What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
Entering fifth year I was sure I wanted to do science in college but still had some work to do in terms of identifying the specific course I wanted to do. I chose to do Chemistry and Biology in fifth year in school as a foundation for a science-based degree.
It is important to have goals (while they sometimes move) at that stage so that you are making informed choices about subjects etc. Work experience in the milk processing industry (Dawn Dairies and Glanbia) during college summer holidays provided me with first-hand exposure to the products, processing equipment, packaging technology, quality and distribution systems covered in lectures.
Work experience greatly helps to link the theory with the practical and makes it much easier and interesting to learn the theory. Foreign travel (I spent a year of my PhD in a food science laboratory at the University of Wisconsin in the US) also helps to broaden your horizons and is a source of new learning opportunities.
Who were the biggest influences on your career direction?
My parents are dairy farmers and the farm-based environment growing up provided me with early, ongoing exposure to the food industry. They also taught me the value of hard work and the sacrifices that have to be made in making a success of what you do – it takes a lifetime to become an overnight success.
My lecturers in college also had a clear passion for the material they were teaching us – that helped to provide me with interest, curiosity and passion for my area of study.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities in your job?
They can be broken down into three main areas:
- Teaching and learning – developing and delivering lectures and laboratory sessions
- Research – establishing and running a research programme
- Administration – funding proposals, reports, meetings, committees etc
They are all really interesting and each area helps to complement the others.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Interest in life-long learning. I’m sure that I will never know everything and that I will be learning every day. Patience and respect for people are very important in all jobs.
Collaboration and teamwork are also very important in making the most of the resources available. Working in industry for four or five years before taking up lecturing has provided me with a very good understanding of the needs and expectations of industry in terms of research activities and graduate skills and so on.
What is your education to date?
- Leaving Certificate: I took two science subjects, Chemistry and Biology. These provided me with a good foundation for Food Science in college. I did not have Physics for my Leaving Certificate but this was not an issue as it was taught from a relatively basic level in first year and there were good support structures such as small-group tutorials and so on
- Degree in Food Science (specialised in Food Chemistry)
- PhD in Food Science and Technology (cheese ripening and new ingredient development)
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Work experience in the food industry would be really beneficial. If that is not possible then experience of working in other similar industries (e.g. pharmaceutical industry) would also be helpful.
It is important to remember too that the skills associated with self-development (e.g. people management, time management, teamwork etc) can be learned in any industry, so all opportunities for work placement are beneficial.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
You need to have a genuine interest in and respect for people (students, researchers, collaborators etc). You need to be a self-starter and well motivated.