‘Competition was fierce, so yes I am proud’
Amy Ní Chuinneagáin is working as part of the Operations Development Programme at AbbVie. She completed an ME in Biomedical Engineering with University College Dublin and graduated in 2019. On 28 April this year she was named gradireland Graduate Employee of the Year at the 2022 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards.
Tell us about your current job and what it involves?
I am coming to the end of a three-year graduate programme (the Operations Development Programme (ODP) with AbbVie. It is a technical leadership development programme consisting of three 12-month rotations in different AbbVie manufacturing sites and global teams. The ODP is designed to give you accelerated career experiences.
You get the opportunity to challenge yourself by taking on roles and increasing responsibility in different areas of the business. The experiential learning, the formal training, performance management and the support from your managers and mentor help to build both your leadership and technical skills.
In my first rotation, as an Operations Specialist, I supported the commissioning and qualification (C&Q) of a new biologics fill-finish site. I was responsible for the development of the site alarm management strategy and the development of personnel training plans and training materials for Operations. I was involved in risk assessments, validation, and protocol generation, among other additional operations tasks associated with the qualification of a biologic fill-finish facility.
During my second rotation as a Process Engineer in a small molecule manufacturing facility, I was responsible for providing technical support for commercial Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) manufacturing and New Product Introduction (NPI) projects.
I also led and supported various continuous improvement initiatives across API and Drug Product manufacturing. My third and final rotation as a Programme Manager involves managing the technical transfer and qualification of new drug substance manufacturing and packaging processes across multiple sites across our international network. I govern the implementation of new equipment and processes for bulk drug substance and bulk drug product manufacturing.
What do you enjoy about the role and what are some of the challenges you have overcome?
The three things I have enjoyed the most over the last three years on the ODP have to be:
AbbVie is a great place to work. The work environment and the teams I have worked on made me look forward to going to work in the morning. I have developed great working relationships and friendships. We also have a culture of high performance – we are constantly striving to be best in class for our patients, which is rewarding and challenges me to achieve better results and become a better engineer.
2. Learning and development opportunities
Taking on new roles in different areas of the business pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes sure you are constantly learning and developing. Also, alongside the experiential learning through my roles and the 300+ hours of in house training I have received, I have completed a diploma in Project Management, Sterilisation and Depyrogenation Certifications, Dynochem Certifications, Yellow and Green Belt trainings, NIBRTtraining courses, to name a few.
I also have a development plan, which I put together with my managers and human resources colleagues, which outlines where I want to go professionally in the company and the roles and experiences which will help me get there.
3. Global opportunities
AbbVie’s global footprint opens doors for international travel and building international networks. In my current role, I am based in Ireland and work very closely with Singaporean, American, Italian, German and Dutch colleagues, which I really enjoy. I think the biggest challenge I have found with the ODP is overcoming, and not being afraid of, learning curves. A natural part of the ODP, and with any new role, is starting in an unfamiliar environment, with a new team, new processes, and you potentially do not have any experience in that area to draw on.
I intentionally sought out rotations in areas I did not have, but wanted to have, experience in. This was a challenge because I wanted to be a high performer and make a valuable contribution to my team, in a short space of time.
I find building good relationships with those I work with, shadowing my colleagues, being curious and asking plenty of questions, and focusing on doing the smaller things right at the start, helps to overcome that curve, and leads to becoming more confident in your role and taking on more responsibility.
What was the route you took to landing the job at AbbVie, what was the application process?
During my master’s in biomedical engineering with UCD, I applied for a 9-month internship with AbbVie. I visited their stalls at the career fairs and learned about the company and the opportunities they offered.
I applied through UCD, and I was invited to interview at their Cork site for an internship as a Business Excellence Specialist. I prepared for my interview, got on the train to Cork, and was luckily successful in landing my internship. I worked in Cork for 9 months, learning all about lean six sigma project management, problem solving and delivering on continuous improvement projects in my role. My performance in Cork led to an invitation to interview for the ODP. I was delighted to succeed in obtaining a slot on the programme, and I started in my first rotation in Sligo the following year!
What are the skills you most regularly use in your role and what skills do you advise those interested in this sector to work on developing?
I find that good communication and being organised are very valuable skills, and the skills I use the most, particularly in my current role as a Programme Manager. Good communication skills help to ensure you are aligned with your manager, your team and cross-functional teams, which helps to get things done faster and minimises issues.
Also, being able to understand something complex and communicate it in a way which is simple and clear is very valued in the roles I have worked in. Being organised is important. It helps with everything, from delivering your work on time, to being able to provide quick updates, making sure your meetings are efficient, and ultimately helps you, your team and the business to run better.
What advice would you have for a student considering a career in this sector?
My advice would be to speak to any contacts you have in the industry and get a feel for what their ‘day to day’ looks like. Attend career fairs and speak to companies about what they do and what a career for you might look like there. Apply for internships. My internship was the best thing I could have done to get a start in this industry.
Can you tell us how it felt to be named gradireland Graduate Employee of the Year and what are your thoughts on it?
It was a surreal experience. I felt incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I had gotten, the support I had received and the people I had learned from. I understand that there is a very high bar, and fierce competition for the award, so I was very proud of myself. A huge thank you to gradireland for the award and the fantastic evening, and to AbbVie for helping me get there!