IOP Institute of Physics

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Why not have all three?

Stephen Curr is Chief Design Engineer at Rolls-Royce plc and holds a hat-trick of designations: Chartered Engineer, Chartered Physicist and Fellow of the IOP.

Here Stephen, 56, explains why he decided to go for all three:

I am a physicist who has spent all his career in a nuclear engineering environment, working on major power system projects. Despite doing well in terms of early career promotion, I felt it was important for me to gain professional recognition from my peer group, both to consolidate my development and to underpin my professional standing when representing my employer.

Reactor design is a branch of engineering that starts with and depends upon good physics, but this must be closely integrated with a broad range of more traditional engineering skills. This combination of both physics and engineering in my career made it appropriate to seek recognition as both a Chartered Physicist and a Chartered Engineer.

With regard to Fellowship, I reached a point in my career when it seemed right to apply for it given the leadership role that I then had within my local physics community. Again there were several reasons: personal recognition, contributing to the image of my employer, and also to encourage younger staff to join professional institutes and to work towards chartered status.

The employer’s attitude
In my early career, Rolls Royce encouraged staff to pursue professional qualifications, but getting them didn't open any career doors. Nowadays things have changed, and chartered status is essential for scientists, engineers and technologists to progress in my company.

At Rolls Royce, we encourage staff to apply for professional qualifications, and celebrate everyone who gains one. Chartered status and standing as a Fellow of the IOP are important to my employer both in terms of demonstrating the professional capability of its staff and also as prerequisites for certain promotions.

I first recall the designations being discussed when I was at the start of my career. At that time they seemed like a distant aspiration, whereas I think that today's graduates come to us with a strong awareness and much earlier ambitions.

Getting round to it
It does take effort and commitment to get an application written and submitted, and busy people with young families often have plenty else to do that takes precedence. By the time I finally got around to it I felt comfortable that my skills and experience met the standards. I did, however, regret not having made the effort earlier.

Each designation needs a broad balance of qualifications, training, technical skills and achievement, including management and leadership skills, CPD, development of others, promotion of professional standards, plus an awareness of the social and economic context of science and engineering.

It does take a long time to prepare an application. The guidance is helpful, but it cannot be prescriptive, so the applicant has to interpret it. I remember the pain of writing every word, but also remember the satisfaction of finishing, and the later satisfaction of success. My advice to others is: don't underestimate the task, but equally don't be put off. Sharpen your pencil and start, and you will get there.

The designations matter – not just for recognition, standing and career opportunities –but because they give you a chance for reflection on where you have been in your career and where you want to go. And all this on top of the networking opportunities, events and other services provided by the IOP.

About Stephen Curr
Stephen Curr graduated in Mathematical Physics at the University of Sussex. As well as being Chief Design Engineer, he is also a Rolls-Royce Engineering Fellow for Reactor Core Design. He holds several other personal appointments, including that of Reactor Manager for the Neptune Research Reactor and Rolls-Royce Skill Owner for Nuclear Engineering.

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