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Studying manufacturing engineering

manufacturing engineering studentNatalie Davies talks to us from a work placement in Trinidad about her life as an engineering student at Cambridge University.

When did you decide to become an engineer?

I studied French, maths, Further maths and physics at A-level. I enjoyed maths and science but wanted to keep my options open as much as possible. Engineering seemed to be the ideal combination of my interests and I was attracted by the range of opportunities out there for people with an engineering qualification..

Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?

My dad is an engineer and he has always encouraged me. I also wanted to be able to help shape the future and be a part of it and I thought that engineering would enable me to do that.

What did the training involve?

During my first two years at Cambridge, I studied general engineering, which was great as I didn’t know what I wanted to specialise in. The timetable was quite structured; typically I had lectures (or lab sessions) each morning with supervisions in the afternoon – these are hour-long sessions with an engineering lecturer from your college.

For my final two years I chose to study manufacturing engineering. The timetable was a mixture of lectures, supervisions and factory visits. The course also involves a series work placements, which really gave me a feel for what all this study would lead to.

Can you describe a typical working day?

Well, I am currently in Trinidad where I am completing my final placement in industry. I am working at Angostura for six weeks; Angostura makes rum and its famous aromatic bitters. My project involves analysing the production process for a particular product and making recommendations that will improve the efficiency of the process and enable the production rate to be increased.

A normal day here means getting into the office before eight in the morning. Then I will arrange all the necessary meeting for the day and work on my project. Lunch here is great (and only costs about 50p!). My evenings are spent going to the gym or watching movies.

A more typical day back in Cambridge would probably consist of: 8am get up, get dressed and have breakfast; 9am-1pm lectures; 1pm lunch; 2-4pm more lectures; then I will maybe go shopping in town, meet a friend or go for a run, before heading back to my room in college to do some work or revise for a module assessment; in the evening I might have supper with friends or meet up with them in the college bar.

What's the best thing about your course?

I think the best thing about my course is being able to visit and work in so many different companies and being able to travel. I have completed projects at Rolls-Royce, GKN Wheels, BMW and Angostura and visited numerous factories on day trips including a steel foundry, a sugar factory, a jam factory, a paint plant and a pneumatics company!

I have travelled to Norway, Switzerland and Trinidad as part of my course and I am helping to organise the Overseas Research Project this summer to investigate design and innovation; we are visiting companies in Hong Kong, China and Japan. I should also mention that my department has a fleet of minibuses, which students who successfully pass their 'Minibus Driver Assessment Training' course can drive (when travelling to companies for visits and projects); I thought it was really exciting driving a brand new Ford Transit van!

What do you like least about your job course?

Whilst it’s great working for different companies, it can mean that you are away from some university friends for a long time and you might miss out on social event. However, you get to know the people that you are working with a lot better and have fun investigating the places where you are staying!

What have been the challenges in getting to where you are now?

Well, you are in a minority as a woman but I feel that being a woman studying engineering has been an advantage and I have benefited from numerous schemes that are designed to encourage women to study science and engineering.

What personal qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

I think that in order to succeed in an engineering role, it is important to be motivated and determined. You should also be assertive and actively seek out chances to take part in activities that will broaden your horizons.

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

Make the most of the opportunities available (for example, schemes run by the Royal Academy of Engineering) and write to companies to arrange work experience to show your enthusiasm and to allow you to make a more informed decision.

What do engineers do for society?

Visiting factories as part of my degree has made me consider things that we take for granted in a new light – I find it amazing to think that there are numerous factories making toilet roll, toothbrushes and other everyday items, none of which would be possible without engineers.