Green Energy, Cancer Treatment, Space Travel – just some of the exciting projects Cicily Hillebrand has been involved in at the National Nuclear Laboratory

“Women who are working in STEM are really keen to get more women into the industry so most are more than willing to help out if you get in contact.”

Cicily Hillebrand, Process Design Engineer at the National Nuclear Laboratory, MEng Chemical engineering, 2021

Since graduating two years ago with an MEng in Chemical Engineering, Cicily Hillebrand has been lucky enough to get a job which enables her to be involved in ‘cutting edge innovation’ where she can work towards the benefit of society as a whole. She’s been involved in projects related to green energy, the treatment of cancer and space travel. On Wednesday 21st March she returned to campus to share her career story with current students and to inspired them to pursue careers in engineering.

In this interview she tells us how Hull helped prepare her for an exciting career in the nuclear industry, what it’s like working for the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), and she shares her advice for women pursuing careers in STEM.

Cicily Hillebrand

How did your time at Hull help prepare you for your subsequent career?

Studying Chemical Engineering at Hull equipped me with a lot of the technical skills I require for my job, but it also taught me how to learn new skills and understand new information quickly. Working across different projects in the Nuclear industry means there’s always something new to learn, so the ability to pick it up quickly and be able to get on with the work is essential. As well as this, I learnt a lot about problem solving at university which is something I use every day in my job. I also have to mention the careers team who supported me with CV and interview prep, this was incredibly helpful when applying for Summer internships and grad schemes. 

Can you tell us about your current role working at NNL?

I currently work as a process design engineer at NNL and I love my job. We get to be involved in cutting edge innovation and our company is all about using nuclear science to benefit society. Since starting at NNL, I have been involved in all sorts of projects; from developing the latest nuclear fuel types that can power our green energy future, to using nuclear waste to diagnose and treat cancer, and even creating the pipeline for nuclear batteries to enable space travel. NNL also supports me to get involved with outreach and the wider nuclear community, I sit on the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group which advises the government and I help deliver an EU project that aims to improve nuclear chemistry education throughout Europe.

What is the most important advice you can take from your own career experience that you would offer someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Definitely to say yes to every opportunity and experience that you can. I spent a year before university working at a trucking company which gave me some really valuable work experience even though it wasn’t what I had ever imagined doing. I also got offered a Summer internship while at university which I wasn’t sure whether to accept at first, it was as in a remote location which would make finding accommodation tricky and I wasn’t sure it was the industry I wanted to work in. I ended up saying yes anyway and I think it really helped when applying for jobs after university, luckily I managed to find another Hull student who was heading up on the same programme so we could flat share! I also think its important to remember to be persistent and keep believing in yourself even when things aren’t going so well. It can be really tricky when you are getting a lot of job rejections or things are not going to plan, but everyone is on there own timeline and if you keep persevering you will get your opportunity.

Leeds University Example Rig

What advice would you give to any women aspiring to work in STEM or become engineers?

There are lot of support schemes and mentoring programmes out there that can help women into STEM, don’t be afraid to sign up or reach out over LinkedIn to get involved in these opportunities. Women who are working in STEM are really keen to get more women into the industry so most are more than willing to help out if you get in contact. Once you do get into the industry, remember that you have the skills and the qualifications for the role, you don’t need to know everything at the start so don’t let imposter syndrome get to you!

What motivated you to return to campus to speak to students?

I really enjoyed my time at Hull and valued the help from the careers team while I was there. The careers events I attended were often facilitated by alumni and they really helped me when it came to applying for jobs so I wanted to return the favour!

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