Susan McDonald

Graduate Engineer (Energy)

"I decided on a career in engineering after spending ten days at NASA via the Scottish Space School as a teenager..."

I decided on a career in engineering after spending ten days at NASA via the Scottish Space School as a teenager. In my first year at university I applied to the IET Power Academy scholarship fund and gained sponsorship from my current employer. This included both financial support and placements each summer in different areas of the business. I applied for a graduate job with the organisation and went straight to the assessment centre stage.

I’m on an 18-month graduate programme, consisting of three six-month placements plus training, usually in two-week blocks. My first placement was at our headquarters in Warwick as a power systems engineer. I helped develop the grid network to accommodate increases in demand, which involved assessing demand data to ensure that electricity flows remained secure and complied with safety standards.

I’m now on my second placement, based in London with the UK and EU public affairs team. This is the organisation’s interface with external bodies such as Ofgem and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, as well as campaigning organisations (eg Friends of the Earth). I help assess the government’s energy policies and their implications for National Grid, feed into consultations on energy matters and keep us abreast of current developments. I’ve attended an Energy and Climate Change Committee meeting with Chris Huhne, a House of Commons meeting on the future of energy in the UK and a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) presentation on research into renewable energy.

I coordinate my organisation’s input into consultations by writing statements of what I understand to be the organisation’s view, then circulating these to colleagues in different departments for feedback and amendments. I also digest incoming information and summarise this for the senior management team. It is a challenge to read a 200-page report, identify the key messages and summarise them in one page; however, having this high-level involvement is one of my favourite aspects of the job. I also enjoy meeting lots of different people, both externally and internally, and seeing consultations that I’ve been involved with reported in the national news.

Some weeks I’m in the office most days, others I’ll be out a great deal at reviews and consultations, evening events, meetings at headquarters in Warwick or visiting other facilities, such as our control centre in Reading. Training courses tend to be held at our training centre in Nottinghamshire. My favourite session focused on understanding substations and their equipment to ensure we stay safe when visiting them.

On top of my main responsibilities I’ve become chair of my employer’s new starters’ group, which organises events, talks and site visits. I work closely with the resourcing team to run the ‘buddy’ scheme and improve inductions, which I enjoy. I also participate in our schools programme, giving talks and running workshops to teach children about science and engineering.

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