My name is Oisín McCormack, I’m from a very small town in Co. Kildare, Ireland, and currently I am a MSCA Postdoctoral researcher in nanophotonics at Trinity College Dublin.

In high school in Ireland we get to study a good mixture of topics, my favourites were architectural drawing, physics, and music. For a long time I thought architecture would be the path for me, until I talked to a very good guidance counsellor who highlighted the business side which didn’t interest me at the time, and so I decided to move towards physics and secured a spot in NUI Maynooth studying astrophysics.

My road to academia was long and winding. I always had part-time/summer jobs since the age of 15, so I was no stranger to the working world. After my BSc. I worked for a year before deciding I was bored and wanted to learn something new, and an MSc. in Heriot Watt University Edinburgh in renewable energy seemed like an interesting field to get into. After this was another period of working in jobs in Barcelona that were fine, but the major challenge was physically going to the office 9am to 6pm, 5 days a week, rather than any stimulus from the work itself. After two years, I was bored again.

After some soul searching for what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live, I set my heart on the south of France and the largest international scientific project ever undertaken: ITER, the first full size nuclear fusion reactor. Fusion energy satisfied my desire to learn, and the Côte d’Azur my desire for sunshine and good wine.

In order to break into this field I needed to level up my education once more, with an MSc. in plasma physics at Queen’s University Belfast. I never did get the call back from France, but on a wet and windy evening in a Belfast Tesco my phone rang and the voice asked if I would like to do a PhD in fusion energy in Italy. Two weeks later I was having pizza and a Chianti in Padua, a city near Venice, and the dream of France got quickly replaced by my new happy reality.

One PhD and two postdoc contracts later, I found myself 8 years in Italy with some very good friends and an Italian wife. The work that I had done had been very interesting, however the work had begun to become routine and the large scale projects I was involved in were not very agile. Both myself and my wife wanted to give ourselves a career boost abroad, and we settled on Ireland, where there was no fusion energy for me, but a lot of opportunity in photonics: a fast-paced, interdisciplinary and fast growing area that captured my interest. I was here I was fortunate enough to get a position on the MSCA Sparkle postdoctoral program with IPIC (Irish Photonic Integration Centre).

If someone asked, what/who inspired me to go to academia, I guess the answer would be my boredom. I didn’t know that this was my path starting out, I just always tried to go towards what made me excited to learn, and move away from the places I felt stagnant. If there was one piece of advice I would give someone who maybe is unsure of their way forward I would say embrace change. Change is very scary, changing job, changing city, changing language, but taking that leap time and time again as brought me places I never expected and experiences I would never exchange.

Sparkle has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 847652 and from Science Foundation Ireland.