By Rick Nassar, image above by Alan Landers, see more of his images here.

Few weeks ago a group of ambitious PhD candidates journeyed to the end of Europe to a small vibrant town called Cahersiveen in County Kerry, Ireland. Over 40 gathered for a week long full of innovation and inclusive creativity. They came together from all over the World to participate in what seems to be one of the best PhD programmes I’ve ever seen, SMARTlab. While I had the chance I took the liberty and asked few questions…

SMARTlab, what’s it all about?

SMARTlab is a PhD programme designed to engage in a broad spectrum of research areas. Founded by Professor Lizbeth Goodman with a vision for the programme to operate across a number of research clusters, covering areas such as Performance, Social and Community Media, Assistive Technology and Gaming. The method is intrinsically transdisciplinary, due to the backgrounds of those involved. Artists and technologists come together as scholars to collaborate in the teaching and learning environment. SMARTlab researchers are active in the design of new bespoke tools and assessing their potential through socially based research models.

SMARTlab’s core research strategy is to bring together performance specialists with artists, scholars, computer scientists and policy makers to share a commitment to creative technology in writing and public dissemination of findings in more scholarly forms. Several members of the team are post-doctoral faculty, having completed their PhDs with the group in recent years. They promote a collaborative research and writing for publication model.


How many years has it been going?

The lab began in 1992 – so its 25 years old this year.


What did the Seminar focus on?

Each Seminar has a unique focus enabling the students to present aspects of their research; new practice, theoretical or methodological developments. The seminar in Feb. main focus was applied methodology and was also a chance for the new cohort to coalesce and present their research projects as well as meet supervisors and invited guests. A key element of the seminar was the focus on brainstorming ideas to regenerate rural communities through technology, and to develop ideas to be tested in the local region, including Skignz AR tagging, 3D Modelling and capturing local history via technology.

When was it on?

There are three seminars a year the last one was in Feb 19th – 24th Feb 2017. The next one is in 10-14 July and will be held in UCD, Dublin.

Who attended the event?

The seminar had over 40 attendees through the week from all walks like Uganda, the land now known as Canada, United States, South Korea, China and of course Ireland. Most were  PhD Candidates from multi-disciplinary PhDs like, Internet of things (IoT), Enterprise Gamification, 3D printing, Marine biology, Virtual Reality to name a few.

Some key people from the region also attended, like June O’Connell (Skellig Diaspora Chair & Kerry Diaspora) and Jean Byrne (CEO of Design 21C) were over to support this amazing initiative. Most importantly the Faculty, like Dr Jacki Morie, Dr Shane Keaveney, and Dr Anita McKeown who took the time to travel over to Kerry to help and support all the candidates with their research journeys.

Why did SMARTlab choose Cahersiveen?

The lab has been developing a strong relationship with Cahersiveen for a number of years, and is especially impressed with how proactive and welcoming the community is in the Town and surrounding areas have been to the group.

What are the current PhDs?

There are loads to mention them on this interview! Here are some to name a few:

Aviva Cohan (Ireland) is an ASSISTID post-doctoral fellow. She is developing apps and training courses to help ageing carers plan for the future needs of their loved ones.

Anita Yakkund (UK & India) whos research focuses on developing individualized interventions for reading, for students with autism and learning difficulties using assistive technology and applied behaviour analysis.

Tara O’Neil (Canada) is exploring how immersive virtual experiences provide opportunities for the discovery of tacit knowledge. Using this new knowledge in co-creation workshops she is hoping to create radical innovation for wicked problems.

Ça?r? Çubukçu (Turkey) is working on gamification of higher education to offer an exhaustive framework that explains how gamification can be used within an educational context; as well as providing a minimalistic Learning Management System to accompany the framework

Colin Keogh (Ireland) is focusing on how to most effectively apply engineering expertise to allow disruptive technologies to be applied in new fields to improve innovation & engagement among all sectors of society.

Bo Zhang (China) focusses on the design of unique 3D virtual worlds for cross -cultural collaborative learning between China and Ireland.

All PhD candidates come from many disciplinary backgrounds and there are over 40 candidates with some in the Visual Arts, Engineering, Music and others in Robotics designs. You can see most of their work on the website

Going forward what is the future of SMARTlab?

Established in December 2013, and building upon the move of the SMARTlab team to Dublin with Professor Lizbeth Goodman in September 2010, the new Inclusive Design Research Centre of Ireland @ UCD provides the national and international framework for interdisciplinary expertise to deliver on major research programmes in Research, Policy and Practice for Inclusive Design, including Assistive Technologies for People with Intellectual and other abilities and disabilities

Opening very soon in Cahersiveen the first satellite lab in collaboration with SMARTlab and UCD to establish the lab environment that includes VR/AR lab, IoT Lab, 3D printing Lab, Digital Media Studio among other concepts that will change the way we research in Academia.  Another aspect to this is there will be what we would like to call PhD (and Masters) retreat, a “workplace” for any student or candidate from any university or college to have a peaceful place for them to write and eventually finalise their theses. This will allow them to share their knowledge, research and skills with the people of the region, and vice versa.

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