Want to know what it’s like to work in the biotech industry? Hearing some first-hand experience is often the best way to know.
For those interested in a career in biotech, there are plenty of opportunities for them to explore. The sector is expected to have more than 8,000 jobs in Ireland alone over the next five years.
But, as with many career paths, it’s hard to know what your future holds from what you read about in college.
Sometimes, the best way to discover a career path is to find out more about those who walked that very path ahead of you.
Alan Mc Guinness is a bioprocess associate with Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). He works in the pharma giant’s new Cruiserath facility in Dublin 15.
What first stirred your interest in a career in biotech?
A summer work placement in the BMS maintenance department stirred my interest in this area. I was a second-year student in my system maintenance engineering degree and I decided I was going to get work experience.
On talking to my lecturers, they put me in contact with the BMS maintenance department and I was lucky enough to spend the summer working on different projects. I found BMS to be a very dynamic working environment, one in which I was keen to return to.
On completing my manufacturing engineering degree, a position became available as a manufacturing technician. I began working as part of the manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) team in BMS in August 2011.
After five years in this position, the company changed direction, with a new focus on biologics. I found myself on secondment in BMS Devens, Massachusetts, to begin a new journey in the biopharmaceutical industry.
What education or other jobs led you to the role you now have?
As mentioned above, my system maintenance engineering degree started me on my journey to where I am now. The summer placement gave me an insight into how large multinational companies operate, and I knew I wanted to be part of this type of environment.
Knowing this, I went on to study manufacturing engineering in Dublin Institute of Technology. I saw this as an opportunity to put myself in a greater position to become part of a company with so many different career opportunities.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered on your career path?
The fast pace, the multiple disciplines within the work environment and the endless learning prospects to further develop my career.
It took me a while to settle in as I was just out of the college environment but I saw these new challenges as a way of progressing my career as much as possible. I went through notepad after notepad, taking down as much information as I could from the people I was working with, asking as many questions as possible to ensure that I was understanding the process.
When BMS changed focus to biologics, this brought with it a whole new set of challenges, one that I met with great enthusiasm as I could build on what I had learned in my short career so far.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
No, there wasn’t any one person that influenced my career development – I always wanted to work in the engineering or manufacturing sector.
Since working in BMS, I have had the opportunity to work in different departments, and each department had influential people that have helped my career progress by offering support and advice in areas such as technical writing and communication skills.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Everything! I know this might sound cliché and as if somebody told me to say it but I truly enjoy my job. While it may be hard and high-pressured at times, the whole culture of the people I work with makes it a great place to come to work.
I enjoy working with different departments, people from different backgrounds, and working as part of a team to reach the same goal; whether it’s creating the electronic batch records for the plant, or getting the new plant up and producing product.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
My outgoing and understanding nature makes me suited to this job. At the minute, we are part of a new build and a number of new graduates have joined the team.
I was once there myself, coming into this high-paced environment. I asked loads of questions, so I am glad to help someone better understand the process if it means that it helps them develop.
I would also consider myself determined as I continually look for ways to upskill in an ever-changing environment, to enable my career to progress.
How did BMS support you on your career path?
BMS is very good in developing its employees, whether it be in presentation skills or going back to college. BMS supported me by providing the opportunity to work at our biologics sister plant in Devens to help with the transition from API to biopharma.
This was great for my development, as it gave me a greater understanding of biologics and showed how BMS invested in my future. ‘Train the trainer’ and presentation skills are some of the other courses I have attended.
I am currently studying the MSc in biopharmaceutical science, and BMS has been supportive when it comes to funding for the course but also for exam-time leave.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in biotech?
Don’t sit in silence – ask the question, no matter how you might feel about asking the question. Someone has either asked it before or is thinking the same as you.
Give yourself time to adjust to your new environment and do not be afraid to write down the information you receive.
I enjoy the challenge and the science behind how we get our medicine to patients, and believe anyone considering a career in this area will benefit in the same way I have.
“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” – Denis Waitley