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Eleanor Cunningham

University of Leeds

BSc Theoretical Physics
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The Big Picture

Eleanor joined Arcus FM as an Energy Analyst in July 2019. She worked in a small team with the main goal of helping big companies to “find different initiatives and different ways to reduce their energy.” Eleanor was able to collaborate with numerous colleagues and received the opportunity to present her work to those higher up in the company, being given ample credit for what she had done during her Year in Industry. 

“I played a big part in designing a new energy dashboard, which I then presented to the client. It was a way of visualising the data that the client hadn’t seen before. It’s much easier to make sense of diagrams and see trends then it is to understand what loads of numbers of a screen represent. It was an easy way to spot things that didn’t follow the expected pattern and start conversation on how to fix them.

The Learning Curve

Part of Eleanor’s placement involved her presenting a lot of her work in meetings and reports. These involved both small and large groups, which she found nerve-wracking at first, but she was able to overcome this feeling by looking at it in a different light and treating these meetings as conversations rather than places for her to be put on the spot. 

“Sometimes I would start presenting with my prepared slides and then someone would ask a question 2 minutes in and then from that it turns into a conversation, which I think makes it a lot less daunting but also more interesting.”

Eleanor’s Impact

Eleanor investigated many ways that can save companies money on energy, with her last big project involving the creation of a next-day energy pricing tool using Python. This helps companies to know exactly how much energy they spend per hour depending on the season and time of day. The tool identifies areas where they can cut costs by reducing the energy they use at peak times and informs them of any cases of negative energy: 

“If it’s really windy one day, that means we’ve got excess wind power, so prices actually might go negative because we’ve got too much energy and not enough demand. Some of our clients use massive amounts of energy so this is potential for a huge saving!”

The Physics Connection

Being able to see the theory that she had learned put into action in the real world was interesting for Eleanor, who said that key concepts from her thermodynamics module and mathematics module, particularly linear algebra, were present throughout her work.

“Having that knowledge of thermodynamics, and the Carnot cycle, and stuff like that I think has been very beneficial.”

“I thought it was quite interesting to see… and actually have an understanding of how it worked and the kind of physics that’s going on behind it. Thermodynamics was very useful for the energy side of my placement, especially the Carnot cycle to help understand the big refrigeration units the clients had. For the data side of my placement, I found things like linear algebra really useful. Some of the things that we learned at uni and joked that we ‘would never use this in real life’ actually did help me in my job, which was really good to see!”

The Professional Skills

Eleanor found that her workload could be rather unpredictable due to short notice requests from some clients which would take time away from working towards deadlines for long term projects. This meant Eleanor developed her time management skills and made herself adaptable to the sometimes bustling, sometimes quiet, environment. As well as this, Eleanor also developed her confidence and communication skills.

“If you told me at the start of this placement that I’d have to stand in front of 200 odd second years and give a PowerPoint presentation to them, that wouldn’t happen, but now it doesn’t seem that bad thinking about it.”

The Company

Arcus is a facilities management company with over 4,500 employees. They have operations across the UK, and bring together industry-leading technology, skills, and sector-specific experience to provide support to businesses.

The Final Word….

A Year in Industry is an experience Eleanor would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.

“I’ve got a much wider network, even though it’s not huge, a much wider network than I would have had and they’re also people who are in the industry that I want to go into, whether it’s energy or data.”

I was really scared of leaving university and not being able to get a job in the sector I wanted. Doing a placement year let me test out an industry that I thought I was interested in and see if it was actually what I wanted to do. I also grew my LinkedIn network which is always good to help you find opportunities.

“However, the best thing for me was just seeing how much I grew and matured throughout the year. Having been through the recruitment process once already, and developing my professional skills it made me feel much better prepared for the world of work. It helped me in so many ways, I’d highly recommend.”

If Eleanor could give one piece of advice to students looking for a Year in Industry placement, it would be to apply early, or to at least start looking early even if you’re unsure. 

Gradcracker was a good way to find what kind of jobs were available to me and reading which job descriptions matched up to the skills I had. Once I knew which kind of role I was looking for, it’s worth making use of everything available to you. I found my placement through the EPS Employability Team. The role wasn’t advertised on Gradcracker and it was only open to students at my uni so I had a smaller group of students to compete with for the role. I would very much recommend using them!

…The Next Step

I have recently started a graduate role as a data engineer in a software company. It is exactly the type of job I want to be doing, so I’m very happy with it! The experience gained from my placement definitely helped me with the interview process!

Skills Learned;

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