GUEST BLOG: Advocating chemical engineering to the next generation – Madeleine Jones

24th October 2017

In her spare time, she is a passionate advocate of chemical engineering - promoting engineering to primary and secondary school children, and mentoring new engineering graduates at the nuclear reprocessing and decommissioning company, to inspire the next generation of chemical engineers.

She also actively volunteers for her professional engineering institution, IChemE, with roles including Student Representative on the Midlands Member Group Committee, and Webmaster for IChemE’s North West Member Group Committee.

For all of this – and more - she was recently awarded the Karen Burt Award, after being nominated by IChemE. The annual award is presented by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to a top Chartered Engineer or Chartered Physicist in memory of Dr Karen Burt.

Burt was a renowned physicist with a PhD in electron microscopy, who worked for British Aerospace Systems as a project engineer for scientific satellites. She produced some remarkable work in this field and many saw her as an inspiration for fighting to recover her speech and mobility after suffering a stroke.

In today’s blog, Madeleine explains her biggest career achievement so far, the importance of getting Chartered and why diversity in chemical engineering is key.

Current position: Deputy Operations Manager, Legacy Ponds & Silos, Sellafield

Studied: A Masters degree in Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at Aston University

Bio: As part of my degree I worked on an industrial placement at Sellafield. On completion, I was offered a graduate position and have been progressing my career in various roles at the company since.

Why did you decide to become a chemical engineer and what interested you the most?

At school I always preferred the sciences. By the time I got to choose my A-Levels I knew I’d do best in Chemistry and Maths because they were the subjects I enjoyed most. I considered careers in chemistry, but they all seemed to be either lab-based bench chemistry or research (which I do not have the patience for!). I happened to meet a Chemical Engineer on a school trip and she explained what she did. I did a bit of investigation and it seemed to be the perfect combination of the sciences for me!

Tell me a bit about your career so far?

I studied for a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at Aston University and decided to do an Industrial Placement as part of this. I gained a placement at Sellafield Ltd working on the site effluent and waste strategy, and at the end of the year was offered a graduate position.

After graduating I moved to Manchester and started work in Sellafield’s design office in Warrington. As a Graduate Process Design Engineer, my day-to-day work was asset care and improvements for existing plants and design work for new facilities. There are more than 200 nuclear facilities at Sellafield so I took the opportunity to move around the business whilst I was on the graduate scheme.

I also volunteered for the company’s Emergency Response Team, which is called out in the event of a major incident at Sellafield. My responsibility was the information flow between the affected facilities and the main site emergency control centre. I also became part of the Crisis Management Support Team providing support to the Executive Team and business leaders.

After two years in Systems Engineering, I realised I particularly enjoyed was the fast-paced day-to-day problem solving and the excitement of responding to emergent issues, so I moved into my current role as Deputy Operations Manager in one of the legacy nuclear fuel storage facilities.

Can you explain what you do in your role at Sellafield?

Construction was started on the first nuclear facility at Sellafield in the 1940s and quite a few of the early buildings are still standing today. The First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) was built in the 1950s to store spent nuclear fuel under water before reprocessing. Over the following decades the pond has fallen into a state of disrepair and some of the cladding on the fuel has disintegrated and formed a radioactive sludge in the bottom of the pond. Work over the last 10 years has focussed on retrieving the fuel and sludge from the pond so we can decommission it.

I am Deputy Operations Manager for the Sludge Packaging Plant, which receives the sludge removed from the pond, and the Effluent Distribution Tanks, which receives and processes radioactive pond water from FGMSP and effluents from other legacy facilities.

Photo courtesy of AvaxHome

What’s your biggest career achievement to date?

My career so far has been so varied that it’s difficult to pin-point one specific thing. One of the things I’m proudest of is convincing the producer of a BBC documentary to film me talking about my role on site. He ended up using the clip in the programme and it was viewed by over a million people worldwide – what better way is there to publicise the profession and normalise women in engineering?

Why do you think it’s important that women should be involved in chemical engineering?

In any situation, in work and out, it is important to have a diverse range of personalities, skills, knowledge and backgrounds. If a profession or employer does not consider this, they cannot possibly operate to the best of their ability. For me, it’s not a question that we should still be answering, its common sense.

Why did you choose to get Chartered and what does being Chartered mean to you?

Being a Chartered engineer is an internationally recognised standard and demonstrates my competency. Throughout my career I’ve had people who have said I don’t do enough ‘traditional’ engineering (sizing pumps and using Computer Aided Design) and spend too much time getting involved in other stuff – whether that be university engagement or TV cameos! Achieving Chartered status shows that I’ve demonstrated my competence as an engineer whilst doing all those other things.

Why is it important to for chemical engineers to get Chartered?

Getting your degree (or any other qualification) is just the first step. Chartership demonstrates that you are a competent engineer in the real world and can apply all the stuff you learnt at university to deliver solutions to actual problems.

Is there anything you would recommend to someone considering a career in chemical, bio-chemical or process engineering?

The profession offers such a wide range of different career paths that it’s almost impossible not to find something you’d enjoy! When I look at my university cohort, five years since we graduated, we’re spread across the world all with different types of jobs – everything from insurance to oil rigs!

For more information about getting chartered visit the IChemE website.