US-Irish college ties open doors to top careers and research roles

Zoe Keane talks to a selection of people from Ireland and the USA who have journeyed to avail of study and work opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic
US-Irish college ties open doors to top careers and research roles

Katie Guzzetta on Silver Strand Beach in Mayo, looking onto the Connemara Mountains. Katie's studies in the US led to her current role with APC Micriobiome, based in University College Cork.

I remember seeing this beautiful environment and told my parents that I would live here one day

Katie Guzzetta

APC MICROBIOME

Katie Guzzetta is a final-year American PhD student in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience and the APC Microbiome Ireland within University College Cork.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York, Katie’s excitement for conducting gut microbiome research led her to jump the pond and join the well-known lab of Professor John Cryan and Dr Olivia O’Leary.

Katie Guzzetta in her lab in the Biosciences building at APC Microbiome Institute in UCC.
Katie Guzzetta in her lab in the Biosciences building at APC Microbiome Institute in UCC.

Under their supervision, Katie is researching the roles that the gut microbiota plays in neuroplasticity and cognitive health across the lifespan.

The very first time Katie travelled outside North America and came to Ireland for two weeks was at the age of 10 with her parents and her brother. “I remember seeing this beautiful outdoor environment and told my parents I would live here one day”, she said.

Years later, Katie had the opportunity to travel as an undergraduate. She did research in places like Madagascar, New Zealand and Taiwan, and so as the years progressed her love for travel and research only grew stronger.

“I’d like to be a professor because I really enjoy doing research, it’s taken me to really neat places,” she said.

In her final year studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Hamilton College she undertook her dissertation that specialised in microbiome research in trying to understand just how gut bacteria is influenced by alcohol and how it can in turn can trigger signs of depression.

“So many people are affected by it and we don’t have too much on how to fix it,” she said.

After Katie completed her undergraduate, she was ready to begin her PhD. She had some research to do but it wasn’t long before she knew Ireland was going to be her home for the foreseeable future. She was going to return to the place she loved at first sight when she was 10 years of age.

In her research, Katie read a paper by Professor John Cryan on transferring the gut bacteria from a depressed human into rodents and how they subsequently showed elevated biomarkers for depression.

“I knew John had so many fascinating papers. He really was a pioneer in the field, and I wanted to be in his lab so I contacted him, or should I say pestered,” Katie laughed.

A month or so later Katie was about to embark on a three-year adventure in what she called a world-renowned lab in UCC. Not only is it relevant to Katie’s work of gut microbiome, it’s working on the world of microbiome in all different aspects, from gut viruses to screening diseases.

It’s obvious Katie is extremely passionate about her research.

“It’s an exploding field and super relevant to human health”, she said.

But for Katie it doesn’t stop here. When she finishes her PhD, whether she moves home or travels somewhere else in Europe her studies will continue as she plans to do a post doctorate to build her credentials for becoming a professor and one day owning her own lab.

You meet someone at a coffee shop, the next thing you know you’re working with them…

Jennifer O’Leary

O-1 EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY VISA

Jennifer O'Leary outside her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, USA.
Jennifer O'Leary outside her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, USA.

Sales and Marketing Manager Jennifer O’Leary, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, has had a huge passion for business arising from her third level education in CIT.

Since then her career has gone from strength to strength, but it hasn’t been easy. Jenny made it her mission to live in New York; nothing was going to hold her back, not even three separate visa rejections.

It all started with @JennysMunch, an online blog launched well before the modern era of “social media influencers”. She shared healthy recipes and fitness tips to her fan base of broke college students. Within six months she built a following of 25,000 across social channels and collaborated with over 40 food and lifestyle brands.

Upon completing a four-year course in Business and Marketing in CIT and a J1 to the United States, Jenny knew two things for certain; she had a flair for marketing and was someday soon going to return to live in New York.

Working visas to the USA are hard to come by and after three rejections Jenny remained undeterred, she was adamant to find another way. An expert in networking Jenny was able to obtain 10 written letters of reference from influential people she encountered over the years.

This panel included individuals such as music industry mogul Robert Summers and CEO of events agency ‘Catapult’ Ronan Healy. With their testimony to her character and work ethic, combined with her track record of success with @JennysMumch, she was awarded the “O-1 Extraordinary Ability” visa in the United States. This visa is designated for individuals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business or education fields.

Jenny’s desire to live in New York originated from her J1 when she saw how quickly she could scale her career there and how networking was such a natural part of their culture. “You can meet someone at a coffee shop and the next thing you know you’re working with them and they’re sponsoring your visa”, she said.

As an extroverted and sociable individual, Jenny swears she got to where she is now by being able to chat and ask the right questions. 

“I continuously put myself out there where I find myself in crazy positions by asking questions like ‘where are you from’ or ‘what to do you’. It’s so important to be extremely curious,”  she added.

Jenny wasn’t the only Cork woman doing it for herself in New York. At the beginning of her stay there, Jenny was a successful applicant for a ‘production assistant’ role she had applied for online.

“When I arrived at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey, I could hear a Cork accent,” said Jennifer.

It turned out to be Aoife Ahern, owner of Aoife Ahern Productions. What was supposed to be a freelance job for Jenny became so much more, Aoife took her under her wing for a summer, touring with stars like Jay Z and Beyoncé.

Fast forward to today, Jenny has been living in New York for three years where she now works as the sales and marketing manager for start-up company Simplify Valet - a moving and storage service that has served over 500 New Yorkers move their belongings into storage and have grown customer base by 150% in a single quarter. Jenny loves the hustle and bustle of New York. One of Jenny’s LinkedIn posts read, ‘NYC excites my soul, gives me shivers in my body…’.

Speaking with her, it seems as if between her network abilities and busy work life she fits right in with the ‘work-hard’ New York natives. But when the Irish Examiner asked her if she’d lose her Cork accent she laughed and said, “that would be hard when I live with two other Cork girls”.

I came to Ireland on a nine-month Victory Scholarship ... I have lived in Cork for two years and six months, and no one day is the same

Tricia Byrne 

US VICTORY SCHOLAR
 

Tricia Byrne, an American Citizen studying, volunteering, and now working for a US multinational in Ireland.
Tricia Byrne, an American Citizen studying, volunteering, and now working for a US multinational in Ireland.

It's 5am and we arrive at Terminal 2 at the Dublin airport after a 6.5-hour flight from New York. 

I, along with my fellow 32 USA Victory Scholars —  college graduates chosen to help raise the aspirations of young people through the vehicle of sport by the Non-Profit Sport Changes Life — walk slowly to collect our luggage. 

Despite the jet lag, we are eager to embark on our Scholarship journey of earning our Masters at an Irish University, coaching Irish Youth, and playing professional basketball in the months ahead. I wait at the terminal for my lift to Cork to arrive and reality begins to sink in. 

Just 18 hours ago I was at home bidding farewell to family and friends on the East Coast of the United States, and now I am 3,500 miles across the Atlantic ocean prepared to embark on a journey of a lifetime. 

As an American woman hailing from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Ireland is appraised by many as the cherished Motherland, I am excited for the opportunity to experience it first hand. 

Little did I know that my journey ahead would contain much more than a service and history lesson, with the duration of my stay extending far beyond just nine months as a Victory Scholar.

My experience as a Victory Scholar was nothing short of extraordinary. From engaging with the Irish community through sport, to studying at CIT with individuals from every continent, to exploring the North, South, East, and West parts of the country, I quickly learned to appreciate the perspective of Ireland in relation to the rest of the world.

 Opportunities to expand on this perspective were presented through traveling to Brussels with my Masters class, engaging in conversation at Isaac’s Restaurant on MacCurtain street with Irish people that have connections to my hometown in the USA, discovering relatives in Spanish Point, and interviewing for jobs at US multinationals with Irish Headquarters (to name a few). 

Through every engagement, there was always conversation revolving around what it was like to be American living in Ireland, and while initially, my reply would simply highlight that I was an American student-athlete with Irish heritage (with 23&me proving my ancestry composition to be 99.8% British&Irish) I could now compose a book of what the true experience has proved to be.

I have lived in Cork for two years and 6 months, and no one day is the same (no, not even the weather). Engagement with Irish friends, teammates, and European coworkers continues to broaden my understanding of the US-EU relationship in the political, social, and economic spheres. 

Living with friends from Ireland and Europe, meeting new American citizens who have taken the initiative to move to Ireland for a new experience, and continuing to progress in my career in Ireland at a US multinational increasingly exposes me to the many dimensions of the Irish-American relationship. I came to Ireland to impact the youth and engage with a new part of the world for 9 months.

 In turn, Ireland and its people have inspired me for a lifetime. With this, I look forward to taking advantage of the unique opportunities Ireland has to offer for young Americans, and to elevating my personal aspirations to contribute to the evolving geopolitical ties between both countries.

We’re one of the largest Fintech research teams globally

Q&A with Prof Mark Hutchinson and Prof Philip O'Reilly 

FINTECHNEXT PROGRAMME

Prof Mark Hutchinson and Prof Philip O’Reilly, who are both working on Fintechnext, a programmes hosted by UCC, Fexco and SFI.
Prof Mark Hutchinson and Prof Philip O’Reilly, who are both working on Fintechnext, a programmes hosted by UCC, Fexco and SFI.

Q1. Philip and Mark, tell us how the Fintechnext programme has enhanced the future talent pipeline for companies operating in the financial services sector in Ireland, the USA and globally.

Fintechnext is about two things. Scientific excellence and industry impact.

It is a multi-million euro, four-year collaborative research programme between University College Cork and Fexco, supported by Science Foundation Ireland. This research collaboration between Fexco, a high impact industry leader in FinTech and University College Cork, a world-class centre of excellence in high impact FinTech research is leading to the creation of new knowledge, the discovery of new technology, and the development of the Next Generation of Financial Services Technology.

The outputs from this research are already disrupting and transforming three vital sectors of the international financial services industry, through the development of innovative new products and services, progressing the economy and society.

We’ve built out one of the largest dedicated university research teams globally focused on Fintech. This has involved recruiting expert full time researchers, all with PhDs, from leading universities and research teams across Europe and North America. Expertise on the team includes AI, Big Data, Business Models, Quantitative Finance and UX design.

Fintechnext has been spotlighted in the Ireland for Finance 2020 Action Plan published by the Department of Finance. : The strategy for the development of Ireland’s International Financial Services sector to 2025, included as a case study, showcasing the significance of the research to the future of financial services.

A Fintech Foresight Group has been included as part of this national strategy. Professor O’Reilly has been appointed a member of this group. This group is an active strategic pool of expertise accessible to Irish policymakers, helping them in defining the future Irish regulatory, policy, and technical agenda and will advise the Minister for International Financial Services of pertinent technical developments. 

Q2. Philip and Mark, describe how your own studies and career opportunities have benefitted from the initiatives driven by this programme.

Our researchers, the broader UCC academic faculty and most importantly, our students are benefitting directly from the initiative. We also incorporate published findings in full time and executive education teaching materials, informing the next generation of financial services professionals.

Of course, the programme also represents an opportunity for the research team to collaborate with world-leading experts, including experts at George Mason University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Miami.

Finally, the dissemination strategy which includes intellectual property, data standards, industry white papers, and peer-reviewed scientific papers is already resulting in significant career progression and reputational enhancement for the research team.

Q3. Give some background as to how prior partnerships between UCC and State Street have helped underpin the success of Fintechnext.

In the last 10 years there has been over €10 million invested in FinTech Research and Development at UCC, by leading international companies and funding agencies. For example, in 2015 UCC was chosen as one of only two global centres of excellence for FinTech research by international bank State Street. The State Street Advanced Technology Centre was a major development in the long running engagement with State Street Ireland, USA and China. The collaboration was positioned to support the research needs of State Street and their partners. The centre created a unique global research experience for our students and helped position Ireland to be at the forefront of Fintech research. During the life of the programme, each year the Advanced Technology Centre lab housed up to twenty research Masters students focused on key emerging topics.

Examples of a groundbreaking joint project focused on financial services data which UCC researchers completed with the State Street’s Dublin office was to take a data set (from multiple sources) used in quarterly regulatory reporting and leverage emerging semantic modeling techniques to aggregate that information. In total, they estimate they would normally spend 200 person-hours a quarter to prepare this report. Some of the aggregations that used to take 3-4 hours individually can now be accomplished in 3-4 seconds. The importance of this output for the broader financial services industry was highlighted by our wonderful colleague Oliver Browne spending six months travelling the world presenting the system to industry and regulatory audiences.

Q4. Can we also ask you both to give some insights into other US-Irish third level collaborations.

The reputation and impact which UCC has in Fintech globally is evident by the quality of the ongoing engagements with senior personnel from organisations at the cutting edge of financial services globally. Members of the Fintechnext are providing thought leadership on Fintech globally and have ongoing international research collaborations in the US.

Prof Philip O’Reilly:

In December 2017, Professor O’Reilly was requested to present to the Board of the Federal Reserve on emerging global Fintech trends. As recently as November 2020, Professor O’Reilly chaired a discussion on the future of Digital Currency, a session which included the Senior Vice President from the Federal Reserve Boston with responsibility for the Bank’s Digital Currency research efforts.

Professor O’Reilly has for many years collaborated closely with the leadership team in the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI), a representative body for over 100 banking and international financial services organisations in Ireland. The Federation of International Banks in Ireland (FIBI), an affiliate of the BPFI, is the principal voice of the international banking and financial services sector in Ireland and counts among its members many of the largest financial service providers in the world, including Citibank, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street and Wells Fargo. Professor O’Reilly has been invited to present on Fintech to the 12 member FIBI council, the leadership forum of FIBI.

In November 2019, Professor O’Reilly presented to the Head of Digital Advisory, Herve Tourpe of the Washington headquartered International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Fintech for Financial Inclusion.

Prof Mark Hutchinson:

Professor Hutchinson spent time as a Visiting Scholar at Vanderbilt University in 2019 where he continues to work with a global expert on trading strategies. The team also work with world leading experts in hedge funds at the University of Miami. These collaborative projects have had strong impact in both the financial services industry and the scientific community and the output is published in world leading scientific journals and is regularly disseminated at academic and industry events throughout the world.

At the outset of the Fintechnext project we were keen to leverage university collaboration with the US. One knowledge gap we were keen to engage with experts on was in the area of data science.

The UCC interim president, Professor John O’Halloran, wrote to President Marty Meehan, of the University of Massachusetts. President Meehan enabled us to access the expertise we needed from a world leading research centre within the UMass system. This shows the power of the US-Irish collaboration at the most senior levels.

Q5. How do these fintech research initiatives lead to engagements that roll out into the financial marketplace?

As part of our research programme we go out and speak to industry. These structured engagements are designed to assess the opportunities for next generation financial services, business processes, and technology solutions in the rapidly evolving FinTech environment.

The analysis enables comprehensive, detailed evaluation of our emerging solutions in terms of Business process innovation; Technology suite, system design and their Business model, incorporating value proposition design, revenue model, partnerships and market strategy.

The team at UCC Innovation manage the university’s valuable intellectual property portfolio arising from Fintechnext. Our team work closely with Rich Ferrie and Anthony Morrissey, who ensure that the intellectual property we generate is rolled out into the marketplace. They are the access point for industry.

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