Year-in-industry program profiles

Michael Moir (National Measurement Institute)

After initially hearing about the Year In Industry Program, I took an immediate interest. Naturally, I did have some immediate reservations about delaying the completion of my candidature; however it quickly became clear to me that the benefits resulting from participation in the program would outweigh this concern. I was lucky enough to receive a position with the National Measurement Institute, in the Chemical Reference Materials Laboratory, led by Dr Stephen Davies.

The Chemical Reference Materials Laboratory, as the name suggests, produces an array of certified reference materials, ranging a variety of compound types, including sports drugs, illicit drugs, agrichemicals and pharmaceuticals. CRMs are used to verify the quality and metrological traceability of materials, to validate analytical measurement methods, or for the calibration of instruments. The production of a reference material involves both the synthesis and certification of the identity and property values of the material, and hence I was able to gain vast experience in the fields of organic synthetic chemistry and analytical chemistry. The Chemical Reference Materials team was incredibly helpful and thorough in training me and ensuring that I was competent and confident in the skills, techniques and instrumentation inherent to the work conducted in the laboratory. Apart from these laboratory skills, I was also able to develop time management, computer (especially Microsoft Excel) and social skills.

The year was finalised with a seminar, where myself and the other students at the National Measurement at the time, had the opportunity to present a summary of the activities undertaken during the year. I have returned to my undergraduate studies with more confidence in my laboratory skills and also a suite of auxiliary skills that, in my opinion, will greatly benefit me in any future endeavours in science.

Ayla Jones (NICNAS)

Ms Ayla Jones

Ms Ayla Jones

I found out about the Year-in-Industry programme whilst still in high school, and by the time I was in my second year as an undergraduate I was definitely ready to try some real-life chemistry work. I knew that I loved chemistry as a field, but was starting to lose steam with assessments and I wanted a break from university. I was also keen to get some job experience to help with employment after graduation. Following the interview process, I was lucky to be offered the Year-in-Industry student position at NICNAS for 2013.

The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), is responsible for the assessment of industrial chemicals in Australia, including lab chemicals, household cleaners, cosmetics and many others. During my year there, I was able to try out working with different teams, which gave me a varied and interesting experience of regulatory science roles including helping with the assessment of chemicals of concern that are being used in Australia, and undertaking assessment of chemicals that were to be introduced in future. Project work I completed included a report on the hazards associated with various ionic compounds, a short investigation into companies that had discontinued registration with NICNAS, and multiple pre-market assessments of chemicals to be introduced to Australia. Aside from understanding the chemistry involved, I also needed to understand some toxicology, look at the economic and health impacts of decisions made, and familiarize myself with the legislation. I was also lucky enough to attend a site visit to a major Australian industrial chemical company and learn about paints and their applications and also travel to Canberra to learn about chemicals that could be used in explosives.

I found the year very rewarding, as I was in a very supportive environment, and was given many development opportunities including toxicology and chemistry training, courses in Excel and effective writing, as well as lots of on the job learning. For me, the best things I took away from the year were much better organisational and time management skills, the ability to work efficiently both independently and in a team and improved chemical understanding. Most importantly, I felt excited to return to my studies in 3rd year, and I have become much more confident in my future in science and chemistry.

Gabriel Murphy (ANSTO Minerals)

Gabriel Murphy

Mr Gabriel Murphy

As a second year undergraduate, I was a very hard working and disciplined student. I thoroughly enjoyed studying chemistry and physics with the thought of pursuing a career in either. But it crossed my mind as to what I exactly would do, where I would work and does the work I do at university translate into the work done professionally. I attended the school of chemistry seminar for Year in Industry (YII) and decided I would partake in the program. After being interviewed, I was offered a YII position at ANSTO minerals.

ANSTO minerals, forms one of the commercial arms of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Their work primarily consists of consultation in hydrometallurgy with particular interest in Rare Earth and Uranium processing. At the time, I knew very little about metallurgy or hydrometallurgy for that matter. I initially began working in their pilot plant section, involved in operation and analysis of pilot scale mineral processing plants, but early in my YII I transferred to the their separations technologies group. In this group I worked under Dr Chris Griffith, a very experienced senior process chemist with roots here at the University of Sydney and who I hold in very high regard. Under him I worked on laboratory scale test work, of which I was strongly involved in an applied commercial research project. The seven months I spent on this project became one of the most rewarding experiences in my short science career. The project was unique in that very few studies had been conducted and reported on it. Such that in every result we obtained there was no theoretical value or reference value to compare against, it was scientific discovery in its own right. As my experience with minerals progressed my knowledge of hydrometallurgy and professional science increased. To the extent to where I could clearly see the applications of my studies at university towards Industry as well as also understanding ANSTO as scientific business model.

As my Year in Industry program came to an end, I was very fortunate in being offered a casual position at minerals and continued to work for them during my university holidays. For any undergraduate chemistry student, considering doing the YII program I cannot speak highly enough of it. I was able to gain extensive science industry experience, a variety of valuable industry contacts and above all developed myself into a better scientist.

Joshua Salisbury-Carter (NICNAS)

Joshua Salisbury-Carter

Mr Joshua Salisbury-Carter

I started university straight out of high school and completed two years of speech pathology before changing my course to science. After four years at university I was sure I didn't want to go straight into research but I was worried about how hard it might be to get a job when I finished. My marks weren't great and I needed an edge. The year in industry program presented me with an opportunity to increase my employability, earn some cash and see what working in the chemical industry would be like.

I gained a placement at the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), the government agency responsible for the regulation of industrial chemicals. Being the year in industry student gave me a unique position because I was given the opportunity to experience a wide variety of roles within the Agency. I completed work in every section from chemical assessment to compliance. My work at NICNAS was mainly project based resulting in reports such as, "the common hazards of chemicals used as fuel additives". The investigation for the reports were based around chemical issues but often involved interpreting legislation, determining the economic and social implications of an issue and understanding the import/export market.

In addition to the projects, I was able to travel to Melbourne and Canberra several times to conduct audits or meet with industry and government officials. On one of the trips we visited two factories to determine the chemical exposure people experience working in the plastics industry. We started with a company that tailor-made polymer base stocks so that they had the required colour, flexibility, strength etc. We then went to a factory where they extrude the base stock into plastic sheets for boxes and signs. The exposure information that we gather was used to assess the risk of any new chemicals being used.

When my year in industry finished I was lucky enough to be asked back part time. I currently work one day a week during semester and full time in the holidays. I highly recommend taking part in the year in industry program. Working at NICNAS gave me the skills and experience I needed to feel confident about getting a job when I finish my degree.