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Meet our apprentices: Tonicha

My story before my apprenticeship

I knew I always wanted to get into the world of Forensic Science, like most people, from a really young age. I left high school, taking 12 GCSEs with me ranging from A* - B, and went on to Winstanley college where I took A-Levels in Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Maths and Physics. I was so interested in these subjects that I couldn't really decide between them and so, with a fight, managed to convince my tutor to let me do them all. Needless to say, it didn't go quite as I had planned and hoped - A-Levels are a huge step-up from GCSEs and with five of them undertaken, things got complicated. My results weren't horrendous, however, weren't what I had wanted. I was distraught. My grades didn't meet the required qualifications of many forensic courses I had looked at. Not only this, but I had no idea which University I even wanted to attend, and what type of course I was supposed to do (considering there are so many variations and related courses). There was nothing else I wanted to do and in my mind, I had ruined my chances of being a part of the science industry.
I had heard apprenticeships were an option as an alternate route to university, but I had no idea what they really consisted of. I was searching the internet desperately trying to find any advice for my situation because I couldn't give up, when I stumbled upon an apprenticeship advertised on the GOV.UK website - based in Forensic Science! I didn't even know these existed, with of course forensics being such an integral industry. 

Why did you choose an apprenticeship? What do you enjoy most about your apprenticeship at LGC?
I chose this apprenticeship because it was an alternate route to university. I knew that earning a degree would also mean getting into a lot of debt, and there was no guarantee of a job after completing the course. I was surprised to find that not only did you earn very well-respected qualifications from an apprenticeship, but that there are more advanced and higher apprenticeships that provide the chance of earning what is to be considered as a foundation degree, or even more! 
What I didn’t expect, was to be considered as equal to the other scientists. I take as much responsibility as other scientists in terms of my cases and my workload and am honoured to be given the same opportunities in regards to training and excelling in my career as a Forensic Scientist. The people within my department are very supportive and encouraging of my role. 

What do you think you have learned since starting your apprenticeship? How has it changed you?
My apprenticeship has had a huge impact on my life. I could not have imagined ever being able to do what I do now, and I believe that if I had not chosen the apprenticeship route, that I possibly may never have done. This route has given me a huge range of roles and areas that I can advance and further specialise in, with unwavering support from my employer. I have a purpose and place in science that I could only have dreamed of. 
A lot of people hate coming to their job each day. I am lucky enough to have a career that I love, that has no limits. 
As a result of how content I am and the incredible opportunities and experience that I have had with my time as an apprentice, I am now a STEM Ambassador, with the intentions of talking to people not much younger than myself about what an apprenticeship, particularly in science, can really provide. 

What does a typical day involve?
I work five days a week, with one of those days being entirely dedicated as an apprentice training day. On this day, all of the apprentices from each department of the company meet. Assignments are discussed and set, in order to build a portfolio of coursework that equates to your qualifications, at the end of your apprenticeship. The tutors are very welcoming and supportive, as are the other apprentices, and I have met some incredible people that will be great friends of mine from here onwards.
The rest of the week is working in the laboratory. I have a range of responsibilities that I must check and adhere to each day, ensuring that team targets are met in terms of work completed to deadlines for customers, as well as personally in regards to live casework. I will come in and check the handover from the previous day, to see what is due and what is to be dealt with that day. The team will have a brief meeting to discuss the handover, and inform one another of anything to prioritise, as well as what we have decided to take on. My job is to then analyse samples via the use of instrumentation such as TLC, HPLC, GCMS and further on, to test substances and answer critical queries for investigations. With training provided, you can take on more duties, and with enthusiasm and hard work, the prospects are endless. 

What are your career plans for the future?
I have had constant motivation from my employer and each scientist in my department, with consistent training opportunities as a reward for my hard work. I have had many meetings and discussions about what it is I want to do, as well as what I can do with many senior members of staff, and my colleagues are eager to help me advance in any way they can. I plan to graduate as an apprentice, and then I can begin my further training as a trainee analyst before, hopefully, to the position of a Reporting Officer. LGC has definitely strengthened my passion for science and the options are now limitless.

What advice would you give to someone else starting out on their career?
I could not highly recommend an apprenticeship enough. I was unsure of what course to do, what university to go to, and then as a result of problems in college, I didn’t manage to achieve what I had originally sought to. My fears of going to university were just as everyone else’s is; the debt that is incurred, and then trying to find a job afterwards that I could progress into a career. My apprenticeship has offered me so much more than I could have hoped for. I am earning qualifications, yet also training and working in the forensic science industry, with so many options and roles to progress onto for such an incredibly promising career. I have become a STEM Ambassador because I feel the necessity to talk to other young people about the truth of an apprenticeship and what great things it can really do for you as an individual. My apprenticeship made me a Forensic Scientist at the age of 18. My apprenticeship gave me something to proud of for the rest of my life.