Case study

Masters student — Xavier Lebrija

Xavier from Mexico City studied mechanical engineering at the TECNUN school of engineering, University of Navarra in Spain, before pursuing the MSc Renewable Energy at Cranfield University in the UK

Why did you decide to pursue a postgraduate course?

I wanted to re-focus my career towards engineering. After university, I started working as a financial analyst. However, deep down I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to engineering, and so a postgraduate course seemed like the best way to take my career in that direction.

What made you choose this postgraduate course and institution?

I wanted to study something related to renewable energy because I consider it to be a growing industry with lots of potential job opportunities. Plus, it's also a way to contribute to the fight against climate change and global warming - a subject I'm very passionate about.

Did you take up further study immediately after your first degree?

No, after my first degree I returned to Mexico City and worked as a financial analyst in a consulting firm for about a year.

How did you fund your postgraduate study?

It was through my personal funds.

What did the course teach you that your first degree did not?

First off, the team projects and collaboration with other students proved to be a gratifying learning experience. I got the opportunity to work with people from all over the world, an experience I'd never had before.

The technical content of the lectures closely matched the state-of-the-art market, which I really appreciated. I knew I was learning something that would help me get a thorough understanding of the renewable energy industry.

Please tell us a bit about the course and what it involved.

The course was divided into three sections - lectures, a group project and a thesis. There were eight lectures, which ranged from entrepreneurship to the specifics of renewable energy technologies. We typically had a week of lectures followed by another week to work on the assignments (report and presentation).

The group project was a five-member assignment that lasted around three months. Our team carried out a feasibility study of wind turbines in the Arabian Desert. The project consisted of analysing the climate of Saudi Arabia, determining a suitable location for a wind farm and then identifying the potential risks and failure modes of the turbine. We determined that the main risks associated with the desert is increased erosion and wear of the mechanical parts, as well as reduced performance due to extreme temperatures.

My thesis consisted of determining if substituting fossil fuel power plants near Mexico City and replacing them with renewable sources could improve the air quality in the metropolitan area. The first thing I did was create an air dispersion model to figure out the predominant direction of the polluted air from their sources. I then tried to determine which technologies would be viable to install (wind, solar, energy from waste). In the end, I calculated the equivalent emissions of the renewable sources and figured out the reduction. My conclusion was that it didn't make a big difference, since most of the pollution in Mexico City is generated by the transportation sector.

How did postgraduate life differ to that of an undergraduate?

I found that Masters students are more focused on their work. Sure, there are still parties as well as social interaction, but everyone knows what they're there for. In my case, this was my first time living completely alone. I found the experience to be gratifying and enriching.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of further study?

I think the advantages are clear - getting to specialise in a particular job or industry makes you more attractive to recruiters, while increasing your knowledge base about the subject. Also, the access to a personalised education and creating a more solid network.

A disadvantage might be missing out on work opportunities while studying, but that time can always be recovered. I feel the advantages greatly outnumber the disadvantages.

What have you done since graduation?

I've been a part of GE Renewable Energy's Edison Engineering Development Programme (EEDP). In this role, I get to apply my engineering and renewable energy knowledge in projects ranging from new technology development to project engineering. Part of the programme consists of taking graduate-level courses in engineering with senior members of the organisation, further strengthening and developing my knowledge through a business-centered approach.

How has your Masters helped you in your career?

In the short time since I graduated, I've been able to secure my dream engineering job. Before that, I noticed that recruiters were more likely to approach me or reply to my applications because I had an MSc.

My job has been made easier. The detailed and hyper-specific subjects I learned about during my MSc have been directly applicable to my day-to-day work, and I expect this to be the case for years to come.

What was the highlight of your time at Cranfield University?

Setting aside the knowledge I acquired, it was the people I met. I made friendships that will last a lifetime, despite them living on the other side of the world.

I still keep in touch with the university staff, almost two years after graduating, including faculty leaders, my thesis adviser, several professors and the communications team. I'm glad we can keep those relationships alive, both from a personal and a professional standpoint.

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