Dr. Saoirse Tracy

Assistant Professor

Dr. Saoirse Tracy

Assistant Professor

Which organisation do you work for?

University College Dublin

A day in the life of…

My role involves teaching, research, leadership and admin. Everyday usually involves a bit of each. The time of year within the academic year determines a lot of the priorities for the week but also the season e.g. harvest, sowing etc.

How does your job fit within Soil Science?

I teach soil science modules to undergraduate and masters students. Everyone in my research group has a soil-based project they are working on.  My own research interests typically involve studying the response of roots to soil properties. I use X-ray CT to visualise soil pores and roots in 3D.

Why is this an interesting area to work in?

Soil is at the interface of how we grow food and produce materials to survive. It is a frontier in research and developments in this research area can have real-world impacts. It is crucial we understand how to manage our soils to enhance resilience.

Why Soil Science?

Every country has soil, everyone I know eats food grown on soil, so I thought it would be a wise area to work in, with plenty of job opportunities. My own world view is that soil is the basis of all life on earth and interacts with all of Earth’s spheres e.g. hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere etc so my curiosity to embrace it deeply remains.

What did you study?

My first soil science class was Geography at school. I then studied Environmental Science BSc at the University of Nottingham, UK. Several of the lecturers were soil scientists, but the most inspiring that taught me to understand soil as a 3D dynamic medium was Prof. Sacha Mooney, a previous BSSS President. I then completed a PhD on soil compaction and root systems.

What has your career path been so far?/ How did you begin your career?

After my PhD I completed a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship in the UK. The aim of this project was to improve water movement models in soil using X-ray CT. After this I moved to University College Dublin in Ireland for a job as an Assistant Professor and I have remained there since.

What is the best thing about your job?

Like every job, the people I work with, they continue to inspire me and my thirst for knowledge and knowing more through research has not quelled. I also enjoy the fact I can determine many of the paths I follow.

What skills, abilities and personal attributes are essential to success in your job/this field?

If you are someone who must see something through to completion, you will be successful. Kindness and honesty to yourself and others are crucial. I have had to learn to take a lot of things on the chin and if you get knocked down keep getting back up again.

What advice would you offer to young people interested in a career in soil science?

Get a qualification in soil science, it has opened so many doors for me. If you can find an undergraduate or masters degree with the word soil in do it. Go to the best University possible and ideally one with a reputation for soil science. Explore many areas of soil science, soil chemistry may not be your interest, but soil physics could light up your life.

Can you recommend other journals, magazines or professional associations which would be helpful for professional development?

Besides BSSS, if you work or study in Ireland you could join the Soil Science Society of Ireland.

If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? If not, what would you change?

Yes I would choose the same path, the only change I would make would be to pick a soil based undergraduate final year project. I thought I was in love with water chemistry for a brief period, but I was not. Its ok to change paths and making mistakes makes you realise where your true passion lies.

Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know

I saw Rage Against the Machine at Madison Square Gardens in August 2022.

Is there anything else that you would like to share relating to your work in soil science?

The British and Irish Soil Science Societies are co-hosting the Annual Conference in Belfast 4-5th December 2023. Please join us for what will be an excellent event talking soil science and with scientific and cultural tours.

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