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Case Study: Reuben Holmes

Personal details
Degree:MChem: Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry and Industrial Placement Profile picture
School(s): School of Chemistry
Year of Graduation:Jun-2011
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Sellafield Ltd
Job title: Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Technical Advisor
Occupational Sector: Science Analysis
What has been your route to getting your current position?
The route to my current position has been influenced by a number of factors, including: not knowing what I wanted to do after graduation, influence from friends and determination to gain a position on a well sought after graduate scheme. While at University I worked part-time at Ladbrokes and after graduating I moved home and worked full-time while I decided what to do next. A friend from High School approached me and recommended a job in the lab at British Sugar, highlighting the opportunity for some good industrial experience and decent pay ~£25k. I worked there as a seasonal worker for 7 months and gained masses of laboratory experience, as well as useful exposure to food production and relevant engineering practices. During this employment I used my spare time to apply for graduate schemes, of which I applied for about 6 in total. I secured a position as a Technical Advisor at Sellafield Ltd, a site in Cumbria which contains the most diverse range of nuclear facilities in the world. I have been in this position since October 2012 and am based in the THORP facility (Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant).
What does your job involve ?
THORP is basically a big chemistry set that takes used fuel from nuclear reactors and splits it into 3 parts: Uranium, which can be used again as fuel, Plutonium, which can also be used as fuel and Fission Products, which form the highly radioactive waste. My scope of work is quite varied, ranging from solving day to day problems to working on projects 10 years in advance of delivery date. Examples of work include: - Investigating problems that occur in the chemical separation of Uranium and Plutonium, finding root causes and providing solutions to the problem. - Coordination of highly active liquor transfers: providing chemical composition of liquors that are to be further processed. - Plant monitoring: producing trends to spot leakages, corrosion and identify issues before they cause a serious problem. - Liaising with customers: managing work done by the National Nuclear Laboratory and control of budget. - Providing technical advice/assistance to other areas of the fuel reprocessing system. - Reviewing chemical process flowsheets to ensure they still accurately reflect the fuel reprocessing system. The above is just a small portion of what my job involves, please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.
What are the best bits of your job ?
- Knowing that I am partly responsible for nuclear safety in the UK and the world. - Being supported to work towards becoming a chartered chemist through the RSC. - Developing chemical and mechanical engineering skills. - The variety of work on offer in my role and the opportunity to learn about other jobs on site. - Terms and Conditions: ~£29k starting salary and ~£36k after 2 years. 25.5 days holiday + 13 "accrued days" + 8 bank holidays = ~8 weeks off per year. - Job security.
Why were you successful?
- Industrial Placement as an Analytical Chemist at GlaxoSmithKline: Completed Lean Sigma Yellow Belt course and gained valuable industrial experience. - Work experience at British Sugar: Exposure to engineering practices and safety critical industries. - Work experience at Ladbrokes: Learned how to deal with different types of personalities in a stressful and fast-paced environment. - Researched the company before and while applying for the position. - Extra-Curricular activities, e.g. Air Training Corps, Sports Clubs. - Highlighted any awards I had won and relevant courses I had attended.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
- Problem solving - Written and verbal communication - Knowledge of chemistry - Organisation skills - Taking responsibility for your own work and future
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
The nuclear industry provides an extremely diverse workplace with so much going on all over the UK. Sellafield in particular, gives the opportunity to work in Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing, decommissioning of legacy facilities and commissioning of new facilities. The graduate scheme is world class and really helps you develop as an all-round individual, providing you with the tools to form your own pathways early on in your career. The work conditions and employment terms are excellent. 37 hours per week with a typical day starting at 07:30 and ending at 15:40. This leaves plenty of time in the evening to work on your social life. The Sellafield site is ideally situated on the edge of the Lake District, or if you prefer a more urban environment you can request to be based at their design capability in Warrington. My advice would be to do as much as possible to gain any industrial work experience and spend time developing some of the softer skills, such as learning how to work with different people, how to handle a variety of situations and work on being assertive without coming across as too pushy, while giving others confidence in your ability. Employers want to see individuals with a well-rounded personality, not just academic prowess.