At Sheffield I made lifelong friends and received a great education that has prepared me well for the work I currently do.
What does your employer do?
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is leading a world-wide effort to harness the power of fusion energy to create our own miniature stars, providing low carbon, sustainable energy to homes across the UK and the World. To achieve this, UKAEA is advancing fusion research through better understanding of plasma physics, robotics, and materials science as well as different aspects of engineering.
UKAEA is sited at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, managing the UK fusion programme at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) which is one of the world’s leading fusion research laboratories. There is also a new site for UKAEA’s Fusion Technologies Facility in Yorkshire at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Park, where researchers are focused on developing the manufacturing processes needed to build fusion power plants in the future.
What are your main responsibilities?
The main responsibilities of my role include managing and delivering projects both experimental and report based for various programs including the EU DEMO program and UK STEP program. The projects are all waste-related but vary significantly, from designing novel techniques/ treatment schemes to minimise the amount of waste produced, to performing design reviews of current reactor designs. Collaboration with and project management of industry is also sometimes involved and personal projects have seen work with Rolls Royce, NAMRC and the Materials Department at UoS (Sheffield).
Another significant responsibility is as an internal ‘waste materials expert’ where I am invited into meetings with various other projects throughout UKAEA such as breeder blanket material choice for STEP and planned work for JET.
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day includes a mix between solo work on current projects and meetings for the various projects I am involved with. The solo work is quite similar to that of a final year student working on their dissertation and involves some experimental work and some literature review. The current pandemic has seen me working from home since the first lockdown only returning to site once to collect some hardcopy documentation. The pandemic has had a minimal effect on my day to day activities as the work on experiments I was involved in could be managed remotely.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your current role or your greatest career achievement so far?
The most rewarding aspect for me is the chance to speak and present at high level program meetings within STEP and DEMO, and feeling valued in doing so as someone relatively new to the industry. My proudest achievement relates to the potential of a novel waste treatment program I developed for the EU DEMO reactor that could reduce the intermediate level waste produced by over 75%.
Are there any challenging aspects? If so, what are they?
The breadth of work can be quite challenging. With multiple different projects and responsibilities ongoing at once, this makes keeping track of all the detail and deadlines a challenge but a manageable one. The pandemic has left many challenges, though the most prominent for me is the communication challenge of trying to communicate complex ideas virtually in large meeting >10 people compared to doing it in person.
What skills/qualifications from your degree or other training do you make use of in your job?
I make use of a great number of skills gained form my degree. Not only the general and specific materials knowledge gained form the course content, but particularly the skills also gained during ITP industry projects relating to project management and dealing with industry, as well as managing all the aspects of the course alongside that including my final year project.
Another aspect that has helped in my role is the contacts I made within the department with lecturers. My first project at UKAEA was project managing work with NAMRC and the UoS. This involved working with Dr Richard Thackray who had taught me much of the knowledge required for the project itself while I was at UoS.
How have these skills or your course made a difference in your career?
I think my course is responsible for me having been able to pursue this career in nuclear fusion, with the lectures about it providing good basis. Also, the involvement with the wider nuclear industry through ITP projects with NNL, and being included within the ISL meetings have helped greatly with my confidence in the industry.
Why did you choose to study at Sheffield rather than another institution?
The links and experience with industry that the course at Sheffield provided were what stood out to me compared to other materials courses at the time. The prevalence of the award winning SU was also a large factor in choosing Sheffield.
Did your time at Sheffield meet your expectations?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time a Sheffield making lifelong friends as well as receiving a great education that has prepared me well for the work I do currently.
What were the best things about studying in the Department?
The lecturers themselves were always approachable, keen, and willing to listen and help students if they needed it. I had first-hand knowledge of this as a committee member of MatSoc and as the department SU rep for two years. Being part of MatSoc was also very rewarding even with the stresses that came with planning the MatSoc spring ball would bring.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I would be very keen to stay on at UKAEA progressing into roles with more impact and responsibility for the future of nuclear fusion.
If you could give one piece of advice to current students or recent graduates, what would it be?
It would be to get involved in as many aspects of Uni as you can, whether this is running societies or representing the students in your department at the SU, you gain so much relevant experience for your future. If you have the chance to be part of groups such as the ISL within the department I would urge students to go along and engage. Getting exposure to professional research like that early can really help you later in your careers.
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