Starting his career in 2013 as an apprentice at Sellafield, Jack Riley made the most out of his time working in the company’s labs on spectroscopic analysis techniques – an effort that resulted in two highly commendable awards.
“During my apprenticeship I completed routine analysis, but I also took part in extracurricular activities and completed a technical project to extend the scope of analytical instrumentation,” says Jack. “After three years, the company nominated me for the National Skills Academy Nuclear (NSAN) awards, where I was fortunate enough to win in the Scientific/Technical Apprentice of the Year category.
“Once announced, the overall winner of each of the NSAN award categories is put forward to become National Nuclear Apprentice of the Year, which I also won. I didn’t expect it and it was an incredible achievement.”
With the title giving him an opportunity to speak about where he would like his career to go in the future, Jack moved into the remediation technical department at Sellafield, which is where he works to this day.
Essentially what I do is work to achieve Sellafield’s mission of creating a clean and safe environment for future generations. Day to day I help to implement the best available techniques – which ensure the best waste management techniques are used across the site – and I advise how best to deal with waste considering all the options that we have available in the industry.
Jack’s interest in chemistry was first piqued during an outreach event at his secondary school – an event coincidentally organised by Sellafield for a teacher training TV broadcast.
“A scientist called Charlotte visited our school and performed in class academic experiments with us. It was a full day’s worth of filming, and a day in which I really enjoyed that made me realise the sort of work I wanted to do in the future.
“Five years later, I got my job at Sellafield and started working in the same department as Charlotte. It was incredible to be one of the apprentices who had gone through the Sellafield outreach scheme and was interested in science because of it.
“Sellafield is one of the biggest employers where I live and working here has offered me so many amazing opportunities. The industry is really supportive of young talent in particular, so I would definitely encourage people right from that early age to throw themselves into it.”
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Jack joined the Royal Society of Chemistry as an Associate Member towards the end of his apprenticeship in 2015. Since then, he has demonstrated further professional skills and progressed to become Member, as well as achieving his Registered Scientist (RSci) accreditation.
“I started the RSci application as part of my assessment to become a Member of the RSC. I basically just combined the two assessments into one and collated my portfolio of evidence.
“I achieved both MRSC and RSci in 2018, which has been useful for me as an early career chemist. I think particularly when you are first starting out, as soon as you have those letters behind your name it acts as validation and can be a good way of assuring people that you are working at a certain level and know what you are talking about.”
Sellafield has an RSC accredited mentoring scheme which Jack has been part of since starting as an apprentice. He has had the same mentor throughout his time there who has helped him progress and collect his RSC portfolio.
My mentor has been fantastic. He’s offered me support not only in progressing up the ladder in terms of the RSC, but also in terms of my career and finding me opportunities. When I was doing my degree he helped to connect me with the right people, which was incredibly helpful. Hopefully I will achieve my CChem in the next couple of months with his support.
Upon receiving his Chartered Chemist (CChem) award, Jack will start the process of becoming a mentor himself – a task he is excited to step up to.
“It will be a bit of role reversal and a fantastic opportunity to give all the help I’ve had back to somebody else. I guess you could say it’s the same reason I’ve just been appointed as the North West Early Careers Representative for the RSC – I’m just really keen to help others.”
While Jack’s role as the North West Early Careers Representative for the RSC is still in its infancy, he hopes to provide a perspective for early career chemists across all levels, having gone through all the different stages of membership himself. Jack thinks that the support offered by the RSC for early career chemists has been key for helping him to develop both as a person and as a chemist.
“From my experience as an early career chemist, the network we have is fantastic. Being able to have that longevity of the same mentor throughout my progression enables you to build a really strong relationship with them so they can advise you in ways that you were never aware of. The momentum they provide really encourages you to keep going and gets you through step by step. It’s that support that has been invaluable to me throughout my career.
“I would certainly encourage other people to join the RSC as I’ve never felt that I’m going into anything alone. The personal contact you get really makes you feel part of the society. And then there’s the network you build which is another huge advantage. You know you can call upon a group of specialists anytime you have a question about something, and I think that’s just fantastic.”