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University of Limerick professor highly commended in IRC Researcher of the Year awards

Wed, 09 Dec 2020

University of Limerick Professor Orla Muldoon has received a commendation in the 2020 Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year awards.

Professor Muldoon, the founding professor of psychology at UL, was highly commended in the annual awards, which recognise the very best of the IRC’s awardees and alumni working in academia, industry, civic society and the public sector.

DCU’s Dr Jane Suiter won the award for 2020 IRC Researcher of the Year and, with the standard of entries this year so high, the judges also made two commendations in this category.

Trinity’s Professor John Goold was highly commended alongside Professor Muldoon by the independent panel.

Professor Muldoon’s research is centred around a paradigm shift in understanding the social, psychological and physiological cost of stress, trauma and adversity and offers explanations for how and why some people are damaged by stress, whilst others are resilient.

Her research contributions share a key feature - they prioritise the importance of collective identities and shared social relationships to understanding the impact of stresses such as brain injury, domestic and political violence and latterly the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on health.

Her most recent work highlights the potential for stress and trauma to revitalise social connections with consequent impact on clinical and biometric markers of stress. A European Research Council Advanced Grant received this year will allow her to take her work forward to check if in fact there is any truth in the idea that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’. 

When asked what drives her to do work in this area, Professor Muldoon said: “Serendipity! I left school at 16 with no clear idea of what I might do with my working life. I had never heard of psychology and was not at all clear what social science was. I bumped into psychology when I was on a very different career path. So, I applied to do a degree in social science and was accepted at Queens in Belfast. I was very nearly derailed from psychology by my interest in sociology and anthropology! 

“I loved research from my first foray into it as an undergraduate. I thought then it had the power to change the world, and I still believe that. I was advised as I finished my degree to do what I was interested in, and so I chose to do a research degree rather than become a practicing psychologist. I have had a rich, varied and rewarding experience as a researcher. And though I am being awarded this commendation, my work is the product of the many generous and inspiring collaborations and collaborators that have buoyed up my research efforts over these years. 

“So, though my interest in the area and the belief in the value of the work drives me on, without question it is the relationships with students and collaborators that keeps me going,” she added.

IRC Director Peter Brown offered his congratulations to the winners.

“Our annual Researcher of the Year awards are about recognising the very best and brightest of the Council’s current and former awardees. The standard this year was exceedingly high, and the judging panel found it difficult in many cases to choose a winner, which is a testament to the high calibre of researchers we have here in Ireland.

“We launched our five-year strategic plan this year and supporting excellent ideas and talent across all disciplines is at the heart of the Council’s mandate. Having a vibrant research community, and fostering public support for research is vital, as we continue to see the positive impact it has on society, the environment, and the economy. This is particularly true in the case of our three winners this year, who have all individually made an impact on society through their research.

“We are very proud of all of our awardees and I look forward to seeing what comes next for them,” he added.