This year teamed up with the Network in Play project to offer two students tickets to the Inspirefest conference in Dublin in July. Being tough taskmasters we asked people to explain to use when they were applying what diversity meant to them.

The two winners caught our eye with phrases like ‘Diversity is the coming together of great minds that don’t always think alike ‘ and ‘diversity is a litany of stories.’

MA students in DCU and in Maynooth, we met at the Bord Gáis centre to experience Inspirefest, talks by game legends like Brenda and John Romero and Rhianna Pratchett, and by those who dared to be different. In what follows we asked the two winners to report on their experience.

Pic: Left to right: Dearbháil Ní Chúirc, Aphra Kerr and Katherine Thomas.

Katherine Thomas

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar opened the Inspirefest 2017 paying tribute to the “true poet in mathematics,” William Rowan Hamilton,  who in the 19th century carved equations on a Dublin bridge that today are the basis for computer graphics in games like FIFA.

Following the Taoiseach’s remarks Inspirefest paid homage to DCU, who have renamed several of their buildings after inspiring female figures, which also made this DCU postgraduate quite proud.

This was simply just the opening hour of Inspirefest, which set the scene perfectly for the two inspirational days ahead.

A rich tapestry of speakers took to the stage to ‘stretch our minds’ including American astrophysicist and director of the National Science Foundation, Dr Frances Córdova.  Speaking to Inspirefest’s powerhouse, Ann O’Dea, Córdova described her illustrious journey, which included becoming NASA’s chief scientist, advising that “our differences makes us stronger.” Córdova highlighted the important intersection where art and science meet, and she asserted that these subjects should be promoted together, to bring about synergies.

Next to the stage was Dr Niamh Shaw who perfectly exemplifies how art and science synergise.  Dr Niamh Shaw described her trailing blazing adventures and her impressive resilience in realising her lifelong dream. Shaw started her career as a scientist, then shifted gear to become a comedienne, to explore her love of drama. Then, following a moment of self-discovery, she realised that she’d lost her ability to “dream big”.  This eureka moment prompted Shaw to reassess and began her pursuit of her lifelong dream, to become an astronaut. A dream that she is now in the process of making a reality and she urged the audience, to never let go of their dream.

Relating this to future generations, she stated the importance for young minds to be inspired too. Shaw implored “You cannot be, what you cannot see”. An accompanying video underpinned this message showcasing Lottie dolls (from an Irish company) modelled on up and coming kids that are aspiring to “dream big” too.  One such doll, is modelled upon a young teenager called Taylor Richardson (also an aspiring astronaut) that comes equipped in its very own NASA space suit! This powerful anecdote, demonstrated to me the importance of role models for young people, (especially young girls) to inspire them to dream big!

Dr Shaw was followed by a presentation by the Trinity Walton Club to promote their exciting initiative, which is cultivating the STEMers of tomorrow. Every weekend, young members of the Walton Club visit Trinity College and are given the opportunity to discover the world of STEM, whilst Trinity’s STEM postgraduates are on hand to nurture their talent and provide invaluable mentorship.

The inspiration continued via a myriad of fierce speakers such as Dr. Sue Black OBE who challenged the audience to ‘scare’ themselves everyday, whilst Scissor Sisters Ana Matronic promoted embracing the age of the Robot!


Day 2 of Inspirefest continued this theme, describing the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Accenture’s chief strategist, Omar Abbosh asserted that AI has the potential to someday “download our brains to the cloud,” – to effectively immortalise us!

The role that disruption plays in the pursuit of innovation was a common topic raised amongst speakers, including Facebook’s Colin Graham, networking expert Kelly Hoey, conductor Eimear Noone and some phenomenal founders such Nora Khaldi,  Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh and Bart Weetjens.

A spirited discussion on the evolution of our working life also stressed the importance of continued intergenerational learning.

The enigmatic self-professed ‘dirty hacker’, Tara Wheeler held the Bord Gáis theatre in the palm of her hand, as she regaled us with tales from the front line of cyber security and her mission to “find the cracks in the world.”

Compelling stories and salient advice flowed freely throughout Inspirefest, and key takeaways for me were to feel the fear and do it anyway and to view everything as a lesson and an opportunity to grow.

A special congratulations must be extended to the young, Irish, entrepreneurial sisters from Izzy’s Wheels that presented their innovative designs for wheelchair users. This dynamic duo serve as role models to young people everywhere (and made me wonder what I’ve been doing with my 35 years on this planet!). The sisters received a rapturous applause and standing ovation from a truly inspired audience. (See

The representation of female speakers at Inspirefest was a breath of fresh air (in stark contrast to male dominated conferences) and Ann O’Dea was the perfect Master of Ceremonies.

To conclude, Inspirefest gave me an energizing jolt of inspiration and a renewed sense of what’s possible …so thank you to and Network in Play for the opportunity to attend this one of a kind inspirational event. I hope that with my renewed inspiration – I can be, what I saw!

Bio: Katherine is a communications professional who has over 10 years events industry experience. She is currently studying her Masters in Management Operations online at DCU. She describes herself as an ‘entrepreneur in training’ and is an avid tweeter supporting #womenintech and an advocate to #changetheratio Tweet her @dubkatt


Dearbháil Ní Chúirc

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was already bustling by 8 o’clock on the first morning of Inspirefest 2017 as crowds of professionals, entrepreneurs and students congregated around the booths that had popped up around the theatre’s foyer area. Companies such as Hays, Nokia Bell Labs, Dropbox and even a virtual reality set-up by Facebook’s Accenture were showcasing their products and organisations. This was all before the opening remarks had begun and a precedent was set for the next two days.

As a social science student who came to Inspirefest with an interest in technology, gaming and gender, the event was honestly inspiring.

Listening to the experiences of these women, such Dr. France Córdova, Dr. Keri Kukral and Dr. Niamh Shaw provided not only an in-depth perspective on entering the field of science, but they also offered strong encouragement for those seeking to do the same. Other speakers such as Dr. Arlene O’Neill and Dr. Lisa Looney discussed in detail the drive women have entering STEM fields and the importance of diversity within these spaces.

There were other speakers, such as Rhianna Prachett and Brenda Romero, who discussed storytelling within video games, whilst also providing further insight into the experience of women working not only within the game development process but also the process of writing female characters within these narratives. This inspirational encouragement that the speakers at Inspirefest fostered this year remained a constant theme throughout the talks, alongside another constant drive to offer as many diverse perspectives as possible.


Pic: Brenda Romero interviews Rhianna Pratchett. Pic by Dearbháil

Diversity was not only in terms of the number of female presenters. Speakers such as Dr. Sue Black discussed her struggles as a single mother entering into the computer science field. John Romero, famous game designer and programmer, also talked about his working class background and getting into game development as a young adult. Arlan Hamilton was another speaker of interest, who discussed her experience as a venture capital fund manager as an African American LGBT+ woman. Suffice to say, not only did the speakers offer a multifaceted perspective on the different array of STEM fields in relation to gender, but also relation to social class and ethnicity.

Attending Inspirefest 2017 offered me the opportunity to explore the directions in which the video game industry, general science, computer science and entrepreneurship within these fields are progressing in today’s world. The conference also offered a diverse, vast range of speakers that, over two days, expressed their passion for their fields and their drive in their work, which was incredibly inspirational, even as someone who operates outside of these fields.

The stories I have heard from Inspirefest will be taken to heart in any of my future endeavours to explore not only the spaces these people occupy within STEM fields, but also to understand the people who are driven to thrive in these spaces to begin with.

Bio: Dearbháil Ní Chúirc is a Maynooth University graduate with both a BA and MA degree in Sociology (Internet and Society, 2017). Her research focuses on the internet and technology in relation to society. Her recent postgraduate thesis for the MA explored gender construction within e-sports and competitive video game spaces. Follow her on twitter: @dnichuirc LinkedIn:

Well done to both of our winners.

Keep an eye on for more diversity related events, workshops and advocacy in 2017/18 from our Network in Play project.

For more on Inspirefest see