How my apprenticeship lead me to revolutionising modern metrologyWhen your day-to-day job includes superconducting phenomena and constant experimenting, you are certainly kept on your toes. Becky King works as an Assistant Research Scientist for the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) within their Quantum Detection Group.
1. What company are you working for? What does the company do?
I am currently working for the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington. NPL is the UK’s National Measurement Institute and and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology available. I work within the quantum detection group where we focuses on world-leading fundamental research that exploits quantum phenomena and explores new areas of measurement science that could revolutionise modern metrology.
2. What's your role within the company? What do you find most interesting and/or most enjoyable about the work you're doing?
Since graduating from my apprenticeship I have been given a role as an Assistant Research Scientist within the Quantum Detection group. The research I am involved in utilises superconducting phenomena and there are a lot of unanswered questions. I love exploring ideas and trying new things and I find the results really interesting as they prove the theories surrounding superconductors. Overall, in my job I get to develop my own ideas, and conduct an experiment from start to finish, which satisfy’s my curious mind and is highly rewarding when it works. I love that in my job I get to learn something new every day.
3. How do you expect your career to develop at this company?
In September 2017 I will be going to University to study a Master’s in Physics which will be part sponsored by my company. With this I will be able to return working in the summer holidays and I will have a guaranteed job at NPL in a higher position when I finish. University will give me more of an insight into the area of Physics I would like to specialise in, and I have the opportunity to work within other departments that I am interested in at NPL when I return. With experience I will be able to progress into higher roles with more responsibility.
4. What kind of training do you get as part of your apprenticeship?
We study towards a level 3 BTEC in applied science and a NVQ in Laboratory Associated Techniques which is delivered by our training provider who come onsite once a week to deliver the input. Aside from that, we take part in soft skills training and mindfulness training which give us the tools to progress not just in our careers, but also in our personal life and are valuable lifelong skills. We also have access to all internal and external training courses that all employees are entitled to. These include technical training, health and safety training, and sometimes personal interest training. During my apprenticeship I had support to such a high standard in every area of my job.
5. Describe a typical study day on your apprenticeship.
Our study days are usually on a Friday, where our training provider will come onsite to deliver some unit content. The whole cohort will meet our tutor in our training room. Usually the day will begin with a conversation on progress, some one-to-one feedback on assignments, before some unit content is delivered. This varies from lecture type input, to experiments as a group or independent working. The afternoon is usually left for us to do our assignments, study and help each other with the support from out tutor.
6. How many years will your apprenticeship take? How does the course develop as you progress? What qualification will you come out with?
The apprenticeship is 18 months long and we study towards a BTEC in Applied Science as well as a NVQ in laboratory associated techniques. The course usually involves an assignment being set every week with a two-week turnaround time. Within the 18 months, we will spend 9 months in two departments, to experience and gain a range of skills and knowledge. We are also awarded RSciTech post nominals by the Institute of Physics.
7. Tell us the most interesting thing that's happened during your apprenticeship
During my first placement in the Advanced Engineered Materials department at NPL, Crossrail approached my team asking for a way to detect sub-surface defects in their concrete tunnels. After months of experimenting with thermography, I developed a novel method for detecting such defects, and I even had the opportunity to demonstrate it in one of Crossrail’s tunnels. The method is now nicknamed the ‘Becky Method’ and Crossrail agreed to pay for my work, earning my department income.
I also helped create and run a three-day ‘science camp’ called LABTASTIC, designed for 30 year 8 & 9 students to come in and experience real life science prior to work experience. I love sharing my love for science and potentially inspiring others (especially girls) to take up a career in STEM or consider an apprenticeship.
I was also nominated for the National Apprenticeship Awards 2016 where I was announced the winner for the London Advanced apprentice of the Year awards, and highly commended at the National finals- an achievement I am extremely proud of.
8. What made you choose an apprenticeship rather than other forms of education?
Before starting my apprenticeship, I went to college to study Physics, Chemistry and Maths a level. I wasn’t happy with my grades and did not feel ready to go to university, however I knew my love for science. When I came across the apprenticeship at NPL, it was everything I was looking for. I felt that by doing an apprenticeship I would gain valuable experience, further my knowledge and understanding of Physics, and confirm whether or not I wanted a career in science. I gained all this and more, and now feel ready and better equipped to further my education at university.
9. How has your apprenticeship developed you as a person?
Since finishing my apprenticeship I am a lot more confident and have transferable skills such as networking, working within a team, working independently and being a professional. I have learnt a wealth of technical skills as well as soft skills, and I have the confidence to stop doubting myself.
10. What's your career ambition? How do you think your apprenticeship will help you achieve that ambition?
In the future, I would like to gain a degree and a PhD in Physics to become a more senior scientist and potentially lead my own research. My apprenticeship will help me achieve this as it has given my valuable experience working as a scientist and has given me the contacts and skills needed to secure a career in the future.
11. How else do you think your apprenticeship will affect your working life?
Because I have done an apprenticeship, I have the experience, skills and contacts that most other people my age do not have. I have professionally recognised post nominals which most people my age will not achieve until post-degree, and the confidence to approach and work with a range of senior people to a high standard. This skills and knowledge I have because of my apprenticeship will help me succeed in my further education and my future career. My CV and record achievement is really strong already and I believe I have a head-start over those that took a more traditional route.
13. How much advice and support about apprenticeships did you get when you were at school/college? How did this compare with the advice you were given about other educational routes?
I was given no advice or support on apprenticeships. I accidently came across my apprenticeship when looking for a job before going to university. At school and college, university was pitched as the only respectable and viable option and apprenticeship were seen as a route for the less educated.
14. What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing an apprenticeship?
My advice would be to really consider it as an option as I truly believe that there is an apprenticeship out there for everyone and I also believe doing an apprenticeship will give you the skills and knowledge you need to be successful in your career a lot better than other routes would. Doing an apprenticeship allows you to learn, earn money, become independent, and gain experience and contacts you will not get anywhere else- it has changed my life and has been the best thing I have ever done.
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