Energy engineer awarded Fellowship in UK Parliament

20th January 2017

Erin Johnson, a postgraduate chemical engineering student at Imperial College London, UK, has been awarded the Ashok Kumar Fellowship 2017.

The Fellowship is jointly funded by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the North-East England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) and awarded annually to a graduate chemical engineer working in research. The prize is an opportunity to spend three months working at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), with a focus on producing a parliamentary briefing note for MP’s on a relevant subject.

The Fellowship was created following the sudden death of Ashok Kumar, a Fellow of IChemE and Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East, UK, in 2010. At the time he was the only Chartered Chemical Engineer in the UK House of Commons.

Erin decided to study chemical engineering because she was passionate about sustainable energy, and wanted to help address the challenges of climate change. She graduated with a Masters in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College London, UK, in 2010, and was accepted into National Grid’s graduate programme in the same year, spending five years with the organisation working in various different areas.

Erin enrolled back into Imperial College in 2015 to study for her PhD at the University’s Centre for Process Systems Engineering. Her doctorate looks to establish how green gas should be deployed in the UK to maximise environmental benefits and minimise cost.

Erin, who will start the Fellowship at POST in a few months time, said:

“The Ashok Kumar Fellowship is a fantastic chance to build bridges between industry, academic research and politics. I was attracted to this opportunity so I could use my chemical engineering mindset to benefit society in an unusual way.

“It is my ambition to help shape evidence-based policy in energy and the environment. I hope to gain an understanding of the parliamentary process and see how researchers and industry experts can help parliamentarians develop the best policies.

“I am honoured to be awarded the Ashok Kumar Fellowship for 2017. Thank you to POST, NEPIC and IChemE for giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to becoming a member of the POST team and figuring out how to communicate complex STEM issues to new audiences.”

POST’s Physical Sciences Advisor, Dr Lydia Harriss, said:

“We’re really pleased to be able to offer Erin the 2017 Ashok Kumar Fellowship. Competition for the placement was especially fierce this year, making the judging particularly tough. Erin’s application stood out through the quality of her writing and thorough approach to research.”

During her placement, Erin will write a POSTnote briefing for MPs and peers, on a topic chosen by POST’s board later in the year. Previous Ashok Kumar Fellows have written POSTnotes on highly relevant topics for society, including nuclear security, access to water and sanitation, and recycled materials.

IChemE’s Director of Policy, Claudia Flavell-While, said:

“Erin really impressed us with the depth of her research. She has the ability to explain complex issues clearly and succinctly, and presented implications and policy options in an unbiased way.

“The Ashok Kumar Fellowship is a great opportunity for chemical engineers to understand first-hand how Parliament works, and the role of science and engineering in facilitating policy-making. It’s a fantastic experience, whether the person pursues a career in academia, industry or policy.'

NEPIC’s Chief Executive, Stan Higgins, said:

“NEPIC and its member’s in the chemical process industry continue to be proud, through this Fellowship, to honour former East Cleveland and South Middlesbrough MP Ashok Kumar. The standard of applicants grows each year, and I only wish we could support more engineers who have shown a keen interest in how science and engineering is understood and communicated in Parliament.

Erin not only wrote an excellent briefing paper as part of the application process, she was thought-provoking and insightful in her interview. Her experience in industry and academia exceeded that of other candidates and I look forward to reading her POSTnote when it’s published.”