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.

Administrative people are interested in work that offers security and a sense of being part of a larger process. They may be at their best operating under supervisors who give clear guidelines, and performing routine tasks in a methodical and reliable way.

They tend to enjoy clerical and most forms of office work, where they perform essential administrative duties. They often form the backbone of large and small organisations alike. They may enjoy being in charge of office filing systems, and using computers and other office equipment to keep things running smoothly. They usually like routine work hours and prefer comfortable indoor workplaces.
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Sharon Davin - Solar Energy Researcher

Right from secondary school I knew I wanted to work in science and I chose subjects that would allow me to do this (with French and music for fun). Looking back on it now, it would have been good to do a business subject too, but I really hated it in school.

I loved the lab work side of my degree in DCU, so it seemed like the perfect choice to do a PhD there, and I felt that working in the area of the environmental research was a worthwhile cause. Outside of science, my main hobby is in musical theatre and I have been on the committee of the Glasnevin Musical Society for the last number of years. Skills that I have honed there in marketing, publicity and dealing with people have been very useful in my current job.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

My dad was a manager in our local brewery and had to wear a white lab coat to work. Perhaps this influenced me from an early age! My older sister is also a scientist, and I think that a love of science was ingrained in both of us from our biology teacher, Mrs Cashin, in the Presentation Secondary School in Kilkenny. My PhD supervisor, Dr Brid Quilty, really helped me in deciding what to do with my degrees.

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

Choosing a PhD in biotechnology was very rewarding but one of the main drawbacks was growing cells! Like us, they need time to grow and to be fed, so it can take a little bit of juggling to balance work/study and life. It is also a tough choice to delay having some of life’s luxuries as you don’t earn the same wages as colleagues who go into industry after their degree. However, PhD student stipends are fairly good now, so you can still plan that holiday in the sun. Having a PhD has allowed me to develop my career beyond the lab from lecturing to my current role in research management. Although my current job as a project manager for a SFI Research Cluster on solar energy conversion is busy, there is always a new challenge every day to keep my interest.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

My job encompasses a wide range of tasks within the project, from replying to general queries, setting up meetings and taking minutes, publicity and materials, fostering new industrial and academic links, education and outreach, financial management, new student recruitment, intellectual property rights, conference organisation and reporting.

What’s “cool” about your position?

I love being part of a new project that really has the potential to contribute hugely not only to life in Ireland, but to society as a whole. Energy is such a fundamental concern in everybody’s life, and being able to utilise solar energy for everyday living, at a more competitive price than is currently available, will be awesome.

What is your education to date?

I loved science right from the start of school and really focused on it for my Leaving Cert by taking on biology, chemistry and applied mathematics. National Certificate in Applied Science (Chemistry) from Waterford IT BSc in Biotechnology and PhD in Biotechnology from DCU

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

Because biotechnology covers a wide berth of science and engineering, it has really given me the ability to see the bigger picture and potential in projects. A PhD and research really focuses your talents in organisation, planning and being able to critically review your research. These are very important skills in my current role.

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

I really enjoyed my PhD graduation and having all my family and friends with me on the day, which also coincided with my birthday! It can be easy to forget that it is a big achievement not only for you, but for your family too.

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

I bring an inherent sense of calmness and organisation to the table, along with the ability to interact with all colleagues in a friendly manner.

What is your dream job?

Owning a bookshop-café and being in charge of making the desserts. I love to bake. Well I guess pastry is another type of science!

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

A couple of years of post-doctoral research experience provides you with a good background to a research manager post. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job? You need to be inter
ested, organised and flexible – core skills for any managerial role.

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

A background in research is essential and an understanding of research policy, commercialisation and funding avenues in Ireland is also helpful.

Article by: Smart Futures