Gemma first came to the Rutherford Appleton Lab on a school tour when she was working as a teaching assistant. The facilities, and the science they do, wowed her as well as the children; “As soon as I arrived, I knew that this was where I wanted to work."
While at school herself, Gemma got good GCSE results and was on course for studying a humanities subject at university, but life had other plans. After raising two children and working in a range of industries, she found herself looking for a career change. The visit to RAL prompted her to begin looking at different options and after looking at and applying for a range jobs, she came across the ISIS Health Physics apprenticeship. “I had to Google what Health Physics actually was," she admits. “But when I found out, I thought it all looked really exciting, and the idea of being able to gain qualifications whilst also working was really appealing."
Now in the role, Gemma spends most of her time based at ISIS, but with blocks of a few weeks at a time when she goes to the National College for Nuclear in Bridgewater to study. She also has coursework to do online that she has time to do alongside her role at ISIS. “I was pleased to see that the others on my course were not all straight out of school. The Health Physics NVQ is very new and so it has attracted people who have already been in the industry for a while."
At ISIS, Gemma and the rest of the Health Physics team are in charge of monitoring radiation levels so that the facility remains safe for everyone to work in. This includes routine radiation monitoring and reporting, as well as surveying areas before and after maintenance work is carried out and working alongside ISIS' radioactive waste team.
“Often, we need to explain to people that they need to be patient. Whether that's instrument scientists who are keen to get started after a shutdown, or users whose samples have been activated during their experiment." Gemma explains; “as soon as we remind them of the reasons behind our work, they're all very supportive."
Although coming into ISIS without a science or engineering background was initially intimidating, she's found her skills from previous jobs have come in useful. “I had previously worked in catering, and the need for accurate measurements and record keeping are things that have come in very useful in this role."
The team Gemma is working in are very experienced, and she is the first apprentice to join the group. “The whole team is very good at explaining what they do and have been very welcoming. Their range of experiences are both useful and really interesting."
Having an apprentice in the team has obviously been a success, as the team are recruiting again for a new apprentice to start in September 2023. Gemma would definitely recommend applying. She says: “I thought I would need a degree to work in a place like this, but I'm here without one and it feels like I've won the lottery!"