Carolanne O'Brien | Smart Futures

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Carolanne O’Brien
My name is Carolanne O’Brien and I am a Quality Engineer with Boston Scientific. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology, a branch of science which focuses on creating a product through utilisation of living systems and organisms.

My name is Carolanne O’Brien and I am a Quality Engineer with Boston Scientific. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biotechnology, a branch of science which focuses on creating a product through utilisation of living systems and organisms. Outside of my day to day work I love to read, spend time coaching underage hurling and spend time outdoors be it on my bike, on the water or throwing on a pair of hiking boots. My hobbies have changed very little since my time in school!

Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?

There is so much more to STEM than I ever knew as a teenager. Biotechnology was a stream of science which I didn’t even know existed until I entered college. When I was in school, I believed science only included what took place in a test tube or learning about the workings of the human body, I believed technology was only the use of a computer and that engineering and maths would only involve calculations and measurements. As an adult, I now have a more knowledgeable opinion of STEM I know what each stream involves and understand the opportunities available.

In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?

I had no preconceptions of what a STEM career was going to be like. I thoroughly enjoyed biology and chemistry when I was in school and so I set out to study science in whatever capacity I could. If anything, I believed I would end up in a lab analysing something in a test tube, but since entering my career I have learned that there are different types of labs, different types of chemicals and labs which don’t deal with chemicals at all. I am rarely in a white coat and goggles, but I am a scientist and engineer, just not your stereotypical one.

Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?

At second level education I do not believe enough is being done to encourage girls to study STEM. I was never deterred from studying STEM, I was encouraged once I posed an interest but before showing an interest I was never wholeheartedly encouraged. I think oftentimes students may be frightened away from studying STEM, believing it is outside of their capabilities. Among girls this is often the case with engineering and technology. Engineering and technology seem to be seen as typically male dominated career paths. In my experience, there is very little encouragement for girls to study these subjects and when they do it seems to raise eyebrows.

Describe an interesting day in your current position.

My current employer manufactures medical devices and I am at the forefront of production so almost every day is an interesting one. I love knowing that what I do every day has a positive impact on the patient ensuring that each and every product leaving our site is of the utmost quality.

What do you love about your current role?

I love that every day is different. No matter what, I am learning something new every single day. Every day I have so many questions going in and by the time I go home nearly all of them have been answered. I hate monotonous work and again I love knowing that what we do has a significantly positive impact on the life of a patient.

What has been the most surprising element of your job?

The most surprising element of my job is the amount of thought that needs to go into every decision you make. When deciding we always have to think of the patient first and so every decision must be met with a stepwise thought process full of questions. You are constantly told when studying STEM to keep asking questions, which is a skill in itself and something I am putting into practice every day.

What has been your most exciting career moment to date?

My most exciting career moment involved the qualification of a production area which was being put in use to produce a drug to be deployed to impoverished areas for the treatment of a rare but very contagious disease. This was the only drug in the world at the time approved for the treatment of this disease. This qualification involved testing every part of the production area numerous times to ensure it was of the highest standard.

Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?

Not at the moment, there will hopefully be opportunities in the future as it is a multination company based in numerous countries.

What kind of other experts do you work with on a day-to-day basis?

I work mostly Mechanical Engineers, Biomedical Engineers, Chemists, Microbiologists and Biochemists on a day to day basis.

Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?

Yes, we provide cardiovascular products to people all across the world, saving millions of people every year from serious heart conditions.

What do you hope to achieve in the next year in your current position?

I am currently in a Graduate position so I am hoping I will gain enough confidence and experience to progress to the next level.Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?

No, I don’t think so. I think when you tell people you work in a company such as Boston Scientific, they immediately think of someone working in a lab presiding over a conical flask while wearing a white coat and goggles. I don’t fit this picture. I am on my feet a lot and heavily involved in production, I am very much involved in communication with different labs getting a taste for multiple departments in the company.

If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them to always work hard and strive for what you really want. There are so many options to choose from through a career in STEM and if you work hard no dream seems to large. It takes a lot of bravery to pursue what you really want, but now is the time!

What do you want to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?

I would like to see more girls pursue a career in the industry and make their way into Senior positions. This change is definitely happening; however it is slow and I hope that in 10 years’ time women prove that STEM is as much a career prospect for them as it is for men. Societies such as WISTEM are playing a huge role in this.

What are your priorities for the year ahead in your role?

My priorities are to gain as much knowledge as I possibly can into the engineering of the medical devices produced in our company. By understanding the engineering and manufacture of these devices I will become more confident in my role thus allowing me to become more of a leader in my role as a whole.

Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?

I completed six months of placement with a Biotechnological company during my studies. This placement was a hugely beneficial experience which taught me a lot. This placement provided me with a confidence I cannot describe when applying for jobs at the end of my studies. I had a knowledge of industry that I would not have had otherwise, I learned the lingo, how industry as a whole works, how production works, how to work as part of a very large team and most importantly how the smallest of jobs can still have a huge impact. The pharmaceutical/biotechnological and med device industry has its own language which translates across all sectors and it prepared me very well going into my current role. I also had numerous talks from senior management and directors within the company giving an insight into how one’s career can develop and the type of attitude required to move through the ranks, something I hope I can carry through to my own career.

Name one thing on your bucket list.

I would love to travel and see different parts of the world when I can.

What television series are you currently watching?

I am currently binge watching “This is Us” I would recommend to anyone needing a couple of hours of relaxation and mindless watching!

What living person do you most admire, and why?

I have huge admiration for scientific journalist Arielle-Duhaime Ross. Arielle was the first climate change correspondent on HBO’s nightly news in the US. She spends much of her time informing the general public of the latest in scientific developments, giving the facts while also incorporating an empathetic viewpoint, something I believe is extremely important in today’s world.