A Levels: Chemistry, human biology and maths, plus business studies (AS-level)
University: University of Sheffield, UK
As a youngster, my dream job changed on a regular basis. I remember having all sorts of ideas, including at one time wanting to become a vet, but at no point did chemical engineering come to mind. I just knew I wanted to do something that I would enjoy and I wanted to build upon my interest in science and maths.
I chose my A-levels based on the subjects I already enjoyed. I loved maths so that was an easy choice and I also chose human biology and chemistry, as well as business studies at AS-level.
Ditching chemistry for chemical engineering
I was all set to study chemistry at university until one day I was flicking through a prospectus and stumbled upon chemical engineering. It mentioned how chemical engineering brought together maths and chemistry and that really appealed to me.
I ended up going to an open day at the
University of Sheffield
which further opened my eyes to chemical engineering and made me think a little bit more about life after university. I knew that by studying chemical engineering instead of chemistry, I would be undertaking a more vocational degree and thought that this would perhaps give me an advantage later in life.
I studied chemical engineering at university and was surprised at how little chemistry there was in my course. On the plus side, we did a lot of lab work in the first two years and as I really enjoyed lab work this was a real bonus.
Studying chemical engineering without physics
Lots of people who end up studying chemical engineering at university will have already studied physics at A-level and I was a little concerned that this would put me at a disadvantage. Not having that physics background did initially make some things harder to pick up in my first year but I overcame it by working closely with lecturers and putting the work in. Having studied mechanics modules during my maths A-level also went a long way to overcoming the lack of physics.
After two years I opted to take a leave of absence and spent just over a year working at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (who are now
). This wasn’t part of my course so I had to do it myself, which would mean graduating a year later than the students I had spent the first two years studying with. In hindsight, it was the best thing I could have ever done and I strongly recommend taking the time out in industry.
Working at BNFL helped put the degree-course theory into perspective. It also gave me an extra insight into industry. I then stayed on at the University of Sheffield to complete my PhD before joining
as a process engineer.
Working at Sellafield
I really enjoy working in the nuclear industry due to the unique challenges that it offers. I currently split my time working as part of the design and commissioning team for a new lab for the recovery of actinides from sample residues. I have already been able to work in lots of different areas of the
business allowing me to gain a broad knowledge of how the company works.
My aim now is to become a Chartered Chemical Engineer and, having spent some time working with the chief process engineer on business strategy projects, I am keen to explore more opportunities where I can apply my analytical skills to these types of projects in the future.
If you’re interested in chemical engineering, you need to make the extra effort to find out more about the subject as many schools don’t really understand what it entails. Use the resources here at whynotchemeng.com and also attend open days at universities or career fairs and ask lots of questions!