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Insights What's it like to work in Environmental Science at Atkins?

Meet Sam Rayner, Assistant Environmental Scientist at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. While at university, he took 18 months out to join our Networks and Drainage practice on placement. He returned soon after to join our Graduate Development Programme in the Water Management Consultancy practice.

"Doing the placement was a huge learning curve. It gave me a good knowledge base about the water industry and how a consultancy works before starting the grad scheme.”

Sam Rayner smiling towards the camera on his hike

Sam, what do you like the most about being an Assistant Environmental Scientist at Atkins? 

I do love my job. I love the field that I'm in. I wake up, and I'm happy to be going to work. Being a graduate and a Young Professional in Atkins gives you a lot of opportunities to explore what kind of work you like doing before you become more specialised. Much of my work has been involved in risk assessments for invasive non-native species (INNS), determining where the risks of their spread are. I'd like to do more fieldwork, learn about identifying and mitigating them in more depth, and complete some studies into how we can eradicate them.

How do you make a difference working at Atkins?

Pretty much all of my work involves sustainability, Net-Zero and social value. INNS are the second most significant threat to biodiversity worldwide after habitat destruction. Much of my work consists of spreading the message about their dangers and how to mitigate them. I work with water companies to improve practices and stop the spread through aquatic networks. 

My latest line of work is in natural flood management (NFM). We work with nature and landowners to reduce flooding, rather than just sticking concrete in rivers. 
A natural environment less prone to flooding brings social value to communities, reducing the impact on them and their places and spaces.

What have you been working on lately that makes you feel proud?

I've recently done an interesting NFM project for National Highways, creating a massively innovative way to help reduce flooding on their road network. We took a reverse auction approach—with landowners bidding for funding to implement their own flood management measures. It's been so rewarding supporting landowners to develop and implement these—rather than us going in, designing them and building on their land. I'm proud that we got measures on the ground within a year of the scheme being live. We’ve already seen a lot of positive outcomes and flood reduction.

What does Atkins' new strategy, "Engineering Better?" mean to you and your day-to-day work?

It underpins what I do in NFM and INNS. Through NFM, we're trying to improve food resilience and local communities and protect them from future flooding. Part of that is improving biodiversity, access to green space and environmental aesthetics. 

Working to stop the spread of INNS keeps the biodiversity high in Great Britain. INNS out-compete native species for habitats, spread diseases, erode or clog our waterways, and increase flooding. The American signal crayfish, for example, is quite dominant in the UK at the moment. It has killed off most of our white clawed crayfish by spreading the crayfish plague.  

How are the knowledge and skills you're learning invaluable for your future career?

With INNS, I've done a lot of work with water companies, learning about company processes, how they operate and how we can work with them to improve their practices. I've got an excellent insight into the water industry's complex procedures. You need to apply a critical thinking approach and think about all the knock-on effects of what you're trying to achieve. That's valuable knowledge I can use for various projects in the sector. 

Tell us about some of the employee initiatives you're involved in at Atkins?

I sit on the Infrastructure Graduate Forum (IGF). That's a group of 10 grads from across the Infrastructure practice. It works to improve the graduate experience, from well-being to the induction process, graduate initiatives and mobility across the company. I also host Graduate, Apprentice and Placement Student (GAPS) talks for the Midlands region. These talks get the Midlands Young Professionals together every other month to network and share what we're involved in across the organisation. We get good numbers attending the programmes and have received senior-level funding.

What is the community like in the Water Management team in Derby?

We have eight people in my office, and most are in "aquatic ecology". But, across the country, the Water Management team totals about 120 people. It's a great practice to be in, and we do such a wide range of things. We're very productive and do exciting work. 

It's a nice vibe, really. We're a friendly bunch, quite talkative, family-like and supportive. There's a broad mix of people from different nationalities, backgrounds, genders, and many young people, which is great being a young person—plus a few senior figures. There's a huge age range, from 18 to 60+, but you don't feel you can't talk to someone because they're too senior. I don't feel looked down on. 

How is Atkins helping you thrive?

I love Atkins, and I've loved the environments in the Water Management and Networks & Drainage consultancies. Atkins is very welcoming, where you can form good relationships with people. What comes from that is a lot of opportunities. 

If I identify something I want to work on, I can just reach out to my colleagues and ask if there is a way I can get involved. There often is. I've also got a supportive line manager who hired me during the pandemic. I spent a lot of time worrying if I would have a job come September and it was still there, and he made sure it was there. I can tell him what type of work I want to do, and he often supports that. That helps me to thrive. 

Do you have a mentor at Atkins?

I have an informal mentor who is part of the water management consultancy in Peterborough. That's about an hour from Derby, so I only see him for site work. 

We met when we got put on a project together shortly after I started as a graduate. We got on, worked well, and built up a really positive working relationship over time. He's got five more years of experience than I have, so he's a great person to ask for advice and feedback.

How do you lean into Atkins' Flexible working culture?

To an extent, we can choose our hours, so I tend to start at half seven and finish at half four. I mostly flex around cycling. During winter, I want to get out before it gets dark. Also, if I need to spend a couple of hours working on GAPS talks or the IGF, I can do that during the day and make up my work time later.

Do you have any advice for anyone who aspires to do what you're doing?

Getting to a position where you're starting out in consulting is an achievement in itself. It took a lot of perseverance to find the job I'm in now, with many rejections along the way. So, persevere, work hard and grab every opportunity with two hands.