Move to Norway boosts careers of Irish couple

Wild Geese: Catherine Townsley, Gentian, Norway

Catherine Townsley and her boyfriend Alexander Hilley: couple moved to Norway and are now buying a home there

Catherine Townsley and her boyfriend Alexander Hilley: couple moved to Norway and are now buying a home there

 

Mention Norway to most people and they think “oil” and “cold”. These were certainly the first things that came to Catherine Townsley’s mind when her boyfriend mentioned that he might like to move there one day. “I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea,” she says.

Yet, after three years with an Oslo-based biotech company, Townsley has doubled her earning power in a progressive working environment, where she can use her full range of scientific and marketing skills. Her love for the country is such that she is now learning the language and buying a home there.

Townsley, who hails from Belfast, studied marine biology at Queen’s University Belfast, before going on to specialise in biotechnology at Galway.

It was 2008 and jobs were increasingly scarce in the science sector. “So many of the big pharma companies were letting people go in droves,” she says. “Nobody on my master’s course had any idea where to apply for a job.”

Studies completed, she and her boyfriend bought a car, loaded it up with their possessions and caught the ferry to England. There, in Cambridge, she set about applying for jobs while he started a master’s in subsea engineering.

Determined to find a job in her field, Townsley spent months sending out CVs before landing a job with biotech firm Abcam. It was a competitive environment that enabled her to learn more about the business side of the industry, while keeping one foot in the lab.

That’s when the subject of Norway came up. Townsley was far from convinced. “I thought there’d be nothing there for me,” she says.

‘I could live here’

Oslo

Her boyfriend quickly found work in the country as an engineer, while Townsley applied for jobs online, from Cambridge. But, it soon became apparent that applying the traditional way, using search engines, wasn’t going to work.

Realising that Norway’s science industry was small, she decided to approach individual companies. She contacted a company back home in Belfast, where she’d done work experience as a student, asking if they knew of any Norwegian companies in the sector. They referred her to Oslo-based Gentian.

Townsley took a more a casual tack. “I sent them an email and said: ‘I know you don’t have any vacancies at the moment, but can I come in and have a chat?’ And they said: ‘Sure, just let us know next time you’re coming’.”

Having invited herself in for an interview, she immediately booked her tickets to Oslo. “I just went in and had a chat about my skills to see if there might be some overlap with what they were doing.” The approach worked, with a job offer following shortly afterwards. Townsley may have secured a job with her Irish “gift for the gab”. Yet, inadvertently, she’d done things the Norwegian way.

“Not all jobs here are advertised,” she says. “You’re best approaching a smaller company and going in to talk to them. It’s just putting your face out there and making yourself known,” she says.

Townsley is now running the marketing department of Gentian, a company which exports diagnostic chemicals. Employed for her business and scientific skills, Townsley has found that her lack of Norwegian has not been an issue.

“Norway is not a big market, so companies export a lot and need to provide documentation in English,” she says. She had joined at a time when the company needed a native-English speaker for expansion into markets such as China and the United States.

Interestingly, Townsley has found the working environment to be refreshing. Norway being an egalitarian sort of place, the management structures are flat and office politics are non-existent.

“You don’t talk down to people you’re managing,” she says. “It’s more about working together and bringing out the best in each other.”

Independent thinking is valued here, something that Townsley took a while to get used to.

“You have to find your own path, your own way of doing things,” she says. “People won’t be in your space unless you want them to be. There’s less micro-management, more flexibility and freedom.”

Townsley believes that Norway is an option worth considering, especially for science and engineering graduates.

“It’s a country that’s not well publicised, just a couple of hours away from Dublin. You can increase your earning potential, while staying close to your family,” she says.

“I always mention to people: ‘Come for a weekend, it costs nothing’.”

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