A graduate of University College Dublin with a first-class honours BE in Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, Katie Kilcoyne is a process engineer with Jacobs.

She excelled in working and leading groups on projects throughout her college experience. She was the recipient of the 2018 UCD Carthy Graduate Research Project Award for her final-year thesis, 3D Printing Microfluidic Devices.

She subsequently published an article in the Engineers Journal based on her thesis, which won a prize as part of the 2019 ILC Dover Journal Article Competition.

Since graduating in 2018, Kilcoyne has worked on behalf of a range of pharma/biopharma clients for Jacobs, from concept to issue for construction project phases with a focus on responsibilities such as piping and instrumentation diagram and vendor package ownership to client handover; using software for problem solving such as Pipeflo and SchedulePro; and owner of process deliverables.

At what age (or stage of your life) did you start to think about becoming an engineer?

From a young age I was interested in problem-solving, but I first started to think seriously about studying engineering after attending the BT Young Scientist exhibition in the RDS in Dublin during transition year.

The school project that I was involved in was focused on food science, but there were a number of engineering companies hosting stalls at the event. Over the course of the exhibition, I kept going back to these stalls to try out their many interactive challenges, such as making towers with limited resources.  

Between that and talking to the engineers who were at the stalls, my curiosity was piqued in engineering as a career option. It turned out to be the perfect choice for a curious mind!

What were the major influencers of this decision?

My favourite school subjects were maths, physics and chemistry, so it always looked likely that I’d follow the STEM route in my career choice. Initially, science seemed like a more obvious option, but following the Young Scientist event, engineering appeared to be a better fit.

Engineers work together in teams and focus on providing creative solutions to complex challenges, so these aspects of the job really appealed to me. Following on from the Young Scientist event, while researching course options I came across a video on the UCD website that discussed the positive impact that engineering can have on the world.

This really captured my imagination: the idea that I could use my skills to transform society for good inspired me, and I decided on engineering as the career for me.

How has the career differed from what you expected, particularly initially?

During my final year studying chemical engineering, I decided that I wanted to work in the pharma industry. I had some experience of manufacturing through college internships, but I didn’t know whether I wanted to work in manufacturing or in-house.

In the end, the deciding factor that pushed me towards aspiring to work at a design house like Jacobs was the fact that project-based work really appealed to me. When you are working on a project, you are more exposed to the industry’s technological advancements.

I have also found that it’s the best place for me to progress technically because I am constantly challenged to solve complex problems.

What for you are the most interesting aspects of engineering?

Some of the most interesting aspects of engineering include problem solving, especially leveraging new technologies to tackle complex problems and make the process more time-efficient. I enjoy taking these insights and presenting them back to clients in an accessible way that informs our collective decision-making.

It’s hugely rewarding to turn abstract ideas into creative solutions that have a positive impact on society, making life simpler and more seamless along the way.

On a wider point, I’d say that engineering is a career that is constantly evolving - be that as a result of new technologies that we apply in the course of our work, helping to deliver new, innovative projects, and working across borders: deepening collaboration among our global team, to tap into the expertise needed to deliver projects. 

What do you expect to be the most exciting aspect of engineering over the next five years?

Pharma 4.0 is certainly a hot topic, specifically the impact digitisation and automation will have on the pharma/biopharma industry. It’s a very exciting prospect when we consider the implications for complex product portfolios with long life cycles.

As somebody who works at the coalface of the industry, the move towards more automated processes, 'smart' factories and using AI to make processes safer and more efficient will be especially interesting from a design point of view.

The pharma industry has a long legacy of innovation, bringing life-saving medicine to patients who desperately need it. While scientists discover life-saving medicines in a laboratory, a team of chemical engineers then take the 'recipe' and scale it up so that it can be made on a larger scale for the benefit of patients globally.

It’s our task to come up with advanced methods of producing these therapies more quickly and more cost-effectively while always ensuring the quality of the product. It’s inspiring and hugely rewarding work when you know that every optimisation or improvement you make is having a very real impact on people’s lives.

What would you say to somebody right now if they asked you should they study engineering?

I’d advise anybody considering this career path to talk to somebody who is already studying engineering. It’s the best way to get a clear picture of what is involved in the academic course and to understand what internship opportunities are available.

If you have an affinity and an interest in STEM subjects such as maths and science and have an appetite for problem solving, engineering is likely to be a great fit. An engineering degree gives graduates the flexibility to work in, and make a valuable contribution to, almost any industry.

This allows people to follow their passion and put problem-solving skills to use every day, As a career, engineering is at the cutting-edge of the innovations that are transforming our world and helping to create a better tomorrow – now that’s job satisfaction!