Talk with Jacob Winther (Process Supporter)

This week we introduce you to Jacob Winther, a competent chemical engineer. He finished his BSc in Chemistry and Biotechnology 2017, and followed by a MSc in Chemical Engineering in 2019 from the Faculty of Engineering at University of Southern Denmark (SDU). He is currently working as a Process Supporter in Purification at Novo Nordisk.

Jacob graduated in 2019, and has been working at Novo Nordisk after his graduation. Even during his education, he has worked in many different jobs and roles. To name a few, he has worked as an Instructor and Tutor at his alma matter, Southern University of Denmark. Undoubtedly, he has a robust and in-depth understanding of chemical engineering principles in both theory and practice.

It goes without saying that Jacob is a competent chemical engineer with robust knowledge in his field. He is currently working in a demanding degree-related position. Therefore, we are lucky to have had a talk with Jacob to learn more about his education and work. So read his answers below to learn more about him.

Education

How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

The workload was high and very demanding, especially on the master's. Each semester we would have a group project/assignment to hand in every course. On the master's we delivered 5-6 reports in the last couple weeks of the semester.

I spend the most time on my process design, modelling and simulation courses, not just because they're difficult, but because I enjoyed them the most. On weekdays I would use much of my free time in MATLAB or excel setting up balances and models for fun.

Although the workload was high and we studied a lot, the long days and late nights with my co-students is something I look back at with nostalgia.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

Yes, we had a lot of chemistry courses on the bachelor's and most of them were shared with the pure chemists, such as a couple of classes in organic chem, one in inorganic, and two instrumental and analytical chem.

Some of the most intense courses were applied physical chemistry, thermodynamics, and catalysis but at the same time they were also some of my favourite courses. I've always enjoyed learning how to use chemistry compared to the advanced mechanics of chemistry.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

Heterogeneous catalysis was definitely the most difficult course for me. It was one of the first specialization courses I took during my master's and the complexity of the kinetics and heightened expectations made it difficult. The course really challenged me and made me really interested in kinetics, which is why I ended up doing my thesis on a catalytic system.

My most "dreaded" course was "Chemical Production and Environment" on the first semester of the bachelor. The chemical production part was a blast with mass/energy balances, unit operations and environmental technologies. Environment was more about environmental and work environment legislation and documentation, which to be honest, was really boring to me, so I struggled on that part.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?

From early on, I found thermodynamics and process design exciting, which is why I ended up specializing in chemical technology/process engineering. I've always been interested in mechanicals and mathematics/physics, so it seemed the natural choice. There's something about moving parts in complex systems that piques my interest.

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad? if yes, from where to where? How did you do it?

I ended up doing both my bachelor's and master's in Denmark, however, I thought a lot on my bachelor's about going abroad.

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

I worked as an instructor in Basic Chemistry during my master's and began as a tutor late on my bachelor's. Besides that, I participated in a lot of volunteer organisations such as the university friday bar and "SIF". My instructor job came to me through one of my professors who had an open position and happened to think of me. What I learnt here was that networking is important. So I did some one time volunteering at different events and through those I got permanent roles in student organisations.

I definitely believe that all of my "jobs" helped me develop as a person. One of the most important skills I really got to work on was communication. For example, as an instructor you have to be able to explain a complex subject that you have a much better and more advanced knowledge of to a student who might have no knowledge. Learning to explain and provide information on the level of the recipient was challenging and something that I now use every day to explain the what, why and how.

Work Experience

As mentioned Jacob is currently working as a Process Supporter in Purification at Novo Nordisk Kalundborg. Read his answers below to learn more about his tasks and responsibilities.

Which industry and role are you currently working on? How long have you been in your current industry?

I work in the Pharmaceutical industry. It is my first "real" job in the industry, and I've been there for almost 2 years. My official title is Process Supporter in Purification at Novo Nordisk.

What is your daily work routine like?

As a process supporter my main responsibility is to support the operators and ensure that the process area, I'm responsible for, perform as intended and complies with cGMP and existing regulations on a daily basis.

What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?

Typical tasks are to maintain the high quality and compliance of the final purification process in cooperation with the operators, technicians, and QA. I mostly do optimization and improvement projects, as well as a lot of data analysis to provide a better understanding of equipment performance and behaviour. Should challenges arise I'm there to help solve them.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

The two that comes to mind is being analytically and technically minded spotting patterns, predict and diagnose/analyse based on your technical understanding of the process steps and the process as a whole.

The most important soft skills are definitely being a good at communicating, being curious and to be a team player. Being able understand and be understood is key to good collaboration/teamwork. Being curious and asking questions only help when making decisions.

What is the best thing about your job?

The variation in daily tasks because of the complex processes, where I come into contact with automation, engineering and business topics. It's always fun and satisfying to learn new things and get through challenging tasks knowing that what you're doing ultimately contributes to the well-being of others.

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

Working at a pharmaceutical company in daily operation I use thermodynamics, process design, purification technology and statistics the most. However, the most important topic of them all is the engineer's ability to apply theory to reality and come up with a creative solution for practical tasks.

How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?

Although I haven't changed jobs, I can say that it was both terrifying and exciting to transition from student to graduate beginning his first degree related job. It has been great experiencing moments where the practicality of the job and the theory from your degree comes together.

What are you future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?

My plans are to continue working close to production for the time being. I like to experience the practical side of chemical engineering and connect it to the theory I've learnt. My goal is to eventually take my hands-on experience with processes, equipment and production into a role in R&D or consulting.

What was your first job after graduation and how did you get it?

My current job was also my first. I knew what kind of job I wanted and was applying to several positions weekly. Then I attended a CV and job searching course a couple months after I graduated, one of the course assignments was about contacting potential employers, where I called on a job posting by Novo Nordisk, talked to the team leader, applied and got the job.

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

Figure out early on which topics you enjoy working with and go in that direction. It will keep you motivated, and you'll hopefully end up working with something you like.

You should also try developing skills not related to Chem Eng. that you can use. It doesn't have to be academic. It might just be that you have attended a fitness instructor course and can spearhead small energizer sessions, or you bring a joke of the day at the morning board meeting. Contributing is not always about taking on more assignments or doing more work.

What skills should they focus on during university years?

Communication, public speaking and teamwork. All three will help you immensely at work and at home. Being able to communicate your ideas and feelings honestly to the people around you, be it colleague, manager or partner, is something that will help you if you're surrounded by people who want you to be on your best.

Besides that it's always a good thing to be proficient in excel or have some coding experience.

“Treasure your time at university/college and don't worry too much about being what the industry wants. Be what you want to be and someone will recognise your passion and skillset.”
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