Thursday, 13 September 2018

Case Study - Chemical Engineer working in sustainable cosmetics

Olivia Sweeney
MEng Chemical Engineering
University of Edinburgh
Year of Graduation 2017
Now a chemical engineer with Lush 

This summer, one of our recent Chem Eng graduates, Olivia Sweeney appeared in Ingenia  - a magazine aimed at all engineering disciplines (free subscription if you are interested - here). She now works for Lush in sustainable cosmetics.

Why did you first become interested in engineering?

In truth, it was mainly luck. I had varied dreams, from Formula One mechanic to a film orchestra violinist. I’ve always been concerned about the environment, but my idea of what engineers did was very limited (fixing engines!).

The state of our planet inspired me to become an engineer. I was sick of reading about climate change, landfill build-up and destruction of habitats, and fed up of feeling so small in such a global problem. I wanted to equip myself to make a tangible change, which led me to an engineering degree. The description of chemical engineering resonated with me and, luckily, my A-level subjects allowed me to study it.

How did you get to where you are now?

I studied AS levels in music and further maths, and A Levels in English literature, chemistry and maths before studying chemical engineering at the University of Edinburgh. I did a few internships during my five-year degree. I spent a month at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan simulating the effectiveness of membranes for exhaust gas carbon capture. Through a Saltire Scholarship (from the Scottish government and Scottish Higher Education Institutions), I spent three months at Jabil, an electronics company, looking at how its Scottish site could become energy neutral. This included big changes such as installing wind turbines and in-house solutions that included using rain and internal water.

For my Master’s research, I spent nine months in Gothenburg conducting joint research between Chalmers University of Technology and Preem, a petrol corporation, where I studied how catalysts impact the composition of biofuel generated from ‘tall oil’ (a waste product from the paper and pulp industry).

The theme of these placements was sustainability and helping the environment. I knew that was what I wanted to do, but I had not found the most effective or enjoyable way of doing it. Internships are a brilliant way to find out.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

The one that is freshest in my memory is graduating and getting a job in the same week! It is great when all your work pays off. Graduating is something that I have aimed for since starting secondary school, and to have achieved that goal was an exciting, but scary, prospect. Balancing working, studying and all the extras (which for me was music) was near enough impossible, so to achieve the best outcome was equal parts relief
and joy!

My biggest non-academic achievement was managing to run the Edinburgh Half Marathon and climb Ben Nevis in three days. It was a close call, but I pulled it off.

What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?

Right now, my favourite thing is saying that I am an engineer. Now that I’ve graduated I feel that I have earned it!

Apart from that, I love that no problem phases me. They do initially – even engineers are human – but then I can take a step back, break it down into chunks, and understand how those small parts work. Then I can build them back up again into a functional solution. I’m a chemical engineer so have a certain area of expertise, but you can apply that logic to anything. I really enjoy it when people come to me with a problem at work and I can develop a solution, even if it isn’t chemical engineering. The things you learn and discover in the process are worth the fear of being a little out of your depth.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It really depends. A typical day is spent at my computer, working through a combination of emails, spreadsheets and research, with a few meetings thrown in. My research at the moment is focusing on waste streams, both within Lush and collaboratively with external companies, to generate new ingredients.

My overall goal is to keep improving Lush’s supply chain in line with our cruelty-free testing and ethical buying policies. I aim to spend a couple of hours a week in our manufacturing facility where our quality control is based. Here, I can talk through any supply, quality or compounding issues and work out short- and long-term solutions. An element of my job also helps the creative team achieve its aims and brings new materials to its attention.

No two days are the same – it is busy, stressful and the autonomy that I have is a little scary for my first proper job, but most importantly, it’s exciting.

Are there any cutting-edge technologies that you work with?

On my most exciting days, I am lucky enough to visit companies to learn about new developments in the fragrance industry. I have tried out supercritical CO2 extraction, as well as microwave-assisted extraction. Last week, I went to Nice to meet a supplier who undertakes extractions for us, such as steam and hydro distillation as well as solvent extraction, and got to see ultrasound extraction. My main area of focus is the industrial production of aroma chemicals via fermentation. Trying to achieve this without animal testing and genetically modified organisms has made it more difficult, but I’m excited about the prospect of using fermentation to generate desired chemicals from waste streams.

What’s next for you?

I have a few big projects at work that will make a significant impact on how we source our aroma chemicals, so trying to pull those off is my main focus at the moment. I don’t want to be UK-based forever, so planning my career to allow me to move abroad is also on my list.

Apart from that, a friend and I are launching a website for young professional women in STEM. We are still a long way from gender equality and being an active part of the solution is the most positive route to take. We have also discussed launching our own green company later. False green marketing is starting to become a real issue and I am passionate about ensuring that people can truthfully be environmentally conscious, sustainable and maybe even positively impact regeneration.

On a more fun note, I have moved to the coast with work, so I want to make better use of living by the sea and take up a watersport. I cannot decide between paddle boarding, sailing and open-water swimming, so suggestions are welcome while I wait for the sun to warm the English Channel!

Note from Deborah: Lush are blazing a trail with annual awards of the Lush Prize. Winners receive substantial funds -  the biggest awards in the non-animal testing sector - in order to celebrate their achievements in fields such as science, research and campaigning with regards to pursuing alternative options to animal testing.

Several prizes of £50,000 will reward the most effective projects and individuals who have been working towards the goal of replacing animals in product or ingredient safety testing across five strategic areas:

  • Science
  • Training
  • Lobbying
  • Public Awareness
  • Young Researchers (aged under 35).

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Destinations of 2016 Chemistry Graduates

Where do Edinburgh chemists go after graduation? If you are wondering what you might do with your degree, sometimes it helps to see where other have gone before you. These  Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education figures were collected 6 months after  graduation.

  • MChem 2015-2016: More of a mixed bag with some taking time out, and some in employment/unemployment, but still further study is the most common destination. 
  • BSc (Hons) Chemistry: More in employment than study, and in a wider range of settings. 

For the postgraduate MSc in Chemistry, numbers responding to the survey were low, so I have grouped 2 years' worth.

For PhDs, I have grouped together 3 years' worth - numbers here are plentiful, but I wanted to showcase the wide range of jobs (other than Academic Postdocs) that are available to PhD chemists after they graduate.

If you click on Edinburgh Destinations in the side menu, you can see additional data stretching back 5 years.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

NATS - A Career as an Air Traffic Controller

Edinburgh Airport NATS Tower
National Air Traffic Services (Nats) have launched a big recruitment drive for trainee air traffic controllers (ATCs). Graduates and people "from all walks of life" are being urged to apply.

Nats currently has about 1,670 controllers, whose job is to manage the flow of aircraft through UK airspace, at 13 of the country's busiest airports, including Glasgow and Aberdeen. It is looking to recruit more than 200 trainees a year to keep up with demand.

Have you got what it takes to become an ATC? Nats has developed a series of "mini-games" to help people decide whether it is the kind of career that might be right for them. They test a range of basic cognitive skills that are required by controllers - the tests include shape-tracking, a sequential memory test, reactive avoidance, and a landing game.

Click here if you want to test your skills. I failed miserably on every game.

Daryl Heaselgrave, general manager of Nats at Aberdeen Airport, said: "We are not necessarily looking for aviation geeks - we are looking for people who want to get into a job that is exciting, demanding and lives at the centre of the airport".

"It is not necessarily about academic capability - it is about aptitude. Yes, we would like people with a good basic mathematical brain but we are also looking for decision-makers, for people who can prioritise and people who can multi-task."

Candidate requirements for Nats:

  • ATC candidates are only required to have five National 5 grades (A-C); a degree is not necessary (but many applicants do have one)
  • Trainees are paid and, when qualified, can earn a six-figure salary
  • On average, only one in every 200 candidates is hired
  • It takes around three to four years from the initial application stage to validation for successful candidates.

See Nats website for further information. There doesn't seem to be a deadline - I imagine it will close when they have enough candidates.

Friday, 13 July 2018

A faster way to train as a teacher in Scotland

A fast-track teacher training course aimed at filling staff shortages in rural areas has received official accreditation from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) .The course covers the postgraduate diploma of education (PGDE) + teacher induction in 18 months (instead of 24 months) by reducing holidays. 

It aims to recruit teachers in chemistry, mathematics, physics, computing, and home economics. So chemistry and chemical engineering graduates would be very welcome to apply. It would really help your application if you have experience of working with children aged 11-18, especially in a classroom or coaching environment.
The course was developed by the universities of Dundee and the Highlands and Islands. It comes with a bursary of £22,500 and is open to students with a 2:1 undergraduate degree and above. Fee status varies depending on whether you are from Scotland, EU, Rest of UK or a non-EU country.
The universities will work with four rural local authorities - Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Highland and Scottish Borders - to enable trainee teachers to learn in their own local area with financial support from their council. There is a requirement to live in one of the rural areas for the entire 18 month duration. 
Applications are now open through clearing (no deadline given). Course starts December 2018 and finishes June 2020.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Vacancies for chemistry graduates at High Force Research

High Force are a CRO working in  a wide range of sectors including Pharma, Biotech, Fine Chemicals, Imaging and Engineering. They are undergoing a period of growth and are looking to recruit recent graduates to their team of chemists at their labs based at Bowburn, Durham or Wilton, Redcar.  Roles include Synthetic Organic Chemist and Quality Control Scientist.

The link for the job advert is below:

What can I do with a PhD?

Are you thinking about doing a PhD? But not sure about living happily ever after in Academia? Worried it all might be a horrific waste of time if you then go off and do something different?

We had a very enlightened PhD Horizons event last week - 30 speakers who had completed a PhD and were out there in the big wide world, making full use of it.

They included diverse roles such as:
  • Head of Fundraising, Aberlour
  • Risk Manager, Moody's Analytics
  • Research Operations Associate, Wood Mackenzie
  • Product Scientist, Diageo
  • Medical Writer, Comradis
There are lovely write ups and biographies from both the 2018 event and the 2017 event. Podcasts are to be added soon for the 2018 event. Even if you are not doing or contemplating a PhD, they make for fascinating reading.

For those of you currently doing a PhD, all those project management, analytical ability, problem-solving, and negotiation skills will never go to waste in the workplace. And the tenacity & resilience you need just to get through the 3-4 years is definitely character-forming. If you get through a PhD, you can cope with anything.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Not got the degree result you were hoping for?

I know the results are out now/soon. Hope you got what you wanted or needed.

Some people can be a bit worried if they get a 2.2 or a 3rd and they were expecting a 2./1st. It IS true that some big graduate employers specify a 2.1 or higher, but this is not true for all. Even the most popular recruiters sometimes take a more flexible approach. A 2.2/3rd might make it a bit harder and it might take longer, but if you spend some time researching employers (talking to them even!) you might be surprised by the opportunities that are open to you. Smaller employers are even more flexible and are usually more interested in your personality.

TargetJobs have a great post on the subject and it handily lists just some of the employers that are happy to look at your application with a 2.2/3rd. I won't list them all here, there's loads of them and you can see for yourself. There are some surprises - eg The Big 4 financial services firms used to be pretty rigid about having at least a 2.1 but now even they have relaxed a bit, with EY and Deloitte no longer screening you out. The Intellectual Property Office, NHS management scheme, National Grid, Jaguar Land Rover and (some) Civil Service Fast Stream roles also consider sub 2.1s.

I noted that Charles River Laboratories currently have over 100 jobs worldwide for chemists (including 8 in Tranent, 13 in rest of UK). Speaking to their HR officer today, she told me  they welcome Honours degrees of ANY grade. If you do look at their website, ignore the closing dates - HR informed me that if a vacancy is on the website, it's still available even if the closing date was a month ago (could be why they're not getting many applicants).

Some other employers accept a 2.2 as long as you go on and do a PG Masters or PhD afterwards. The NHS Trainee Clinical Scientist (Biochemistry) scheme is one example of this. Interestingly, there are currently Traineeships advertised for Glasgow and Edinburgh. Closing date 22 June. NB: Chemistry is happily accepted as a degree subject for the Biochemistry scheme, though it helps to emphasise any Medicinal and Biological courses you have taken.

I think the message here is ALWAYS ASK, even if it says 2.1. If you are keen on the job and think you could do the job, ask them if they would welcome your application.

Good Luck!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Chemists and chemical engineers - looking for graduate jobs or internships?

Are you still looking (or just starting looking) for your first graduate job? Or an internship?

Here are a couple of useful pdfs I have recently updated (4 pages each) covering where to look for graduate jobs, internships and summer work in a chemistry or chemical engineering field.

There are sections on academia, industry, renewable sector, getting your own funding, working abroad, employer databases (for applying speculatively) and many other ways to further your career.

If you've not got these, you're honestly missing out, because I have done all the leg work here! I update them get every year. You will need your MyEd login to access them


Chemical Engineering

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Something a bit different - a career in film?

Have you ever had a hankering to do something creative? Perhaps combine the arts with science/engineering or maybe choose a different direction altogether?  Not sure where to start?

This year's Edinburgh International Film Festival  runs from June 20th - July 2nd and has a dedicated youth strand, The Young & the Wild, aimed at people aged 15-25.

They are offering 10 days of free filmmaking masterclasses, workshops, dedicated careers advice sessions and special events designed to help young people gain knowledge and insight into the film industry. Classes such as How to get your foot in the door to Cinematography, Animation, Screenwriting, Documentary-making, Film journalism and much much more. You can go to as many or as few events as you like, so you might be able to fit it in around summer work, travel, or even before starting your first graduate job.

Full programme available @ for more information and to get your £5 pass. There are travel bursaries available to support travel from outside Edinburgh.