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Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be drawn towards the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.

BioPharmachem Ireland

If you are looking for an excellent employment opportunity that offers stability, good potential, and plenty of professional challenge, consider the pharmaceutical industry.

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Fergus O'Connell - Quality Officer
Fergus O'Connell - Quality Officer
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Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Fergus works as a Senior Quality Officer in Teva Pharmaceuticals in Waterford. He completed his Leaving Cert with three Science subjects and went on to University College Cork to complete a degree in Microbiology. He started in Teva as a QA (Quality Assurance) Analyst and worked up to his current position.

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What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I was always interested in Science from a very young age and so it wasn't too big a stretch to end up studying all three science subjects for my leaving certificate. I always had an eye on studying science in college but had no idea which area of science I wanted to end up in. I always assumed I'd figure it out in college.

I studied microbiology in College (UCC University College Cork) mainly chosen as it encompassed all three scientific disciplines (biology, chemistry and physics) in equal proportions. I wasn't really interested in focusing on biochemistry, zoology or physics specifically so it was a nice mix. Towards the end of college years I was still looking to see what I would do after. I must admit that I didn't really see myself working in a lab although it wouldn't have been the end of the world.

A friend told me about a FAS course she had looked up in Quality Assurance (QA). Having investigated it I knew right away it might be something I'd be interested in. I applied and was accepted. Around the same time SAYIT (the student travel group) contacted me asking if I would like to apply for a J1 visa to work in the USA. I had spent the previous two summers in San Francisco on J1 visas and wanted to go back.

I approached one of my Professors in UCC asking if perhaps he knew any laboratories around San Francisco would might be interested in taking someone on for the summer. He put me in contact with an ex-PhD student working in the University of California at Davis who in turn put me in contact with his Professor. The university organised a different J1 visa for me as the student visa wouldn't allow me to work in a lab.

I delayed beginning the FAS course until the following year and spent 6 months in UCDavis working within the Plant Pathology Department (but mainly working on bacteria).

This experience while absolutely brilliant, confirmed two very important things for me: 1 - I didn't want to do a PhD (my professor in California wanted me to take one on although I would have considered a Masters - one wasn't available) and 2 - I didn't want to work in a lab for my entire career.

After 6 months I returned to Ireland and took up a position on the FAS course. This was a very good course as it not only taught Quality Assurance skills to the class against an ISO standard but also gave industrial experience which can be very difficult to obtain sometimes.

FAS also had a student placement scheme with Schering Plough which I applied for and was accepted. Therefore on completion of the QA FAS course I proceeded to Schering Plough.

After 3 months I was given a contract with Schering. My work there was in the IPC department (In-Process Control) however it wasn't Quality Assurance per se. After 18 months with Schering Plough I applied for and was offered a job as a QA analyst with IVAX Pharmaceuticals in Waterford city (now TEVA Pharmaceuticals).

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My family and especially my friends played a big part in all my career decisions so far as they became sounding boards for me. I made the decisions obviously but I always talked to a lot of people to get everyones opinion on various issues (pros and cons etc). I think it's important to talk to people who aren't afraid to tell you what you may not want to hear or perhaps what you need to hear.

How did you go about getting your current job?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My current job arose from a restructuring of the Quality Function within IVAX. I was a QA (Quality Assurance) analyst in the Inhalations business for three years when I applied for a Senior QA Officer role. I was interviewed and offered a role in the Solid Dose business. One of the key questions in the interview was 'what would you change'. The company was looking for new ideas. My manager called me into his office and told the company wanted to offer me a position telling me that my work ethic and ability to make hard decisions played a big part in their decision.

Describe a typical day?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My typical day starts with checking in on any projects currently ongoing (a lot can change since the previous day). Everyday is different in so far as each day will present different challenges or issues which require immediate attention.

My current role is overseeing the process validation group of the solid dose business. Project timelines can be anywhere from a few days to several months. Each one has key milestones which must be delivered on time or the whole project will be delayed.

A big challenge is to ensure I always know what needs to be done today in order to be able to do what needs to be done tomorrow. I am constantly looking out days, weeks and months ahead planning activities for the group.

Rewards don't happen every day but they do come. The pressures of the job are often high as projects deadlines don't move but that can sometimes work to your advantage. It helps focus the mind. Is it enjoyable? - on the whole yes. As one project ends you are already heavily involved in others so there is little time to relax. Most days involve a lot of meetings between which actions from those meetings need to be done.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My overall responsibility is to ensure validation projects and new product introductions are delivered on time for the business. As the business expands efficiencies of processes may need to be improved and if changes are made to the processes then they may need to be revalidated. Also new products are required by our customers on certain dates and so project timelines become a big focus to ensure we deliver as a business.

Troubleshooting and operational support are the two biggest aspects of my job. The group which reports to me often require my input for difficult issues encountered during validation projects. I like to encourage discussion within the group to instill a common approach across all projects.

What are the main challenges?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Keeping track of multiple projects and ensuring each is adequately resourced on any given day is the main challenge. Just because a project is due to start two months from now doesn't mean nothing needs to be done today. Also projects may encounter big hurdles which will pull resources from the group and this may have knock-on effects to other projects. That can be difficult to manage to ensure minimal delays occur elsewhere.

What's cool?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I like the fact that my job gets me involved with all aspects of the business - planning, purchasing, finance, engineering, human resources etc. It is this diversity of contacts which ensures that each day is different and interesting. I also like the pressure in my job. I'm never short of something to do.

What's not so cool?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Changing timelines place additional pressures on the group. Sometimes this is necessary from a business perspective. Validation project deadlines can be pulled in a few days or weeks (sometimes at short notice) and so all the activities of the validation group need to be reassessed to meet the new date.

There can be an expectation that the group just has to figure out a way to get it done ("nothing is ever impossible to the guy who doesn't have to do it himself"). Somehow we always manage to get it done albeit with additional stress but that's one of the aspects I like about my job.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I think laterally around issues and encourage active, intelligent debate between people. This is important to ensure all aspects/impacts of an issue have been considered. I also like to argue the opposite viewpoint for the same reason. I encourage people to listen to those who disagree with them, as their viewpoint may have merit.

I have good organisational and leadership skills. While my keen eye for detail is obviously important for this job, my ability to quickly recognise the impact one change to a procedure/process can have on other procedures/processes is important to making discussions. One always has to consider all of the potential issues arising from even the most minor change.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I chose to study all three science subjects in school. Like every student I guess, I was unsure whether this was a good decision or not but felt it better to study what I enjoyed.

I wanted to study science in college but was unsure of where I wanted to end up working within the field of science. This was an important choice for my career as a broad knowledge of science is hugely beneficial when dealing with day-to-day issues in a pharmaceutical company.

My choice to study microbiology also gave me a broad scientific background which also helps in my current job. I believe these were good choices in hindsight. I'm not sure I would have done anything differently as the three sciences were an important basis for my college education, my FAS training and ultimately my current studies in Trinity College.

What is your education to date?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Secondary school (important subjects) - Maths (honours), the three science subjects.

College (UCC) - Microbiology

FAS - Quality Assurance. This lasted six months providing a good education in quality assurance and the broader contributions/implications of quality. It also provided valuable placement experience in a pharmaceutical company. This is sometimes (and all too often) difficult for new graduates to obtain.

Current studies - Masters in Pharmaceutical Technology, Trinity College Dublin

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

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

The FAS training course in Quality Assurance was of particular importance to my current job. Modules such as the 'cost of quality' which examined how much a company must invest into a product in order to guarantee its quality. The course had a high Statistics content which proves valuable from time to time.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

When offered my current role I was told that the business wanted change within the quality group. Six months after starting in my role my manager stated that the group of analysts (reporting to me at the time) were "functioning as a team. that has never happened before."

I made the QA group of analysts function more efficiently and made it more approachable to the business i.e. if the business needed something done I assigned a resource to it - basically making a system which was working badly (for whatever reason) work well again.

I have also been involved in several key projects for the business based around efficiencies and reducing backlog. Such projects can be long and arduous but when the benefits are seen it seems to make it worth while.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I have an eye for small details. This is something everyone who is good in a Quality function has. I think it is something which improves with time in the job but also something you need to have as an individual.

Its important to be able to recognise the small inconsistencies in reports, batch records etc. This quality also helps during incident investigations where even the smallest error can have huge ramifications.

I believe how one leads a group is very important. Being well organised, patient etc are all necessary qualities but an ability to make a call on an issue is equally important. I don't believe in dictatorial styles of leadership - they tend to ignore or be blind to important details.

The ability to listen is very important for working in quality. I prefer to get everyones opinion, no matter how off the wall it may seem, and then make the decision. This involves everyone and helps them feel they made a contribution - one should never underestimate how important that is in a group.

I was once told that there can be a big difference between doing something correctly and doing it well. A personal ambition to do everything well and not just correctly is something I have and which I think is important for my line of work. Obviously it doesn't always happen but that doesn't make the effort any less important.

What is your dream job?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Test-pilot. Something tells me it wouldn't be boring.

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

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My current job as a Senior Quality Officer affords me the ability to enjoy a reasonably high standard of living. I earn a good wage which allows me to live in a nice area, pay my mortgage, run my car etc while still leaving enough financial freedom to enjoy a nice social life and other activities. That said I'm not off on several holidays a year by any means. One a year is good going but with financial discipline, money can be put aside for it.

My job is reasonably flexible around my lifestyle as I no longer work shift. As a QA analyst (the job I held before I became a senior QA Officer) I was on four and three shift rotations. In such a role you're taking over from the previous shift and handing over to the next so the hours you are present on site are strictly controlled. On day shift as a senior QA officer if for some reason I need to leave a few minutes early on a given day I can come in early (with managements approval of course). I should mention that shift work can be very difficult at times and nobody I've ever met has had an easy time with it (especially night shifts).

My current role involves no shift work which is great for meeting up with friends and family. All said I have a good quality of life. Owing to the demands of my job for meeting my own deadlines and those of the people who report to me, it can be hard to switch off after work. Frequently I find myself thinking over issues from work while at home. As one rises in levels through a company I'm sure this becomes a more frequent thing and possibly even a necessary one at times.

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

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

My current job as a Senior Quality Officer affords me the ability to enjoy a reasonably high standard of living. I earn a good wage which allows me to live in a nice area, pay my mortgage, run my car etc while still leaving enough financial freedom to enjoy a nice social life and other activities. That said I'm not off on several holidays a year by any means. One a year is good going but with financial discipline, money can be put aside for it.

My job is reasonably flexible around my lifestyle as I no longer work shift. As a QA analyst (the job I held before I became a senior QA Officer) I was on four and three shift rotations. In such a role you're taking over from the previous shift and handing over to the next so the hours you are present on site are strictly controlled. On day shift as a senior QA officer if for some reason I need to leave a few minutes early on a given day I can come in early (with managements approval of course). I should mention that shift work can be very difficult at times and nobody I've ever met has had an easy time with it (especially night shifts).

My current role involves no shift work which is great for meeting up with friends and family. All said I have a good quality of life. Owing to the demands of my job for meeting my own deadlines and those of the people who report to me, it can be hard to switch off after work. Frequently I find myself thinking over issues from work while at home. As one rises in levels through a company I'm sure this becomes a more frequent thing and possibly even a necessary one at times.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

A broad science background is very important. An ability to recognise small inconsistencies is equally important. For example do you recognise small discrepancies between different camera shots of the same scene in films and TV series?

An ability to question everything and think laterally is important. Also the ability to say 'no' (not everyone is comfortable doing this). Working in quality is not about being popular and definitely not about being a tyrant but one needs to be approachable, consistent and have good interpersonal skills.

Not all of your decisions are going to be popular but they need to be based on a sound rationale and you need to be able to support them. One also needs to be acutely aware of the fact that your opinion won't always be right.

One must always be open to being convinced of an alternative argument.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

  1. Good interpersonal skills - a lot of information is gathered through discussion.
  2. Good eye for details - missing a single small detail can have huge knock-on effects. For example in the formulation of a tablet.
  3. Good project management skills - without these deadlines can be missed.

What is your favourite music?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Anything good (very subjective I know). Classical - anything from Mozart to Rachmaninov. I also enjoy modern pop music but it has to be good (early U2, ZZ top). Techno/rave? - absolutely no way. It's just noise to me!

What is your favourite film?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Scent of a Woman - Al Pacino was brilliant.

What is your pet hate at work?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

People who consistently state they're too busy to deal with things and yet never seem to miss a cigarette or tea break. Also people emailing messages when could just pick up the phone - the latter is so much more personal.

What is your star sign?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Leo - those who know me say it's obvious.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

I have partaken in a number of training programmes since taking on my current job including Performance Management, Conflict resolution, Lead Auditing, Internal auditing among others.

I am currently studying a Masters in Pharmaceutical Technology in Trinity College Dublin.

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

Fergus O'Connell, Quality Officer

Any experience within a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) or GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) environment would be helpful.

Project management would also be advantageous. Work experience within a pharmaceutical company would be ideal, however, if going in as a student one should state that exposure to GMP or GLP requirements is being sought. Often students enter companies and are placed in offices with little or no exposure to the day-to-day runnings of the operations and the regulations surrounding them.

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