At first glance, an event titled “RPA2000: Putting together your first RPA portfolio” doesn’t sound particularly interesting but I’m not one to turn down a trip to Birmingham and it is very relevant to my post PhD career aims.
I eventually want to work as a Radiation Protection Advisor (RPA) and that involves submitting a portfolio of evidence to the RPA2000 awarding body to get the qualification and then finding a paid job. It’s a bit of a paper pushing, clipboard wielding, red tape job but it’s appealed to me for a long time. RPAs are in demand across any sector that uses radioisotopes, including nuclear, medical and defence industries. Dreams of well paid jobs will have to wait until I can use the title RPA meaning I need to prove my worth with this portfolio. Until this event, organised by the Rising Generations Group of the Society for Radiological Protection, I was largely clueless as to what that process involved. (Side note: I managed to attend the event at a highly discounted rate as I’m a student member of the SRP. The saving on the full price certainly made the cost of membership well worth it!)
There are two main radiation roles on the legislation side of things. An RPA ensures employers are compliant with the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (IRRs) while a Radiation Protection Supervisor ensures local rules are being observed by staff. To become an RPS, you have to attend some form of training. I’ll be doing this with Public Health England in August, so keep an eye out for that blog post. An RPA however, doesn’t just sit an exam. They have to prove their competency by evidencing their work, specifically in relation to the IRRs. Building a portfolio of evidence isn’t as straightforward as it seems, hence the purpose of the event.
We started the day with a talk about the true role of an RPA and how they are defined in a legal and practical sense. This essentially boils down to the person having a set of core competencies, true of all RPAs, and being suitable for their industry sector. There’s some disagreement about where the role stops, particularly regarding given advice on related issues and the associated legality of this authority. Definitely something to keep in mind once I eventually get an RPA job.
Perhaps the most useful talk of the day came next with an in depth look at how the process of building a portfolio is completed and how it is assessed. As an applicant, I would have to accrue sufficient evidence against all the listed competencies set out by RPA2000. These would have to encompass giving advice at all levels, a variety of local rules and risk assessments, reviews of practice and recommendations. It turns out presentation of the portfolio is very important. There has to be a contextual summary giving explanations of how the evidence proves the competencies, along with a cross referenced summary table of the information and the evidence, with each piece preceded by what they like to call “linking notes”. This all seems very intimidating, but was explained very well by the latter half of the talk on how it is assessed and the following talk on the assessor’s expectations.
The portfolio is sent in its entirety to a lead assessor who works in the same industry and two other assessors get a copy of everything except the actual evidence. We had a few tips from the admin secretary about some more logistical matters and a heated debate over whether to itemise the evidence in plastic wallets or not. Plastic wallets, it turns out, are the most divisive issue in the process!
The afternoon sessions were given by three recently appointed RPAs from different sectors. The radiation world is small it seems; one of these talks was given by a former colleague of mine at Sellafield and I’d previously met another attendee on a different conference. The final new RPA detailed to us how he had failed on his first submission, being successful second time round. It was helpful to see what went wrong to avoid the same mistakes. The final session came from an independent RPA, with yet more tips for finding the evidence, including writing critiques on seminars, running our own presentations or training and simulating a workplace scenario.
I’m really glad I went to the event; all the information I received was worth the lost day of work, getting caught in several torrential thunderstorms and an arduously long train ride home through flooding. I’ve started to make sense of the process which is pretty vital to my career aspirations. Not only that, but as I’ve been writing this Pete Cole, SRP president no less, volunteered to be my mentor for the process! I’m calling that a win. Now all I have to do is get started.