My name is Aoife Barron, my job title is Senior Bioprocessing Trainer and I work for the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT). I have been working at this role for 4 years. My job involves training people who work in the Biopharma industry as well as college students on how biopharmaceutical drugs are produced. Before this, I was working for 7 years in the Biopharmaceutical industry, as a Quality Control (QC) Microbiology Analyst, testing products that the company produced to make sure they were sterile and safe to take.
Outside of my job, my hobbies are art, photography, travel and sports such as tag rugby and snowboarding (when I get the chance!). I also loved sports as a teenager, I represented my school in basketball and athletics. My love of photography developed form my love of travelling, wanting to capture all the great places I visited.
Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?
Yes! As a teenager, the science and technology industry was only really taking off in Ireland, with lots of Pharma and Biopharma companies building facilities here and often using Ireland as their European headquarters. The area of STEM was not on my radar as secondary school student, but my enjoyment of Biology in Leaving Cert led me to complete my Biological Sciences degree, not really knowing where it would take me. I started working in Biopharma purely because there were plenty of job opportunities at the time. Luckily I really enjoyed the work and am thankful that those opportunities were there!
In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?
That they are very male orientated! Yes, engineering was traditionally a “job for the boys” but there are so many more women pursuing careers in science and engineering now, to the point where some labs I’ve worked in have been largely made up of female employees! There is not, as far as I’ve encountered, a bias towards roles for males only in the area of STEM. From what I’ve seen there’s a great gender balance, especially in the industry I work in.
What do you love about your current role?
I love that I have the opportunity to work with both my interests in Biology as well as Art, by being creative in constructing training courses around the area of Biotechnology. I really get to use my brain but I also get to use my initiative to form new ideas on how to train a group of people on a very complex subject! My job also involves meeting lots of new people from different walks of life, people who’ve been working for a long time, with lots of stories about their jobs but also people who are completely new to the area of science, who may have had previous experience of working in construction or something! I love to chat to people and I really love seeing them learn and enjoying themselves while they’re training with us. We often ask trainees to give us feedback before they leave and hearing how much they’ve enjoyed their time with us makes it all worth it!
What has been the most surprising element of your job?
Realising that there’s a lot more to biotechnology than I thought I knew, even after a college degree! Every day is different here, I am always learning something new. I work with many people who have PhD’s and are very skilled in their jobs, so I’m always learning new facts and developing my own knowledge along the way.
What has been your most exciting career moment to date?
It might not sound like much, but getting good feedback and appreciation to say I have done a job well done. It always helps to keep your motivation high, when the job gets demanding!
Do you get to work with any new technologies?
Yes, our industry involves the use of single-use disposable technology (plastics basically!) to make biopharma drugs, which is a hot topic in the industry right now. We have implemented a lot of the new technologies here and we get to train people on how they’re used. Also, I am leading a project on Manufacturing 4.0, which is introducing the use of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and collaborative robots to the world of biopharma, to reduce the risk of contamination and reduce errors. This technology is already being used by the motor manufacturing industry and many others, so the area of biopharma is playing catch-up!
What kind of other experts do you work with on a day to day basis?
Everyone from CEOs of large corporations, to higher management of different departments within a biopharma facility as well as international diplomats and politicians.
Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?
YES!! Up until very recently we were the only Biopharma training facility IN THE WORLD, so we have had lots of international clients, who have spread the word of all the good work we do here back in their home countries! Our facility is the only place where people can get trained up on and play with manufacturing equipment that they might not have the chance to use in their own jobs. We are currently also franchising our facility into the US and hopefully Australia soon!
Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?
In a way I do; I have a science education background, I worked in the biopharma industry for years, but also in a way I don’t. I am not as educated as some of my peers – I have a BSc. whereas some trainers on my team have several degrees, Masters and PhDs!! But we all bring something unique and different to the business.
If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?
Firstly do something that you love, because if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. If you want to run a beach bar in Costa Rica, you do that! If you want to become an Astrophysicist, you do that! But secondly, if you’re looking to work in science research and development (R&D), you will be expected to complete lots of education; degrees and a PhD, for example. If you want to work in the biopharma drug manufacturing industry, you don’t necessarily need to complete Master or PhDs, a degree is more than enough as you will get full training and experience once you start working. Experience often counts for a lot more than education, so don’t be intimidated by those going out to seek doctorates!
Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?
No, it wasn’t an option during the particular course I did at the time. I think this might have changed now however. An increasing number of science courses have a 6-month placement as part of the curriculum which I think is HUGELY beneficial, as once you get your foot in the door of these companies, anything is possible.
Name one thing on your bucket list.
To trek in the Himalayas and Annapurna mountain ranges.
What television series are you currently watching?
Safe, on Netflix. A murder mystery.
What living person do you most admire, and why?
Wow, difficult question! There are many people I admire for several reasons, but one person I’ve always admired is Bill Gates – very intelligent, clearly a fantastic business person, a history-maker, driven, highly motivated, but also seems like a genuinely nice person who gives a lot of money to charity, along with his wife Melinda. There seems to be no arrogance or ego with him. I believe he has not pledged any of his wealth to his children (instead it’s going to charity), saying instead that they have to learn to make their own way in life – TOO RIGHT!!