Case study

Junior nuclear consultant — Sarah Harris

Sarah has enjoyed her first few months of working for a large consultancy firm. Find out more about the projects she's been involved in and how she's developing her career

How did you get your job as a chemical engineer?

I studied for an MEng Chemical Engineering at Swansea University, graduating in the summer of 2018. Early in my final year I started to apply for graduate programmes. I applied to Arcadis via an online application form, with a CV and cover letter, before I was asked to participate in a video interview where I was asked five behavioural and competency questions.

The last part of the process was an assessment day at one of the Arcadis offices, which consisted of both an individual and a group assessment, before a one-to-one interview with the business director in the afternoon.

What's a typical working day like?

The work is varied and fluid, and a lot of the time I find myself going to work on a Monday morning not knowing what I'll be working on for the day, let alone the week!

This week, for example, I've been working on two main projects. As part of the first project I'm based at a client site involved in nuclear decommissioning, producing a corrosion and hydrogen assessment. The second project requires me to produce key safety case documents for a nuclear new build project, working with a client based in Japan.

What do you enjoy most about being a chemical engineer?

I enjoy the flexibility of the job and its wide range of experiences. Consulting has helped me to develop a great number of skills, and it constantly challenges me to do things that I've never done before.

There are also opportunities to get involved in things outside of my role, such as company initiatives, STEM activities and being part of a sports team.

What are the challenges?

My first few months were definitely a steep learning curve, as I needed to learn how to push myself out of my comfort zone and become an effective communicator.

Time management is key. There are days where there's very little work, but then others require you to finish work that would normally take a week. However, I've been able to take advantage of all that consulting has to offer by finding the balance between asking for new experiences, managing my time and preparing for the occasional long night.

How is your degree relevant?

The fundamentals of my chemical engineering degree are incredibly applicable to my role. Safety, environmental issues and energy are core aspects that need to be considered in everything I undertake.

The more general skills such as data management, communication and time management that I developed during my degree have also been vital to my success.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've only been in the role for a few months, but have already been involved in various projects including radiation protection, process engineering and project management.

Working for a large consultancy gives me the opportunity to get involved with projects outside of the nuclear industry. I've been able to try different roles, to decide where I want to take my career. At the moment, I’d like to achieve chartership through the IChemE, but who knows if something else will take my fancy along the way.

What's your advice for choosing a Masters?

Choose an integrated Masters programme that will allow you to earn your Masters in eight months, rather than 12. Look for courses that offer either an industrial or research placement, as this practical experience will develop your knowledge of chemical engineering much more than reading a textbook ever could.

What are your top tips for others wanting to become a chemical engineer?

  • Try to get some relevant work experience. I was lucky enough to undertake two industrial placements and these really help to underpin the knowledge you've learnt throughout your degree. They also look great on your CV.
  • It's not all about your technical knowledge. Companies want their employees to be well-rounded individuals. Extracurricular activities are a great way of developing softer, more general skills, and you'll have fun as you do so.
  • Prepare thoroughly for interviews. This is your time to shine and show the company why you’re a perfect fit for them.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page