nuclear waste operations engineer
James Hardiman is a nuclear waste operations engineer, which wasn’t exactly what he has planned for himself as a fifteen-year-old student at Kincumber High School. But James says “it’s ok to not know where your life or career will head, just try and enjoy as many different things as possible and keep your options open … as a 15-year-old, I thought about becoming a doctor and that was about it. As an 18-year-old, I started an engineering degree and didn’t know where it would head. As a 22-year-old, I was about to graduate and didn’t know what job I wanted. But in the end I’ve found a career that I love and that challenges me every day.”
James’ career as a nuclear waste operations engineer involves managing radioactive wastes that are generated by complex research and the production of important radiopharmaceuticals. Radiopharmaceuticals are a group of pharmaceutical drugs which have radioactivity. These drugs help diagnose and treat patients in Australia and overseas every day. The waste from their production needs to be managed safely and responsibly so that this research can keep providing valuable medicines to the community. James must ensure that the various types of waste do not impact the community or environment.
"... as a 15-year-old, I thought about becoming a doctor and that was about it. As an 18-year-old, I started an engineering degree and didn’t know where it would head. As a 22-year-old, I was about to graduate and didn’t know what job I wanted. In the end I’ve found a career that I love and that challenges me every day.”
James’ began to lean towards chemistry as early as his years at Kincumber High School. While he was still interested in medicine, his science teacher encouraged him to pursue chemistry and engineering, and James says from that time onwards he “was always going to have a career in that field.” During high school, James was also involved in Model United Nations and Youth of the Year competitions with the support of his teachers and the principal at the time. James graduated in 2005 as Dux of the year, and moved to Sydney to pursue a degree in engineering at UNSW, where his love of hockey began and where, during his second year, he met his future wife. James was very involved in university life. He lived at Phillip Baxter College and was House President for two years, and when the university opened new accommodation in 2014 James returned as Dean of College.
During his university degree, James’ interest in process engineering grew and he began to narrow down the exact engineering field in which he wanted to work. By the time he graduated, he had lots of opportunities to experience a variety of engineering disciplines and this helped him to determine which career path most excited him. James graduated with first class honours. During his years at university, James also completed four industrial placements at different chemical and engineering companies. He then applied for the graduate program at ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) and began work in 2011. The rest, as they say, is history.
James says to high school students who might be interested in a career like his; “Many companies and industries offer structured internship programs that are available for you as early as the end of your first year of university. Keep an eye out for these as applications can open as early as 6 months after you finish high school. It’s a great opportunity to apply your skills in real world applications.”
James says that success is all about drive, and that “having confidence in yourself and your own decisions is important, but also being willing to teach and help others when they need it.”