Case study

Materials engineering graduate trainee — Deborah Harris

A summer internship led to Deborah securing a place on the Rolls-Royce graduate training scheme, where she now has the chance to gain hands-on experience in a range of areas within materials engineering

What is your role and how did you get your job?

I studied mechanical and materials engineering at the University of Birmingham, graduating with a Masters in July 2016. My job title is Materials Engineering Graduate Trainee - the graduate scheme means I complete placement rotations around different areas of the business, all with a focus on materials engineering. I'm currently working in control systems, working on the challenges involved in the design and development of new product lines.

In the summer of 2014 (between my second and third year of university), I completed a 10 week summer internship with Rolls-Royce, which gave me the chance to find out what working in industry is really like. At the end of the internship I was offered a graduate place based on my performance. I started on the graduate programme in September 2016.

What are your main work activities?

Because of the rapid and ongoing product development, each day will be spent reacting to the new data and results coming in. I will typically spend some time in the lab, often doing metallographic preparation and examination as well as some time recording results, findings and looking at existing specifications and documentation. Occasionally I'll attend meetings and discussions, and sometimes I'll visit companies who are in our supply chain.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Extremely. Without the fundamental knowledge I gained from my degree, I wouldn't understand any of the processes or theories I use every day. Plus, I wouldn't have been eligible to apply for the internship or graduate scheme in the first place.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

This is my third placement, each of which lasts approximately four months and covers quite broad areas. Working in rotation like this has been really important in giving me a good grounding of the industry and company, as well as developing my ability as an engineer.

I would love to stay in engineering for a long term career - no other industry is as exciting or dynamic. I also aim to continue my science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach work to address the gender imbalance still present in the engineering field.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety, and the opportunity to get involved and do some hands-on work - this makes understanding the context of what I'm working on much easier. The work is a challenge and there are lots of questions we don't know the answers to yet - I enjoy the process of working out what information is needed to get there.

What are the challenges?

There's always a lot of information to take in, very quickly, and you need to be comfortable thinking on your feet. Time management is very important.

Any words of advice for anyone wanting to go into materials engineering?

  • Find internships or work experience opportunities that are available for you to apply for. Anything you can do to learn about the industry and gain experience is so useful.
  • Think about what it is about what you're studying that you enjoy, and how you can demonstrate that – employers want to meet candidates who are genuinely excited about their work and the industry.
  • It is good to have a career goal, even while you're still at university, but don’t think you have to stick to it rigidly. If you think you will enjoy something that comes up along the way, give it a go.

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