James Silton

James Silton

Name: James Silton

Job title: Project engineer

Company: Tate and Lyle

Country: UK
A-levels: Chemistry, electronics, maths and physical education
University: Aston University, UK

I wasn’t one of those kids that grew up with a master plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to be or even whether or not I wanted to go to university. I enjoyed maths, science and problem solving. However by the time I chose my A-levels, I still didn’t know anything about chemical engineering.

Initially I chose biology as an A-Level but after couple of weeks I realised that biology wasn’t for me and I quickly made the switch to chemistry. From there, it was my chemistry teacher who introduced me to chemical engineering as a career path.

Good timing

I think the timing of things was very important to me. I happened to reach the end of my A-levels at a time when the UK government was pushing for more students at university. One of the reasons chemical engineering also stood out was the potential career prospects compared to the other engineering disciplines. I was the first member of my family to go to university and I ended up studying chemical engineering at Aston University , UK.

Some of the chemistry on the course was similar to that of A-level which helped ease me into the course. As the degree progressed, the amount of chemistry on the course decreased but the basic principles I’d already learned still applied.

It’s fair to say that chemical engineering is a ‘full-time degree’. You put the hours in and it is a challenging subject. But it’s also a valued degree when it comes to standing out of the crowd amongst employers, all of the engineering degrees are.

Placement pleasures

I spent my placement year working in Newcastle for Rohm and Haas. Not all courses include placement years but I think they’re invaluable. My placement year really help me put the theory in to practice and further understand processing control systems, use of permits and site health & safety legislation – things that are much easier to learn in industry than in the classroom. Getting to grips with site plans also becomes much easier and appealing when you’re in an industry environment.

I think it’s important to also be aware that securing a placement can be hard work. Like most other students, I was left to my own devices to secure the placement and had to use resources like whynotchemeng.com to identify companies where I might be able to spend time.

My course lasted five years and I received an MEng qualification at the end. If you can get a MEng, coupled with that year in industry, it will put you to the top of the list in the eyes of many employers.

My first job

I joined Tate and Lyle in October 2009 and actually had my job offer in place before graduation which took lots of the stress off my shoulders prior to exams.

My first role at the company was based around the processing of dry sugar in to retail packs and agglomeration of low-calorie sugar. My job was to look at how I could make the process more efficient, bring additional production in house, saving energy and reducing waste.

I have recently moved into the company’s projects department and I’ve been working on the commissioning of a new steam turbine, carrying out a review of the cooling water system. I will be travelling to the US very soon for some training which I am looking forward to!

As a chemical engineer you have to enjoy problem solving and making processes work more effectively. It’s a hands-on job and you will get involved in manufacturing processes.

Chemical engineering is a challenging profession and it’s not easy. But the rewards are there to be had and the salaries can be very good.