Case study

Graduate naval architect — Alannah

Alannah studied the MEng Naval Architecture with Ocean Engineering at the University of Strathclyde before taking up a graduate naval architect role at BAE Systems in Glasgow as part of their graduate scheme

Why did you decide on this career?

It took me a while to settle on a course. I originally studied accounting and finance at university but then decided after my first year that it wasn't for me.

I then decided to look into engineering. After going on a school trip to Norway, where we visited a shipyard and training centre with simulators, I developed an interest in ships.

I chose to study naval architecture as it involved maths and physics, while still allowing a degree of creativity and flexibility. The ocean engineering aspect of my course included the study of other floating structures, such as wind turbines and oil platforms, allowing the degree to be applied to a wide range of careers.

How did you get your job with BAE Systems?

I applied online through their website after seeing the job advert on Google. The process consisted of aptitude tests, a video interview and then a phone interview (as it took place during the coronavirus pandemic).

What's a typical day like as a naval architect?

One of the best parts of being a naval architect is how much each day can vary. Different tasks need to be performed throughout the design and build cycle of a ship, meaning your job evolves as the ship does.

Most days are office based, and work can include assisting with the stability model, evaluating proposed changes to the ship to ensure they don't affect its watertight integrity, working on drawings and calculations, or attending meetings.

There are also opportunities for some practical work, such as surveying the ship before it's weighed and taking part in inclining experiments.

What qualities do you think are important for this role?

Good problem-solving skills are key, as every ship is different and can present their own challenges, especially in an ever-evolving industry. Changes to design or schedule can happen at any time so adaptability is important.

An understanding of maths and the basic naval architecture principles are necessary, but most tasks can be very different from what you learned at university.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I love being able to do work onsite and see the ship up close. Understanding the scale and being able to go and visit areas I've been working on is really valuable.

I also enjoy being able to communicate with other functions and different people, which is a huge advantage of working in a large company. There are loads of people to learn from and it's always interesting speaking to people about their experiences.

What are the challenges?

The main challenge is grasping the magnitude of the ship designing and building operation. In university, they focused on naval architecture, but understanding what goes into the build is completely different. From the people in operations building the ship, safety teams, mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers and electrical engineers, to procurement, dimensional control, change control and many more, it was difficult to wrap my head around how all these teams come together and contribute to the end product.

In what way is your degree relevant to your job?

At university, I spent a lot of time doing stability analysis so when I came to do that here, although the software we use is different, a lot of the same principles applied.

University also helped me to understand more general ship design terms and recognise what kind of drawings I'm looking at.

Most of what I do has been learned on the job, but university gave me a good foundation for coming into this role.

What are your career ambitions?

In the short term, I'm looking to complete the graduate scheme and begin my exit role. Longer term, I'm working towards gaining chartership, and my plan is to get as much experience in different naval architecture areas as I can before deciding to specialise.

What advice would you give to other aspiring naval architects?

  • Try to get an internship or industry experience. This is invaluable as it can help you to decide what you like or don't like, what type of company you might want to work for, it can help you get your foot in the door for a graduate job and will look good on your CV.
  • Be proactive. A lot of jobs start to advertise before Christmas so unless you're taking a year out, start applying early.
  • Be enthusiastic and prepared to give anything a try. Naval architecture can be broad and there may be some jobs you really enjoy without having thought about them previously, so say 'yes' to opportunities that come along and it'll help you understand what suits you best.
  • Talk to other graduates. They're the best gauge of a company and will tell you honestly what it's like to work there. At BAE Systems, there's a large graduate community who always help each other out and being able to talk to someone in the same position as you makes the transition to work much more enjoyable.

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