The Big Picture
Sam worked at Rolls-Royce as a Central Engineering Operations Placement Student where he rotated around different roles in both the engineering and operations departments.
“I had a base office and then from there I’d do operations stuff and then I might spend a day or two a week on one of the factory sites, working with one of the engineering teams there.”
Sam’s main engineering project was investigating a new material to be used in engines that would be welded using rotary friction welding, and explore whether this process was feasible, a valuable piece of exploratory work.
The Learning Curve
“I had no idea, I’d never done welding before in my life. I didn’t know what was going on.”
When starting the placement, Sam didn’t know anything about welding and found it scary at first to have to present what he had been doing to the director of the welding team at the weekly meeting, when he wasn’t too sure what he had been doing himself. Sam quickly learned that being able to explain and defend your own work and reasons is a very important skill and recognises that it is something he will take forward in his career.
“I think people are quite understanding. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure.”
Sam acknowledged that it’s difficult to have a big impact upon such a large company as it takes a few years of working within the company to produce a real change. However, he recognised that large companies such as Rolls-Royce really value Year in Industry students and interns as they come with minds full of fresh, out of the box ideas that get the ball rolling for more efficient, streamlined processes in the long run.
“And most of the time, when you question or challenge something like that, it’s an old standard. Well, every now and again, we just come up with good ideas, different kind of things outside of the box. I remember speaking to someone, they said, “Once you’ve been here for 20, 35 years you think inside certain boxes and have that tunnel vision sometimes.”
The Physics Connection
“I remember speaking to people around the company and they valued having physicists on board so even though we might not know about material science or we might not know about some of the engineering terms, it’s the way we think about problems is really appreciated in the industry as physicists…We seem to be quite analytical when it comes to solving problems.”
Aside from his analytical skills, Sam found that the placement didn’t draw on as much pure physics as he had hoped, but did make him delve deeper into programming using Python, something which he didn’t enjoy at university but found himself enjoying at Rolls-Royce. He created a script that would pull data from image analysis software and produce a plot and found it rewarding to be able to tell colleagues that they simply had to click a button to see the results of the analysis.
“I found that really rewarding and satisfying and it actually changed my outlook on working in software because I really enjoyed working on it in a workplace.”
The main professional skills that Sam learned and which he can now apply to future jobs, were mainly communication based, such as how to act in a meeting, how to speak to his manager and how to explain to his manager that he needed further support, etc.
“In general how you fit into a business and how a business of that scale works and just how to act, really. I think that was the main thing I learned.”
Sam became used to writing action logs in his role and took that skill back to university to help him keep track of his academic studies. The experience also demonstrated that the managers were friendly and approachable and much prefer it if you are honest with them if you don’t know how to do something so that they can help you before time is wasted.
“They’re there to help and they’re very friendly. I think just being honest. Honesty and integrity. Two things that are very well respected.”
The Application Process
Sam secured his Year in Industry through the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) after hearing a fellow placement student give a presentation about his experience.
“You make one application to the EDT and then companies come to them for placement students. He was like, you only have to make one application and then you’ve got 10, 15 companies all getting this application information.”
Applying through EDT saved Sam a lot of time and Rolls-Royce reached out to him for an interview. He attended a big EDT interview day for a more casual chat and then an assessment centre at Rolls-Royce itself.
Rolls-Royce is a British multinational aerospace and defence company which manufactures and distributes power systems for aviation and other industries. Despite the confidential nature of their engineering work, Sam had a good work-life balance while at Rolls-Royce and was given the freedom to give feedback on his experience honestly as well as enjoy his time with his co-workers.
“We’d do socials. We’d do guest lectures. Important cool people from around the company, they’d come and give lectures to interns. Saying what their story is.”
The Final Word…
Physics is a very employable and highly regarded degree and this placement has made Sam realise the value of physicists in the workplace, the different roles that they can do, and the many ways in which the skills of a physicist can help improve a business.
…and the Next Step
Sam came away from his Year in Industry with an appreciation and aptitude for programming. After graduating, he spent a year in the City of London working as an Analyst, and is now employed as a Software Engineer at Carbon Co-op, a renewable energy co-operative based in Manchester. He is making use of all his Python skills, but credits his placement with giving him the professional skills needed to apply for competitive roles.
“I always said to myself…I don’t want to do programming. I’m not sitting in front of a computer all day. Well, having had the opportunity here and really enjoying it, it changed my outlook on it. It’s something that I would like to do.”