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From Bristol to Beijing: my experience on the nucleargraduates scheme

Chairing a meeting in Mandarin as a diplomat in China was just one of the more unexpected tasks Christina tackled as a nucleargraduate.
I didn’t do an internship at university and the work experience I did get doesn’t sound very special, but it gave me a lot to talk to recruiters about.

I had enjoyed the nuclear modules throughout my degree and my dissertation topic on plasma physics had a link to nuclear. When I came across the nucleargraduates programme while searching for graduate jobs I thought 'why not?'. It rotates graduates around different companies within the nuclear industry to try out different roles. Throughout, you have a sponsor company that organises your first placement and will hire you afterwards.

All experience counts

I didn't do an internship at university and the work experience I did get doesn't sound very special, but it gave me a lot to talk to recruiters about. I worked in a café for two years, which showed that I could work in a team, take responsibility and balance my studies with a job. Once I started the nucleargraduates programme, one of the assessors told me that I stood out to him when I explained that I would supervise the café while my boss went out; he said that it showed that I could be trusted with a lot of responsibility.

Problematic presentation

I was shy in groups and crowds at university and the advice I would give when going through recruitment processes is to imitate confidence, but not to the point where you compromise your integrity. I found that projecting a confident image was particularly helpful when giving presentations.

My two-day assessment centre for nucleargraduates started with a technical presentation on my dissertation. I was quite confident about the topic, as I'd been working on it for months – but I hadn't asked how technically minded my audience was. I finished and they said that they didn't understand a word. I was a bit mortified, but I recovered by asking them at what level I should pitch it and then taking them through the main points.

Shopping for a living

INS, a company that specialises in shipping nuclear material and has a 100% nuclear safety track record, sponsored me and they asked me which role I'd be interested in. Due to my work experience with Santander, I said that I was open to a commercial role and so I was placed in procurement.

This is the career I came back to at the end of my scheme. I always tell people that I shop for a living, but I'm not buying shoes or lipsticks – I'm working with my team on bigger buys such as physical protection equipment for our ships. There's a whole legal side to the job that I find fascinating: staying compliant with regulations, reviewing contracts and so on. It's a good time to join procurement, as our importance to the industry is being increasingly recognised; before, perhaps, we were dismissed as being a support function but now we have a seat at the table.

From Bristol to Beijing

While on my first placement, I had this niggling concern that I wasn't using my degree, and so on my next placements I joined nuclear power stations first in Essex and then in Bristol. Both plants were being decommissioned and I worked in their radiation protection teams as a graduate health physicist. We ensured that everyone's exposure to radiation was as low as reasonably practical. In fact, one of my highlights was going into an area where the radiation is airborne. I didn't think they'd let me, but I explained how it would help me learn and so they suited me up.

Next, I was keen to work abroad. The nucleargraduates scheme advertises international secondments and I applied for one in Beijing. For six months, I worked as a diplomat for the Department for International Trade in its energy sector. Essentially, I was a sort of 'middleman' between anyone in the UK trying to do business in China. This involved a very different skills set than I'd used previously. For example, I was learning Mandarin but wasn't fluent and one day I was chairing a meeting with business people who could understand more English than they could speak. It was a huge learning curve and we approached meetings differently after that!

Reflections on the programme

Being on the nucleargraduates programme is like having a 'shield' because you can go up to anyone and ask them any questions about their job and try out all sorts of different roles. I felt like I had so much help. I was given a line manager and a mentor from INS and I also had a graduate buddy each from nucleargraduates and INS. I had monthly meetings with my mentor and it felt that I had hour-to-hour support from my buddies. However, being on any graduate scheme can be stressful. If you experience any issues with stress or your mental health, I'd encourage you to call on any support systems, such as your buddies on the scheme and the programme team.

The graduate community on the programme is close. We did core activities together and worked together on various projects. The passion of the other graduates was contagious; I found it inspiring. A number of us are still in touch socially.

A global perspective

Living in Beijing was incredible. The biggest thing I gained from nucleargraduates was an international perspective on nuclear power. In addition to what I learned in China, I also visited Canada with other nucleargraduates.

Christina Colgan
Job title: 
Assistant procurement manager

2012–2016 Studied for, and graduated with, a masters in physics from the University of York.
2014–2016 Had a part-time job at a café and completed work experience at Santander.
2016 Joined the nucleargraduates scheme and worked in a graduate procurement role at International Nuclear Services (INS).
2017 Undertook a rotation at Bradwell and Berkeley Nuclear Power Stations in Essex and Bristol.
2018 Completed a six-month secondment at the Department for International Trade in Beijing, China; gained a postgraduate certificate in nuclear technology at Manchester University; completed the scheme and appointed to assistant procurement manager with INS.

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