Here at Shona, we love when we get to meet someone who is stepping outside of what the world considers “the norm”. It’s so interesting to have the opportunity to chat with women who are doing cool, unusual, and interesting jobs. So, we were only delighted when our friends at UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics and UCD School of Computer Science introduced us to their new project ‘Role Models in pSTEM: You can be what you can see’

The ‘Role Models in pSTEM: You can be what you can see’ project was created to highlight contemporary, positive role models for young women in the subjects of physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. The project hopes to make more young women aware of the very many career paths and opportunities available to them by pursuing these subjects. Following the UNESCO framework of factors influencing girls’ and women’s participation in STEM, the interviews explore the backgrounds and influences of each of the role models and highlight what they enjoy about what they do. The project was designed by Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin and Dr Catherine Mooney, who work in the fields of mathematics and computer science, and was funded by the HEA and Institute of Physics.

So, we are delighted to introduce you to some incredible role models over the next couple of weeks. Today, we have Sharon Sweeney. Sharon is a fashion designer who runs a small business that creates bespoke pieces that are ethical and sustainable.


Question 1: Could you tell us what you do and What drew you to your role as an ethical and sustainable fashion designer? 

I am a fashion designer and I run my small business on a made-to-order basis, meaning I only create what is wanted by the customer. I don’t hold any stock, meaning there isn’t any waste accumulated in the process. The clothing that I create is ethical and sustainable – using organic, deadstock, and recycled fabrics.

I’m a very creative person, and I feel fulfilled in using this creativity to create beautiful and sustainable clothing. The reason that I’m so passionate about sustainability in the fashion industry is that I studied as an Environmental scientist beforehand and I know the damaging long-term effects that the current fashion model and all its processes are having on the environment. If I can create pieces that are loved and cause minimal damage, then I am happy to have made a difference, even if it’s only a small one.


Question 2: Were you drawn into studying STEM subjects in Secondary school?

I actually only studied biology before University. I found biological processes such as photosynthesis very interesting. Looking back I would have liked to study chemistry and physics before University, but I managed to build my knowledge when I got there, which led to me completing my thesis in microbiology, based on the anaerobic digestion.


Question 3: Were there any particular difficulties or challenges you had to overcome in terms of your study or work? 

Yes – I found that I was at a slight disadvantage having only studied biology as a science subject before starting my Environmental science course, which entailed studying 4 different types of chemistry (organic, inorganic, analytical, and physical ) and physics. I would encourage anyone that wants to go into a science field to at least have a good foundation understanding before starting as it can be quite tough to develop an understanding whilst trying to keep up with the lectures and lab work.


Question 4: What do you wish someone would have told you when you were younger?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you may think that you’re the only person that doesn’t know but I can assure you that there is only a small majority that actually fully does. Any time I made good progress was from asking the questions, and going directly to the lecturer/lab assistant with queries.

Don’t feel the societal pressure of putting a timeframe on your career. If you are truly passionate about something you should pursue and develop that interest, even if it means that you are taking a few extra years to get there – when you’re older you’ll look back and thank your younger self!


So, we don’t know about you, but we definitely would love to hear more about Sharon and her career. Sure you know us at this stage, of course, we have you covered! 

Check out the video below, courtesy of Sharon and our friends at UCD College of Science.  

More videos and resources are available at: https://www.ucd.ie/mathstat/rolemodelsinpstem/


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