Where can a degree in Physics take you?
In celebration of National Careers Week, we speak to a selection of Astro / Physics graduates to highlight the diversity of careers within this rich field of study. Here, we speak with Greg, a Research and Technology Manager at Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactors, to understand how a Physics degree enabled his career trajectory.
Where did you go to University and what course did you do?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Physics with Computer Science at Keele University in 2010, followed by a masters degree in Nuclear Science and Technology from University of Manchester on a part-time basis in 2016. I am now a Chartered Engineer and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
What is your job title and what company do you work for?
I am Research and Technology (R&T) Manager at Rolls-Royce SMR (Small Modular Reactors).
What does your company do?
Rolls-Royce SMR (RR SMR) is developing a sovereign nuclear power capability in the UK for both the UK and international export markets. Large gigawatt-scale nuclear power stations are notorious for running over cost and over budget. RR SMR is designing a small modular reactor that can be manufactured largely in a factory environment and assembled at site. This reduces cost, schedule, and project risk and will ultimately provide clean, affordable energy for millions of people in the UK and abroad.
The true beauty of Physics is that it is fundamental to so many other disciplines, and as such it provides an excellent base level of understanding on which to build for so many other topics… Physics provides you with many transferable skills and tools, such as computing programming, technical writing, reasoning, all of which I use every day.
What skills from your degree do you use in your job?
The true beauty of Physics is that it is fundamental to so many other disciplines, and as such it provides an excellent base level of understanding on which to build for so many other topics. In my job, I lean on the fundamental Physics associated with various engineering disciplines (Mechanical, Electrical, Structural), other natural sciences (Chemistry), and my understanding of certain physical phenomena such as Nuclear Physics, fission, etc. Furthermore, Physics provides you with many transferable skills and tools, such as computing programming, technical writing, reasoning, all of which I use every day.
What are your main responsibilities?
As R&T manager I am responsible for identifying and developing emerging technologies and innovative research for the benefit of the RR SMR programme. This involves working closely with industry and academia, and internal colleagues in engineering, design etc. to understand where shortfalls in the technologies and understanding currently available are, where opportunities to improve on existing technologies and understanding exist, and then realising the benefits associated with these innovations.
Did you always know what you wanted to do for work?
Absolutely not. My earliest recollection of thinking about a career was in year 10 or 11. Following a discussion with a Careers Adviser I concluded that I wanted to be a Website Designer or a Database Administrator. I was always tinkering with computers, and I completed my work experience with the local council’s IT department. I didn’t realise I wanted to do Physics until the end of year 12 – which was unfortunate as I had picked an ‘interesting’ mix of A-Levels (English, History and Psychology, as well as Physics) which didn’t exactly set me up for a degree in Physics (which usually requires Mathematics!)
Do you feel that a Physics degree gave you enough freedom to choose the right career for you?
It did. As I mentioned above, the breadth of knowledge that Physics gives you provides you with tremendous latitude in terms of potential careers. Physics is, quite rightly, held in high regard by employers, who recognise it as a tough subject with a wide array of transferable knowledge and skills.
The breadth of knowledge that Physics gives you provides you with tremendous latitude in terms of potential careers. Physics is, quite rightly, held in high regard by employers, who recognise it as a tough subject with a wide array of transferable knowledge and skills.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to start a Physics degree?
Probably not to underestimate the challenge. There’s no point sugar-coating it – the step up from GCSE and A-Level Physics to degree level Physics is huge. I don’t intend to put anyone off, but I had moments during the early days of my degree where I seriously questioned if I would be able to sustain the level of effort and focus required to understand some of the topics. This should not come as a surprise though – when you consider that Physics is central to some of the most significant challenges and opportunities being explored in the world today, ranging from quantum computing, to nuclear fission and fusion, to understanding the fundamental properties of nature – it isn’t going to be easy!
Is your work stressful? Do you feel that you have a good work-life balance in your career?
As with most jobs, there are periods of higher pressure. This isn’t a bad thing. Working in a high-pressure environment in a sustained way can be unhealthy, but in my experience, short bursts of intensive work keeps you on your toes, motivated and excited. In my job I enjoy the benefits of some hybrid and flexible working that allow me to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
What’s the coolest thing you get to do as part of your job?
For me, the coolest thing about my job is that I get to play my part in establishing a sovereign new nuclear capability in the UK for the first time in decades. For many years the focus of the UK nuclear industry (outside of Hinkley Point C) has been on managing her legacy nuclear estate (e.g. largely decommissioning old facilities and power stations, and managing spent fuel etc.) Whilst this is important work, being at the forefront of a new technology that will allow nations to establish energy independence in a clean and affordable manner is very exciting. This has only become more pronounced in the context of recent world events.
Have you had any other jobs after graduating before this one?
Yes, prior to joining RR SMR I spent over a decade supporting the UK’s nuclear submarine programme working for one of the world’s largest defence companies. During this time, I worked in a variety of roles ranging from engineering, to operations management, and build delivery. I also lived and worked in the United States for five years whilst working on this programme.
The Lascells team are very thankful to Greg for sharing his route into industry, and for raising awareness of the important work that is being done domestically in this exciting sector. Greg – we wish you and your project every success for the future!
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