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International Women’s Day 2024- Inspiring Inclusion: Dr Han Shao

Posted on: 11 Mar 2024

International Women’s Day 2024- Inspiring Inclusion: Dr Han Shao

International Women’s Day takes place today (March 8th). The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2024 is Inspire Inclusion, emphasising the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society.

To mark International Women’s Day this year, UCC Innovation are proud to showcase three women within our UCC Innovation ecosystem, who Inspire Inclusion through their innovative endeavours.

Dr Han Shao is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Tyndall National Institute and Founder and Technical Lead at SoilSensei. Han describes herself as being passionate about research and is constantly seeking opportunities to create significant societal impact. She received her PhD in Chemistry from UCC in 2018, and her current work focuses primarily on the development of nanomaterial-based electrochemical sensors, with a particular emphasis on their application in diverse agricultural contexts. Since 2018, Han has been an academic collaborator with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre, VistaMilk, actively participating in numerous engagement events with academic experts, multinational companies, key stakeholders, and the public.

As well as the above, Han and her team have developed SoilSensei - a nutrient sensor platform that will help farmers to optimize their fertilizer usage by providing accurate data in situ in real time. Through the use of the SoilSensei platform, farmers can optimize their fertilizer application on a daily basis by using the data collected by sensors, which will lead to reduction in costs as well as increased yields, whilst also dramatically reducing pollution run-off. This groundbreaking technology has garnered significant recognition, including the Research Emerging from a 3rd Level Institution Award at the National Ploughing Championships 2022 and the UCC Innovator of the Year award at the UCC Research Awards in the same year.

Through engaging in various education and public engagement events such as the Cork Carnival of Science and the National Ploughing Championships, Han was inspired to delve into the world of entrepreneurship.

“When interacting with the general public, farmers and prospective customers at these events, I have gained valuable insights that convinced me of the potential my technology has for commercialisation. Currently, we are investigating the potential for a spin-out initiative, and a feasibility study is in progress to help us further understand market needs, and to formulate a robust business plan.”

According to the sixth annual report of the Balance for Better Business Review Group, Irish businesses have made significant progress in achieving gender balance at Board level over the past year. However, women still encounter obstacles when engaging in entrepreneurship. Han believes that societal expectations and norms may discourage women from pursuing an entrepreneurial career.

“It can be challenging to balance familial responsibility and entrepreneurial pursuits due to the lack of supportive policies and workplace cultures. Insufficient representation of women in STEM fields leads to limited women in leadership positions resulting in a lack of successful women entrepreneurs as role models. These roadblocks require a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including policymakers, investors, educators, and the broader entrepreneurial community, to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in entrepreneurship.”

A firm believer in fostering and inspiring inclusion in entrepreneurship, Han prioritises diversity and the promotion of equal opportunities in her professional life. She volunteers as a member of Tyndall’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Team. Tyndall is home to over 600 staff and students from over 50 countries, and the EDI team at Tyndall is committed to working towards equality of opportunity for all.

“We emphasise creating environments that value and embrace differences, ensuring representation from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and perspectives. Tyndall is in line with Athena Swan, a framework that is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality in higher education and research. Our EDI Team in Tyndall also does great work in supporting women’s equality in the workplace. We have female leaders, Principal Investigators, etc. in Tyndall, which is fantastic and very encouraging to see.”

Han is an advocate for encouraging and involving women and girls in entrepreneurship, having actively participated in several promotional campaigns to convey the message to a broader community that women excel in this field, including in the Women in Tyndall video series. She will be speaking at the Women in STEM summit 2024 next week in Croke Park. Han emphasises the importance of these opportunities, as well as how the availability of training resources has enhanced her entrepreneurial journey. She has taken part in a number of initiatives, including Tyndall Explorer, National Deep Tech Pre-Accelerator – which she went on to win with her team’s project NELSON IN 2023, and the Empowering Women Development Programme, facilitated by Gillian McGrath of Change, Grow, Succeed.

“I participated in the Empowering Women Development Programme a few years ago and this initiative significantly contributed to my entrepreneurial and leadership development, bolstering my confidence and facilitating the establishment of a professional network with peers. Women make great entrepreneurs as they tend to exhibit robust empathetic abilities, high level of adaptability, effective communication, and a keen attention to detail. These attributes contribute to their proficiency in building effective networks, demonstrating ethical leadership, and executing excellent management practices. Training resources and campaigns are integral to ensuring that we continue to encourage more women into entrepreneurship.”

To find out more about how you can Inspire Inclusion this International Women’s Day, visit