Simon Curran talks to Smart Futures about his career as a Cost Improvement Project Chemist.
What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?
The designing, developing and improvement of the chemical processes currently used on plant to increase efficiency and overall lower cost.
Describe a typical day?
Generally speaking, the goal of any day is to further the understanding of the process in question. To do this a series of experiments has been predetermined and one (or more) of these will be carried out. The time consuming part is the analysis, with each set of results giving a small piece towards completing the overall puzzle.
What are the things you like best about the job?
My job involves solving very complex problems that when solved, the corrective actions are utilized immediately. However, it is the manner in which the problems are approached which is most appealing: asking probing questions of the process and deriving specific answers to those questions.
What are the main challenges?
Routine maintenance of equipment is a necessary part of my job. If the equipment isn’t reliable, neither are the results. Who or what has most influenced your career direction? In school, I always had great science teachers, the best of which was my Chemistry teacher. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with? Though the job can be high pressure at times, there is always leisure time. What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path? I did Maths, English, Irish, Geography, French, Physics, Chemistry for the Leaving Cert. I always enjoyed Science and Maths (a flair for English never goes amiss either!).
What is your education to date?
I completed my Leaving Certificate in De La Salle College, Churchtown, Dublin in 2005. I received my honours degree in Medicinal Chemistry in 2009 and completed my PhD in Organic Chemistry earlier this year.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
My degree was a requirement for the position (though not specifically Medicinal Chemistry, another chemistry degree would also suffice). Having a PhD gave me more of an edge when applying for the position as an increasing number of people have postgraduate diplomas nowadays.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
If you have a keen interest in science and like to be challenged, this would be a very good career for you. Education-wise, speaking from experience, the career you wanted when you were 18 may not be the career you want when you’re 22. Any science degree allows you to transfer into most careers and is, generally speaking, highly sought after.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Work experience in a Quality Control laboratory will give a flavour for the lab work but not the critical thinking of process development. For me, the best experience of that was completing my PhD in organic chemistry. Failing that, solving Rubiks cubes!