Glorifying God in a graduate job

Ellie Gkika & Jake Lucas 29 Oct 19

If you're thinking about what to do after graduation and want to use your science degree, academia is far from your only option! Many science graduates go on to use the knowledge they gained in their degree in a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, biotech, publishing, and many more. The adult world of work might feel like a far cry from the university bubble, so we spoke to Jake Lucas and Ellie Gkika, two science grads working in industry, to find out more about working life and how as Christians they seek to serve God in their jobs.

Jake and Ellie, thanks so much for joining us on the blog! This post is all about what it’s like to be a Christian working in science-related jobs outside of academia. That’s a pretty wide bracket, but hopefully by getting your perspectives we can get a bit of insight into some of the careers that science graduates go on to. So what are your job titles, and what does that look like day-to-day?

Jake: I work for a large multinational pharmaceutical company, at one of their manufacturing sites, as a Respiratory Technologist. The department I work in acts as the interface between Research and Development and commercial manufacturing. So I spend my time managing projects to bring new medicines from the development stages through to commercial manufacture. I also spend lots of time analysing analytical testing data of the inhalers we make, and trending the results to make sure we keep making consistently high quality products. No two days are the same, and I get to interact with people across the company in lots of departments, sites and different countries, which is exciting. The pharmaceutical industry is super regulated, so I also spend a lot of time writing reports and signing documents (less exciting!).

Ellie: So, I’m currently in a graduate programme for Arriva UK Bus and I’m halfway through. The beauty of being a graduate is that I get moved around the company a lot and I get to see different parts of the business. Currently I’m working with the engineers to create an app that will allow them to record most of their jobs online, moving towards a paperless system. It involves a lot of sitting behind a screen, desperately trying to understand the principles of building a secure database, and engaging with the engineers, trying to find out how to make the app experience seamless and intuitive for them. It’s quite exciting to be honest!

You guys both studied science or engineering at uni. Tell us a bit about what uni was like for you – what were some of your highlights and lowlights?

Ellie: I did Mechanical Engineering at uni, and I really loved my degree, especially researching for my dissertation in 4th year (I know, I know, I’m weird). It went by very fast but those years were definitely very formative. The friendships you come away with, the things you learn, the habits you form, they all stay with you for a long time after the graduation gown has been returned and the last exam passed.
 I really enjoyed the social side of uni, rowing for the university team, and having free time to explore Scotland during our long holidays. Having said that, some of my lowest points include loading boats in the dark and rain after a long day of racing, and long days in the library during exam season, when we all lived on Pringles, chocolate oranges and coffee.

Jake: I studied Chemistry for four years in London. A big highlight for me was the practical lab work - we had labs in the afternoon almost every day of the term so I spent more time in labs than anywhere else. I really enjoyed applying what I was learning in lectures and the social aspect of working together in the labs. That said I didn't enjoy all of my course, the university I studied at can be very academically competitive which created an intense atmosphere at times, and some of my lectures were just plain boring (statistical thermodynamics was a particular lowlight).

I also really enjoyed studying in London: I love the city, how much there is to see and do and the variety of people that you get to meet. But I found it very challenging balancing time with all the various commitments I had. Living in London especially can feel overwhelmingly busy at times.

My time as a student was a significant time of spiritual growth for me, in large part thanks to my church, which I'm still at 6 years later. It's a precious family in a busy and constantly changing city. I was also very involved with my Christian Union. I think the CU was probably the first time I saw people really going for it with evangelism and it was a great encouragement and challenge to me to crack on and share the gospel with my friends.  It really was the best opportunity I will ever have to do evangelism - it is so much harder when you start work, and I wish I had made more of the opportunities I had to do that as a student.

One final highlight was living with my flatmates. I lived with three coursemates for the majority of my degree. It was great to form deep friendships with them that are still going and I had lots of opportunities to share the gospel with them. I would really encourage students to live with their unbelieving friends - it provides so many opportunities to be distinctive as you live out the gospel .

After graduation, you headed out into the world of work. What led you into the career you’re in now?

Jake: I knew that I wanted to get a job in an industry that used my degree and I was committed to staying in London. That actually doesn't leave many options. I think I applied for just about any and every Chemistry related grad scheme commutable from London and after a lot of rejections I took the first offer I got. It's not my dream job and I don't plan on doing it forever but it's interesting, I'm learning a lot, and it pays the bills.

Ellie: An application, coupled with the fact that I wanted to start making money instead of just spending it. I wouldn’t call my job “my career” at the moment, although I love seeing how engineering has a direct social impact in the transport industry.  I think I’ve yet to find my niche!

In most careers there will be unique opportunities and challenges for Christians who are trying to live and speak for Jesus in their workplace. What are some of the particular joys of being a Christian in your field?

Ellie: In the bus industry people come from all sorts of countries, backgrounds and ages. This creates a workforce that is an amalgamation of opinions and beliefs and makes for a surprisingly inclusive environment. People accept you as who you are and makes it easy to share your Christianity with them. Most colleagues I’ve spoken to about God see it as a quirk; something to smile at, but not pushed aside or belittled as it could have been in other environments. When asked about it, I really enjoy the openness with which I can talk about Jesus and Christianity.

Jake: The pace of work on a manufacturing site is incredibly quick and it can be really stressful. It's great to know that the God of the universe is in charge of everything, and that when things feel out of control he's still in control. I think this means there's a great opportunity to be distinctive as a Christian in the way that I can take joy in my work and treat people with respect even when work is really full on.

It's also wonderful working in the pharmaceutical industry as a Christian because you get to be involved with delivering life saving medicines to people across the world. Science is an incredible gift from God and medicine is such a wonderful part of that. The medicines we make on our site go out to people across the world who live in very different countries, cultures, and economic contexts, and it's a privilege that in a small way I get to use the gifts God has given me to help those people.

What are some of the challenges of living out your faith at work?

Ellie: Nothing too original. Everyone swears like a sailor here. It’s tricky, because as a manager, you are almost expected to swear to be taken seriously. Also due to the nature of the grad scheme which has me changing locations every so often, building relationships where people would feel comfortable opening up to me about their faith has been tricky.

Jake: I guess the flip side to the good things about working in the pharmaceutical industry is that as an Industry it doesn't exactly have the best reputation when I comes to moral or ethical integrity. I hear a lot of critiques around pharma companies capitalising on people's sickness, only developing drugs that will make them money or the large amounts they charge the developing world for medicines. I think a lot of those concerns are valid and whilst they shouldn't prevent Christians from working in the industry we need to engage with these issues and think about how we can make a difference and live for Jesus in that context.

One hard thing about working with scientists is that they are a very sceptical bunch. I find that a lot of my colleagues have written off 'religion' without ever really engaging with it, and don't have any intention of changing their minds. So it can be hard to try to speak with them about Jesus, and when eventually an opportunity does come up it can feel like a pretty jaring change of gears.

Lastly, what would you say to a Christian student who’s considering pursuing a similar career?

Jake: Go for it! Working in the science industry is exciting, there's always lots to learn, and you get to do something that can impact lots of people. There also just aren't enough Christians in that area of work. I've only met a few Christians at work on a site of nearly 1500 people, and none of those were under 40. We need young Christians who can live and speak for Jesus in these industries and who can demonstrate that science isn't at odds with God.

Ellie: I’d say just do it. Don’t be afraid to passionately pursue your God-given interests and talents, as long as you keep your heart in the right place and as long as your first priority is to glorify Him. Your first job out of uni seems like a massive choice, but it really isn’t, at least not in the grand scheme of things. Pick a door that seems open, pray, go through and see what happens.

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