Comment & Analysis
Profile
Feb 2, 2017

The Ambitious Scientific Leader Embracing Art and Creating New Perspectives

Director of the CONNECT research centre and Professor of Engineering and the Arts, Linda Doyle, on combining her passion for science and the arts.

Kathleen McNameeSenior Editor
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Stephen Paul Paclibar for The University Times

Linda Doyle represents everything that is changing about the science world. A woman succeeding in a high-powered job is, while not the norm, becoming more regular. Professor of Engineering and the Arts in Trinity and Director of the CONNECT centre, the Trinity-based Centre for Future Networks and Communications, Doyle is at the top of her game. In the past decade, she has raised over 70 million euro for research funding. Speaking to The University Times, Cormac Sreenan, Professor of Computer Science at University College Cork (UCC) and a Deputy Director of the CONNECT centre, noted of Doyle that “not everybody can claim to have that level of impact nationally within government, and also within major industry”.

Doyle’s expertise is in the field of wireless communications, cognitive radio, reconfigurable networks, spectrum management and creative arts practices. What is remarkable about Doyle, however, is her ability to mix science and art. Her presence is felt on boards for galleries such as Pallas Studios and Trinity’s own Douglas Hyde Gallery, while she is aso a BT Young Scientist judge and a member of the National Broadband Steering Committee. Speaking to The University Times, Doyle counts experiences like BT Young Scientist as some of the most important things she is involved in: “It is uplifting in the extreme. It might be a dull January day and you go there and you think, ‘Oh my God, the world can change to be a better place because of all these really enthusiastic people’, who apart from the technical knowledge, seem quite holistic.”

Doyle secured her undergraduate degree from UCC. She admitted that she “didn’t really know what engineering was” when she started to research undergraduate degrees. “I went to an open day in the university and I knew I was interested in science-y things, and so when someone went up and spoke about mechanical and electrical engineering I went that’s it.” Considering the success Doyle has enjoyed in her later career, her time in UCC wasn’t entirely what she expected. “I actually didn’t hugely like UCC, but I was a real kind of person if I’m starting it I’m going to finish”, said Doyle. It is perhaps this tenacity which has stood to her in later life. For someone who didn’t really know what engineering was when she started, Doyle has made an incredible career out of it.

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I love the fact that you can just go in any direction and the breadth of ideas that you can involved with in the academic side

After spending a year in the industry, Doyle moved onto academia. This was a path that she has always had her sights on. “I think I always had a natural interest in teaching”, she mused. Laughing, she recounted teaching her younger siblings when they became older, on topics ranging from how to read to German grammar: “I would be about five years older than one of my brothers and I decided I was going to teach him to read when he was about two and there was this fad at the time where you actually wrote things in big red letters and stuck it on the wall and I had this book Teach Baby How to Read so I always kind of had this instinct in me.”

This instinct to teach is something that those around Doyle note as one of her most admirable qualities. Speaking to The University Times, Sreenan noted that he has seen “her get down on her hands and knees to literally communicate with kids”.

It is the freedom of teaching and conducting research that attracts Doyle. “I love the fact that you can just go in any direction and the breadth of ideas that you can involved with in the academic side,” she said. “The world is your oyster. You’re not restrained by a particular belief or corporate ideas. You can kind of pursue things with a passion and you can do all sorts of mixing and matching of ideas which you wouldn’t have the freedom to do and you’re kind of you’re own boss in academia so I think those things really attracted me.”

Mixing and matching is a special talent of Doyle’s. Her official title in Trinity is Professor of Engineering and the Arts. Science and art, although they can be well suited, are not two things that people are often able to marry together. Sreenan praised Doyle’s ability to jump between the two disciplines: “I don’t think I know any other scientists or engineers who have the ability to talk to artists and speak their language.”

For me, dealing with artists is brilliant, because they challenge everything to do with power, and power relationships, and inclusivity and exclusivity

Artists challenge the way Doyle thinks and it is this, perhaps, that has given her her edge in the communications field. She points out that the role of art in our society is so much more than “to draw or colour nice pictures”. Their discipline comes into everything we do: “For me, dealing with artists is brilliant, because they challenge everything to do with power, and power relationships, and inclusivity and exclusivity, and they don’t believe in neutral design, and I don’t really believe in that either.”

Speaking to The University Times, Yvonne Scott, Director of the Trinity College Irish Art Research Centre (TRIARC) and associate professor of History of Art, calls Doyle “one of the most extraordinary individuals in the university”. Scott, herself an incredibly successful woman who knows Doyle from Trinity and her involvement in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, spoke of Doyle’s imagination and drive: “She has unbelievable energy, she’s full of ideas. She’s a very, very exciting person to work around because of how she’s sparking with ideas. And yet, they’re all rooted in something that is practical. They’re all off the wall, but she’s about looking at things from new perspectives.”

The belief that art and science are inextricably linked has led Doyle to some incredibly interesting and eclectic projects. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Festival of Curiosity. The four-day science festival, aimed at children, normally takes part round Dublin city centre and encourages the exploration of science through fun and informative activities. Run by Vince McCarthy and Ellen Byrne, Doyle was full of praise the festival and the work it does. “It’s amazing,” she said, smiling. “It’s about basically building curiosity for kids in, ultimately, things that are to do with science and technology but it’s really a mixture of culture, science and technology,” she explained. One thing that festival does incredibly well, is communicate complicated ideas to young children, something which Doyle is exceptional at herself. “They don’t speak down to children”, explained Doyle. “They do a very good job of explaining it.”

It’s about basically building curiosity for kids in, ultimately, things that are to do with science and technology but it’s really a mixture of culture, science and technology

With 40,000 people attending last year, the festival is hugely popular. McCarthy was full of praise for Doyle. “She’s like a massive supporter and she’s someone who’s very positive”, explained McCarthy. “So, for us, she’s not alone helped us technically in that she advises us on how to run an organisation, how to make sure that what we’re doing is really good but she’s one of those rare people who is also strategic and tactical, in the sense that can solve problems at any level and is also really positive”.

Communication is something Doyle knows an incredible amount about. Her field of study revolves around how we transfer data. “So if you were to say broadly, for somebody who doesn’t come from the background, it’s things it’s everything to do with telecommunications. It’s your mobile phone, what those networks are going to support, what will they look like in five years and what will they look like in 10 years time”, explained Doyle. She has specialised, however, more in the radio waves which phones use, termed spectrums.

Doyle has made a career out of communications and it is something she uses extensively in the way she conducts her work life also. “One thing I think is interesting”, noted Sreenan, “is that she leads a centre on communication and she has this ability to communicate with people across a wide range of disciplines”. This ability of Doyle’s was also noted by Alan Mathewson, a Director of the CONNECT centre, when speaking to The University Times. “I have been working with Linda for a few years now”, explained Mathewson, “and she is without doubt the most supportive and encouraging academic I have ever worked with. She exudes enthusiasm for her work and she is an expert in her field.”

Doyle is, by all accounts, the type of person you want on your side. “She does it because she cares about these areas, and the city and society and the country,” explained McCarthy. Doyle herself put it down to the people she has around her: “The students who work with me influence me. The artists who work with me influence me hugely and then the staff in CONNECT hugely influence me. So it’s every level.” Either way, Doyle is leading the charge on a whole new wave of aspiring scientists and artists who are looking to change the face of Ireland as we know it.

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