Carolyn Sheridan of BMS discusses how she combined her love of science and business to secure her ideal job.
When you choose a career in STEM, there’s still plenty of room to combine your technical expertise with other interests.
Carolyn Sheridan, a project management office (PMO) specialist at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), is a great example of that.
From an inspirational science teacher to a challenging diagnosis leading to a necessary break from work, Sheridan told us about the events that led her to where she is today.
‘The best leaders have exceptional communication skills – they empower their people and give superb feedback. The bad ones do the opposite’
– CAROLYN SHERIDAN
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
In secondary school I had a wonderful biology teacher who made the subject so interesting. I hadn’t even been thinking about studying science in college when he pointed me in the direction of biotechnology in DCU.
The course was exactly what I wanted to do. When I met him a few years later and told him what I had gone on to study, he was so proud and happy that I had chosen the science route.
What experiences led you to the role you now have?
My background is in biotech. I have worked in quality and manufacturing science and technology as a scientist. I completed a MSc in pharmaceutical analysis and this course gave me an insight into the business side of pharma.
Over the last number of years, I led a number of successful projects and this resulted in me completing a diploma in project management. The role of PMO specialist came about and I jumped at the chance to project manage full-time within BMS.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
My biggest challenge was my cancer diagnosis in 2018, which meant I was out of work for seven months. Re-integrating back into the workforce was daunting. The support I received from the occupational health team in BMS enabled me to return back to work on a full-time basis.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I have been very lucky to work with some of the best and most experienced in the industry. A number of brilliant people have helped influence and shape my career over the past 14 years.
I have always watched and learned from some of the leaders I have had – what works well and what doesn’t. For example, the best leaders have exceptional communication skills – they empower their people and give superb feedback. The bad ones do the opposite.
What do you enjoy about your job?
My background is very much technical-focused, so I love learning more about the business strategy side of the industry. I love that I can use my project management skillset in line with my technical expertise.
For example, I’m currently leading a multi-site project that requires me to keep an eye on both the technical and the strategy.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
I’m very much a people person. I love meeting people from other departments, and I find guiding them through the PMO process onsite very fulfilling.
Science was a great career choice for me as it satisfies both my technical interests and my softer skills.
How did BMS support you on your career path?
Within BMS our people are put first and there is a huge emphasis on career development. One of the benefits within BMS is an educational assistance programme and this allowed me to complete my diploma in project management. When the opportunity came to work within the PMO, this was an added advantage.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
Pick a science degree that has work experience built into the course. I learned so much when I completed my work experience in DCU and it allowed me to be clearer on what area of the industry I wanted to be in.
The pharma industry offers endless opportunities and – best of all – you are helping to make a real difference to patients’ lives.