STEM Returners can only measure it’s value based on the people that it helps to return after a career break. After being made redundant in 2016, Helen decided to go back to academia and complete an MSC in Geotechnical Engineering. After lots of hard work resulting in a pass with Merit she was incredibly disheartened to find that she was being consistently passed over for graduate opportunities as a mature student. Through STEM Returners, Helen has not only returned by joining SNC Lavalin Atkin’s in a permanent role, but also transferred her geology skills to engineering, and we couldn’t be more pleased! Read Helen’s story:
Why did you approach STEM Returners?
In 2016 following the global downturn in the oil and gas industry I was made redundant after having worked in the industry for over a decade. Like so many of my colleagues I didn’t see it coming and although I had always remained flexible throughout my career found myself in a difficult position of what to do next. With thousands of other redundant geologists with similar skill sets and very few opportunities (particularly within the UK and being unable to relocate overseas due to family commitments) I began to think more laterally about what skills I had and how I could leverage these to pursue another career direction.
Whilst studying for my undergraduate degree I had worked as a summer student for a geotechnical engineering consultancy with whom I undertook site surveys of the near shore landfall points of hydrocarbon pipelines. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, and as I have always been passionate about geology, I wanted to find a way of continuing my career in geology and use my many years of experience. So, after a 12-year break from the world of academia I made the courageous (or slightly crazy decision!) to return to university and retrain by undertaking an MSc in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Dundee.
Having been away from academia for so long it was a steep learning curve of how University life had changed from digital coursework submission (allowing coursework to be submitted up to midnight on the day of deadline – no more sprinting to the department before the secretary went home!), to the lecture notes being available online and being able to access more or less any textbook or journal paper by the touch of a button! It’s incredible to think back to the days of hunting through shelves and shelves of journals looking for that illusive paper and having to spend money of paper photocopy cards.
I was incredibly lucky to have an understanding group of lecturers and great class mates who helped and supported me through the course particularly when it came to questions around civil engineering and complex maths which I had never seen or had experience of. However, after 2 years of hard work, blood, sweat and a lot of cups of tea I successfully completed my MSc and was awarded a Merit.
During my course, I attended several graduate recruitment fairs and milk-rounds, however, no company I talked with were prepared to talk with mature students. I felt very disheartened that companies just didn’t see the knowledge and experience a mature student could bring to their organisation. Sadly, I’m not alone. So many people are changing careers mid-life these days as their life changes due to personal circumstances or circumstances out with their control and we as a society need to take notice of this shift in career patterns.
How did STEM Returners help?
Over the last year I applied for so many positions and received no rejection or feedback. The silence became deafening. So, when an opportunity to get myself in front of a company and talk to people came up I jumped at the chance.
I was sent an advert by the Institution of Civil Engineers for a STEM Returners event being held in conjunction with SNC-Lavalin Atkins in London. On arrival at the event I was immediately introduced to people who were in a similar field to myself and were interested in my experience and what I wanted to do. How refreshing! I spent 2 hours talking to people from the different business areas and with Natalie from STEM Returners who immediately understood my pain and frustration.
Following my initial meeting with SNC-Lavalin Atkins, STEM Returners supported my application for a Geotechnical Engineering position. Whilst waiting for a response to my application several other STEM Returner placement opportunities were sent to me which was great to get so many different career options in a wide range of industry sectors many of which I had never considered before.
What was the end result?
Following several phone interviews and conversations I was offered a permanent position as a Geotechnical Engineer in the Glasgow office of SNC-Lavalin Atkins. I have been fortunate to be able to pursue the career in offshore wind energy which I was hoping for whilst undertaking my MSc. SNC-Lavalin Atkins are supporting my career progression by assisting me in my application to become a chartered geologist and continuing my career in project management.
How has this changed your career?
With the help of STEM Returners I have successfully transitioned from an industry in decline to an industry with a bright and optimistic future in which I hope to continue to grow professionally and personally. After a horrific couple of years following being made redundant I feel that my career is back on track and heading in a direction that I am excited about and am proud of.
Would you recommend the programme?
Definitely. Without the STEM Returners support I really don’t know where I would be today and I would encourage anyone no matter what their circumstances to pick up the phone or drop them an email. You never know where just one conversation can lead.