James graduated from the University of York with an MPhys Physics before going onto become a Principle Aircraft Integration Engineer at MBDA, Bristol, where he has been since 2017. He started his journey at MBDA as an intern.
“So my job is to essentially get one of our complex weapons systems products operational on wildcat helicopters. My day job is understanding the product from a systems perspective, understanding the functional integration requirements (so everything about how that weapons system works and operates,) and I make sure everything is correct, and where there are issues I understand them and address them both internally with MBDA and also with the people we work with.”
Any issues that arise for James have to be tackled with an awareness of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and IT systems engineering to provide a robust solution.
“I was pretty convinced in my degree that I was not a theoretical type of engineer. I knew I was going to be more hands on so I was looking for roles in areas like engineering, looking for a role that would get me out of an office or working with real hardware in an environment which was interesting and dynamic and exciting, and this placement offered all of that.”
James started looking into summer internships in order to improve his career prospects, equipped with the knowledge that he did not want to pursue a direct career in physics but did want to employ the skills he had learned in his degree. He found a 12-week internship at MBDA and was offered a job towards the end of his placement.
“The twelve week placement, like in many companies, is almost treated like a long twelve week interview, and at the end they provided me with a lower offer of a 2:2 to get into the graduate scheme because they knew from my internship that I was the kind of person they wanted in the business.”
When James applied to the MBDA he had to submit his CV along with a covering letter before attending an assessment centre. There, he took part in group tasks, gave a presentation on a MBDA related topic, and was interviewed.
“I was more nervous about the presentation because the question was open in scope, and you want to make sure that you’ve interpreted it correctly. They kind of want to see how you would have interpreted the question, rather than getting the same question and answer from everyone.”
James was offered the role the day after the assessment centre.
James dealt with a few rejections while applying for positions and would encourage students to start looking for opportunities as early as possible since some bigger companies start advertising around June, and don’t have their application window open for long for graduate schemes.
“For MBDA, we open applications in September and give offers in January. We might open again in February but there will be fewer positions available then.”
If you’ve been receiving rejections, James would say…
“Get a fresh pair of eyes on what you are putting in your applications. I’ve seen a lot of applications for grad roles here, and some apprentices, and summer placements too. I’ve probably reviewed north of two hundred applicants. We are real people reading your responses and I can assure you that the rejections aren’t personal to the person, they are personal to the application, and it’s not feedback we give on the people, it’s feedback we give on what they’ve written.”
“Our Mission is to operate as a trusted part of the defence community in our home nations and with their allies: providing decisive military capability to protect national security and enable strategic independence” MBDA
James appreciates the work life balance he has while working at MBDA. Compared to university, he finds that at work he has more control over what to do, how to do it, and when to complete the work (keeping in-line with business requirements, of course).
“MBDA is very keen to ensure that there is strong mental health and resilience within the business, especially in the early careers program, which I think is really, really commendable.”
“Part of the reason I applied for the placement I did was because it was actually quite broad in scope, I formed some expectations about what it would be like, and it is completely different. There’s a general trend, but every day there’s a new thing and you’re always doing something different. And that’s kind of what you get when you work with people, a full range of dynamic challenges. So different to my expectations but in a positive way.”
“I’ve seen one equation in five years. The degree didn’t give me useful things in terms of knowing loads of equations but what it did give me was a really strong understanding of core principles of natural physics and understanding how the world works. It gives you building blocks to then turn that into useful information, and that is why physics is a demanded quality in engineering and aerospace. Because you can solve complex problems with your understanding of how things work.”
James feels as though his time at university could have prepared him better for the professional world than it did, however the core principle of receiving tasks and completing them to set standards and deadlines definitely carried over.
“The people who succeed in early career stuff in terms of applications and placements, are the people who put the effort in to do those off their own back. So the people who go to the careers events, go to the seminars that help you do applications, who apply and take an active interest are more likely to get the placement and succeed. I knew a lot of people who didn’t do anything like that and really struggled to get a role immediately after uni, because everyone is looking for a job then, but if you’ve got a leg up previously then you’re in a much better position.”
James would like to remind current students that they don’t need to know exactly what they want to do, and that if they do know what they want to do they shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into that. Keep your career options flexible.
“Keep developing yourself professionally and personally to give yourself more options as you progress through your career. One of the good things about uni is you can explore different interests.”
James has progressed internally within the MBDA since he joined and is happy to continue working there as long as he sees continuous progression.
“I can see myself being in this kind of industry and career, but I’m absolutely open to change.”