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 Dave McDonald from Smart Futures to give some advice for people considering this job:

 

Dave McDonald

Astronomer

Smart Futures

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  Dave McDonald

A caring attitude is essential for Health and Safety – you need to be passionate about getting the message across to people and telling them why it is so important. After all, no-one wants to see anyone suffer harm or be in pain.

For astronomy, a yearning for answering the unanswered questions is a must. You also need to be dedicated and focused and not put off by the weather

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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.

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Article by: Ciara Phelan