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Ioanna Voulgari

Current position: Associate Scientist
Employer: Janssen Vaccines and Prevention
Master’s programme and track: Chemistry – Analytical Sciences track 

The trials and tribulations of internships

'My main internship was for Shell in the mass spectrometry department. The topic was about polymer separation and characterisation using chromatography and mass spectrometry. The internship was intense. The first few months were stressful, because I didn’t exactly know what I was doing and the experiments weren’t always successful. However, an internship is mostly trial and error. This is how you learn and gain experience. And it is also sad, of course, because by the time you have started understanding the experiments and you are eager to explore more, the internship time is over. In the end, the internship experience is something to help you mature and prepare you for the job market.' 

Sometimes the right job finds you 

'Currently, I work at Janssen Vaccines and Prevention in Leiden, which is part of Johnson&Johnson. The truth is I did not find the job, the job found me. I was working as a technician in another company when I was approached by a hiring agency that found me via my LinkedIn profile. I started in the company in January 2018 as an Assistant Scientist in the Analytical Assays (AA) group where I was performing non-standard routine analysis in virus vaccine samples. In January 2020, I moved on to a different department within the company; the Quality control Department (QCD) to work as an Associate Scientist in the Quality and Product Stability group and be part of the COVID-19 vaccine project of Johnson&Johnson.

Exploring new horizons

'I do not work in the laboratory anymore. Some people ask me, whether I miss working in the lab. Yes, the Master’s degree gave me the tools and knowledge to work in the laboratory. However, your focus and goals change over time based on the experience you have collected. And I knew that I wanted to stop working full-time in the laboratory and explore something new. I mostly work behind my desk collecting data from the sample testing and compiling them into study reports. Most of these reports are eventually submitted to the authorities who provide the necessary license confirming a specific vaccine is safe and can be administered to patients for infectious diseases such as Ebola, HIV or the coronavirus.'

A career is one long experiment

'I always like to think of my future career as a long experiment. You always begin somewhere: a starting point. Many times, it will fail in the process – trial and error method again –  but eventually the experiment will be a success. Even then, however, a success can always be improved and optimised. This is the same with your future career. Your starting point is your Master’s degree. Try different jobs, experiment with career options, challenge yourself, see what works for you and explore that. Eventually, you will find the career path that fits you best, both on a professional and personal level.'