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 Brian O'Connor from Smart Futures to give some advice for people considering this job:

 

Brian O'Connor

Analytical Chemist

Smart Futures

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  Brian O'Connor
Science is a fascinating subject and you truly have to immerse yourself in it. When you do the rewards are fantastic. It is of course a tough subject but once complete you learn how to solve many problems yourself.
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Patrick Power - Biomedical Scientist

Patrick Power, a Biomedical Science MSc graduate from NUI Galway, describes his work at the Galway-based medical device company Aerogen.

How did you go about getting your current position?

I worked with the company during university summer holidays and intended to work for them for six months after college to save some money. That was five years ago.

What are your main tasks and responsibilities?
  • Evaluation of product performance
  • Lab replication of clinical conditions
  • Design of new products/ new applications for existing products
  • Investigation of ways of improving device performance
  • Literature reviews
Describe a typical day or week…

Working for a small, high-tech company means a huge variety of daily activities. As a small company we have to be dynamic, meaning it is unlikely I will know what I will be doing a week or a month from now or who I will be working with. Each week throws up a new and interesting project or problem that has to be dealt with in an expedient and intelligent way. Each of these projects tends to be dealt with by a small cross-functional team that varies depending on the task at hand. Timelines can be tight but it’s always rewarding to work on life-saving technology.

What do you like best about the job?

Each day presents new challenges which keeps work interesting. The company is staffed by very intelligent and amicable people, who make working here both mentally stimulating and enjoyable. And what do you like least? Paperwork is probably the least favourite part of the day for anybody working in R&D. However, the value of the more interesting parts (experimentation, design, etc.) is diminished if it is not documented correctly.

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

Probably the biggest personal achievement was the invention of a device that improved performance five-fold for our surgical spin-off and has subsequently become the main platform for that application. However, every day we’re working on devices that save lives and that never ceases to be rewarding. For example I’m currently on a team working on delivering life-saving therapeutics to premature babies.

Does your role require particular skills?

A rational mind-set: application of scientific method, good note keeping, problem solving…

Flexibility: ability to work with or without rigid limits and to rapidly change between projects depending on what the company requires on any given day.

Ability to adjust mind-set from regimented to creative depending on task

Ability to see the bigger picture while focused on the small details Ability to think outside the box (clichéd but vital)

Good team player, ability to work well with a wide range of personality types

Be confident enough to back yourself, but open minded enough to be persuaded by other logical arguments

Interest in learning: read scientific papers and patents, watch scientific videos, talk to and listen to people in your field. Also look at other technology fields for ideas/inspiration.

In hindsight, is there anything in your career you would do differently now?

As I’m quite early in my career (almost five years) I have no major professional regrets. Aerogen is a great company and I thoroughly enjoy working here. However, in the future I may like to branch out from science.

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

Having a masters degree has become the bare minimum in science. However, doing one is expensive. I would recommend doing a part-time masters while working in a company that provides relevant work experience. Sure it makes for a tough couple of years, but you’re effectively doubling your value from an employment standpoint (education plus experience). Many science masters allow you to tie in your final-year project into your job, making things a little easier. If you get a chance to do a PhD after your degree, take it. Four years might seem a long time but it seems longer the older you get.

Are there particular kinds of work experience that would be beneficial to people thinking of a career in your sector?

Any lab experience is helpful, though it important to realise there is a world of difference between a medical manufacturing lab (“clean room” typically) and an R&D lab. Working in an R&D lab tends to be a lot more fun.

What other advice would you give someone considering this type of work?

Become familiar with the scientific method and thought process. It doesn’t particularly matter which science you practise it in, as it is largely transferable between the disciplines. Always carry out testing as per protocol but don’t become a drone – always be thinking of better ways to test or ways to improve what you’re testing. Always be learning.

Article by: Smart Futures