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Chemical engineering graduate Josh ‘honoured’ to be awarded prestigious Ashok Kumar Fellowship

Josh Fearns has been awarded the 2022 Ashok Kumar Fellowship, set up in memory of the Teesside MP

Chemical engineering graduate Josh Fearns has been awarded the 2022 Ashok Kumar Fellowship and will work alongside advisers in Parliament to inform the work of MPs and Peers.

Jointly funded by the Middlesbrough-based Materials Processing Institute and the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), the Fellowship includes a three-month placement with the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) where the 23-year-old will produce a briefing note or contribute to an area of public policy related to science and engineering.

The Fellowship was established in 2010 in memory of IChemE Fellow Ashok Kumar who, at the time of his sudden death that year aged 53, was Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East and the only Chartered Chemical Engineer in the House of Commons.

Fearns recently completed his Master of Engineering (MEng) in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Surrey where he researched the use of stochastic programming – an optimisation framework that deals with decision-making under uncertainty – for applying probabilities to variables like natural gas price that may be random in the future.

His modelling aims to enable mitigation strategies to be put in place when values change and allow policymakers to have more confidence in more accurate results.

He also spent a year in industry through an internship at energy technology company Baker Hughes in Bristol, learning about and working on risk assessments, accident investigations, and employee safety engagement projects.

Fearns, who now lives in Wirral, begins his Fellowship in early 2023. He said:

“I am honoured to be awarded the prestigious Ashok Kumar Fellowship and look forward to working with parliamentarians to support decision-making. My motivation for applying to the fellowship was to be able to utilise the confluence of disciplines studied throughout my engineering degree to help bridge the gap between scientific research and decision-making.

“The Ashok Kumar Fellowship is a special and unique channel that allows the application of key chemical engineering skills, such as research and communication, to tackle societal challenges by contributing to scientific policy.”

The fellowship is open to engineers who have completed a degree at undergraduate Master’s level or above or have equivalent industry experience.

After the placement at POST, the successful candidate will also work with IChemE’s Learned Society Committee and the Materials Processing Institute to explain their policy knowledge and experience of the fellowship with each organisation’s engineering members.

Chris McDonald, Chief Executive Officer of the Teesside-based Materials Processing Institute, said:

“Now in its second year with support from the Materials Processing Institute, the Ashok Kumar Fellowship is really showing its value in bringing together politicians and the latest thinking from engineers. Josh, our recently appointed Fellow, brings with him real expertise and understanding in energy systems, that will surely benefit his work in preparing papers to inform parliamentarians.”

Alexandra Meldrum, IChemE Vice President Learned Society, said:

 “Josh is extremely enthusiastic, skilled, and motivated in not only his specialist research, but in the Ashok Kumar Fellowship and the opportunity to work at POST. He is an excellent communicator and passionate about using his chemical engineering knowledge and skills to make a real impact by providing decision-makers with crucial, evidence-based information for developing policies that will affect UK communities.

“Chemical engineers bring vital skills for many contemporary policy issues. It’s important to equip our future generations of chemical engineers with the skills and thought leadership to influence policy.”

Lydia Harriss, Senior Physical Sciences Adviser and International Lead at POST, said:

“The selection panel were extremely impressed by the high standard of this year’s candidates, who showed real passion for communicating science and informing public policy. We’d like to thank all the candidates who applied. It was a really tough decision, but Josh’s appointment was very well deserved.”

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