My career: a chain reaction of opportunities

Posted by Victoria Thomas on 05 November 2018

Have you ever felt like you were standing at a crossroads and a seemingly small decision altered the course of your life?

After completing my degree in Environmental Chemistry and unsure of what direction to take, I saw an advert in New Scientist about funded places on an MSc in Radiation and Environmental Protection at the University of Surrey. I was intrigued as I knew that I wanted to work in environmental protection but had never considered radiation before. I applied for a place and was offered sponsorship by EPSRC as part of a programme to encourage more graduates into the field of radiation protection and the nuclear industry.

My early career

My MSc was very enjoyable; radioactivity in the environment presents a unique set of challenges which I was excited to learn about. After graduating, I joined Dstl to train in a specialist safety/environmental role as a health physicist. This gave me the grounding for my career and I had some amazing experiences undertaking environmental monitoring of Depleted Uranium (DU) firing ranges and submarines.

I then moved on to work at what was UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) at Harwell (now Magnox, Harwell). The site originated in 1948 and was the birthplace of the UK nuclear reactor, with a large number of research reactors and supporting radiological facilities. When I joined in 2005 the site was in its decommissioning and land remediation phase. It was here I worked as an environmental advisor trying to minimise the environmental impact of nuclear decommissioning.

Making a difference

I joined the Environment Agency (EA) in 2016 as a Nuclear Regulator. This role has allowed me to consolidate my practical experience and knowledge of the nuclear industry to effectively regulate large nuclear installations to ensure protection of the environment. Nuclear sites cannot operate without an environmental permit, which sets limits on the radioactivity they can release to the environment either as gaseous or aqueous discharges or as solid radioactive waste. It is my job to ensure the nuclear power station that I regulate complies with the conditions of its environmental permit, to encourage best practice in environmental protection and to engage with local stakeholders and community about the environmental regulation of the site.

The Environment Agency is a great place to work. The work we do is wide-ranging and very interesting and you can see the difference you are making in terms of protecting the environment. Not only that but as employers the EA make sure that you are supported and offer training and development opportunities to help develop your career. It is also one of the top Stonewall employers, has one of the lowest gender pay gaps and supports flexible working and work/life balance. It really is an inspiring place to work!

Change is positive

I look back at that crossroads in my earlier life, when the EPSRC signposted the way. Although I was very grateful for the sponsorship at the time to enable me to continue my studies, I didn’t realise the positive impact it would have on my life and career. The opportunity I was offered enabled me to gain a qualification I couldn’t have afforded on my own and opened the door to an exciting and varied career so far and for that I will always be grateful to EPSRC.

I am excited about what lies ahead and look forward to developing my career and achieving great things. I urge anyone standing at a crossroads, whatever your age, to take any opportunities offered to you with both hands and not to be fearful of change.  After all it was the great female pioneer in the field of radiation and a heroine of mine, Marie Curie who said “Nothing in life is to be feared - it is only to be understood.”

Note from EPSRC

Victoria’s MSc was funded by EPSRC as part of a scheme which ended in 2009. To see current opportunities for skills and training funding, please see the skills pages on our website.

 

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Victoria Thomas
Job title: Nuclear Regulator
Organisation: Environment Agency