Launching a science career

Taking a laboratory science apprenticeship at Smiths Detection was the perfect opportunity for Billy Hopkins – a chance to get hands-on training and experience with an established company operating in an interesting sector and, at the same time, study for a degree. And he is loving it…

“As soon as I started science at school aged 12, I was fascinated by it. I enjoy reading about astrology and new discoveries and generally keeping up-to-date on what is happening in the world of science,” explained Billy. “I very quickly knew this was what I wanted to pursue as career and was always keen on laboratory research. So, armed with high school qualifications in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, I began weighing up the options of university or an apprenticeship. Smiths Detection offered me the best of both worlds and in a very worthwhile industry where you really are helping to make the world a safer place.” 

With experience becoming increasingly important for young scientists in industry, apprenticeships offer a great mix of work and study. Billy’s programme will take four and a half years to complete and includes a degree course in Applied Chemical Science with the University of Kent.

A varied role

Keeping it interesting and fresh, Billy’s role covers a range of tasks from making chemical solutions and carrying out scientific tests, to presenting relevant data to his team and building systems which can detect tiny gas leaks.

The pandemic hasn’t greatly changed his job but it has pushed him to develop some important skills – for example, planning, communication and giving online presentations of test results in a way the team could understand back in their own home offices.

“It’s quite a change moving from school to the work environment and it definitely helps to have some idea of what you want to do,” added Billy. “Feeling passionate about your work makes you more motivated and ready to face new responsibilities and challenges” added Billy. “We work on some really exciting projects, developing products to detect chemical threats and use real samples for testing – so I have learned how to handle hazardous materials in a controlled and safe way. Although very daunting, it’s great to push myself and it has helped massively with my health and safety and risk assessment skills. Overall, it’s very rewarding and there is always help on hand when needed.”

Great opportunities

Right from the beginning of his apprenticeship, Billy has felt valued by his colleagues and the company. He is enjoying every minute and believes it has provided a clear path to a science career, plus the chance to move into areas within Smiths Detection such as project management or engineering.

“The best thing about it is not only the opportunities I have already been given, but also the exciting options for the future. Doors have been opened in directions I may never have even considered. Between the on-site training and degree studies, I am receiving a rounded education and the best possible training – and I can’t wait to see where it takes me!”