Winner: 2020 Chemical Sciences Apprentice of the Year
For proficiency in a variety of analytical techniques and serving as a fantastic advocate and brand ambassador for apprenticeships, chemistry and Thames Water.
Celebrate Katty O'Brien-Quilty
Katty O’Brien-Quilty, amongst all the other analysts working in the Thames Water laboratory, works towards completing nearly one million tests a year on clean water and wastewater from London and the Thames Valley region to ensure it is safe to drink and safe to release back into the eco-system respectively. Over 55,000 of these are carried out by Katty and her team.
The process consists of analysing a sample collected in the field for a variety of tests, from the pH of the water to the number of biological organisms to the level of various pesticides. To do this, the team prepare the sample for analysis, run it through the appropriate instrument and then look through the results, ensuring all quality checks have passed, before then reporting the results to the customer.Read full biography
Katty O’Brien-Quilty has just successfully completed the third year of her degree apprenticeship, studying towards a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Greenwich alongside working as a Laboratory Analyst within the Thames Water laboratory in Reading.
After completing her A-Levels, she took a year out to work and travel, providing an opportunity to research different options besides the traditional university route. Katty looked into Chemistry Apprenticeships as this was her favourite subject at school and provided the routine working schedule she enjoyed.
Katty started at Thames Water in September 2017 in the Organics Department, carrying out routine analysis on clean and wastewater samples, ensuring results are below regulatory limits.
Outside of work, Katty gets involved with outreach to younger people by attending career fairs on behalf of Thames Water, where she encourages students to consider whether an apprenticeship is a possible route they could follow on their own learning pathway. In November 2019, she represented Thames Water and the Royal Society of Chemistry at the International Year of the Periodic Table event hosted at the Royal Institute of Science, where she shared her love of chemistry with young attendees.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
Similar to most students I’m sure, my love of chemistry grew in the classroom. I had some fantastic chemistry teachers all throughout secondary school who were so passionate about their subject and taught in such a dynamic way, explaining everything with the real-life applications and how chemistry affects your day to day life.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has definitely been this apprenticeship! Working and studying simultaneously is not easy, there have been some very stressful weeks where long days at work coincided with assignment deadlines, but it’s definitely worthwhile when you can apply something you’ve learnt at university within the workplace and vice versa.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
The best advice I could give to someone considering career in chemistry is to see what extra-curricular activities and events are happening throughout the year – the RSC and other organisations are really eager to garner the interest of young people! As well as being a good way to network and meet other people interested in chemistry, you can meet people in the industry and see what types of careers actually exist within the subject.
Why do you think teamwork is important in science?
I think it’s important to remember that two minds are usually better than one, if you’re struggling with an idea then it can sometimes help to just explain your thoughts to another person and bounce ideas off of each other. Many important and life-changing discoveries occurred when a team of people worked together, who knows where we’d be if teamwork within science didn’t exist?
What is your favourite element?
I think most people have begun to learn more elements because of Pointless, the TV show. I love the elements that are really obscure - Mendelevium and Neodymium are favourites!