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 Mary Ita Heffernan from Health Service Executive to give some advice for people considering this job:


Mary Ita Heffernan

Social Worker

Health Service Executive

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  Mary Ita Heffernan

Whilst in secondary school, I changed my mind many a time regarding the career path I wanted to pursue! I always knew that I wanted to work with people but was unsure about the profession which would most suit my interests and skills in this regard.

While in school, I definitely found that being unsure about the type or area of work you want to pursue is a very difficult and confusing position to be in, especially given the array of career choices now available and the pressure one feels in trying to make one’s mind up.

To this end, I would strongly advise anybody in this position to research courses and job descriptions well in order to make the most informed decision possible at that time in your life. 

I recommend one tries to gain as much work experience as possible as it will provide you with valuable insight into your skills, ability, likes/dislikes for certain areas of employment!!!!

Also I would research the courses and job areas as much as possible so that you can make an informed decision regarding your choices. If you can't gain enough information in school, contact the college directly or arrange to talk to somebody who facilitates the course. In particular, it would be really valuable to talk to somebody in the profession to gain a realistic and practical insight into the job.


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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Paolo Fiorini - Head of Operations

Paolo Fiorini is the Vice President of Operations at Enbio. He talks to Smart Futures about his career path so far.

What are your main tasks?

As the Vice President of Operations in Enbio my duties are to take a process that has been developed by the Research and Development (R&D) team and to establish it as a stable manufacturing process. This begins at a planning level with the R&D team to design and develop the process further for manufacturing; establishing layout and process flow, operating and maintenance procedures, production management structures, quality control, operator training, health and safety, etc.

Upon establishing the facility as fit for manufacturing it is my duty to ensure it is maintained and to appropriately improve it by liaising with its Operation Manager, its Operators and the R&D team. Furthermore, it is my duty to integrate and provide engineering solutions to new processes, products and technologies that are introduced to the company. It is also my responsibility to liaise with the R&D team throughout their activities by providing my production and engineering expertise as necessary. Ultimately, my focus is to provide them with support in terms of development with a view to production.

What’s a typical day?

I can rarely predict my day. Other than big meetings which take precedence, everything else follows from what’s going on in the company. I work well like this so it isn’t a problem as I like the diversity. A lot of my work involves liaising with colleagues, customers or suppliers about their needs. I find that I have to make a lot of decisions and take responsibility in my role.

As head of operations I need to have a good understanding of how everything works as part of my job is to supervise and assist when there is a problem or hold up in production. This can involve robot programming, fixing machinery, quality inspections, ensuring procedures are carried out correctly, etc. I’d say I spend 50% of my time at the computer writing emails, reports and planning, 30% of my time on the production floor and 20% at meetings.

What are the aspects you like best about the job?

Working within a good team. Being paid for what I am good at and qualified to do. Being at the leading edge of technology and developing novel processes and products. Finally I enjoy interacting with clients such as the European Space Agency.

What are the main challenges?

Occasionally I will have to work long hours; because our technology is so new very little goes to plan and as a result we must sort problems as they arise. As head of operations I have to read and write a lot of mundane documents which usually accompany customer orders. Their content is fairly boring but it is very important that I don’t overlook anything. Finally dealing with poor suppliers/contractors can be very frustrating. Who or

What has most influenced your career direction?

My path into mechanical engineering is something I think I found myself; I had very little support from family or guidance counselors in this regard. In terms of my PhD and current work, I’ve been driven by some very respectable academics in University (UCD) who are very ambitious people and are involved in very interesting work. I tend to choose to work with people I like and respect and in an area that interests me. It’s also important through your career to challenge yourself and move upwards.

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

For the most part, yes. While I’m happy to be working in Dublin, I can see myself working abroad at some stage which I look forward to. I’d imagine that isn’t something that appeals to everyone. I work for a start up company so security isn’t guaranteed but it is a risk I’m willing to take as I’m young. Furthermore, the potential for this company is very big so I have the opportunity to make it a success which in turn will progress my own role and career.

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

Physics, technical drawing, woodwork and applied maths. English has been very important to me in my career and I wish we had being taught technical writing in secondary school; I had to work on that myself in college. What is your education to date? Leaving Certificate, B.E. in Mechanical Engineering, PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I have also done courses in robot programming, computer aided design and statistics.

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

I think that materials science, mechanics of materials and manufacturing courses were of great benefit in college. We also did shorter courses in business, ethics and law which I thought were very important to develop an appreciation for. Most importantly we did a course in Presentation Skills which was by far the most useful course I’ve done to date. Before this course I was a very nervous speaker, however after this course I worked on all aspects of my communication skills. I can’t emphasis enough how important communication is in my career.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

In my experience it was very obvious in first year of college who wanted to do engineering, it’s seems like you’re either interested in it or you’re not. Above all a good engineer is someone who likes analysing things and solving problems. Engineering is fairly science and mathematically based however you can get by without being amazing at either. However the important part is to be interested in it and to be a proactive person.

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

This is a tough one for engineering as you won’t be given much responsibility until you are qualified. Any opportunity to work in an engineering firm is a good place to start but remember that there are different types of engineers; management, researchers, technicians, etc. I did work experience with a company who sold air conditioning units which wasn’t all that appealing to me as the engineers were more like technical salesmen.

I’m more interested in manufacturing and design which is a very different environment. I don’t think it’s critical to have engineering work experience before college, but of course any experience you can get is good.

My engineering skills were mainly developed in college through group projects, coursework, etc. I think my final year project which collaborated with a tooling company was my first significant opportunity in terms of engineering work and allowed me to exercise my discipline under good supervision. You should also take any opportunity to visit a company/universities; I’ve visited many and learnt a lot.

Article by: Smart Futures