Insight Alumni: Ciara Duignan, Consultant, Health and Government Industries

Submitted on Friday, 16/06/2023

Ciara Duignan completed a BSc in physiotherapy in UCD. She worked as a full time physiotherapist before retunring ot UCD to complete a research masters in wearable sensors. She then completed a PhD under Professor Brian Caulfield and contunied to do postdoctoral work as part of Insight’s Platform Research Initiative, Flourish. Dr Duignan worked on collaborations with the Technological University sector, working with the Gaelic Games associations to understand their data and technology landscape. She now works as a consultant in the health and government industries.

‘I joined the Personal Sensing team in Insight in January 2016. Personal Sensing is an interdisciplinary team that brings together expertise from across life and clinical sciences and computer science and engineering. The team seeks to find ways to understand and measure human health and performance through the application of sensor and digital technologies. I joined as a Research Masters student with Brian Caulfield, working on an industry-funded project assessing walking and balance in older adults using wearable sensors.

‘I continued to work part-time as a sports physiotherapist while doing the research, and I identified my PhD research question through my clinical work. I transferred from the Research Masters to a PhD, and the rest is history! Aside from completing my own PhD, my time in Insight gave me the opportunity to collaborate on industry funded projects from pharma to sport, work on EU funded projects and local community initiatives, and lecture and tutor on multiple programmes in UCD, as well as making friends for life.

‘When I finished my PhD I continued in postdoctoral work in Insight, this time working on one of Insight’s Platform Research Initiatives called Flourish, which aimed to support university student wellbeing through technology. The team developed multiple initiatives as part of this work, including new student wellbeing modules in UCD and DCU, and a mobile application to support students’ personal development. I then moved on to one of our collaborations with the Technological University sector, working with the Gaelic Games associations to understand their data and technology landscape. If I was to sum up my Insight life in one word, it would be variety, which I loved.

‘Since leaving Insight I have moved into the world of consulting, specifically consulting in the health and government industries in Ireland. I think many people don’t understand what consultants actually do, but it’s really just project-based specialist work. We provide specialist expertise to the health service and government bodies/agencies for work programmes that they need delivered, and it might vary from programme development and management, to organisational and operational transformation projects, to technology implementation, and so on.

‘Both my clinical and research backgrounds were fundamental in my getting the job, for the credibility and familiarity the clinical background provides when supporting work programmes in clinical environments, and the transferability of my research skills such as project management, critical thinking and problem solving, and communications and reporting. Aside from knowing it would be a good skills fit, consulting offered similar to variety to what I loved about Insight and provided the opportunity to have real-world impact in short timeframes.

‘Aside from all the knowledge and skills that I built up through completing my PhD in Insight, the interdisciplinary and industry focused nature of the centre were its differentiators. The interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of the Personal Sensing team meant that I built up all the learnings from my own project and everyone else’s projects at the same time, as well as being able to quickly crowdsource ideas and feedback on everything from overcoming practical challenges to publishing papers. This environment bolstered and accelerated the learning opportunities every day, in addition to preparing you for interdisciplinary team working in other sectors.

‘The industry-focused nature of the centre meant we were simultaneously focused on creating new knowledge and opportunities, and solving real-world problems. The opportunity to work with industry partners showed us how our research was applicable to different sectors and gave an insight into how those sectors worked – both of which were useful in identifying potential career paths.

It’s difficult to overstate how Insight has benefited my career given that I can’t separate myself from the skills and experience I gained – they are completely fundamental to how I think about and approach my work. I count myself lucky to be an alumni!’