Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Conall Blake and I’m from Navan. I’ve lived there my whole life, going to school there and I still play football for my local GAA club Bective GFC. My other interests include watching films, travelling, cooking, spending time with my girlfriend and friends, spending time with my dog, playing video games and listening to music!
What were you doing before you started the program?
After leaving school in 2016, I went to DCU to study cell biology and genetics. Although I loved the course and college unfortunately after first year I was unable to continue my studies. I then proceeded to work in construction for a year. After deciding that construction work did not suit my interests, I went traveling through Vietnam for a month and decided upon coming home to commit myself to going back to college.
What company are you working with as part of this program?
I am currently working for Helsinn Birex pharmaceuticals in Dublin.
What year of the program are you in?
I will be entering the 2nd year of the program this September.
What made you interested in getting into this line of work?
In school I loved biology and science fiction and always wanted to read and learn more about the different sciences. In leaving cert I had a fantastic biology teacher who was extremely helpful and encouraged me to pursue a career in science. Also at the time I was writing a history project on the story of Rosalind Franklin and her work on DNA. It’s still a topic I feel very strongly on and was my inspiration for picking my course on Genetics in DCU. Finally, I’ve had members of my family who have had illnesses and I always wanted to try and contribute to any change I could, and I felt science was the right area to do that in. It is a mixture of these reasons why I wanted to pursue a career in science.
What made you decide to choose the apprenticeship as a path for your education?
I had previously been in DCU and while I loved the college I felt the financial pressures of working and going to college was too much. The apprenticeship program was an ideal scenario where I could work and become educated at the same time, taking that pressure away.
How is the laboratory apprenticeship going so far? What skills are you learning?
So far I have been really enjoying the apprenticeship. I’m currently still learning new skills such as membrane filtration techniques, calibrations, skills relevant to working with a BSE (cleanroom) environment, performing PH analysis of different media, handling of dangerous materials and more!
Tell us about a typical day in the lab for you.
On a typical day I arrive into the lab and check in with the team I’m working with that week (A mixture of both chemistry and micro). After that I’ll perform balance calibrations for the entire lab which includes analytical and micro balances and PH meters. After which I’ll then perform tasks for my team. For example, while working with the micro lab I could be preparing a manifold/miliflex for filtrations, PH checks of laboratory samples, daily/weekly house-keeping, preparing reagents etc. Ill also check in with my mentor as to see what other tasks are needed to be completed around the lab.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing the program?
If I met someone who was interested in doing the program I would strongly encourage them to do it if they had a serious interest in working in an area of science. The first-hand experience of working in a real, company lab is second to none and attending college during the week also makes each week exciting and interesting while you also get the “college experience”. The fact that there is an opportunity to learn and earn at the same time is a perfect situation for anyone who wants to pursue a career in science to consider the apprenticeship program.
How do you think this differs from a traditional college course?
It differs from other college courses as you are gaining work experience while still going to college! I’m still in contact with many of my friends from DCU who are disappointed that their six month placements didn’t give them a similar experience to what I have each week. I feel as well that when I’ll be finished the course I will be far more confident walking into any job in the field then that someone with only 6 months experience on intra.
Do you feel you were supported in your role both on and off the job?
Being financially secure while studying means I can fully concentrate on my studies without that kind of stress, while at work I can perform tasks in the full knowledge that if I’ve any issues, I can approach someone in the lab who will have no problem in helping me develop any skill I may be struggling with. In the past in different jobs, being an apprentice or being someone who is inexperienced it can be hard to ask for help, but I’m currently in an environment where I receive the support of fully qualified analysts.
How has the program benefitted you?
The program has benefitted me as I’ve regained my interest in science and a future career in the field which I feel I might have lost after leaving DCU. I’m now more motivated than ever to achieve the highest marks I can in college while also trying to become a skilled member of any team I work with.
What are your plans for the future?
For the future I hope to fully complete the program and to continue developing my skills as a lab Analyst. After that I’d like to become more qualified and a specific area of science which interests me, maybe possibly studying genetics or some area in medical research.