Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Aoife Mc Dermott from Department of Education and Skills to give some advice for people considering this job:

Aoife Mc Dermott


Department of Education and Skills

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Aoife Mc Dermott
The most important thing is that you like your subject area! It?s also important to do as well as you can throughout your degree. For example, I applied for PhD scholarship during my final year, so they were looking at my first, second and third year results. Finally, I find that liking people helps a lot.

Not surprisingly, some aspect of the natural sciences will run through the Naturalists interests - from ecological awareness to nutrition and health. People with an interest in horticulture, land usage and farming (including fish) are Naturalists.

Some Naturalists focus on animals rather than plants, and may enjoy working with, training, caring for, or simply herding them. Other Naturalists will prefer working with the end result of nature's produce - the food produced from plants and animals. Naturalists like solving problems with solutions that show some sensitivity to the environmental impact of what they do. They like to see practical results, and prefer action to talking and discussing.
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Marie Kissane - Process Chemist

In my role as a process chemist, I am responsible for ensuring that active pharmaceutical intermediates (API’s) are manufactured to the highest quality standard in a safe manner. My role is very diverse, and the main skills required are communication, teamwork, organisational and flexibility.

Describe a typical day?

My day starts with a meeting with representatives from areas such as engineering, production and quality where we discuss how the manufacturing process is running and we will address any issues. After that I could be working in the lab running some experiments, writing up reports at my desk, attending meetings and seminars.

What’s cool?

To see a process which you may have helped to develop in the lab on mg scale running in the manufacturing plant on a scale of 100’s of Kg is probably the most fulfilling aspect of the job.

What are the main challenges?

Each day can throw up a new challenge, and the role requires flexibility to adapt to whatever challenges come your way!

Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

The person that had the most influence on my decision to pursue a career in science was my secondary school science teacher. I did physics for my Leaving Cert as I attended a small school and chemistry was not available, and I did a general science course in first year in college with the intention of majoring in physics in second year.

However, it was chemistry that I really enjoyed during first year, and I decided to major in chemistry in second year instead. There were extra chemistry classes for students who had not studied chemistry for their Leaving Cert, and it was the tutor for these that really instilled my love of chemistry.

The summer before the final year of my degree, I secured a 3 month placement at Pfizer pharmaceuticals. I found this really enjoyable, and knew that a career in the pharmaceutical industry was the path that I wanted to follow. My colleagues there recommended that I pursue a PhD as this would present greater opportunities long term. My PhD supervisor has also had a major influence on my career, and was always available for advice and presented me with lots of career enhancing opportunities.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Work/life balance is something that is constantly promoted in my job. Management are very conscious that people achieve a good work/life balance, as they are aware that long term this will be of most benefit to the company as it prevents burn out of people. I enjoy running and keeping fit, and my job allows me plenty of time for such activities.

What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?

In addition to the core subjects, I studied French, Physics, Construction Studies and Technical Graphics for my Leaving Certificate. I attended a small school and subjects such as Chemistry and Applied Maths were not available. Physics was my favourite subject in school, and I did a general science degree during my first year in college with the intention of majoring in physics in second year.

What is your education to date?

I did my Leaving Cert in St. Joesphs Secondary School, Ballybunion, Co Kerry and then got a B.Sc. in Chemistry (First Class Honours), from University College Cork. In 2007, I completed a Certificate in Process and Chemical Engineering, in University College Cork. Modules include: Process Engineering and Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer and Applied Thermodynamics, Separation Processes and Particle Processing. From 2004-2009 I worked on my Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, also in University College Cork.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

My PhD was a great foundation for my current role. It helped to develop independent thinking and also involved a lot of project management in order to achieve certain goals within certain timelines. During my PhD, I took a night class and studied for a certificate in Process and Chemical Engineering. In the pharmaceutical industry, engineers and chemists work together closely, and in this course I learned all about the role that an engineer has and the type of work they do, which was of great benefit to me when I started working in the pharmaceutical industry.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

The job is hard work but very rewarding. In addition to the technical skills needed through either a science or engineering degree, the ability to work well as part of a team is one of the key attributes needed in this role. Good communication skills and flexibility are also essential.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Work experience in a laboratory (not necessarily with a pharmaceutical company, could even be in a university) would give good insight into the role of a process chemist.

Article by: Smart Futures