What is an Advanced Apprenticeship?
My name is Charlotte Vincent and for the past 18 months I have been involved in an Advanced Apprenticeship with LGC Forensics and CSR Group. This apprenticeship was an intense course working four days per week and studying one day per week.
What do you do in your job?
Every morning I have to calibrate all balances, pipettes and fridges/freezers. This is important as it ensures that all equipment is working correctly and giving lab staff a true result. I analyse water, soil and food samples for present radioactive isotope. These samples are separated into two different laboratories; low level and high level. It is important to keep the samples separated to avoid any cross contamination. The samples within the low level laboratory are mainly from drinking water companies, water from reservoirs and rivers. We also receive samples from other companies to process. In the high level laboratory we receive samples from nuclear power plants and also from witnessed sampling off site. Samples are processed by distillation, column extractions and evaporation techniques. I analyse the samples on liquid scintillation counters, Gamma spectrometer and Berthold counting methods.
I have also been involved in the validation of methods to achieve MCERT accreditation (Maintaining Certification Scheme). This is issued by the Environmental Agency and accredited by UKAS. The laboratory I work in will be 1 of only 2 laboratories to be MCERT accredited once the validation is complete.
I am required to complete competency samples within DNA item examination. Part of this includes working within LGCs High Sensitivity Profiling laboratory. This laboratory is required for the examination, extraction and PCR of low template DNA and particularly used for police cold case work.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I have had to learn new skills, processes and techniques as well as learning the theory behind them. I have a lot of variation within my work in this team, keeping the job very interesting.
What attracted you to your career?
Previous to the apprenticeship I was unsure of what career path to choose; so I studied a two year Level 1 and 2 Hair and Beauty course as I knew would always have this trade. My interest in forensic science came about after speaking to my Dad about his job as a Fire Investigator. He told me about how he worked alongside Crime Scene Investigators; I instantly found the field of forensics interesting.
How did you get in to your job?
I looked into completing various college courses within the science field but was unsuccessful as I was told I didn’t have enough scientific background. Fortunately I came across the apprenticeship advertisement and I was pleased to have been offered the job in 2011.
I was placed within the Specialised Forensic DNA department. From the first day they were all extremely welcoming and supportive and I was able to experience the forensic working environment within each laboratory and office. My team put a lot of trust and belief in me; I was given projects to work on and I was able to manage a lot of my own work. I was able to see a much specialised area of forensic science. I was involved in various specialist processing, from bone samples to Mitochondrial DNA samples. I feel very lucky to have gained such specialised skills.
What are the opportunities for career progression?
Having no real scientific background previous to the apprenticeship, I feel that I have gained a vast amount of experience, skill and knowledge and I have been positively challenged on a personal and professional level. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of the apprenticeship. I was fortunate enough to have been offered a job within LGC’s Radiochemistry department upon completion of my apprenticeship and I look forward to furthering my training and knowledge within the company. I have now completed my apprenticeship and I have been working with the Environmental Safety Services team for over two years.
What advice would you give for people wishing to enter your career area?
The academic side of the apprenticeship was interesting and challenging at times. The units and essays I completed tied in with the practical work in the laboratory. This was beneficial as I could put my knowledge to practice. I was involved in the additional courses provided such as; a visit to Keele Medical School, Blood Pattern Analysis, Forensic Photography, Court awareness training and Crime Scene Management. The Specialised Forensic DNA team also offered help and support with my academic learning by explaining parts that I was unsure of and allocating time for me to complete the work.