|2019 has been an extraordinary year for Science at Tonbridge. To mark the opening of the new Barton Science Centre, we asked Old Tonbridgians with a science background to write to us with their story. In the next pages, we hear from 9 OTs, whose experience demonstrate the wide range of job options available to science graduates, and many of whom have exploited the positive characteristics of their science-trained brains in some unexpected sectors.
JEREMY TULLETT (SH 72-76)
Skills & Competency Manager, Alstom Transport UK
I was, I thought, born to be a chemist. I had a chemistry set at home. I loved the subject at Tonbridge and gained a place at Oxford to read Natural Sciences (chemistry).
Then I got a job during the nine months before going up to university which involved using a computer. Computers back then were room-sized beasts which were accessed from clunky terminals or even teletypes, but I was set to doing scientific programming, and was bitten by the problem-solving bug inherent in modelling a physical system with a computer programme.
Having arrived on my course, much as I still enjoyed studying chemistry (apart from organic chemistry, which I completely failed to grasp), I went out of my way to head for the physical chemistry options (which involved the use of computers), before doing my Part II in the Department of Theoretical Chemistry. No test tubes there!
This slightly quaint start landed me my first job as a scientific programmer on the UKAEA’s Fast Reactor project, in Dorset. They were specifically looking for scientists who could programme. Then, as now, pure programmers with no real-world knowledge tended to be geeky types who could rework your operating system for you, but do nothing useful.
This included a year on detached duty at CEA-CEN Cadarache in Provence supporting the Superphenix startup project. Tough tour of duty that, with all the sunshine, scenery, wine...
"Follow your nose, get trained and educated in other things. You never know where you might end up."
As UKAEA moved through privatisation, morphing into AEA Technology, my experience led me to: programming offshore safety software, safety consultancy, R&D programme management, and then managing the Y2k project for AEA Technology Rail in Derby, which had recently been bought, when it was still called British Rail Research.
I moved to Derby, and became interested in general management, specifically skills and competency management. After a short-enforced career break, I joined what is (for now) Alstom Transport UK, where I am the Skills and Competency Manager for the Signalling, Systems and Infrastructure division.
Anyone with a scientific leaning loves to learn, and I have to some extent driven my career by obtaining a number of vocational qualifications to accompany my MA (Oxon). The Oxford badge probably helped in my twenties, but you need proof of competence in any field of endeavour. My hatful of NVQs demonstrate both that, and a continuing interest in self-development, helps to impress employers who may otherwise regard the middle-aged applicant as someone slowing down for retirement. The achievement of which I am proudest, in this respect, is to have obtained the heady status of Chartered Manager.
The scientists (and mathematicians) whom I most admire are some of the popularisers of science and mathematics, particularly Jim al Khalili, who can make really hard topics accessible to the interested layman. In my own small way, as a STEM ambassador, I suppose that I try to emulate that.
My message? No one should get hung up on science if a scientific career doesn’t follow your first interest. We can’t all be world-leading researchers, and R&D jobs are hard to find both in academia, and outside of it. Follow your nose, get trained and educated in other things. You never know where you might end up.
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