When she isn’t hiking or road tripping to the next national park on her bucket list, Pickens, South Carolina native Rebecca Hunt spends her time as an auxiliary operator at Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca, S.C. Learn more about Rebecca’s unique career in the nuclear industry:
Why did you choose a career in nuclear?
I wasn’t challenged at my last job, and I was looking for a career change. I initially planned to go back to school to receive my doctorate degree in biochemistry. As an undergraduate, I considered medical school; but, going into my senior year, I realized lab work and research was a better fit for me – biochemistry and parasites always fascinated me. I wanted to turn my knowledge and interests into a career researching cures for infectious diseases. I was accepted into a (biochemistry) program, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. I struggled to make the decision not to accept an offer of admission into graduate school. I started exploring job options in chemistry at local plants. I came across a job opening at Oconee Nuclear Station. A friend of mine works for Duke Energy; I asked him questions about the power plant, and he recommended applying for a job in operations. He was confident that my skills and knowledge would translate well in operations. I was open to changing career paths and trusted his recommendation to apply.
What is your advice to those considering a career path change?
My advice to anyone considering a career change is to follow your gut. It’s not always a clear-cut decision. I spent a lot of years working toward a degree and aspired to attend a post-grad program. At one point, I thought turning down an opportunity to continue that path meant I wasted those years. Then, I realized a degree in the sciences trained me to have a critical mind and to pay close attention to detail. When I learned about the opening in Duke Energy’s nuclear operations group, I knew these traits would translate well. These skills are essential as an operator. It is important to critically look at any task prior to taking an action and to understand how that action can affect plant conditions. Working as an operator requires close attention to detail. It is crucial to ensure that we operate the correct component, in the correct direction with the correct procedure to maintain plant safety.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
At my last job, I spent a lot of time sitting at a lab table. The work was monotonous. I love that my job as an operator allows me to move around. The job is hands-on, and the type of jobs vary day to day. It keeps the work interesting.
What would you like to tell other women who may be interested in a career in nuclear energy?
Don’t be intimidated! Be confident, and stand your ground. Less than 10 percent of my department is comprised of females. If you’re not used to working in a male-dominated work place, it can be a culture shock. Operators works 12-hour shifts – you spend a lot of time around the same people, and you very quickly become a big family.
OK, tell us about your love of the outdoors!
One of my good friends loves the outdoors as much as I do. He is my go-to for road trips to national parks. He doesn’t mind roughing it and spending the entire trip exploring new areas. One of my favorite places to travel is Yellowstone National Park. There is so much biodiversity! The variety of scenery and animals in the park fascinates me. We’re hoping to plan a trip to Yellowstone this summer. We’ve also discussed taking a weekend trip to Mammoth Cave National Park this year. Most of the items on my bucket list are places to travel. My love for biology and the diversity of life drives me to explore new areas. Zion National Park is at the top of my list.
Rebecca Hunt is an auxiliary operator at Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology, minoring in chemistry, from North Greenville University.