Niamh didn’t have a particular idea of what career she wanted and had a wide range of subjects to choose from when she started studying science at Trinity College, Dublin. “They make sure you keep your options quite broad in first year. So then in second year, you can narrow it down and I specialised more into chemistry and maths.” It was in fourth year that Niamh got a clearer picture of the opportunities in Chemistry.
During her project work she found that she particularly enjoyed research and development, but needed a further qualification to work in the field and went on to do a PhD. “If you want to stay in a lab, running instruments as a technician and specialising in that way, a degree is the right qualification, but if you want to do into R&D you really need a further qualification.”
Finding a path in industry
After completing her PhD, Niamh knew that she wanted to work in industry rather than staying in academia. “I was very definite that I wanted to go the industry route – it’s what really pushes you. In industry you can be working on a project and in two years it’s on the shelf and it’s being sold. I learnt a lot from the PhD but I definitely wanted to work on something that was a bit more fastmoving and that’s what drove me to industry.”
Niamh spent a year working in Henkel Loctite – “a real R&D hub” – before she heard about an opportunity in Hewlett Packard. “In HP you don’t come in just as a chemist – there are really diverse career opportunities as well. You can go into project management. It really interested me, because you’re not being pigeon-holed.”
Seeing a project through from start to finish
Niamh now works as an Ink chemist, developing new inks for printers. She loves the process of a developing a product and seeing it arrive on the shop shelves. “You’re really exposed to the business behind what you’re doing. So for me, you’re not just in a lab, which was already a big development for me, you’re building the business case, you’re understanding your customer needs, you’re integrating in the team – you’re one part of a very complicated system.
“Here, working on a big team is core to the job. You’ve so many different roles. You might be one chemist on a team of fifteen engineers. That was brilliant for me.” Niamh has enjoyed watching her work come to fruition.
“In my first three years here, we were working on Integrated Print Head printers – integrated print head – and they’re on the shelf at the moment. So for me, that was a big buzz.” She says the company also allows for lots of career development, and allows employees to take an active role in their futures.
“HP has a philosophy that you own your own career so they’ll do whatever they can to enable your different decisions. They’ll give you the opportunities you need, and help you work towards what you want, but it’s up to you to decide where to go.” Niamh says that she would have loved more contact with industry when she was choosing subjects for college – particularly about the range of careers that are available.