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Brian O'Connor works as an Analytical Chemist for Wyeth. He joined the company as an Analyist working in the lab and has since been promoted to the position of Manager of the Raw Materials Lab. He did his a degree in Chemistry in Maryville College in Tennessee and then moved to the University of California Riverside where he completed his Masters of Science in Analytical Chemistry.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
When I was 15 years old I moved to the United States to live with my father after I completed my Junior Certificate. I always planned on being a doctor of medicine from an early age and this didn’t change when I got to America. In the States though you have to complete an undergraduate degree first so I chose Chemistry, while completing a minor study in Biology and Maths. However, while in undergraduate I fell in love with the study of Chemistry and switched my plans and decided to go to graduate school in Chemistry. I completed my Masters of Science later at the University of California in Los Angeles.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Perhaps the biggest influence on me in choosing chemistry were my undergraduate professors Dr. Naylor and Dr Bunde. They both had such a passion for chemistry which I couldn’t understand at first because I felt that all people hated chemistry or that you couldn’t learn to love such a subject. Their passion for the subject however rubbed off on me and I too learned to love the subject. Chemistry is a great subject because everything around you is chemistry. The more you can understand it the more you enjoy it.
How did you go about getting your current job?
While still living in America I heard that Wyeth were opening a plant in Clondalkin, Dublin which is where I grew up. I was excited about the prospect of actually working in a Biotech plant in Clondalkin. I applied online and then when I moved back to Ireland I went to an assessment centre which also included an interview. The assessment centre included some role-playing and aptitude tests. I was called soon after and told that I got the job.
Describe a typical day?
My typical day involves taking part in a lot of different meetings with people from around the site. As manager of my area it is important that I am always planning ahead for what new activities may be coming into the group. Some of the meetings are for this planning while others deal with day to day activities in the lab. I talk to my supervisors daily to discuss any issues in the lab. We monitor the number of batches that we release on a weekly basis and any errors that occur in the lab. Knowing everything going on in the lab is very important so that I can communicate anything critical in a timely manner to my own boss too.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
My main tasks and responsibilities are ensuring that we release Raw Materials in time to keep up with the demands of the production schedule. We essentially have four different manufacturing areas here at Grange Castle and each one demands different use of different Raw Materials. The Raw Materials are the ingredients of the drugs and if we do not release them then manufacturing will not proceed,
What are the main challenges?
As in any chemistry lab we have to deal with atypical or out of specification results. When these happen, at first you are unsure whether the batch of material in question is of the quality standard expected. We conduct investigations which at times can be very laborious. Besides this, other main challenges would be, to keep the group content with the work they are doing. It is important that we are all constantly challenging each other to help us learn more about science and develop into more all-rounded scientists.
I think the coolest thing about the job I do is seeing the results when patients take our drugs. The drugs produced at Grange Castle dramatically improve patients lives. For me personally my brother takes Enbrel which is produced here at Grange Castle. It is made for people who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis which is a very painful and limiting disease. It has improved his wellbeing drastically over the past few years. It is very cool knowing that I play a role in the production of this drug to market.
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Because I didn’t do my leaving certificate in Ireland I didn’t have to make big choices earlier on in my life. It was when I went to college that I chose the subjects that I wanted to do. I chose to major in Chemistry and to minor in Biology as a Pre Medical School student. In America you have to complete a degree first before you are accepted into medical school. By my third year of college I fell in love with chemistry and no longer wished to go to med school. It is funny how it all worked out but I have no regrets about it. I really enjoy being a chemist.
What is your education to date?
I actually went to three different secondary schools. Moyle Park College in Clondalkin where I completed my Junior Certificate. Plantation High School, Fort Lauderdale Florida (1 Year) Hartselle High School, Hartselle, Alabama (2 Years) – High School Diploma. went to undergraduate in Tennessee in Maryville College where I did a degree in Chemistry and then moved to California to the University of California Riverside where I completed my Masters of Science in Analytical Chemistry.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Graduate school specifically was where I really learned to understand chemistry. Looking back now the majority of work as an undergraduate is an introduction to chemistry. The subject is so vast that you can only truly learn to understand aspects of it. I choose to be an Analytical Chemist which means that I did my initial research on instrumentation which involved building instruments such as Mass Spectrometers in grad school. My courses in analytical chemistry, notably around separation techniques, are still applicable to me today in my function and are most important to me in my job.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
When I worked at Amgen I worked in pure research. We were working on trying to find cures for different types of cancer, arthritis and other uncured illnesses. Knowing you were playing a role in this was very rewarding. Here at Wyeth I work on a drug called Enbrel. My brother takes this drug and just like other patients it has dramatically improved his life. It feels good to know that not only am I helping out other people but also my brother. It reminds you of how important the job that you do is to the patients.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I think as a manager you have to be a very organized person who knows how to prioritise well. Of utmost importance to is that you have good people skills. Nobody wants a boss that is yelling at them. To get the most out of people you need to have a positive approach and let people know when they are doing well just as when they need to improve. I have a positive outlook on life and I think this all helps.
What is your dream job?
I think if I had all the money in the world I’d probably just stay in school full time. I love to learn. I do learn at my job currently which is very important to me. I’d love to have a job where I learned about different things all the time. There are not too many like that out there. As a scientist we tend to become experts in the area that we studied in.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes. Wyeth are a great company to work for and they ensure that employees have a good work/life balance. I find that I get good time off and I don’t see work interfering with my personal life too much. I also get to travel quite freely and love to hit other spots around Europe. I’ve been very fortunate at Wyeth to have progressed through several levels since being here and I am now Manager of the Raw Materials lab after joining the company as an analyst.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
What is your favourite music?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
I have recently completed Green Belt training in Six Sigma Operational Excellence. HETAC award a certificate in Process Engineering for this course. The course trains you in advanced project management skills through six sigma methodologies. Six sigma is used in companies all around the world from Toyota to Wyeth. Project management is integral to the success of any company as you must manage your projects effectively for them to complete in a timely manner and to successfully deliver the outputs from it. I would like to one day go back and complete a Masters in Business Administration.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Any work experience that you can gain in a lab whether it is for a summer or over a transition year. You have to enjoy your time in the lab as you will be there for the first few years or sometimes throughout your career. But not all scientists work in labs. I think that’s a big misunderstanding. But almost all scientists do spend time in there initially so it is important to spend as much time in there through work experience to see that this is the type of job that suits you.