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 Marie O'Donovan from CRH plc to give some advice for people considering this job:


Marie O'Donovan

Environmental Officer

CRH plc

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  Marie O'Donovan

You should possibly consider studying environmental science or environmental engineering in third level.

You would also need to consider if you would like do quite a bit of driving during your day and to be able to oragnise your own work plans as both these things are important.


The Investigative person will usually find a particular area of science to be of interest. They are inclined toward intellectual and analytical activities and enjoy observation and theory. They may prefer thought to action, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems with clever technology. They will often follow the latest developments in their chosen field, and prefer mentally stimulating environments.
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Seconded National Expert - European Commission

"The great thing about working in innovation is that the field is wide open and seeking out new things is very much encouraged." Ciara Phelan, Seconded National Expert - European Commission. 

I studied maths and economics in University. After graduating in 2007, I joined the civil service and took up a position in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. My work there involved engaging with the EU institutions and I always thought that Brussels would be a fascinating place to work.

When the opportunity to participate in the National Expert in Professional Training (NEPT) Programme arose in 2013, I applied for a five month placement in the Cabinet of the then Irish Commissioner Maire Geogehan Quinn.

I had a great experience there and really enjoyed both living in Brussels and working in the Commission on research and innovation. Towards the end of that programme, a longer-term secondment opportunity became available as a policy officer in the Commission’s Directorate for Research and Innovation (DG RTD).

My NEPT experience, along with my policy work in Ireland helped me secure that role. The support of my managers in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, who released me to apply for the secondment, was crucially important here too.

A Typical Day 

There’s no typical day in Brussels – that’s the beauty of working here. Day to day, my role often involves preparing briefing or speaking points for our Commissioner and Director-General. This could include conducting background research on innovation in, for example, the country the Commissioner is visiting.

I’m also involved in longer-term policy development, consulting with stakeholders to develop new research policy and concepts and teasing them out to see if they are useful and workable.

The great thing about working in innovation is that the field is wide open and seeking out new things is very much encouraged. Since we're so aligned to research there is a culture of respecting the scientific method and using rigour in our thinking and work. As a recovering nerd I find that very satisfying!

If you’re considering applying for an EU post, my advice would be to go for it! Don’t be put off by the language requirements or think that you need to have a degree in European Studies to apply.

Those already in the public service could consider applying for an NEPT placement, as I did, or making their Departments aware that they’re interested in longer term secondments. For recent graduates, the obvious starting point is to do a traineeship or ‘stage’. Many stagiaires go on to secure employment in the institutions directly after their stage.

Article by: Ciara Phelan