Rachel Sumeray has worked as a nuclear engineer and a physics teacher and now looks to move into educational policy.
Can you tell me a little about your studies at Imperial?
"The first year was a common year of study for all the engineering courses, however as the degree progressed each year, you were able to select more of the options you were particularly interested in. I remember there being a lot of choice on topics, as mechanical engineering is a broad subject. By the end of the course we’d all found our preferred specialities – consequently I found my final year was my favourite because I was focused on the areas I most enjoyed."
What is your fondest memory of your time at Imperial?
"Renting and living in halls in the first year was a highlight - it was really easy to meet people and socialize and there was no commute. I know some of the people who weren’t in halls in that important year, didn’t always find it so easy.
The great thing about Imperial is you are always interacting with people that are scientists and engineers too, so you’re already on the same wavelength as those students around you.
As proof of that strong connection, a big group of us have still kept in touch and we had a reunion recently, with friends returning to London from all over the globe- 25 years have flashed by!"
What jobs have you done since graduation?
"In my final year I studied nuclear engineering as a topic, and I found that exciting, so my first role was in an engineering consultancy where I worked as a nuclear engineer in safely and risk analysis. I then managed engineering projects for the global company Atkins, and subsequently became a self-employed consultant. You have quite a lot of control as a consultant as you pick your hours - and it pays very well."
Can you give some details of the sorts of activities involved?
"Working as part of a team, I would help put together a safety assessment for a particular infrastructure. For example, if I had a project regarding a nuclear power station in the UK I would stay there at the power station for some time collecting information and subsequently put together reports and submit them to the Safety Standards body.
In my ten years I think I went round most of the nuclear reactors in Britain. My highlight was a stay at a nuclear reactor in Switzerland. Engineering consultancy is a very interesting industry, provided you’re prepared to get out of the office and work on site.
Unfortunately there are not enough graduate engineers coming into industry, so after 12 years I decided to change my career path and to teach senior school science. I wanted to inspire the next generation, as it were, and I’ve been doing that up to recently."
How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?
"The course required hard work and a determined attitude, and that has stayed with me. In the workplace a degree from Imperial College opens doors and as it is so well thought of, most avenues of career are subsequently open to you."
What are your plans for the future?
"I am doing a Master’s degree in educational policy; why we teach what we teach and how to reduce the gap between those who have and those who have not. I’ve taught in private and state schools and the differences are intriguing, so I am really interested as to the effect that has on social mobility.
Following this, I would like to go on to work for the government or in policy making for education. Obviously I’ve got a soft spot for STEM subjects, and I’d like to get involved in the science curricula. The one thing that shocked me about being a physics teacher is going back into the classroom and finding that the subject taught hasn’t changed much in twenty-five years."
What are you most proud of in your life?
"I have had the confidence to follow the projects and occupations that I enjoy, rather than thinking that I have to stay with my first career choice. I think that’s the key, you’ve got to be interested in what you do, and have the confidence to change direction during your career."