“In 1986, I left school aged 16. I got an apprenticeship with ExxonMobile (ESSO at the time) with their projects analytics group.
“The apprenticeship was run in partnership with Fife College. I studied for three years on a day release basis to complete an HNC in Multidisciplinary Engineering.
“I then went on to have a 20-year career with ExxonMobile, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had some great times while working there. But, in order to get more of a work-life balance, I was thinking about following my wife’s lead and becoming a teacher.
“It was a tall order to break into teaching for me. Looking back now, I think that if I had known what was ahead of me I probably would have stayed where I was!
“The main problem was that I didn’t have any Highers, so I couldn’t apply directly to university. So, I attended an event at the College to see how best I could go about getting the qualifications I needed to go to uni.
“As it turned out, the best route for me was through HNC: Applied Sciences, and then an HND. That would then allow me, if I did well over the two years, to go straight into a university chemistry degree in 3rd year.
“I chose to go to the University of Edinburgh because the tutor I had at Fife College was a big inspiration for me, and he had studied his PhD at Edinburgh.
“I then studied for two years at uni to finish my degree, then completed my teaching year at Moray House. I was even able to do my Honours project based in a school, which helped me to get into to Moray House.
“So, it took me quite a while to change careers and get into teaching. Six years all in. but now here I am, a fully-fledged teacher. And it was a great journey. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I kind of fell into Science through the work I did with ExxonMobile which was chemistry-based. It then made sense for me to teach chemistry.
“Scotland has a massive scientific heritage. And in think that people forget that in order to work in the science industry you don’t always need to have a degree. There is a huge range of jobs that need a scientific approach but not necessarily qualifications to degree level.
“I think it’s incredibly important to encourage school pupils into a scientific career, and especially girls. I think that girls pursuing science careers are very often focusing on going straight to university and it’s not always the best option.
“I think we’re missing a trick by pushing people solely towards university. I had a successful and enjoyable 20-year career and travelled the world without going to uni. It’s certainly not all about university qualifications. College qualifications can set you up perfectly for an excellent career. And you can also then go on to uni if that’s what you want to do.
“I got an absolutely brilliant vocational grounding in chemistry at Fife College. I have to be careful what I say here, but I think it was actually more useful to me than the hands-on, practical side of my degree course.
“At the College, you’re actually taught how to work in a laboratory properly, and how to handle equipment properly. The lab technicians who taught us this would be on your case if you were pipetting incorrectly. It was great!
“I had come from a background where I was working in a lab anyway, but they ironed out all of the bad habits I had picked up over the course of my career.
“The facilities at the College are fantastic. The labs are spotless and very well appointed with excellent instrumentation. The staff operating the instruments know exactly how to work it all.
“It’s a little weird for me now because I take my Advanced Higher pupils to the College and I see it all happening all over again! The staff, the lab techs and lecturers, give the pupils the greatest training they could possibly get.
“We do a lot of practical work in-house as part of the Advanced Higher course, but there are certain situations where using the instrumentation available at the College is far, far better.
“I’d advise anyone, if they were looking to get into a career in Science, Applied Sciences at Fife College is perfect. It’s exactly what it says on the tin; it’s how to be a scientist and actually apply it in an industry somewhere in Scotland, or further afield. It’s second to none.”