Professor Mary Donnelly, School of Law
Mary Donnelly, Professor of Law
College: Business & Law
Research Interests: Medical/capacity law & consumer protection
IRIS profile: http://research.ucc.ie/profiles/B012/mdonnelly
What first attracted you to your academic discipline?
I fell into law - and it took me quite some time (well past my undergraduate graduation) to learn to love it. But gradually, I became more and more fascinated, especially by the relationship between law and broader society. I think the pieces started to come together for me during a wonderfully stimulating year in 1992-93 as a student on one of the first years of the MA in Women's Studies at UCC. This was such a rich course, covering philosophy, sociology and history as well as law, with truly inspiring teachers (Dr Dolores Dooley, Professor Caroline Fennell, Dr Aveen Henry and Dr Liz Steiner-Scott). Through this, for the first time, I began to see law not as a discipline apart but as something which had a profound impact (and not always in the ways you might expect) on the world we live in. I still remain a committed inter-disciplinarian.
How were you drawn to your current research interests?
Although I work in quite disparate areas (mostly particularly health/capacity law and consumer law), there are strong conceptual links around themes of autonomy, power, the role of markets and the role of the state, both protective and coercive. I'm especially interested in the 'grey' areas of law in practice and in figuring out how things actually work and with the dissonances between law in the books and law in action. So, in a way, all human life is there - the mystery to me is that everyone isn't similarly fascinated.
What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?
I am very proud of my PhD students (past and current). It has been a joy to watch them develop their skills and thinking - and to see them surmount the inevitable difficulties that completing a PhD entails. I am happy to say that all of my graduated PhDs have full-time academic posts and are committed, hard-working and interesting academics, who are making hugely worthwhile contributions to Irish academic life. It has been immensely rewarding to have played some small part in their development.
Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?
I admire scholars who combine academic rigour with a lightness of touch and a breadth of vision, and who have a commitment to social progress but also an awareness of the contingencies of history. Martha Minnow, the former Dean of Harvard Law School seems to me to combine all of these features (not to mind leading (arguably) the best law school in the world).
What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?
Teaching - on a good day, there is nothing to beat it (I won't mention the bad days). Supervision - when a student's project starts to come together. Writing - on the good days. I also really enjoy collaborating on research - it is truly wonderful to have a part in producing something that you could never have produced on your own - and generally a lot more fun.
Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?
I have been lucky in the Law School in that we have always had strong female academic leaders. I am conscious that because of this I have been spared much of the kind of sexist attitudes that colleagues a few years older or working in different environments have experienced. Bearing this in mind, I am very conscious that environment really matters and that women who have achieved some degree of success owe a duty to support and encourage colleagues.
Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?
I don't think I have yet quite figured out balance - either work/life or research/admin/teaching. So I would tell a student/younger colleague/younger me that this is a work in progress - and not to be too hard on themselves. I would remind them too of Hofstadter's law (it always takes longer than you think even when you take account of the fact that it always takes longer than you think). And I would say that this is not a bad thing. Anything worthwhile takes time and patience. And most good thinking happens in unexpected places (including loading the washing machine).