Eoin Syron - Variety is the spice of life for this chemical engineer

Photo of PhD student Eoin SyronWhen he’s not climbing mountains or kickboxing, Eoin Syron can be found carrying out research on bacterial biofilms in the UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering. Eoin is in the third year of his PhD, working under the supervision of Dr Eoin Casey. He describes how he enjoys the varied and practical nature of his work.

Describe your career path so far.

After my Leaving Cert I studied general engineering in UCD and at the end of first year I decided to study chemical engineering. At the end of second year I worked for 3 months in the processing dept of Tara Mines Limited, Navan and for the summer of third year I worked in a pharmaceutical production plant with Eli Lilly, Kinsale. After finishing my degree I started a PhD in the School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering in UCD.

What does a chemical engineer do?

Put simply, chemical engineers take a process or chemical reaction which has been developed by a scientist and bring that process through pilot plant size, to a fully operable production scale. They are involved with the day-to-day working of the production plant.

How did your expectations of chemical engineering compare with the reality?

At the end of my first year in university, I decided on the area I wanted to specialise in. I had a very good idea of what it entailed as I had received introductory lectures and had been given a tour of the school.

What does your research involve?

My research consists of examining membrane aerated bacterial biofilms, with special interest in their application for secondary wastewater treatment. It involves experimental work in the lab cultivating membrane aerated biofilms and examining the environmental factors which affect them, and also creating mathematical models which help in understanding the experimental result.

Why is this research important?

This research opens up the development of new types of biological reactors, which can save space, time and energy, which all lead to cost saving.

Describe your typical day.

I don’t have a typical day as each day is different. For the past month I have spent every day in the lab conducting an experiment taking measurements and samples for further analysis. Before that I was working on a computer, building a mathematical model which I am using to predict some of the results and define the operating conditions of most interest. Currently I am aliasing results from the last experiment and putting together an overall picture of what happened during the experiment.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The constant variety, tackling the new challenges that are put before me and solving problems when they arise.

Is there any part of it you don’t like?

Unlike a lot of jobs you can’t just walk away at the end of the day. I am constantly thinking about how I can do things better and how I can improve what I did during the day.

What are your interests outside work?

Outside of work I play sport. During the summer I partake in mountain running, climbing and mountain biking. During the winter I play rugby, soccer, train with the kickboxing club and do some hiking.

What sort of opportunities are there when you leave college?

In Ireland there are lots of positions available for chemical engineering graduates in the pharmaceutical industry, food and process industries and more recently in biotech production. There is also plenty of opportunity to travel and work abroad in such industries as oil and gas.

Is chemical engineering a very difficult subject?

Chemical engineering isn’t a difficult subject. Some aspects can be more difficult than others but there is lots of support and help available within the school.

What skills do you need to have?

A love of maths and science, physics as well as chemistry, is a bonus. The main difference with engineering is that both the maths and sciences are taken and used for a practical purpose.

Do you need to do a postgraduate degree to get a good job?

No, there are plenty of jobs available for graduates. Many graduates also get jobs in areas outside of chemical engineering.

Do you have to be very good at maths to be a chemical engineer?

Yes you need to be good at maths. An honour in Leaving Cert maths is a basic requirement for entry.

What advice would you give a secondary-school student thinking about studying chemical engineering?

I would say, have a look over the subjects that are involved in chemical engineering and see if they interest you. Chemical engineering is more than just a third level course - it is also training to be a professional engineer.

 

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