‘It’s difficult to overstate how Insight has benefited my career’ Insight Alumni on an inspiring and collaborative environment

Submitted on Thursday, 01/06/2023

by Prof Noel O’Connor, CEO

This month as we celebrate ten years of Insight, we have invited Insight alumni around the globe to tell us what Insight membership has meant for them. Over June we will publish their responses and take a look at what they are doing now. Their stories combine to reveal a decade of incredible change in data science and significant growth in Ireland’s role in the sector. Insight has taken centre stage in that progression, as their experiences testify.

A consistent theme throughout the series is the value our alumni have gained from working in Insight’s unusually heterogenous research environment. Data science and AI has the potential to transform every facet of society and the economy. The Insight SFI Research Centre has, from its outset,  encouraged and welcomed researchers from any and all disciplines that stand to grow from immersion in data science. I think alumnus Sonya Egan, Head of Breeding Innovation and Development at Horse Sport Ireland, best sums it up:  ‘I did extensive collaborative work with other Insight members… who had a diverse range of expertise (anthropologists, data analysts, biostatisticians, engineers, sport scientists, physiotherapists – I’m probably safe enough in being the only horse expert so far!)’.

Deepak Mehta, Team Lead, Apple Operations International Ltd says that the mix of skills at Insight has been key to his professional development. ‘The opportunity to participate in many research projects and collaborate with experts across diverse domains and backgrounds has deepened my understanding of AI, machine learning, and constraint programming,’ he tells us.

For Cailbhe Doherty, Assistant Professor at UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, ‘it was this fantastic melting pot of researchers from different fields…it was a really inspiring, collaborative environment. You can’t help but come up with ideas and ambitions in a group like that.’

Another key Insight ‘differentiator’, as alumnus Ciara Duignan puts it, is the opportunity Insight affords to work with industry. ‘The industry-focused nature of the Centre meant we were simultaneously creating new knowledge and opportunities and solving real-world problems. It’s difficult to overstate how Insight has benefited my career,’ says Ciara Duignan , now working as a consultant in health and government industries.

Oonagh Giggins, now a lead researcher at NetwellCASALA  explains that: ‘My post-doc in Insight  gave me the opportunity to collaborate and then work with a leading industry partner, which has been of huge value in my career to date.’

Piyush Yadav, research scientist at Collins Aerospace also considers Insight’s industry network to have played an important role in his subsequent career. ‘Insight’s industry connections and collaborative projects have allowed me to apply my findings in practical scenarios and develop an entrepreneurial mindset,’ he says.

Many of our alumni believe that Insight’s growing profile in Ireland and beyond has helped them to advance their career vision and take them where they want to go – Ballincollig or Boston, machine learning or human computer interface.

‘Insight is a well-known institution that employers and interviewers recognise for its ground-breaking work in machine learning applied to many areas such as vision, lifelogging or healthcare,’ says David Azcona, currently working as a staff applied scientist at global online retailer Etsy.

Eoin Kenny, Postdoctoral Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, credits Insight with helping him to achieve his research goals. ‘My PhD at Insight gave the ‘foot in the door’ necessary to get into this exciting area [Human AI Interaction]. It is almost impossible to go straight into such work (either in industry or academia) without a PhD and Insight is (I believe) the ideal place to do this in Ireland currently. It was this work at Insight that allowed me to get my current position as a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has only continued to help me realise my research vision.’

For Alan Holland, founder and CEO, Keelvar Systems in Ballincollig, Insight’s stature in AI and data science research continues to attract and educate the kind of professionals he needs for his business. ‘Insight has helped Keelvar by educating graduates and postgraduates on the intricacies of Optimisation and Machine Learning, key skills that are required in our domain. Our hub remains in Cork and we continue to support interns and hire graduates from Insight. We feel lucky to have such a close connection to Insight and feel there is a strong synergy between our business and the research and education conducted there.’

There’s plenty more to learn from our talented pool of alumni – don’t miss their testimonies on this channel and on Twitter and Linkedin over the coming month.