What is your name?
Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
I work with Pannonia Bio as a Process Engineer
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes. It keeps me very busy, but I’m pretty well paid by Hungarian standards and the cost of living is low, so I’m making pretty good money, I’m able to save, I’m able to take holidays and can do nice things when I’m not working. So it keeps me busy but gives me the means to make the most of life when I’m not working.
Questions about your current Job
How did you go about getting your current job?
This job would normally go to a chemical engineer, so I had to contact the company to back up that with my background in physics I have a very versatile skillset. They gave me a chance and I fit in pretty well with the Research and Development team.
Describe a typical day.
It’s a pretty variable workplace but I’ll try and generalise as much as I can. Different people in the team will work differently but, for me, I arrive at 8 or 9 in the morning depending on whether I want to do a workout before I get started. I will meet with the operators, the people who run the machinery while we oversee things and run the calculations/do the lab work in the background. They keep things running, we give them instructions like “watch the machines and make sure nothing goes haywire and give us a call if it does”. So my day will revolve around talking to engineers from other companies, analysing data, testing samples in the lab, having meetings with other engineers on our team or external teams…I also go on site at the main plant to observe processes that are ongoing or going wrong so we can resolve issues. We also do pilot trials where we do scale-down versions of things that we want to do in future so that we can characterise them and get all the kinks worked out so that when we scale it up to full industrial scale everything runs as intended.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
It’s probably the pilot trial – scale upside of things. Getting to test things and try them small in a lab and then getting to grow them large in a 1-2 ton container where you’re doing the same thing but you’re seeing it happen on a large scale and eventually this goes full scale to industrial scale. So something that started out with just a couple of beakers in a lab is suddenly being hundreds and hundreds of litres per hour being done in giant containers in an industrial facility. It’s cool to see how it grows but it’s ultimately the same thing.
Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
It goes hand-in-hand with one of the things I like best about the job, which is, the flexible work time. We’re not required to be there for very strict hours but at the same time it’s expected that when work needs to be done, we work whatever hours are required to get the job done. So when we’re busy, we’re extremely busy – We work a lot of long days, we work weekends, we work nights and then when things are a little bit calmer we can take extra days off or take a half-day because we want one. There’s pros and cons, but the flexibility is one of the best and the worst things.
Questions about education and training
What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?
I went to school in Ireland. I did applied maths, physics, technical drawing and art for my leaving cert subjects. At university I did physics with astronomy and space science at UCD. I then did the master’s degree in space science and technology, also at UCD. I did want to go abroad to do my masters but after shopping around a little bit I found that there wasn’t really anywhere offering a better course than the one I found in UCD without the extra effort and expense of going abroad so I was pretty happy to stay on and do that.
Questions about yourself
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
There’s a few. The most recent was my participation as an analogue astronaut with the Lunares research facility in Poland. I did a two-week isolation mission as a simulated astronaut in a replica habitat of what we expect a habitat on the Moon or on Mars to be like. We had very limited contact with the outside and we had to do a lot of research and engineering roles like an astronaut would do in these environments, so that was very interesting and one of the more recent things that I did.
A little further back one of the most interesting or exciting things I did that I’m most proud of was my time as an Irish National Trainee with the European Space Agency for two years, thanks to funding from the Irish Research Council. It allowed me to go work with the GAIA Science Operation Centre ESAC in Spain. GAIA is the most successful space telescope that has been operated to date based on the number of publications it has produced from the science data it has provided. It was incredibly rewarding to be a part of that team and to work to improve that mission.
What is your dream job?
If we’re aiming high, my dream job is to be an astronaut with the European Space Agency.
Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice
What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or goof work experience they can undertake for example.
Work experience is key. One of the most important skills to have is just patience and perseverance. It’s a challenging career and things won’t always go right, especially on the first time. There can be long breaks between what you are doing and what you want to be doing. It’s challenging and it’s hard to stick with. Most people following this path end up veering off and never coming back, so patience and perseverance would be the main personality traits required. Nothing else is common across all the people sticking with this.
Again, the main advice is to get work experience. There are many opportunities to do mentorships, traineeships, even voluntary work to get your hands dirty – to get involved with these organisations to gain experience, to work with the professionals and the experts that are at the very top level because all these people working for NASA and ESA they’re not only doing those jobs, but this is so much a part of their life that when they’re not doing that job they’re still involved in this industry in other aspects. So you meet these people by doing volunteer work, by doing these analogue missions, by doing an internship with a local observatory… So absolutely. I would say look into every possible avenue.