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Spotlight: Sandra Robertson - Operations Process Technician - Abbott Dundee

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I don’t have any pets at home but have an ‘adopted Dolphin’ which I was given as a gift for my 21st birthday. I still support the charity today, so have been adopting a dolphin for almost 30 years. The charity supports the pod of dolphins which can be seen from Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth, and I have visited to try and catch a glimpse of ‘my dolphin’ many times.

Tell us about your career journey so far.

By 6th year at school I realised I was really enjoying the laboratory aspect of chemistry but was finding the written work more challenging. I made the decision not go to college or university, but instead chose to look for a junior laboratory position in industry. Unfortunately, I was made redundant from my first position after only 6 months, but that short time was enough to know I’d made the right choice for me. Next, I started as a Laboratory Assistant with the Scottish Agricultural College in Aberdeen and gained a wide range of skills in both the chemistry and microbiology departments over my 8 years. I changed role to a Manufacturing Technician and joined Axis-Shield Diagnostics Ltd in Dundee in 2001.

The core of the business was ELISA assays, and it was my transferrable skills in immunoassay that secured me the role. I have had several roles, becoming a Laboratory Assistant Supervisor, the role including interviewing for new starts and giving others that first opportunity in a working laboratory environment. I have taken secondment opportunities, which have allowed me to develop different skills and gain knowledge of other aspects of the business. The business has also gone through some changes and is now part of Abbott, a multinational medical diagnostics and devices company. My current role is an Operations Process Technician, focussed on validation of processes and equipment, and process improvement.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

At school my favourite subject was art. I especially enjoyed art history and learning about the hidden meanings by artists in their paintings. It allowed me to be creative and experimental. The school had a dark room for photography, and I enjoyed the suspense of developing my own images, not appreciating the link to the chemistry involved to achieve this.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

For my role it is important to have good communication skills, both for written reports and presenting data back to my supervisor or peers, with an increasing need to be proficient in virtual communication channels also. Maths is also something which I use daily, numbers can be very powerful to show when a process is out of control, to allow changes or corrections to be made before the problem reaches the customer.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I like a puzzle, something that is a little bit frustrating, something that if you find the solution you can make not just your day better, but your friend’s day too. My current job role is a little bit like this. In validation I am looking to lock down that one sequence of steps that ensures we make the best quality product we can, every time. And in process improvement I can be creative and experimental, it doesn’t always work, but I still learn from trying and get to try again.

What is a normal day in your role like?

My day can depend on the project I am supporting. I have recently been involved with embedding the Abbott Quality Management System into the Dundee site. To align fully, this has led to the need for additional supporting evidence that our procedures are of the expected quality. Mixing, none of our products can be manufactured without mixing, a business-critical process, which has been assigned to me. My days can vary between designing and executing experiments to generate the supporting data required. Writing engineering studies evidencing the exact approach taken. Making conclusions and decisions on the results observed and documenting them clearly. Attending meetings, sharing my findings and brainstorming ideas with the production and quality managers to agree the next steps. Some of the work can be repetitive, but part of the challenge of validation is evidencing that the same process can be repeated multiple times with error.

And what does your job title mean?

My job title is Operations Process Technician. I work as part of the Operations Department, where all the customer products are manufactured, filled, and packed. To be able to do my job I need to understand what the current process is in detail, and this requires me to work closely with colleagues across all departments. I need to know what goes wrong, how frequently it goes wrong and what the consequences are for the business, but more importantly for our customers. I do not have any direct reports in my role; however, I am require to interact with staff at all levels in the business.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Much of what I do requires me to follow a specific set of instructions, like following a recipe to make a cake or building instructions for DIY furniture. If I don’t follow the steps in the correct order, and take time to read the details, my cake won’t rise or I’ll have screws left over, both resulting in a poor quality product. For our customers who rely on our products, not following the steps could mean receiving the wrong medication from their GP, being hospitalised longer than necessary, or not being hospitalised when they should be. Following instructions exactly is essential in my role.


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