Thérèse Heffernan tells us about her work on new drug substances facilities as part of the development of MSD’s proposed biotechnology centre in Dublin.
For Thérèse Heffernan, the change she would most like to see in the STEM industry is it becoming more open to taking in people from a diverse range of non-STEM sectors.
Of course, technical skills are important for technical roles, but in Heffernan’s career she has found it necessary to expand her skillset to adjust to the unique demands of the roles she has filled, such as in her current capacity working on new drug substance facilities as part of the development of MSD’s new, state-of-the-art biotechnology centre in Dublin.
We chatted to Heffernan about her career journey up until now and about the lofty plans for the new Dublin site.
What drew you to this area?
I was always interested in science and chemistry in school, which led me to study analytical chemistry with quality assurance in Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). On this course, I was introduced to the pharmaceutical industry and the work conducted within quality control (QC) labs.
What’s the best thing about working in this area?
The best thing about working in my area is that every day is different. There is so much happening and there is great variety, so you never get bored.
What’s the most exciting development you’ve witnessed in your sector since you started working in it?
New builds and start-ups are always very exciting and I have been lucky enough to work on two such projects so far during my career at MSD Ireland.
One was when we developed new pharma tableting facilities at MSD Ballydine in Tipperary and I am currently working on the new drug substance facilities as part of the development of MSD Biotech Dublin, our proposed new biotechnology facility.
The new site will play a pivotal role in the manufacture of MSD’s biologics-based medicines, including in the area of immuno-oncology, and will expand MSD’s current internal network of biologics drug substance manufacturing plants. Site preparation and facility design is currently underway, with full manufacturing operations expected to begin in 2021, subject to planning permission.
What aspect of your job did you struggle/have you struggled to get to grips with?
It’s really important to have diverse expertise to support the work you’re doing. In order to support a functioning lab, you need to have knowledge on wide-ranging areas including safety, compliance, data integrity, IT and a lot more.
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to face in your career, and how did you overcome it?
After more than 15 years working at MSD’s site in Ballydine, I was offered a brilliant opportunity to relocate to our site in Brinny, Co Cork.
It was challenging to move from somewhere you know all the people and the procedures, to a site where everything is new. It took time to settle in. However, this was a great move at the same time as it gave me the opportunity to expand my skillset and expertise while seeing a different way of doing things and meeting more of MSD’s talented team.
If you had the power to change anything within the STEM sector, what would that be?
It would be great to see more flexibility when it comes to people from other sectors taking up careers in STEM. I think there’s a lot to be gained from the sharing of knowledge between sectors, as we can all learn from each other.
Which of your personality traits makes you best suited to your job and this sector?
I think I have a strong drive to succeed and am determined to push items to completion, which is helpful when you’re working to specific timings and deadlines.
I think it’s important to ask for help when you need to and be willing to help others. The most important part of your day’s work is your team, and working together to ensure everyone is successful.
Is there something in your personal life that helps you/has helped you in your job?
In any job, I think it’s really important to have friends inside and outside of work that you can chat openly and freely to.
How do you make connections with others in the STEM community?
I make a keen effort to keep in contact with my MSD colleagues and share ideas through our internal systems as well as attending conferences and events throughout the year.
Has mentorship or coaching been important in your career?
It is always important to have a mentor that you can link to at a personal level and that you can talk openly with. This is a big part of the culture in MSD Ireland, and definitely helped me get to where I am today.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in your area?
I’d advise anyone thinking about a career in STEM to keep in mind that every job you have will give you exposure to different elements of the working world which can be applied to working in STEM, so don’t discount your previous experience.
Also, try and soak up as much as you can from the get-go. The knowledge and information you get in your very first role will stand to you as you move through your career.