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From sweet shops to stupendous ships

What do you want to be when you grow up? Graduate chemical engineer Will Sharpe tells us how his dreams have changed slightly from aged five to 25.

Will Sharp Og

Name: Will Sharpe
Age: 25
Job title: Graduate Chemical Engineer
DegreeMEng, Chemical Engineering, Newcastle University
Where you live: London

At some point during your childhood you’ll dream about what you want to be when you grow up. You may want to be an astronaut one minute, a zookeeper the next or an owner of a sweet shop.

For me it was the latter: from as early as I can remember until I was 11 years old I was convinced that my best friend and I would one day own a little sweet shop and we’d then have all the sherbet dips and gobstoppers we wanted. 14 years later I do not own a sweet shop but I do still manage to enjoy a gobstopper whenever I can.

If you asked all the students in your primary school what they wanted to be when they grow up I’m pretty sure there would only be a handful of different careers that were chosen. Why is that? At that age the majority of the jobs you know about are the ones you see on TV or come into contact with regularly. And who did I come into contact with most days? The owner of the sweet shop. 

Who fills our TV screens? Astronauts and superheroes. Cool thought they are, it’s not only films and cartoons where you see great jobs. So how can we discover all these incredible jobs that aren’t on TV or in our own little village? With a little help from schools and projects like Tomorrow’s Engineers.

I’ve been working as a chemical engineer for nine months now and there are so many reasons that make me think “Wow! I have ended up with a cool job after all these years!”

I help design ships that are longer than four football pitches and weigh more than fifty thousand double decker buses. These ships help extract oil and gas from the deepest, darkest corners of the ocean and transport it back to land to help power your homes and cars. You may not think that sounds that cool just yet... Well, my role is to ensure these ships do not explode or set on fire! Oil and gas is extremely flammable and if fifty thousand double decker buses full of gas were to ignite, the explosion would be enormous. Many people would die and we would damage our lovely little planet.

Did I know that a job like this existed when I was 11 years old? No of course I didn’t, it wasn’t until I was 21. My journey to where I am today has seen many different routes, as well as ups and downs along the way.

The first time I had a choice in my school subjects was for my GCSEs (at 14 years old). It was important for me to take subjects that I enjoyed and was good at, discovering an ability for maths and sciences along the way. After getting a good load of GCSEs I then chose my A-Levels in similar way – based on what I enjoyed and what I was good at. So I continued with mathematics, biology, chemistry and French.

However, even at 16 years old I still had no clear idea what I wanted to be when I left school. I had a long hard think about university courses and what was important to me. Firstly, I thought I wanted to be a dentist as I loved helping people and bad breath never really bothered me! But after visiting a few universities I realised dentistry was not for me. I love to travel and thought a modern language would allow me to see the world. I considered studying French but quickly realised my accent was not quite as good as I thought it was.

One day when I got home from college a leaflet had been posted through my door called ‘WHY NOT CHEM ENG?’ I had no idea what it meant so I had a quick read through the leaflet. It had a number of questions written on the inside page:

- Do you like solving puzzles and problems?
- Do you like helping others with the knowledge you have learnt?
- Do you want to travel the world and be paid to do it?
- Do you enjoy tackling difficult mathematics problems?
- Are you fascinated by science and chemistry experiments?

I answered yes to all the questions and my interest was ignited. Had I just stumbled across the perfect course for me because someone had posted a leaflet through my front door? After looking into chemical engineering in more detail I knew this was the course for me and I managed to get a place studying at Newcastle University.

Within my first few weeks at Newcastle I knew I had made a great decision. The course was perfect. Unfortunately, you are not going to get a leaflet through your door for every university course, so I did get a little bit lucky there. However, there a lot of jobs and careers out there that you do not even know exist - so get exploring!

I still have never seen these large ships on TV, but I have seen some enormous explosions in films. I may not be Superman, fighting the bad guy and trying to stop the world from ending, but I am helping keep the world a safe place in my own way - preventing potential fires and explosions. I like to think engineering is one way you can solve problems, hopefully beat the bad guy, and see the world, all at the same time!

Useful links:

Newcastle University
Atkins careers

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