Graduate Profile

Mary Allan, BSc Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1991

Mary AllanAt St Andrews I chose the options of Joint Honours in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics and studied lasers. For my final year project, I built my own diode pumped Nd:YAG laser. This was quite a thing all those years ago and still sounds fairly cool today! Apparently it is still in the undergraduate labs today.

I had absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do for a career, but circumstances dictated that I should be close to Birmingham, so I enrolled on their MSc course in Applied Radiation Physics. It was a good platform from which to start a career in Medical Physics.

Following my studies at Birmingham University, I was fortunate enough to secure one of the medical physics training posts and followed the two year Grade A training. I did apply within the NHS for a job in Medical Physics following my training, however, at that time there were no jobs available. I was lucky that another job was being advertised in New Scientist for what is now called the Radiation Protection Division of the Health Protection Agency (formerly known as the National Radiological Protection Board, NRPB). So I started at NRPB as a Radiation Protection Adviser in 1994.

I spent twelve years at NRPB / HPA,RPD in Oxfordshire. It was a very good job. From 2004, all Radiation Protection Advisers (RPAs) needed to have a formal qualification. As I had been in the job for some time, it was not too difficult to present a portfolio of evidence and gain a certificate of competence as an RPA under the RPA2000 scheme.

An RPA is defined in the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 – the current legislation governing work with ionising radiation. As an adviser, you advise companies in their specific duties as they will not have a detailed knowledge of this particular part of UK law. You need to visit the factories, laboratories – see what they are doing, take some measurements and work out whether it is safe practice. Now that RPAs are ‘professionally’ qualified, the remuneration is a lot better. In addition, I have been a Laser Protection Adviser (LPA) to various users, especially in the medical sector - hospitals, medical clinics and high-street laser users. Finally, since the usage of mobile phones has increased these last 5 years, my knowledge is used to advise on other non-ionising topics such as radio-frequency and microwaves.

First posted BDS 8.3.07