A man wearing a dark navy suit with a light blue open-collar shirt smiles in an outdoor setting. He is Sean Paterson, a senior technology engineer at Merck.
Sean Paterson. Image: Merck

From Edinburgh to Cork: The Brexit-inspired journey of a process engineer

30 May 2024

Merck’s Sean Paterson discusses his rewarding work in process engineering and his struggles with the Cork accent.

After graduating from Heriot Watt University with a degree in chemical engineering in 2016, Sean Paterson said he struggled to find a graduate job due to a widespread hiring freeze due to the uncertainty after Brexit.

Paterson, who is originally from East Lothian in Scotland, was living in Edinburgh at the time, and said there was “huge competition” for the few roles that were available. Surrounded by uncertainty, a silver lining appeared for Paterson when he spoke to one of his friends who was working in Ireland, who told him about the growing medical device and API industry in Cork, which had a need for engineers.

“With Ireland having such a high quality of life, culture and still being in the EU, having never lived more than an hour from my hometown, I thought it would be a needed and welcomed change!” he said. Paterson applied for four roles in Ireland and got three interviews, before accepting an offer for a process engineer role with Merck Millipore and moving to Cork in January of 2017.

What’s your role in the company?

Presently, I am a senior technology engineer in the Merck Global Engineering and Technology team. I am responsible for scouting, piloting and implementing new manufacturing technology on existing and future membrane production lines across Europe and the US. Additionally, I facilitate collaboration and knowledge transfer between sites. Previous to this role, I worked in various process engineering roles for five years, directly supporting Cork site manufacturing and projects including product transfer. I was promoted to senior process engineer in 2022, where I supervised a team of four engineers for the following two years.

How would you describe your working environment?

Merck is a vibrant and global life science company, and the people here really reflect that. My colleagues and I are always willing to help each other out and collaboration between functions and teams within the Cork walls and beyond is strongly encouraged and rewarded. Management here is very approachable, and I have always felt comfortable approaching any member of the site’s leadership team, be it with an issue or just to have a chat!

What do you like most about your job?

The variety! One day I could find myself at home running online workshops across three time zones, the next I’m in the R&D lab or on the production line running pilot trials, and the next, flying abroad to attend a tradeshow to network with industry and academic experts and scout cutting-edge technologies.

What I also love is knowing we are making products that improve and save lives. Around five years ago, I was shown an interview with a local man who went into remission from an extremely aggressive form of cancer after taking a trial mAb [monoclonal antibody] drug treatment produced using one of our products. They traced the dose he was given back to a batch, which I later realised I had personally been involved in releasing. That sense of both pride and responsibility has stuck with me ever since.

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

Moving to Ireland was pretty easy as I find Irish people to be so friendly and welcoming. Whenever I did run into an issue (learning the job, getting accommodation, bank accounts etc), someone was always happy to help guide me in the right direction.

I did admittedly struggle with the Cork accent and slang at first. But in typical Irish fashion, they were very patient and we had plenty of laughs about it along the way until I got the hang of it.

What surprised you about moving to Ireland, if anything?

The diversity on a small scale surprised me when I first moved here. Growing up in and around Edinburgh, I was used to travelling a long way between urban and rural areas. With Cork city, you can have lunch at a multicultural food market, go to a jazz festival, spend the afternoon on a stunning coastal walk, visit a ninth century castle and go to a cozy pub for traditional Irish music and dinner all in one day.

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

Through the Merck Sports and Social group events we have at the Cork site, particularly as a new graduate, I made lifelong friends. Many of whom even attended my recent wedding! The encouragement to participate in volunteer programmes through Merck has also led to me integrating and becoming a part of the local community. In particular, the educational programmes in local schools we run through our Curiosity Labs programme.

What do you like most about your adopted home?

The craic! The Irish really do have an unrivalled sense of humour (second only to us Scots of course) and are so welcoming.

What advice would you give to someone else considering making a move like yours?

Do it, but be sure to research as much as you can to make the move smooth. There is a lot of social content out there about moving to Ireland made by expats from all over the world with tips, tricks and watch-outs. I was lucky to have a friend already here to guide me, but would have struggled a bit without that, so preparation is key.

Explore! Prior to Covid-19, I did very little travel within Ireland. In the years since, we have discovered so many incredible places all over Ireland and Northern Ireland.

I also suggest going to a county hurling game. The Irish are hugely proud of their traditional sports and it’s the fastest paced game in the world with an unmatched atmosphere that even a non-sports person like me loves it.

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