiatives in public health, for example.

‘The problem is that there’s no centralised platform for this data, it’s all in different silos depending on whether the wearable device is made by Apple, or Garmin or any other company.

‘With Cerberus, we want to solve that problem by creating a ‘databank’ for wearable devices. The three ‘heads’ of the project involve 1) validation, to ensure accuracy of wearables; 2) synthesis, as in synthesis of research that has already been done around wearables (the old sciscanner work can be repurposed here); and 3) an open access data bank where people would choose to donate their data for research.

‘We’re getting a lot of interest but at the moment the job is to build the data bank and the feasibility of the idea.’


How did Insight benefit you in your career?

“So much of what I currently do stems from my time at Insight. As I mentioned the team, Rob, Alison and I, who are working on Cerberus met during our time at Insight. We’re all working in different places but we’re still collaborating on research.

“It adds to my teaching too. The work I did on the Pace-Man project, for example has been made into an elective module in UCD called ‘Born to Run: The Science of Human Endurance’.

“The collaboration, the challenge, the people – my time at Insight has had a really positive impact on my career.”