When Kate Ruddock started at Trinity, she knew one thing: she loved science. In secondary school, she fell in love with exploring new phenomena and figuring out “how stuff worked” and so it was a no-brainer that she would pursue a degree in the natural sciences as an undergraduate.
But 18 years later, this passion continues. Today, Ruddock is a scientific researcher for Green Party TD’s and Senator in the Houses of the Oireachtas. On any given day, she can be found delving into the science behind the policy proposals of party members, and providing her evidence-based knowledge to politicians to create more practical, truly feasible pieces of legislation. Not only is Ruddock a researcher but she is also a politician herself. In October of last year, she saw an opportunity to become a Green Party Counselor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and simply could not pass it up.
This great passion for the environment really took form for Ruddock while at Trinity. In her later years of university, Ruddock narrowed her degree’s focus to a specialisation in Geography. Though she admits that she “didn’t really have a professional goal in mind” when she picked geography, Ruddock explained that she admires the beauty of the natural world and having the opportunity to figure it out was really appealing to her.
Outside of class, Ruddock got involved with a number of societies. “… I was in the geography society. No surprises there, I think everybody was […] we did a lot of field trips around Ireland, which were loads of fun. […] We went on one [trip to] Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, which was great… I still have friends from there today.”
Though Geography became the focus of Ruddock’s college experience, she pursued other interests as well. For all four years of her degree she was involved with the Athletics club and would eventually become one of the club’s captains. Running was a great outlet for her both socially and physically and the habits she picked up while on the club still remain in her life today.
“We trained together, we went to competitions. It was a really supportive atmosphere. […] I still run today […] I feel it’s the easiest, cheapest way of getting exercise and also feeling good. And you can do it really with nothing.”
When she wasn’t studying in the library, exploring the landscape of Ireland with Geogsoc, or running around the College cricket pitch, Ruddock adored Phil and Hist debates: “I used to go and listen to their debates as well. I never took part in any of them but […] it was just a lot of learning and listening and being interested in what other people had to say and the different perspectives that I really enjoyed.”
By the time that Ruddock reached her fourth year at College, it was time for her to complete a dissertation. Of all the experiences that she had at University, Ruddock believes this was probably the most formative as it not only required her to conduct research — which would help her professionally — but it also meant leaving Ireland and travelling to a completely unknown place. “I did mine with David Taylor and we did it on climate change, based on pollen and these things called phytolith, small parts of grass records. And we actually did it as part of a bigger research project that he was working on in Africa. So we went to Zambia and did the research there, field research, collecting all the samples, came back and analysed it under the microscopes in the labs there in the museum building. The trip […] was really formative, and gave me a view into a different type of world that I hadn’t experienced before.”
While Ruddock’s College experience was filled with incredible experiences like this, there were also hardships along the way. “There were loads of times in college that I struggled with various things, from relationships to college work to finance to, you know, just having any money, which is difficult. I worked all the way through so that I could support myself through college. I was lucky enough to live at home for the first while. And then I lived on campus for a while. But it was always a, like, delicate balance of trying to keep going. And I guess they’re life lessons that you take with you, aren’t they?”
These very life lessons were instrumental in Ruddock’s success after graduation. In 2007, she began her master’s degree in Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh and during this time, she watched the importance of climate change as an issue to the general public rise significantly. Ruddock felt like society was turning a corner. But then the 2008 recession happened. “It [climate change] was a really big topic at the time, and countries were starting to pass laws on climate…and then the recession started. And that issue just fell off the political agenda, I suppose. […] It was really scary that that could happen.”
The fact that environmental sustainability was starting to fade into the background of public discourse did not stop Ruddock from making it her life’s mission to address environmental issues. Soon after completing her masters, Ruddock stayed in Scotland and started work with an environmental consultancy firm. After this, she moved back to Ireland and joined an NGO called Friends of the Earth, where she made significant progress in making solar panels more accessible to schools: “there were so many barriers, with planning permission, and no grants and it was totally economically unviable. And I’m really proud that now all of those barriers have been lifted […] and there are grants (for solar panels) if you want them […] they’ve promised since last year that all schools will be able to get solar panels for free. So like the change in that space has been massive”.
After working at Friends of the Earth, Ruddock started doing research with the Green Party, and this led her to her current second job as Green Party Counselor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. With every new issue that Ruddock takes on in this role, she always tries to inject sustainability into its solution. Currently, the Council is working on the reallocation of road space “to make it better and easier for people to walk and cycle around the community”. Ruddock also notes that the Council is doing “a huge amount of work on housing […] trying to get new and refurbished housing onto the market for social housing, affordable housing, cost rental housing, there’s a few very large projects happening in Dún Laoghaire on that.”
When asked more generally about the future of our climate and what she thinks is truly possible in terms of sustainability, Ruddock said: “We can do anything […] the pandemic showed us that we can literally change the way we live overnight.
“We can do anything […] the pandemic showed us that we can literally change the way we live overnight.
Looking back on her College experience and how it set her up to take on such exciting jobs today, Ruddock said: “Everything that you do in college is a learning experience. Life learning and academic learning, they mix into one. […] to be educated in a place where there were lots and lots of other people from lots of different places, with lots of different ideas, and having the opportunity to be able to debate and negotiate and learn and have your eyes wide open to the world is a really valuable experience
having the opportunity to be able to debate and negotiate and learn and have your eyes wide open to the world is a really valuable experience
Ruddock’s advice to current College students is as follows: “Don’t be afraid to get involved, do what you like, and talk to loads of people.”