Image of Fionnuala Hayes, chemical engineer, MSD.
Fionnuala Hayes, chemical engineer, MSD. Image: MSD

MSD chemical engineer: ‘Soft skills are key to what I do every day’

23 Mar 2017

For those interested in a career in pharma, many new opportunities are at large manufacturing plants. But what do those jobs actually entail?

With thousands of jobs coming to the biotech sector in the next few years, opportunities for those who want to work in pharma are plentiful.

But what is life really like at a large manufacturing pharmaceutical plant? We spoke to chemical engineer Fionnuala Hayes about her work at MSD’s manufacturing plant in Tipperary.

What is your role within MSD?

As a chemical engineer within the site technical group, I am currently supporting a large capital project and facility expansion at the Ballydine manufacturing plant in Tipperary.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

To my delight, there’s no such thing as a typical day in a dynamic manufacturing environment. Each morning starts with a status check on the night shift’s progress and agreement on tasks for the day. It can then diverge into a multitude of different activities such as a performance analysis and troubleshooting, a technical design review or a project scheduling discussion.

What types of project do you work on?

Recently, I’ve spent most of my time on projects related to the development of the facility. These include equipment commissioning and qualification activities as well as system design.

I also work on site improvement initiatives and new product commercialisation, which is bringing innovative pharmaceutical products from clinical supply through to commercial launch.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Soft skills are key to what I do every day. Teamwork and inclusion amongst engineers, chemists and operators from different backgrounds helps to solve even the toughest of technical challenges I encounter.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

The most challenging part of my day is first thing in the morning, when there is a number of demanding tasks to get through. I like to take a few minutes to run through each of them and prioritise my to-do list. I take pride in what I’ve accomplished and enjoy crossing off each item as I go.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

My top productivity tip is to disable new email notifications in Outlook. With a higher level of connectivity than ever in the workplace, I find that a constant stream of emails can be very distracting. By disabling notifications, I can focus on the task at hand and catch up on emails at a later stage.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

My current role involves a lot of interaction with engineering consultancy companies, equipment vendors and other global MSD departments.

What I was most surprised to learn was the level of external input and challenging work required to get a facility from initial concept to final qualification. Communication and collaboration has been key to our success.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

The pharmaceutical sector is facing a number of global challenges with significant changes from traditional operating models. Roles within the industry are continuously evolving to address these challenges, and flexibility is required.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

There are two elements of my job that thoroughly motivate me.

The first is the importance of my day-to-day work to MSD patients worldwide. It is truly humbling to be part of a manufacturing supply chain that gets life-saving, innovative medicines to people who need them.

The second is that I continue to learn every single day. The fantastic development opportunities available at MSD Ballydine challenge me to build my engineering expertise, even six years after graduating.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading