“I really enjoyed chemistry at school and was going to study it at university, but took a gap year after my A-levels,” says Katty. “During that time, I started working and found I really enjoyed the routine of it, as well as the aspect of controlling your own finances and adult life.
“I started to wonder if there was a way I could continue working while studying – my school hadn’t told us about apprenticeships so I had no idea of the possibilities. It wasn’t until I was bored one day looking on the government website that I came across apprenticeships and realised they combine working and studying, so it was the perfect match for me.”
Katty applied for an apprenticeship at Thames Water where she now resides as a laboratory analyst.
I remember in the interview they told me that working there probably wouldn’t be what I was expecting, but I had no idea what to expect because I’d never worked in a professional laboratory before. It’s both similar and different to what I thought it would be – it’s a professional lab, but not what you expect from watching TV!
Katty’s role is based in the laboratory, testing both drinking and untreated water from reservoirs and rivers to make sure that it’s safe to drink, safe to use and safe to put back into the environment. Day to day she follows a routine, which usually consists of using various methods and instruments to test and analyse samples before sending out the results to customers.
“I really enjoy working with instruments as it’s one of the more challenging aspects of my role. When you’re using instruments, things can go wrong in different ways each time and you have to pull from your experience to fix them. If you really aren’t sure what to do, we have a technical specialist who has a mine of information that you can pull from, which is really helpful. I love being able to learn from the knowledge of the experienced people around me – it’s another great aspect of the job!”
Thoroughly enjoying her apprenticeship at Thames Water, Katty regularly recommends apprenticeships to others and often promotes them at outreach events.
“Our Royal Society of Chemistry contact at Thames Water introduced me to various people who invited me to speak at youth events representing the company and encouraging younger people to consider apprenticeships. I think it’s so important to spread the word about them and get students to see them as an option – it can be wonderful for those looking to get straight into work and get a degree debt-free while gaining experience.
“Really, an apprenticeship is just about getting experience while learning. The whole point is that your education ties in with your workplace learning, and in my experience, it does that very well. Some of my university modules are related to the quality aspects and instrumentation side of work. I love that you get the theory and the practical side of learning together and feel it really benefits you to have experience with what you’re learning about. A few of the lecturers have actually asked me to explain to other students what things are like in a real-life situation, which is cool!”
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Since joining the RSC in 2017, Katty has gained her Registered Science Technician (RSciTech) award and is currently working towards Registered Scientist (RSci) status.
“I’ve had quite a lot of interactions with the RSC through Thames Water which has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. They’ve been very supportive of my decision to work through the professional registers as they want to see you go further in your career and push you to be as good as you can be.
“I completed my RSciTech through Thames Water in 2018. I was able to choose a mentor to help me go through the process, so I chose my team leader. She was great at helping me to understand what the competencies were asking for and how to apply them to my work. I think the process helped to show I understand what I’m doing and what my role is, and because the application process made me reflect on what I was actually doing I now understand my role even better.
I am one hundred percent sure my RSciTech will benefit me throughout my career as I can forever use those postnominals after my name. As it’s a professional qualification, it’s recognised by every scientific institution around the country and even globally.
“I know if I was to change jobs, an employer would see those letters and already know what skills I have and what competencies I can relate my work too, which I think gives you an advantage over other candidates because they already have a vague understanding of what you can do.”
On top of receiving her RSciTech, Katty was the recipient of the RSC’s Chemical Sciences Apprentice of the Year award 2020.
“I received the award for my commitment to my role, which was a surprise and I’m so glad for the opportunities that have come from it. I’ve been able to do interviews with the RSC where I have again been able to encourage other people to look at apprenticeships, which is something I am really passionate about. They gave me a very generous prize too and I’m hoping to be able to celebrate with my department soon!”
Katty is very appreciative of many aspects of membership but thinks that its networking and resources are the most valuable.
“I love receiving the newsletters and I regularly flip through my colleague’s Chemistry World magazine. I’ve read some really interesting articles and I’ve used things from them in a few university assignments and coursework, which has been great.
“Membership is key to unlocking all the opportunities within chemistry. It can be great for networking – especially as an early career chemist – and the career support on the website is invaluable. I’m looking forward to progressing through the membership categories to experience the different benefits that get unlocked at each stage. I’m particularly looking forward to receiving Chemistry World in the post when I become an Associate!
“This summer I’m hoping to attend webinars and learn things about chemistry that are outside of my usual scope. Having membership there and open to you to use at any time is great, and it’s definitely helpful in terms of networking, looking into future careers in chemistry and seeing what’s on offer to you.”