In recognition of British Science Week 2021, we asked some of Strategic Command's science and innovation experts to talk through their personal journeys. They share their stories of how and why innovation backed by science is so important to the future of Defence and give advice for anyone considering a career in the STEM field.
Christina was a jHub Scout in Strategic Command and currently works in the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF); a cross-government organisation that looks to bring innovative technology from the commercial sector into the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and other National Security organisations.
I’ve always known that a career in technology was for me. That’s what led me to studying Physics and Astrophysics in University and a position in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, commonly known as Dstl.
In 2014, I found myself spending less time doing the work I loved, science. Upon learning about the jHub from a military colleague while on the Advanced Command and Staff Course (ACSC) and sensing the opportunity to get back into something technical and different, I jumped at the chance!
Since leaving jHub, I have been passed on lessons learnt from jHub to NSSIF; establishing common work practices and I continue to forge links between the two organisations as well as other innovation units across MOD and Government.
If you were to ask me what moment confirmed that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) was the career from me, I’d have to say it was a rather heated discussion around a board table. I found myself sitting between a military advisor and a deeply technical scientist who were both talking at odds, almost as if they were talking different languages! It was at that moment I found myself acting as an interpreter and translating between the two and realised I really enjoyed it; bringing clarity to the situation and generating a positive outcome is what confirmed it for me.
I believe we are very much in the age of significant technical advancement and what excites me most about the future of STEM in Defence is the ability to bring truly innovative solutions in to solve existing user needs. There is a wealth of technical experience across MOD and Dstl and it’s great to work with some very passionate and smart people who want to make a real difference.
The last thing I will say to you is, if you’re thinking about a career in STEM, do it! There are plenty of opportunities out there, be it through MOD, UKStratCom, Dstl or the Defence Equipment &Support (DE&S) Engineering graduate scheme.
John is a Scout in UKStratCom’s jHub, he manages projects in the special operations space. His work involves finding solutions to user identified problems by combining jHub’s industry contacts and SME’s with an agile approach to project management. He is an Infantry Officer, specialising in finding how technology can assist our soldiers on the ground.
Prior to joining the Army, I studied Economics and Finance as well as working in clean-tech. This was not a standard STEM background by any means. However, as a commander on operations, I was acutely aware of the impact technology had on our effectiveness and on the safety of our soldiers. So, when offered the opportunity to work on some of these important problems by harnessing innovative technology, I jumped at the chance.
‘They give you autonomy, there is delegated funding and they are not process driven’ That’s how a colleague described the jHub to me. And I’m glad to say he was right; joining jHub was a great opportunity to influence technology in Defence quickly.
Shifting focus and looking to the future, I would say the exciting things about the future of STEM in Defence are the progress in tactical drones, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and power generation. The fantastic thing about jHub and the MOD is that there are so many talented and knowledgeable people around - I can pick up the phone and find a specialist in almost anything. The rate of innovation and the uptake of prototype warfare/operational trials in Defence could be better, however we are moving in the right direction and I’m excited to be a part of that.
My advice to someone looking for a career in STEM is to take advantage of the courses Defence has to offer, find an area that interests you; don’t be afraid to fail, and even if you have no experience in STEM, there are several crossover roles where other skillsets are applicable, enabling you to get a foot in the door and transition at a later date.
Flying Officer Luke Hilton
As a Royal Air Force Officer, Luke’s role in the jHub is to develop the Strategic Command Space Innovation Portfolio. His role is to understand what technologies and innovations the UK Space market has to offer which solve a Defence Space User challenge or problem. Alongside this, he brings together these projects and programmes under one ‘Space Innovation Portfolio’ which support the broader UK Space Innovation Programme across Government.
I didn’t come from a conventional STEM background, I was drawn to this world by the fast-paced and exciting innovations which are coming to the fore, especially in the UK market. I’d say the best part of my job are the opportunities to engage with a multi-national community and to share a common ‘language’. This was encapsulated by the Global Military Satellite Communications conference. This event brings together a vast swathe of the global Defence Space community and it is fascinating to discuss the advancement of Space at an international level with these stakeholders.
My career has been fulfilling as much as varied, I started as an Air Traffic Controller; however, I was afforded an early option to switch careers and focus on Space. I began my ‘Space career’ in Strategic Command HQ, where the lion share of UK Defence Space capability is developed, and from there took a keen interest in the innovative solutions being worked up by our industry partners.
I have a pretty fascinating job engaging both internally in Defence and externally with wider Government and industry to ascertain what the UK Space market currently has to offer and seek to understand how these rapidly evolving technological advancements can be utilised to solve some of Defence Space’s most challenging problems and issues.
I believe STEM is the future of Defence Capability, as the nature of conflict moves from the conventional to the tactics implemented in the grey zone and warfare ‘below the threshold of conflict’. Space is the clearest example of a domain which is becoming increasingly congested and contested, as the lines between State Power, commercial interests and scientific development become progressively blurred. This environment is a hotbed for our allies and adversaries in equal measure.
My advice to anyone thinking about a career in STEM is don’t be intimidated, it’s worth noting that a technical or intellectual background is not necessary, and that a passion and enthusiasm for the subject can be just as valuable. Space can appear a closed off community of niche experts and hardened enthusiasts, however, it is becoming more open as we realise the importance of sharing our knowledge and (in equal measure) our burdens.
Shaam is the Integration Lead in the jHub, ensuring innovative projects can be transitioned from an idea to core Defence and works on the technical challenges that this brings.
My journey in STEM started when I studied Aeronautical Engineering at University, this was cultivated by a natural interest in the field of engineering and when presented with the opportunity to explore further in Defence, I took it.
The ability to solve engineering problems in the real world and get to see it through into service is what sold this career for me. jHub provides me the ability to explore different parts of Defence in an environment dedicated to the advancement of technologies and seeing how they can be incorporated into Defence.
Looking to the future, the most exciting thing for me is STEM provides so many varied opportunities across roles, from technical research to computer science. I would say take advantage of the graduate or apprentice schemes to help you progress your early career in STEM. I did a DE&S Engineering graduate scheme which set me up for the career I have now.
Alex is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of jHub Digital. She is responsible for all jHub Digital’s Scouts and projects that range from capabilities to enabling projects to huge strategic change efforts. As COO, she also sets the ambition and digital strategy for jHub/jHub Digital.
My interest in STEM started at school with a love for maths, physics and chemistry, which led me to studying engineering at Durham University. Keen to try something new I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream as a cross government generalist. To my delight, I was frequently involved in technical projects and found myself really enjoying the complexity of the challenges put before me.
It was during a team meeting with the jHub that I saw the great work they were doing and it sounded exactly like the role I had been looking for! After some negotiation with my manager, I was loaned to jHub for 9 months, it was such a mutually beneficial role and I was doing something I loved that I moved into the permanent role of Digital COO.
Turning my focus to the future of STEM in Defence, the most exciting thing for me is the endless opportunities for improvement in Defence especially in the digital area. Defence is actively addressing the need to innovate meaning there is growing support for the work we do.
My advice to anyone looking for a career in STEM, don’t target a job or a role; work out what attracts you to it; is it the specific subject matter, is the problem solving aspect or the ability to improve the available capabilities for users or the community you work in. In a broader sense, it comes down to understanding what motivates you and will help you steer your career.