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Ewelina Wachnicka

"If I were to give young women a piece of advice, it would be: do not be afraid, you are better than you think."
 

 

 

My story is quite complex, but I guess in a way typical for my generation – I made my way up from sorting letters to working as a microbiology manager for an international company.

 

My adventure of emigration started in 2007, when I left Poland to take part in international exchange in Greece. I was a student at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn in the Food Science Faculty at that time. After six months of studying abroad, I wasn’t quite ready to start my final year of MSc degree. I didn’t have a clear vision for my future and had to think about what I really wanted to do in life.

 

At that time my sister lived in Manchester, so going against my family who wanted me to finish studies, I decided to take a gap year and go to England. I primarily wanted to improve my English, but I was also hoping to find a job related to my studies that would help me to get some clarity on what I could do after graduation.

 

The beginning was not exciting at all. Although I found a job the very first day, it wasn’t anywhere close to my dream – I worked in a post office on sorting letters. I kept sending my CVs – hoping to find something that would be related to my field of study, but with no luck. A few weeks later, I managed to get a job on the packing line in a pharmaceutical company. Soon after I moved to a manufacturing line. Even though the job was more exciting, it was still not quite what I came to Britain for.

 

One day – wearing my usual work uniform and slightly surprised by my own bravery – I approached people from the Quality Control department in the canteen, handed them my CV and said that I would like to get a job in the laboratory.

 

And I made it; I got a position in the microbiology department. I enjoyed my job, but few months later I had to return to Poland to finish studies. Having enjoyed my first experience in the UK, I quickly realised I wanted to come back - and soon I started my PhD at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.

 

After graduating I landed my first job here, at Unilever, joining the company's R&D department where I was responsible for doing microbiological risk assessments. Each time the company was planning to launch a new product I was responsible for making sure that they were safe to consume.

 

Three years later, I moved to a different part of the business where I took up a role as R&D microbiology manager. In my daily work I apply both my microbiology expertise and the most recent academic achievements in the process of creating tasty and safe products – ice cream and tea.

 

Our product development and its safe design is supported by analysis of research, guidelines, and regulations. I find it fascinating to see when all pieces come together and form the full picture – which in this case is our products on the shelves in supermarkets. This is a big satisfaction but also a great responsibility. It is particularly striking whenever I am travelling:  our products are present in over 190 countries worldwide, so that wherever I go, I see people buying them all around the world!

 

For a long time, my parents had little understanding of what my job really was about, but at some point I brought them a pack of ice cream and said that I contributed in their design. I could see how proud they were when they realised how significant was my role.

 

It seems to me that as immigrants – at least at the start of our careers – we always have to be better prepared and respond to new challenges more quickly. One of the attributes which I began to value more is determination to follow your goals and strenght to never give up.

 

I have been working abroad for many years and in many countries, but my values are inextricably connected to Poland, and I consider myself a Pole first. I always make sure that my colleagues pronounce my name – Ewelina – in full instead of seeking some easier forms or English equivalents.

 

Whether at work or in social settings I always strive to build a positive image of Poles. Through the Association of Polish Engineers in Great Britain we organise a lot of workshops and meetings to talk about our contribution to this country and inspire children, including those attending Polish Saturday Schools. It all started as a one-off event, but now the list of schools wanting to host us is still growing!

 

A year ago, I obtained a British passport. I applied just before the referendum as I was a bit concerned about the future. I did not want to end up in a situation in which the political situation could determine or limit my future. I love my freedom, and I have no intention to give it away, which, by the way, seems so typically Polish (laughs). I also wanted to have a right to vote in future elections – and to fully contribute to the future of the country I am a part of.

 

If I were to give young women at the start of their careers in the world of science just one piece of advice, it would be a suggestion that they do not be afraid as usually they are way better than they think they are.

 

With many of tasks throughout my career I would first be worried whether I can handle the challenge, but then I would just take a deep breath and make it happen.

 

In most cases, the outcome turns out to be pretty good.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs