Why I became . . .

Six successful people discuss their career paths – and what they might have done differently

 

Kieran Walkin, entrepreneur

I studied music in UCD. I knew there wasn’t money in pop music and I didn’t want to make it as a star. Nor did I want to be a chamber musician; for me, it was all about being a composer, writing and selling music, or being involved in music production.

But I spent most of my time in college making websites, working for IT companies and on digital CCTV systems. I was knee-deep in enterprise, but it still hadn’t dawned on me that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

As time went on, I became more and more involved in business endeavours at the same time as playing and writing music in bands. I set up different businesses over the years. Many didn’t work out, some were successful, and some just ran their course before I tried something else. Such is the way in business, but I’ve never thought of it as failure: it’s part of the learning experience in this industry.

Little Vista is my current project and we make software for the childcare industry so that parents can feel confident that their kids are being properly minded.

Besides music, which I’ve kept my hand in, I don’t know what else I’d do if I wasn’t an entrepreneur, because it is constantly challenging and rewarding in so many ways. Though if I was a multimillionaire, I’d love to be an investor and philanthropist: I hear you can get to the international space station if you have enough money.

Rozelle Owens, dentist

“Could do better if she applied herself” was the standard line in my school report cards. My college choice was greatly influenced by how hard I would have to study and how many points I would realistically get. So I picked arts in UCD and ended up doing pure economics. I always liked maths and, being a practical person, loved the logic in economics. I went on to do a postgraduate masters degree in economic science, travelled the world for two years, and came home to work.

I sat the exams for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, but I did feel a bit lost. I went to a life coach and eventually told her I’d like to be a dentist, but that at this stage I should be on a mortgage and getting financially stable. She questioned why I “should” do anything and that has stuck with me: I wonder how many people are unhappy because they are doing what they think they should, as opposed to what they wanted. It gave me the courage to follow my dream.

But dentistry required chemistry so, after 10 years, I went to sit my leaving cert again. My dad, who is a dentist, advised me to take physics as well, so I did.

I was accepted into the dentistry programme at UCC. My friends thought I was mad: another five years of study. But 10 years later, here I am, a dentist, my own practice on Dublin’s Baggot Street (D4 Dentist) and a young family. This is a vocation. I love it. There’s so much more to dentistry than just teeth. And I’m starting a distance learning masters in Kings College London this month.

Ruth Kidney, architect

Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be an architect. It’s a family thing: my grandad was an architect as was my uncle, and my brother is in the same profession.

It is a career that requires an aptitude for problem solving and an artistic flair. I got into the DIT course but I didn’t take to it immediately. I later found that I enjoyed working in architecture far more than studying and I knew then that I had made the right decision.

After a few years working, I went travelling the world with my boyfriend – now my husband and the father of my two little girls – and arrived home in 2009, smack-bang in the middle of the recession. I decided to do a Masters in Urban Building Conservation and was lucky to get part-time work which saw me through the hard years. I’ve worked in a few different roles since and currently work in OMS Architects; they’re a great firm to work for and really family-friendly, which is rare in this industry where overtime and long working hours are very common.

Architecture is a tough career, and there is a lot of responsibility and risk: we are accountable for workmanship on site and work can be full-on when the construction industry is booming but thin on the ground when the economy isn’t strong. For me, it is worth it.

I suppose if I wasn’t an architect, I’d probably be an accountant, and that did go down on the CAO. But I can’t imagine any other career – I’m in architecture for the long haul.

David Robert Grimes, physicist and cancer researcher at the University of Oxford

The allure of physics was hard to resist: it offers an incredible set of tools to illuminate not just our universe but everything we face as a species. It also offers huge scope to enter a wide variety of fields, and having that freedom rather than being restrained at the age of 18 made it that bit more appealing.

At different stages during leaving cert years, I was genuinely divided: I also have a passion for music and theatre and seriously considered that option. I also found journalism fascinating, so that was another consideration. Even law briefly crossed my radar. But in the end, fundamental science at university level seemed too great a privilege to pass up, and after being very impressed by the physicists at a DCU open day it became my first choice.

I was always that overly earnest kid who asked too many questions. Curiosity was my driving force. I thrived at university, and towards the end of my undergraduate degree, a lecturer suggested I apply for PhD funding. It seemed an interesting direction to take.

As a scientist, you have to be willing to jettison comforting ideas if the evidence demands it, and to constantly update your best hypothesis. There’s no shame in being wrong, only in not correcting yourself.

If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be writing or doing something with music. Though I have realised there is no need to jettison these loves. I now regularly contribute to a number of publications, television and radio shows on science topics. My love of music hasn’t diminished; it’s been informed by physics. I’ve published academic work on the physics of electric guitar techniques, which led me to a deeper understanding of both my instrument and my science. As long as I’m still captivated by this, I’ll keep doing it.

Gillian Mathews, business owner

I was all set to go to DCU. I was going to do international business and languages and go abroad for a year. But I didn’t get my first choice.

I thought it was the end of the world, but, very soon, I found that I really enjoyed European business and languages at the National College of Ireland. The college was small and friendly – it’s grown a lot since – and a very different experience to life in the big universities. I did, however, get to study for a year abroad in a big French university and got a lot out of that experience.

I went from a thesis on marketing to working in AIB’s graduate programme. I started in merchant services and then moved to marketing. Since then, I’ve worked with a number of different companies in a variety of marketing roles. After more than seven years in ACC Bank, which was bought by Rabo, I decided to take a redundancy package and was keen to move on to new challenges.

I’d always wanted to run my own business. At the same time, my brother Shane, a qualified sportswear designer, was hoping to set up his own business. We decided that our skills would be perfect for a bike shop and opened up Dublin2Bike on Erne Street. A lot of our business comes from employees in the big tech companies and we’re really in our groove now.

If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be running a different business. After leaving the bank, I did a course in millinery and have made numerous hats for friends and family, so I’d be further developing that business.

Dr James Dalton, scientific consultant, KPMG

I always had a grá for science. I trace it back to David Attenborough documentaries and the engineering know-how of the A-Team and McGyver (they were popular when I was growing up in the 1980s).

I did all three science subjects in school and knew it was what I wanted for third-level. But I struggled to choose the right science course – I didn’t know the difference between molecular biology and genetics – so I’m very glad I chose the general science degree at Trinity, because I had a taste of all the different disciplines.

I studied microbiology for my PhD in UCC and went on to work on research projects in New Zealand. Microbiology fascinates me: when you look at bacteria and microbes under the microscope, it’s like a whole zoo of the creatures that dominate the planet, shaping the land and oceans as well as the inner workings of our gut. Science is so creative: it is all about imagining the possible. Slowly but surely, science changes our world

Now back in Ireland, I’m working for KPMG, and I get to help all these different companies doing research and development here with claiming tax credits that support this kind of work and bring knowledge economy jobs to the country. I hear about interesting and exciting projects in pharmaceuticals, computer science, food technology and engineering.

I love it. I struggle to think what I’d be doing if I was wasn’t a scientist. I always loved carpentry, so that was an outside option, but ultimately I know I’ve found the right career.