Case study: Jacky Penn’s Academic Engineer placement with SSE Thermal

In this case study, we’ll be exploring 2021’s SSE Thermal Academic Engineer placement with the previous successful applicant, our ECR member Jacky Penn of the University of Newcastle, and an employer perspective from Tom Snow, Senior Engineer at SSE Thermal.

First, we’ll talk to our ECR Jacky about her experience on the placement:

Jacky in her PPE

“Hi Jacky, why did you choose to apply for the placement?

I chose to apply for the placement with SSE Thermal because it looked like a great opportunity to work on some really exciting CCS projects for a company who are leading the change towards flexible low carbon energy generation. I hope to become a chartered chemical engineer in the future, so the placement allowed me to gain some of the experience I will need for chartership. Relevant industrial experience can also really strengthen any job application, so I thought that it could help me in my future career.

Are you planning to go into industry after you complete your PhD? What possible career routes had you considered prior, and have they changed as a result of your placement?

Prior to starting my PhD, I worked as a project manager in the construction industry. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career related to low carbon energy, so I applied to do a PhD in carbon capture technology. I was open to a career in academia or industry when I started my PhD, and following this placement with SSE I am definitely considering working in industry again in the future. I think there are a wide variety of jobs in industry that would suit an early career researcher with a PhD related to carbon capture and storage.

What skills and experiences did you hope to gain from the placement, and did this match up with the reality of the skills and experiences you actually developed while on the placement?

I hoped that the placement would provide an insight into how industry is approaching the low-carbon energy transition, which it absolutely did. I gained the engineering experience I was hoping for, to support my professional development, as well as learning about the UK government’s approach to supporting the deployment of CCS in the UK. I was given the opportunity to get involved in engineering design reviews and hazard studies, engaging with stakeholders and contractors, and writing a variety of reports. This allowed me to develop a number of professional skills including: writing, communication, time management, organisation and commercial awareness.

Was working in industry what you expected? How different did you find it to your PhD and experiences of academia?

I have experience working in industry, but not in the energy industry so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I was really impressed with SSE’s company culture including their attitude towards flexible working, creating an inclusive working environment and their commitment to health and safety. Even though I was mostly working remotely, I always felt a part of the team and got to meet lots of inspiring professionals (in person and virtually). I found the transition from my PhD to working in industry (and back again) pretty smooth, I think the skills you develop from doing your PhD like time management and self-motivation are easily transferable to other jobs.

How did being a UKCCSRC ECR member benefit you in gaining the placement?

I found out about this placement through UKCCSRC, and attended the ECR Awayday where the placement opportunity was advertised which encouraged me to apply. I’m not sure that I would have found out about the placement if I wasn’t a member.

What use do you think the placement will be in your research, and also in future career?

I will definitely use the professional skills I developed from the placement throughout my PhD and the rest of my career. The wider perspective on CCS and the low carbon energy industry has given me a lot of momentum to continue with my research, and working towards deadlines during my placement taught me how productive I can be! I think the placement will help me stand out in future job applications, and has given me some great experience to draw on in future interviews.

Anything you’d do differently?

No, not really!

What would you advise other ECRs considering an industry placement?

I would definitely recommend applying for industrial placements to other ECRs. It can help you to decide what you’d like to do after your PhD or Post Doc and develop skills that will help you no matter what career path you take. I’d recommend using your university’s career service to help with your application, CV and cover letters, some universities offer mock interviews as well.”


Next, let’s hear from Tom with an employer’s perspective on the placement:

“Hi Tom, why did you choose UKCCSRC to advertise the placement? Why did you want to run a placement opportunity in particular?

I have engaged with the UKCCSRC on CCS subject areas for many years and we had a successful academic engineer placement supported by the UKCCSRC with Fran Zaragoza on the previous SSE/Shell Peterhead CCS project in 2014.

With regard to Jacky’s recent placement – It is really important for academia and industry to work closely together in bringing new technologies (like CCS) to the global marketplace. Jacky would have gained insight into how industry develops design solutions which will benefit her research in the future. For SSE – we had a defined role where we needed additional engineering support to help drive through technical design solutions to support the Peterhead Carbon Capture Power Station Project’s Section 36 and BEIS phase 2 submissions.

Why did Jacky’s application stand out to you, in particular?

The combination of Jacky’s PhD research subject and her previous industrial experience.

What benefits did Jacky’s academic background bring to the placement?

Jacky was very well organised, had exceptional analytical skills and had a meticulous and conscientious approach to all tasks – attributes which really came across strongly during her time with SSE.”

Thanks to Jacky and Tom for sharing their experience – it sounds like it was great for both of you!

If you’re an ECR interested in this year’s SSE Academic Engineer placement, we’re currently advertising it here. You can join us on our next ECR Virtual Awayday on 9th February 2022 to hear more from both Jacky and Tom, with an opportunity to ask them both questions.