What were the main “career decision” milestones in your life so far?
My main career decision to date was leaving my first job to go back and study for a PhD in bacteriology. When I left college I went straight into a microbiology industry job. However, I always wanted to carry out a PhD but I needed to work outside of the academic world before I embarked on the journey.
A PhD requires a lot of commitment and dedication. I feel that my time in industry prepared me for the task. In addition, I always wanted to lecture, and having a PhD is essential for that role. The decision was not taken lightly as lecturing it is a very difficult career to break into, however that is my goal.
I enjoy research thoroughly and in the future I will strive to combine my research success with a successful and fulfilling career in lecturing.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My professor has been very influential in my career to date. He taught me as an undergraduate and I always admired the way he was able to make a lecture entertaining and interesting. He had a very insightful way into how to get across a lot of information without it being a strain on his class.
I recently started covering a few lectures and I try and incorporate some of the things I learnt from him. It has received a very good response. I feel a real sense of accomplishment that I have given over some of my knowledge to the students after giving a lecture.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
My job allows me to work flexible hours and in certain cases when papers are due and results need to be written up I can work from home. Working in research enables me to meet new people and be involved in activities outside of the laboratory. Importantly my job allows me to think outside the box.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I saw an advertisement on the www.nuigalway.ie website for a research assistant. After this contract I started my PhD in the same department.
What are your main tasks and responsibilities?
I am at present setting up a laboratory service for all the clinical laboratories to send patient specimens for analysis. My main focus and interests are antibiotic resistance in bacteria that have been taken from patients in hospitals and in the community.
I receive clinical samples from patients from hospital laboratories all over Ireland. I carry out all steps of the analysis of the bacteria from these samples. I receive and log in samples to the laboratory. I carry out phenotypic and genotypic testing on the bacteria that I find in the sample.
The phenotypic testing tells me what antibiotics can be used to treat the infection caused by the bacteria. The genotypic testing lets me determine what genes are causing the antibiotic resistance in the bacteria. This is important because if the bacteria are shown to possess antimicrobial resistance genes then the number of antibiotics that a doctor can prescribe to make the patient better is depleted. In some extreme cases there may be no antibiotics left to treat extremely ill patients.
What are the main challenges?
Staying positive when laboratory tests fail without explanation after extensive troubleshooting.
Being responsible for a project. Planning, carrying out and troubleshooting are all exciting and motivating. I find it very exciting when I am the first person to see the result of a test and I have to decipher it.
It is also a great experience when my work is accepted for presentation at conferences all over the world as I get the opportunity to travel and meet people in my field from all across the world, and I get to confer with people who may be able to help me with problems in my own research.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Good laboratory skills, medical microbiology knowledge, organisational skills and time management are important.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
For my Leaving Certificate I studied biology, maths, English, Irish, German, business organisation and geography.
In college for my BSc degree in microbiology I studied (throughout the four years): biology, chemistry, earth science, maths, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, and anatomy.
For my Masters in Biomedical Science I studied medical microbiology, immunology, research design and statistics, DNA technology and oncology.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Microbiology for my undergraduate degree, my research project for my Masters in biomedical science, demonstrating laboratory practicals to undergraduates, and taking on lecturing duties have all been important in training and preparing for my career as a lecturer.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Patience is definitely one! Drive, ambition, motivation are important qualities I possess. Also passion for the work and an interest in the subject area are pivotal. Organisation skills are also very important in this career. I would also say that I am an ‘analyzer’ and that is a helpful trait for this career.
What is your dream job?
In the future I hope to lecture full-time and also have my own research group.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
In order to obtain a position in academia and also be involved in research, a PhD is essential. However, in a lot of cases, and indeed in mine, it may be a good idea to consider taking a break after an undergraduate degree before embarking on a three-year-plus PhD degree. During this time I would highly recommended gaining work experience in a laboratory to see if you like the type of work that you could end up working in depth in for a PhD.
It is very important in research to stay positive as sometimes laboratory tests and indeed entire projects may fail. In these instances it is essential to see an end goal and keep on striving to achieve it, regardless of the minor mishaps on the way.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Positivity, drive and focus
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
I would suggest to anyone interesting in this type of career to contact the outreach people/departments in their local university and try and arrange some work experience in a lab of their choice.