Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby

Name: Alex Kirby

Job title: nucleargraduate chemical engineer

Company: nucleargraduate scheme, sponsored by Rolls-Royce (submarine nuclear propulsion division)

Country: UK
A-levels: Chemistry, maths, physics, further maths, computing, history, modern Greek
University: Imperial College London, UK

When preparing to apply for university I wanted to be a chemist because I found chemistry by far the most interesting, challenging and enjoyable subject at school (the iGCSE not so much). However my dad suggested I have a chat with one of our neighbours who happened to be a chemical engineer.

Feeling inspired

Talking to my neighbour made me realise that I was far more interested in the practical applications of science. I was really inspired by all the different aspects of chemical engineering and how it worked to improve society through industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

After reading more about it I decided to take the plunge and change my UCAS personal statement. I felt it was a subject that really worked with my preference for keeping a lot of options open and I was confident that I’d be able to make a difference in the world.

The main reason I’ve ended up in the nuclear industry is that I found the nuclear modules I took at university to be the most interesting, which meant I worked harder and got a lot more out of them. Of course I would not have joined the industry if I didn’t firmly believe that nuclear energy is one of the key technologies for solving the world’s clean energy problems.

My other favourite part was coursework. While completing coursework is stressful and demanding, learning with the purpose of applying my knowledge to a problem was so much more satisfying. That is why I regret never doing any serious work placements other than a short stint in a household products factory.

A varied graduate scheme

I’m part of a graduate scheme called nucleargraduates that is sponsored by Rolls-Royce nuclear. The scheme includes graduates from different educational backgrounds (mechanical engineering, civil engineering, environmental science, chemistry, and business) and sponsors (Magnox, Sellafield, INS, NDA and the EA).

As part of the scheme I can take placements at any company that is relevant to my development. I 've worked at Rolls-Royce in Derby, Babcock in Plymouth and the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London. I’ve travelled a great deal to attend a range of conferences, workshops, site visits and talks (including ones in Spain, France and Sweden).

I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved in the launch of a new initiative which educates young people about the different aspects of the nuclear industry and the vast range of job opportunities available across the sector called Critical Paths. You can find out more and download the resources (for free!) that I have helped create with my fellow graduates by visiting our website:  

Job satisfaction

I’m currently working at Rolls-Royce where on a day-to-day basis I am supporting a legacy plant on site. This involves reviewing past work, writing reports and of course walking around the plant with the operators.

The best part of my job is finishing a project. There is a great deal of satisfaction knowing that your work will be used to support others.

My advice to students interested in chemical engineering is to make sure you pay attention in maths, and rest assured that as you begin to link your education with real-life problems it becomes a lot more satisfying. Also it’s never too late to change your mind on something!