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Annesa – My summer work placement with Surfachem

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First steps into the chemical industry, my summer work placement with 2M Holdings.

After completing my first year of chemical engineering at The University of Huddersfield, I was keen to make the most out of my summer by seeking a placement within the chemical industry. Having had no previous experience within the industry, I was excited as to how things might pan out.

Searching for placements was harder than I imagined, with most targeted towards students planning the Year in Industry as part of their degree. This is usually in the third year, and having only just completed my first year, this drastically narrowed down my options. Undeterred, I decided to contact chemical companies directly.

Initially, I didn’t have much luck until I came across the Chemicals Northwest website. I sent an enquiry regarding a summer placement and Alex, member services & events manager, promptly responded via email. As Chemicals Northwest provides business support for the industry, I was grateful that she was willing to help by sending a copy of their Chemical Industry Directory.

This arrived as soon as the next day and proved to be the catalyst for my summer plans! After reading through the whole directory, I discovered 2M Holdings. I researched all their subsidiary companies, including Surfachem and Banner Chemicals, interestingly discovering that Banner Chemicals was founded in 1860 by the successful businessman and inventor of white spirit (turpentine substitute), Samuel Banner!

I used the directory to contact Liran — 2M Holdings Group Director of Human Resources — to find out if there were any roles available within 2M. Liran was kind enough to offer her help by speaking to me over the phone. I learnt of Surfachem’s office in Leeds and their technical laboratory in the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre at Huddersfield University. Being a student of the University I was surprised that I’d never heard about Surfachem before!

Surfachem sent me a job description for the role of technical data administrator. After a pre-recorded video interview I was invited to Surfachem’s office for a final interview with Fakhara, technical director, and Stacey, technical compliance coordinator. Despite my nerves, this went well and I was thrilled to be offered the role!

My thoughts following the 10-week placement:

I was made to feel welcome at Surfachem and on the first day was given an informative introductory presentation by Dr Richard Smith, managing director.

My main projects involved working with safety data sheets, and I was in daily contact with numerous chemical manufacturers. I learnt about the importance of chemical compliance regulations such as REACH and CLP - crucial in the labelling, transport and packaging of chemicals.

I accepted the invitation to visit a lower tier COMAH site, MP Storage & Blending. This was a useful learning experience for me and now that I am back at university it has helped me bridge the gap between my studies and industrial practice. Pierre, site manager, thoroughly explained process safety and I received a tour of the on-site facilities, including some intriguing nitrogen agitation techniques. The five acre site was re-developed impressively in under 12 months after relocating from east London due to the 2012 Olympics.

I enjoyed my placement, learning greatly from colleagues who shared their experiences, giving me valuable insight into industry. Mottie Kessler, chairman and CEO of 2M Holdings would stop to say hello when he was at the o ice! Liran facilitated the trip to MP Storage & Blending and helped me think more clearly about future career plans. On my final day, we spent time reflecting on the previous ten weeks. I was given useful positive feedback and encouragement which has provided me with momentum as I look towards the future. I am grateful for her support, which has continued even after my departure.

Fakhara was a superb mentor, helping me develop both personally and professionally throughout my time at Surfachem. I feel lucky to have learnt so much from someone with a wealth of experience, whose advice I continue to draw on even after leaving. Fakhara is an inspiration to me, as she represents the value of hard work and persistence.

As a result of my placement, I was able to meet new people and explore career ideas. A taste of the working world has energised me and I now feel inspired, looking ahead to the Year in Industry. I know that I will take this experience with me into the future, and I will always be thankful to 2M and Surfachem for a summer that has been more rewarding than I could have imagined.

*Aneesa's story was originally published in by Chemicals Northwest in their Winter 2016 Elements Magazine.

Annesa, Surfachem | Wednesday, 08 February 2017