Stick Smarts

SEAS junior Murdoch balances double-concentration, starting spot on Harvard field hockey team

image of Soifra Murdoch playing field hockey

Siofra Murdoch moves the ball downfield in Harvard’s Oct. 3 field hockey home match against the University of New Hampshire (Credit: Harvard Athletics) 

This December, Siofra Murdoch, S.B. ‘23., will be taking her final exams from Johannesburg, South Africa. The Dublin native will be representing Ireland on the under-21 national field hockey team at the Junior World Cup. 

Balancing athletic success and academic discipline is nothing new for Murdoch. She showed that at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, where she played four sports for the Spartans and was a 2019 National Merit semifinalist.

At Harvard, Murdoch is concentrating in both biomedical engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and neuroscience. As starting defensive back, she helped lead the Crimson field hockey team to their first-ever NCAA Final Four.

Today, 12th-ranked Harvard plays No. 7 Northwestern University in the Division I national semifinals in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

“She’s fearless,” said Harvard field hockey coach Tjerk van Herwaarden.  “She really has excellent timing in getting her stick on the ball when she plays on defense. She possesses all the skills and composure to have her eyes up and make smart decisions.”

Murdoch has had success on the field hockey pitch since she was little. But while she was scoring goals and drawing national attention, she was also developing an interest in biomedical engineering.

“I’ve always been a STEM-oriented student,” she said. “I took lots of physics and biology and chemistry classes and coming into freshman year I thought biomedical engineering was what I wanted to do.”

A freshman seminar in neuroscience sparked an interest in that field as well. After a conversation with Linsey Moyer, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in Biomedical Engineering, Murdoch ended up declaring in both fields.

“I love that biomedical engineering covers a broad range of maths and sciences, which allows me to explore multiple subjects,” Murdoch said. “Additionally, the content is directly applicable to my life. It’s very cool to be able to understand and model what’s going on in your body.”

“She was a very active participant in class,” said Moyer, who became Murdoch’s academic advisor. “She came to office hours often, asked a lot of good questions and was clearly very engaged.”

Murdoch has already applied what she’s learned at SEAS. She spent her sophomore spring semester as an intern at iBrux, a Dublin-based start-up that is developing a dental sensor and connected mobile application.

Her work with iBrux led to her being named to the Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition Class of 2021.  

image of Soifra Murdoch playing field hockey

Siofra Murdoch is double-concentrating in bioengineering and neuroscience while starting on defense for Harvard’s field hockey team. (Credit: Harvard Athletics)

“It was incredibly rewarding,” Murdoch said. “I learned how incredibly complicated applying for FDA medical device approval is. It’s the most tedious process I have ever encountered. I will not be rushing back to do that one again, but actually working in a lab was super fun.”

Double-concentrating at Harvard is hard enough but try doing it as a student-athlete. Division I field hockey is a year-round commitment. Players attend weight room sessions and conditioning workouts in the winter, then there’s an intercollegiate spring season.

Time-management is an important skill for Murdoch and her teammates, who use whatever free minutes they have to focus on schoolwork.

“The biggest tools from my athletic career that apply in both the lab and the classroom are time management and staying composed in stressful situations,” Murdoch said.

Recently, the team had a three-hour snow delay before a game. Instead of using that time to relax or goof off, the team dutifully opened their laptops to catch up on schoolwork.

“I can’t even think about opening up my computer and doing some work when I’m about to play one of the most important games of my life for Harvard, but all of them, Siofra included, they just do what they have to do,” said van Herwaarden.

Murdoch’s  family first moved from Dublin to New York before coming to Austin in 2014. She earned national recognition with her two field hockey clubs and was a two-time captain, All-American, and state scoring leader at the varsity level for St. Stephen’s.

After playing multiple positions as a Harvard freshman in 2019, Murdoch settled into right back for 2021. She’s started 17 of her team’s 18 games at that position and ranks third in total minutes played, helping anchor a top-ranked defense that’s only given up seven goals all fall. 

Last season’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic made this season all the more important, said Murdoch.

“We all just want it more, because we know what it was like when it was taken away from us,” said Murdoch.

Topics: Bioengineering, Undergraduate Student Profile

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