Making a bold career change can seem daunting, but Kim Vignitchouk is part of a growing trend of people who are turning their back on established careers in order to pursue a lifelong passion within a completely new industry.
More than 10 years ago Kim made the move from linguistics and translation into the nuclear renaissance. Having lived and worked in China from 1988 – 1997 and fluent in Mandarin, it was time to pursue a career change and explore her real interest and passion, science, to which Kim then began studying a Physics degree at the Open University.
Kim explains: “I always dreamed of one day becoming a scientist and I loved Physics at school. Unfortunately it was a career path that my parents weren’t keen on and they pushed me in the opposite direction.
“After a successful career in linguistics and translation, I just thought enough was enough. Enrolling with the Open University helped me to connect back with everything that I loved when I was younger. I never dreamed at that point that I’d be able to build a new career and instead, was gaining a Physics degree just for me.”
Now a contractor for Horizon Nuclear Power, Kim is part of a team in the UK and Japan helping to drive forward the new £10bn power station, comprising two nuclear reactors, at Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey. Adjacent to the former Magnox Wylfa Power Station, which is currently being decommissioned, the new nuclear power station will employ around 9,000 people at the peak of construction and once complete, generate around 2,700 megawatts of electricity – enough to power around five million homes.
Having further upskilled her nuclear knowledge with a masters in Radiation and Environmental Protection, Kim is now working as an RP (radiation protection) engineer, where a typical day includes researching, reviewing and writing technical documents, answering technical queries and liaising with other engineers and contractors across civil, mechanical and chemical specialisms.
Kim explains: “It’s our job to make sure that the nuclear power plant is being designed and built to UK and international standards so that it’s fully compliant and safe for people and the environment.
“Nuclear is such an exciting and rewarding sector to work in, but there’s still a big misunderstanding in what a nuclear power plant actually does. The link between civil and military nuclear programmes also should be better managed as many people wrongly think they are one and the same.
“There always seem to be a negative portrayal of nuclear power plants from the media as well, which leads to a negative public perception. Instead, we should be more transparent in showcasing what exciting careers the nuclear industry has to offer.”
Kim has never struggled to find a role, even after previously being made redundant. Within the nuclear industry, there is no lack of exciting opportunities. New build programmes deliver a spectrum of roles across engineering, chemistry, environment and physics, which are also highly relevant for the decommissioning and maintenance of nuclear sites. Kim’s specific skillset in radiation and environmental protection is in huge demand across a number of sectors and careers, including medical, radiography and isotope generation for cancer care, which meant that she had already received a job offer before completing her masters.
Kim continues: “Gaining my degree and masters were both career highlights as it completely changed my career direction and led me to where I am today.
“I’m a firm believer in that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Juggling a freelance interpreter career with my studies at the Open University wasn’t without its challenges and even at this time, my parents were still asking me when was I going to concentrate on a full-time job? Unfortunately they both passed away before I graduated, but they would have been so proud in where I am today.
“My advice to anyone regardless of their age or gender is to pursue your passion, do what you want to do and don’t listen to anyone else.
“Nuclear is a pretty hardcore industry but there are so many exciting pathways that can lead you to a very rewarding career, including apprenticeships and the university route. All you need to succeed is to work hard and be passionate about what you do.”