About CSci

  • Dr Steve Black
Back to the results
Dr Steve Black
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
North West
First Degree: 
Section Manager
Works For: 
Bsc(Hons), PhD
Pet Hates: 
Excessive paperwork to carry out simple tasks.
Burning Ambition: 
Trekking in New Zealand (did cookery school in Thailand this year which was also high on the list).
Infinite patience!. Or the ability to remember which paper or textbook I read 10 years ago was relevant to the problem on my desk...
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
A chemist
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
Questions my teachers couldn’t answer – still chasing some of them and have found a few more over the years
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
The variety really, I do a lot of varied work from blue sky to very solid applied research as well as managing a team of other scientists.
What would you change? 
More time on science, less time on administrative tasks like financial reporting
What qualifications did you take at school? 
8 ‘O’ Grades, 5 Highers (Scottish system), 3 CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies).
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
questions about chemistry that I was curious about, always loved the subject.
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I have a PhD in inorganic chemistry
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
Nuclear waste cleanup, or ‘working with the unpleasant parts of the periodic table which also happen to be radioactive’
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
My section is looking at a range of methods for encapsulation of reactive metal wastes that can’t easily be cemented so we are using custom designed organic polymers and novel cements to overcome corrosion mechanisms for a range of nuclear materials. We have to look at a pretty aggressive environment chemically speaking and then add in high radiation doses with a 10000 year lifespan target for the wasteform.
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Disposal of legacy nuclear wastes in a safe and stable manner as well as having systems in place that will benefit the proposed future nuclear power stations in how to dispose of their waste arisings
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Talking with the scientists in my section and finding out what is going on in the labs and keeping up with the technical progress of the projects. I occasionally break away from the desk and am let loose in the lab to do practical work as well – everything from the lab scale up to ¼ tonne waste drums.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
After finishing my PhD I did a couple of postdoctoral positions and then got a lectureship in chemistry at the University of Wales, Swansea. After a few years I moved on to the University of Bath where I worked directly on NMR methodology and techniques with a lot less teaching. I was then tempted out of academia to work in industry at AWE in the nuclear sector where I designed and built a facility for looking at a variety of polymer systems from ‘cradle to grave’. Following this I moved to the MoD but carried on in the polymer vein looking at sensor applications. I then ended up back in the nuclear industry at Sellafield working on method development in analytical sciences followed by a post as a technical manager in fuel processing. I moved to UKAEA Ltd as a section manager in January 2009 – this was prompted by a presentation by the head of Technical Services Group, which showed the range of work we do and I thought – ‘that’s really interesting’, the rest is history and I think the best move I’ve made in my career.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I work over a wide range of chemistry and physics areas from corrosion chemistry through polymer synthesis to radiation effects on materials and cement behaviors on a daily basis. I also have to explain a lot of this to a non technical audience
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
I feel I am well compensated for what I do. Starting salaries for new graduates are in the region of £20-24k depending on interview performance, type of degree (Bsc/MSc for example) and any industrial experience, the technical officer scale is advertised to £45k or more. Progression is based on performance and can be quite fast under the correct circumstances.
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
I can see the nuclear waste encapsulation field seeing an expansion in terms of applications and the materials we use. All of these new systems will need to have extensive trials carried out so we are in for a busy time.
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
the sheer range of problems that come up from the ones you expect for nuclear clean up to some pretty odd bits of chemistry.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Getting to this level of seniority at my age (by a pretty convoluted route
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
I think they are really impressed with it but my wife doesn’t like me traveling away as much as I do (I can be away 2 or more weeks some months at different sites ranging from Dounreay to Harwell and occasionally abroad)
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
Military modeling and wargaming, I like walking in the Lake District and birdwatching/bird photography, reading
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
There is the need for constant CPD to achieve and maintain CSci, demonstrating ongoing technical achievement. I think the fact that this is known by employers is really valuable as it highlights the ongoing training and experience that goes alongside the CSci
What is the value of professional bodies? 
They give a lot of support at the early stages of a career, especially support for attendance at events for students and young researchers. Add in Networking and online resources and you have a great package
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
The importance of CPD cannot be understated – it is incredibly valuable if you want to get away from routine jobs into something much more interesting and rewarding. The revalidation is great in that it highlights achievements outside of the norm and shows how professionalism and achievement go hand in hand
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Be flexible, we cover such a wide range of science that being pigeonholed doesn’t work – one of my recent recruits is a biologist who is really good as they can think on their feet and are willing to move out of their comfort zone and get on with the job in hand.
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
I think passing on experience as well as academic knowledge is really important – how many of us wish for a journal detailing all the little pitfalls that only (sometimes bitter) experience can bring?
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Be honest, accountable for your own actions and make sure you retain a high ethical standard in your work.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
Not a lot really, I look back and have enjoyed pretty much all of it and wouldn’t want to lose the friends I’ve made in the different roles I’ve had
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
I’d like to hope that a few hundred years from now the materials we are developing now will be in general use for keeping nuclear waste safe and stable
Back to the results