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A day in the life of a PhD Researcher

By 6th March 2020 No Comments

Pictured is Grainne Dilleen (Right) and her PhD Supervisor Dr. Ethel Claffey. WIT School of Business (Left) 


How long have you been working in TSSG?

I started working in TSSG in September 2019.


What previous experience do you have?

I have over fifteen years’ experience working in the marketing industry. My most recent role was Communications Director at Kinetic Ireland, a leading outdoor advertising agency. At Kinetic, I was responsible for overseeing all internal and external communication such as marketing materials, press releases, social media, presentations and training. I also was involved in many research projects examining the effectiveness of outdoor advertising campaigns and disseminating these results to relevant stakeholders.

I completed an MBS in Marketing at WIT while working last year and it reignited my desire for learning and research, so I decided to take a leap of faith and return to academia full-time to complete a PhD with WIT/TSSG.


What is your day to day like?

My day is very varied.  I’m working on my PhD which is examining the influences on farmers’ smart technology adoption decisions. The PhD is funded by a large EU project, DEMETER H2020, which seeks to lead the digital transformation of Europe’s agri-food sector through the rapid adoption of advanced IoT technologies, data science and smart farming. I’m doing lots of reading around this area and working on the literature review at present, I’m also working on submitting a paper for a conference and completing part of a chapter examining IoT adoption in the agri-sector.

I’m also working separately on communicating and disseminating the objectives and results of the wider DEMETER project. This is a great opportunity as it allows me to combine my marketing and research skills and is also very beneficial for the PhD in terms of accessing experts in the area.  It also breaks up the day and makes sure I don’t venture too far into too many research ‘rabbit holes’.

I’m also taking part in the NDRC Pre-Commercialisation Programme.  This programme assists researchers to commercialise a business idea they may have developed while in academia.  The programme has multiple modules to help identify customers and the market opportunity and develop a value proposition. We are talking to potential customers on a specific business idea developed by one of the team members and developing collateral to help commercialise the idea.


How and why did you get into agricultural research?

I am not from an agricultural background but am very interested in the area of behaviour; why we behave the way we do, what influences our behaviour, how behaviour can be changed etc.  I’m really just researching these areas and the context happens to be agriculture.  However, the whole ag-tech space is really relevant at the moment, particularly in terms of climate change and labour shortages, so it seems to be a really relevant topic to be currently studying also.


What research projects are you currently working on?

The purpose of my research is to examine the critical determinants of smart farming technology (SFT) adoption among farmers. The use of such technologies can help deliver more sustainable farming practices; therefore, understanding the factors which influence farmers’ technology adoption decisions is important. Internal factors such as attitudes, motivations, personality type and socio-demographics will be explored. Equally, the impact of external factors such as consumer trends, government regulation, technology providers and mass media will also be examined.


What areas do you see yourself working on in the future?

I think the whole area of technology adoption is fascinating and linking consumer behaviour into this. This is applicable across all sectors whether it’s in a business to consumer context or business to business context.  As I’m focusing on agri-tech at the moment, I’d definitely like to continue to develop my expertise in this area as the scope for application is vast.


The big and little wins you have had in this role – anything you learned/discovered during a particular project?

As a researcher submitting a paper is definitely a big win. Although I’ve submitted a paper for a conference, I’m currently waiting to hear back if it’s been accepted. The process can be very long, but it is rewarding once you get approval.

In terms of communication and dissemination of the H2020 DEMETER project, the initial plan has been signed off by the project partners. The plan details how the results of the project will be effectively communicated to all relevant stakeholders, so its great to get that signed off and into practice.


What are the challenging and enjoyable aspects of being a researcher in your field?

I am a relatively new researcher in the ag-tech context, the biggest challenge is getting up to speed with the terminology and the issues facing the sector. This requires lots of reading and meeting people.  The most enjoyable aspect is knowing that my research can make a difference to society.  Being a researcher also makes you more curious, stretching your mind and thinking of new ideas!


Outline why your research is necessary for the end user: i.e. what are the benefits, how will it improve the current state?

Agriculture is facing growing challenges such as environmental sustainability, labour shortages, increased production demand and reduced financial performance. Technology, in particular smart farming technologies (SFT), have been identified as one area that can help overcome each of these challenges. However, the adoption of such smart technologies is lower in the agricultural sector than other industries.  My research will examine what is causing this lower adoption rate and what are the main barriers to adoption. This should help provide guidance on guidance for policy makers, technology providers, food processors, farm advisors and farm organisations striving to understand and engage with farmers to encourage SFT adoption.