Monica Epifanio, a senior associate QC microbiologist. Image: Amgen
Monica Epifanio, senior QC associate in microbiology. Image: Amgen

What kind of life sciences talent is coming into Ireland?

30 Jul 2018

In much the same way that young talent filtered out of Ireland during years of austerity, people such as Monica Epifanio arrived on Irish shores after being lured by opportunities in tech.

Many young people in Ireland will remember well when the post-crash austerity period cause the country to haemorrhage talent. It was with great sorrow that many graduates emigrated further afield in search of opportunities due to the economic strife being experienced at home.

Monica Epifanio, a senior QC associate in microbiology at Amgen, can relate to this experience. Though she has wonderful things to say about her homeplace, the beautiful island of Sicily, the economic situation there forces many graduates to move abroad.

For Epifanio, choosing Ireland was a no-brainer due to her fond memories of attending a language school here in her teens and the myriad of impressive companies that have operations on Irish shores. We caught up with her to chat about life at Amgen and adjusting to Ireland.

Where are you from, and what’s it like there?

I come from Sicily, a beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea – more specifically, the city of Palermo, which is located in the north-west of the island and is famous for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy.

Despite the beautiful weather conditions and the lovely food there, the economic situation is currently pretty bad. Most of the new graduated students are forced to leave the country, looking for a brighter future somewhere else.

How long have you been in Ireland?

I have been living in Ireland for the past six years. I moved to Dublin in September 2011 to commence a PhD in bio-electrochemistry at Dublin City University.

What prompted your decision to move here?

Since my youth, I have had a particular bond with Ireland. I was about 14 when I travelled to Ireland to attend an English summer school at Kilkenny College. During that experience, I had the opportunity to visit Ireland and to embrace the culture and fall in love with it. I then decided that I wanted to live in Ireland once I finished my studies back home.

After having successfully finished an MSc in industrial biotechnology, and knowing that getting a PhD in an English-speaking country would equip me with the right skillset to apply for science-based jobs in high-tech companies in the future, I decided to move abroad. I chose Dublin because it has the greatest concentration of European headquarters of high-tech companies.

What’s your role in Amgen?

I have been a senior QC associate in the QC microbiology laboratory since April 2017. I started as a contractor in October 2016 and got promoted after six months.

How would you describe your working environment?

The environment at Amgen is very stimulating. It is based on a culture of continuous improvement, innovation and transformation. Staff members can get involved by setting personal annual SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals and raising continuous improvement ideas to make the company grow.

What do you like most about your job?

The thing I like the most about my job is the possibility to learn and grow fast. Since I started, I have taken on many roles (water sampler, products analyst, sterility analyst) within the QC microbiology lab and I have been involved in many projects to improve our day-to-day quality control.

I like that there is always available training to learn new skills or maximise the ones you have already. This is supported either by online courses or face-to-face training that the company organises. Another thing that I like is that people get recognition whenever they go above and beyond their job tasks through different kind of awards, and this makes an employee feel important and want to do more.

Was it difficult to adjust to living and working in Ireland?

Living away from your family and friends is never easy and at the beginning, my English wasn’t great. I had to put in lot of effort to get where I am today. Irish people made my life much easier though (once I could understand their accent) with their easygoing way of living. It wasn’t too difficult to embrace the Irish ‘craic’.

What surprised you about moving to Ireland, if anything?

The people are really friendly and ready to help you out.

How does your working life help to make you feel at home here?

Back home, I used to take long, relaxing walks on the beach and collect seashells. This is something that I luckily didn’t have to give up once I moved to Dublin, having a few nice beaches not far from the city itself.

What do you like most about your adopted home?

I love that in Dublin, everything can be reached on foot or by cycling. I love that there is one of the largest city parks in Europe (Phoenix Park) right beside where I live. I love that there are many pubs and lovely restaurants of all nationalities all over the city.

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