In 2020, the University of Limerick launched the world’s first Doctoral Level Apprenticeship Programme, the Principal Engineer Professional Doctorate (PDEng), with participation largely funded under the Generation Apprenticeship initiative. This forms part of the government’s plan to position apprenticeships within the broader education and training landscape, offering an attractive route to a broad range of careers.

Separately, a 2020 Engineering Ireland Report showed that 61% of female engineers believe that the engineering sector still offers better opportunities for men. While the PDEng programme is not specifically targeted at women, what has been the response from female engineers?

According to Philomena Kelly, programme manager, Flexible Learning Centre at the UL School of Engineering, female intake has increased threefold in just one year. “We actively encourage female applicants. Given that just 14% of bachelor’s graduates from engineering-related programmes in Ireland are women, we are delighted to see that they now represent 33% of student numbers on our professional doctorate programme.”

Unique programme

Prof Noralee Kennedy, vice-president of research at UL, echoes this sentiment: “I am delighted that UL is hosting this unique programme and I am especially proud that the programme has four female candidates. Excellent research with impact is at the core of UL’s research strategy and this programme is a perfect example of connecting research to professional careers.”

Claire Monahan, senior engineer

The first female on the programme, Claire Monahan, senior engineer, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care in Limerick, is now in Year 2. She holds a master’s in material science engineering, and is one of three participants from Johnson & Johnson. “Gaining a doctorate will help me advance to principal engineer. One of the programme requirements is the ability to apply research to solve real-world problems. This fits perfectly as research is an integral part of my role I analyse the microstructure of new materials and assess the feasibility of new technologies.”

Sridevi Gowri, senior process engineer

A new recruit to the programme, Sridevi Gowri, senior process engineer, also with Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, and who holds a master’s in biotechnology and a diploma in professional engineering, said: “In my role, I focus on improving production yield, performance and throughput. I previously completed 18 months of a traditional PhD in India but this programme is about real-world research, where I can apply learnings directly to my work.”

Kieran O’Connell, engineering director, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care believes that the number of women participants reflects the J&J culture and long-term commitment to fostering female engineering talent through all levels of the apprentice programme as well as WiSTEM2D, which includes outreach to primary, secondary and third level students.


Describing the programme as a win-win, Kieran McSherry, senior director of global manufacturing engineering, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care said: “Employees gain new qualifications without having to take a four-year career break. And, within our company, we are advancing our research skills, which will help drive innovation over the long term.”

Dr Vivienne Patterson, head of skills and engagement, Higher Education Authority, said: "Increasing female participation in apprenticeships is a strategic priority in the new Action Plan for Apprenticeships.

"Achieving gender equality in engineering apprenticeships is particularly challenging and so to reach 33% female participation in this new engineering doctorate apprenticeship at UL is a huge achievement and great news from a gender and equality perspective."

For further information about the Principal Engineer doctorate or any of our higher level apprenticeships, please email