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Spotlight: Mike Walters, Graduate Chemist, Energus

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I like to play a sport called shinty, if you’ve never heard of it, it’s similar to hockey except you can use both sides of the stick! It’s a Scottish sport mostly played in the Highlands, so my team sometimes travel up there to play the teams in the area.

Tell us about your career journey so far.

I studied chemistry at the University of Durham and graduated in 2020. I joined the nuclear graduates scheme after university as a graduate chemist. This graduate scheme introduces graduates into the nuclear industry, and it involves three placements over two years.

My first placement was at Sellafield Ltd, which is a nuclear power plant currently under decommissioning, and other activities such as nuclear fuel reprocessing and waste storage are also carried out there. Sellafield is currently working on cleaning up and storing its nuclear waste safely to protect the community and environment from the dangers of radioactive waste. My role at Sellafield was to research characterisation methods to safely analyse our radioactive waste, and also create a strategy to safely and efficiently process our waste and clean out our storage vessels.

My second and current placement is at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority working in International Relations, with a focus on Japan.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

As a chemist, my favourite subject was obviously chemistry! I enjoyed the fact that all concepts we learned about had logic

al explanations to them, and I also liked the fact that so much of what we learned could be explained using real life examples. My favourite part were the experiments, it was great to learn about a concept and then test it out yourself. The experiments were good for teamwork and communication as we often had to work in pairs or groups.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

Chemistry and physics are very important in my job role; I use them every day to understand analytical techniques and scientific concepts and then explain them in my reports. Maths is also important, as I need to undertake scientific calculations, analyse the data and create visual data such as graphs to help explain my findings. English and humanities are also important subjects, as these help with communication skills, which is useful when writing up reports or taking minutes from meetings.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

My favourite part about my job is that there is flexibility in how we complete a placement. Instead of being told what you’ll be working on you can think about your strengths and weaknesses and then request work or projects that will help you improve in areas that you are not as strong in or don’t have lots of experience in. For example, I wanted to understand the wider role of nuclear in the international community and discover something outside the world of chemistry, so I took on a placement in international relations, despite never working in this area before.

What is a normal day in your role like?

A normal day will involve me working on reports, which includes researching information and taking notes, writing up the report and speaking to others to find out more on topics that they are experts in. I have regular meetings with my line manager where I update on the work I have been doing and discuss any issues I may be having. This is useful to ensure the work I am doing is on the right track and I can be pointed in the right direction if I need some help.

As part of the graduate scheme, we have to complete an SME (Small-Medium Enterprise) challenge, where we set up a business from scratch, create a product/service to sell and donate profits to charity. My role in our company is creating marketing material and running the social media accounts, so I also find myself doing that on most days as well.

And what does your job title mean?

A graduate chemist means that I am a chemist at entry level, as I have just graduated from university. As I am on a graduate scheme, this means that my work has a focus on developing a variety of skills, from scientific skills related to chemistry to soft skills such as communication and teamwork.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Working in chemistry means working with liquids that often don’t mix and trying to get them to mix together. Linked below is a YouTube video created by a couple of graduates explaining why some liquids, such as oil and water, don’t mix. There is also a demonstration of this which can be carried out in the classroom or at home with basic equipment.


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