Meet the team - the ISIS Electrical and Electronic User Support Group
16 Aug 2017



In recognition of the Apprentice Summer Open Day on 23 August 2017, five ISIS team members were asked a series of questions about the inspiring work they do and the valuable contribution they make to cutting-edge science and engineering at RAL.




So what inspired you to go into a STEM career?

IainJohnson.jpg"When I was young, I would take the back off my radio to see inside at how it works, and try to modify or fix it. I was always asking questions about how things worked. I like ‘new’ things, like the latest gadgets, for example, and this only happens with clever science and engineering. I’m also fascinated with what inspired the pioneers in each field, and what motivated them to keep trying things that nobody had done before", reveals Iain Johnson, a Motion Engineer at ISIS.

Iain’s job involves looking after the motorised moving parts of instruments, making sure they behave correctly, setting parameters in the control units and testing that all the features work. "I speak to the instrument scientists to find out how they want their experiment to move around so they can align it with the neutron beam. I also help design engineers to make new equipment, trying out things in new ways."

Whilst he is now an advocate for apprentices, it wasn’t his original plan to become one himself, opting initially to study for a qualification in Computer Science at college. However, as he struggled with the written element of the course, Iain decided to switch to an Advanced Modern Apprenticeship, which he found to be "far more practical", explaining that vocational training suited him more than academic study and allowed him to earn money at the same time.

The best part? "I get to improve the equipment used by scientists and witness the smiles on their faces when things work out right!"

MaksimSchastny.jpgFor Maksim Schastny (left), an Electronics Technician based at ISIS, completing an apprenticeship was equally as rewarding and even turned out to be the best decision he ever made. "I am part of a team who look after electronic equipment used in scientific experiments, providing on-call support to scientists during experimental cycles and maintaining, repairing and installing various electronic equipment", describes Maksim.  Whilst his love for maths motivated him to focus his studies in computing and engineering subjects, Maksim’s biggest inspiration for entering the STEM world was actually much closer to home - notably, his step-dad who is an ex-apprentice at Harwell and his grandfather who is an engineer.

What is the best thing about your job?
"I’d say the diversity and the ability to help people makes my job so fulfilling. We make scientific experiments possible and that helps to create a better future for the planet."

In a similar vein to Maksim, ISIS Instrument and User Support Section Leader Jamie Nutter (below) cites a strong familial influence on his professional career in his father, a mechanical engineer who leads the motion control group at Diamond and actually introduced Jamie to the RAL Apprenticeship scheme. "He has always been a huge influence on my professional career, he is the reason I became an engineer."

JamieNutter.jpgHaving studied art and technology during his GCSE’s, Jamie went on to study electronics during his apprenticeship, which became the first stepping-stone in achieving a first-class degree in Electronic Engineering from Oxford Brookes University. Nowadays, he is based in the Electronics Group of the ISIS Experimental Operations Division, working in a team that helps set up and support the neutron and muon experiments conducted by ISIS beamline scientists and visiting users. Jamie and his colleagues are responsible for a diverse set of tasks ranging from periodic testing and maintenance of safety systems, to the design and development of new equipment to facilitate future, more complex experiments.

If you had to summarise the impact your job has on everyday life – what would you say in two sentences?
"My support facilitates the ISIS scientific community to accomplish truly ground-breaking experimentation. I am proud that these experiments will allow advancements across multiple branches of science."

GrahamBurgess.jpgSimilarly, Graham Burgess, an Electronic Control Engineer, states that one of the highlights of his job is that he is able to participate in a wide variety of interesting projects that "widen experimental scope" and "improve the way science is done".Based at RAL, his job involves designing, building, supporting and improving various control systems for pressure, temperature, gas mixings and sample selection.

What advice would you offer to people wanting a job like yours?
"Try and pay attention to detail but remember to keep the wider picture in mind! Qualifications help too, even if vocationally obtained."
For all of the interviewees, it is the variety of work that they undertake on a regular basis within ISIS - a world-leading centre for research in the physical and life sciences - that makes their job so rewarding.

Indeed, the breadth of the applications of the work completed at ISIS is further corroborated by Electrical/Electronic User Support Group Leader, Matt North. His day job involves leading a team of engineers in the development and operational support of electrical and electronic control systems and instrumentation. Although, as Matt reveals, the impact of his job stretches much further afield than electronics.

MattNorth.jpg"Our users complete experiments that contribute towards research into the next generation of batteries to support renewable power generation, analysing how well detergents clean and even aiming to improve the cryogenic freezing of biological matter - and that’s just naming a few!"

As Matt proves, it’s never too late to change your mind - "I actually studied Art and Business during my AS levels so you can probably tell I didn’t think I was going to become an engineer at that point!"

Having always enjoyed problem solving, Matt was attracted into the challenging, exciting field of engineering with the prospect of working on satellites at Marconi Space. However, as he got stuck into his apprenticeship with the company, he came to the realisation that his talents better suited electronics rather than mechanical work, which motivated him to study for a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Portsmouth University and a Master’s Degree in DSP and VHDL at Oxford Brookes University, the latter of which was sponsored by ISIS.

"For those considering doing a job like mine in the future, I’d recommend that you think about how you prefer to learn and take into account that apprenticeships and degrees are both valid routes to a successful career", explains Matt. As the apprenticeship scheme is open to young people, typically 16-year-old school leavers, it is possible that for many, a future career plan is very much undefined.
"If you still do not know what you want to do as a career, that’s fine too", as Jamie points out. "The main thing is that you embrace opportunities when they arise."

​Top Tips for aspiring apprentices (as given by the team)
GET INVOLVED – This can be anything from attending job fairs to joining institutions such as IMechE or IET or under Matt’s recommendation - join a local Makerspace/Hackerspace. Maksim suggests getting involved in engineering activities and clubs at school/college which helps enhance your skills and personal development whilst being really good fun!
ASK QUESTIONS – Don’t ever feel afraid to ask for help, as Jamie explains: "The basis of a great engineer is the desire to increase their understanding. You need to know the basics before you can excel!"
PLAN AHEAD – Iain advices setting some short, medium and long-term study/career goals in order to help you stay focused but be prepared to be open minded to new ideas and change.
DON’T PANIC – "You won’t understand everything but give it a go; be honest and remain true to yourself ", says Graham.

Contact: Fletcher, Sara (STFC,RAL,BID)