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Fergal Donnelly, European Commission
Government, Politics & EU

Fergal Donnelly, European Commission

Fergal Donnelly has worked in the European Comission for the last 20 years. He trained as a medical doctor and wanted to pursue a career in the medical sphere in an international environment, which led him to his career in Brussels.

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first question!

What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

I chose scientific subjects in school so as to become a Doctor. In the third level sphere, I did medical & pharmaceutical research but without having decided on a clear and defined career path. Travel was definitely an eye-opener for me. Meeting different people from different cultures opens the mind. Job changes, even on a temporary basis, led to unexpected benefits for me.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

Careers guidance counsellors helped by informing me on my options but couldn't tell me exactly what to do. Peers and friends often gave good advice but there was no one individual who gave me a eureka moment. It just evolved and people often end up where they are by accident.

How did you go about getting your current job?

By accident! The date for applying for the application form has already passed, but not the deadline for sending the completed version. I got and completed it, sent it back, completed selection tests and progressed to interviews, almost a year had passed. The message here is be patient – all things come to those who wait. Notification of success was by mail.

Describe a typical day?

No day is ever the same. Tasks vary (preparing policy documents, speeches, giving input to meetings). Deadlines can be very short. One has to learn to cut corners, be resourceful and smile.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

Being aware of developments in one's chosen area of expertise and bringing those expertise into a coherent form so as to meet work objectives.

What are the main challenges?

Multitasking and the pressures of keeping up to date in one's chosen field.

What's not so cool?

Managers who don't care or who are disinterested in what one does.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

1. Scientific and technical knowledge.
2. Social interaction skills.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

It's understandable not to have clear subject choices at a young age. The best advice is to go for what you're good at and to chuck what you don't like. Only vague ambitions at this stage are appropriate. The rest will follow in due course.

What is your education to date?

A broad Leaving Certificate (core subjects, one or two language and the rest as one likes) Medical doctor degree followed by medical and pharmaceutical research MSc. This was found purely by chance as a newspaper advertisement.

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

Medical sociology was particularly important since the medical world has a sub culture of its own. The same can be said for the legal world, academia, industry etc.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Having persevered.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

Patient, Organised

What is your dream job?

Hard to answer, wherever it goes it goes. The best is to be at peace with it.

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

Definitely, yes. There is time for family life, leisure activities, housing and travel which would not otherwise be possible. Giving back to the community is also possible and important.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

1.Be open to new ideas. Think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege. 2.Dedicate one's self to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious.

Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you, you never know where you might end up. Be aware that the next worthy pursuit will appear in your periphery and when you least expect it. 3.You don't need to already know what you're going to do with the rest of your life. Many people who were sure of their career path at age 20 end up having midlife crises now. 4.Be able to speak in public and also in a foreign language. If you can do all that and tell a joke, you've cracked it.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

1. Languages (at least 2). 2. Ability to see one’s own field from an entirely different viewpoint. If you can’t sell it, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated it is. Be able to explain it to a seven year old.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

1. IT training 2. Languages

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

An internship in the Commission, an internship in whatever one's chosen field might be or an internship in whatever interests you.

What is your current job title?

Principal Scientific Officer for The European Commission.

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