Playing a team sport is great experience when it comes to learning the skills needed to be part of and lead a team in a work environment, Ciaran Egan, who is Operations PDP and Lab PM at Abbott Ireland Nutrition in Cootehill, County Cavan says.
He is currently taking part in a professional development graduate programme over three years, consisting of three different rotations. Last year he worked in Clonmel as a project engineer, in his second year he is taking part in a supervisory rotation. Next year he will be have an Operational- Excellence rotation in one of Abbotts sites around the world. He also played ultimate Frisbee while at college and he says this helped prepare him for teamwork in the lab.
“I manage a team of technicians who bring in new equipment and methods and carry out the projects required for the lab,” Ciaran says.
How did you get to this role?
“I’m one of the lucky few who got into this programme. At Abbott you get an internship through your college or your course and then you’re put forward for the programme but I saw the job on a jobs board when finishing college and threw my name in the ring. A few weeks later I was told I had the position. So it’s by chance that I’m in the role but the programme directs you to be a direct contributor in first year, supervisor in second year, and gives you OpEx experience working in a foreign country in your third year. At 24 I am in a leadership position and managing a team so it’s excellent experience.
What did you study in school?
I went to school for four years in Gormanstown in Co Meath, then the Institute of Education for the final two years. I did Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Geography. There is pressure to pick a career path. My dad works in finance and I saw the pressure of working in that world and I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere near that or business’ so I picked everything that was not that. I wanted something I really like and want to go into in the morning. I loved Biology in the Leaving Cert and studied really hard for it and didn’t like Chemistry all that much. When it came to the CAO I decided I’d do Science. I studied Biology in General Science in DCU where you get to do all four subjects in order to get a flavour of each and then discovered I loved Chemistry but was not into Biology that much at all. All choices are half chance, nobody really knows till they get to college. General Science means you study all four, in first year, then you choose to specialise. Pick a broad course is my advice, it gives you flexibility and will open more doors. I ended up doing Chemical Pharmaceutical Science in DCU in the end.
What do you love about the job?
No two days that are the same, especially in a project role, and there is a huge variation on what I do. You use the same problem solving skills for different problems- ‘how can we test this is working as it should’, or ‘how can we get it into the lab’. There are often crisis that mean you have to drop everything and deal with it and that can be exciting.
Who do you look up to?
Nobody in my family works in STEM, my mam is a teacher, my dad is in finance. At different times in your life you draw inspiration from different people. The beauty of STEM is that anyone can do it. People think you have to be a typical dork, but there is such a difference from a Mathematician, to a Biologist to a Chemist. Huge creativity is needed. There is a place for creative and analytical types in STEM, and a place for every type of thinker. That’s the beauty of it for me.
Is this your dream job?
Anyone who says they know what they want to be doing in five years time is probably lying to you because I don’t think anyone knows where life will take them. But what I am doing right now really interests me and I’m so glad to have the experience and to explore and develop my skills in this role. Chances come and go and you need to see where the road takes you. I don’t think you should be in a role where you’re too comfortable and not challenged. The work also makes a difference. I go in every day and am working on something that people are benefitting from. When I started down the Chemistry path, I thought ‘if I can help one person with what I do then that’s a fulfilled career’. In my year in Clonmel, I contributed to making over 700,000 life changing devices, so that’s a fulfilling aspect, knowing you’re making a difference
What advice would you give to people considering choosing STEM?
Keep an open mind. In my journey I found the things I often dismissed out of hand where the ones that six months down the line realised where the things for me. Don’t close off opportunities or doors. Don’t be afraid to try new things. There is no shame in failing and starting again.
Does your job allow you time for hobbies, is there a good work/life balance?
With STEM you can get a nice work/life balance- there are times when you’re busy and working long hours but that’s the nature of a project role. Throughout college I played ultimate Frisbee in DCU. Being part of a team is a huge thing, and knowing how to be a team player and lead a team is a huge asset and team sports allows that. I got to travel around Europe and had the craic with my friends. It was a huge part of my life. I don’t know if my knees will allow me return to Frisbee, I’m more into golf these days!
If you want to hear more about Ciarans career check out our #ThisIsSTEM Livestream where he discussed the path to his current role.