Careers in Engineering

Main Year of Engineering page

Careers in Engineering

Engineering underpins so much of the ground-breaking science that happens at STFC and around the world. Not only do our engineers drive forward incredible technological breakthroughs, but at every stage of their career they are solving creative and rewarding challenges.

2018 is the Year of Engineering, and together with the rest of UK Research and Innovation, and organisations, across the UK, we are celebrating this amazing discipline.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ engineering career; opportunities can arise at any time, so it’s important to seize them when they arrive. We spoke to some of our engineers about how they got to where they are, what they do day-to-day – and where they hope to go in the future.

Starting out – apprentices and graduates

There are lots of routes into engineering – the team in our technology department is a complete mix, with some having started as graduates and others having worked their way up as apprentices.

Department: Daresbury Laboratory, Technology Department

Job: Apprentice Mechanical Engineer

Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship?

It was a chance to apply what I knew and in an industry that is at the cutting edge. When I left, it was absolutely standard for a high school student to progress towards university after their studies… but I wanted to do and learn, not learn then do. I chose an apprenticeship for its depth of experience and involvement – I move around the site working on different projects, with different technologies and different expertise.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My days change month to month because, fortunately, with the structure of this apprenticeship we’re able to work in all kinds of fields of engineering under one roof. I’m currently in the vacuum laboratory (VacLab). Its main function is the super cleaning of accelerator components, so it’s really important and there is a good workflow in there. It also means there are all kinds of scientists and engineers coming in to have components cleaned and you can learn a lot from them.

Where do you hope your career will take you in the future?

I’m young and want to go far and fast. I see my career taking me to fantastic places and facilities like this one where brilliant science and technology is a beacon for the rest of the world.

Department: Projects and Mechanical Engineering

Job: Graduate Mechanical Engineer

Why did you choose to do a degree in engineering?

I have always enjoyed solving problems and understanding how things work in the world around me. An engineering degree was the perfect match.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day involves using computer-aided design and finite element analysis to solve engineering and physical problems. Not all my work is computer-based; a significant amount of time is spent meeting and discussing ideas with other engineers and scientists, as well as calling into the workshop to see how the projects are coming along.

What’s your favourite thing about being an engineer?

The ability to be creative with design, and then being able to follow my design through to realisation. The work that I do helps others to visualise design ideas, and present possible solutions to design challenges.

Where do you hope to go next?

I hope to continue to be involved in major scientific research projects, and take a leading role in them in the future.

Department: Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC)

Job: Deputy RTF Operations Manager

Background: Apprenticeship

What does a typical day look like for an engineer working at your level?

A little more paperwork than I would really like! There is no such thing as a typical day working on accelerators – every day is different, and today has been a day of planning and meetings for future projects. Yesterday, I spent the day working on new parts we are commissioning for our CLARA accelerator. The temperature needs to be controlled to ± 0.025°C and the system must be constantly refined whilst commissioning is taking place.

How does the work you do support the rest of your team?

I am a line manager and senior line manager, so a big part of my job is to make sure my staff are able to do their work unhindered. We have several apprentices within our group and so they require a lot of support and training. I also need to be sure that everything that we do as a group supports the facilities and projects we are working on.

Where do you hope your career will take you in the future?

I’m not sure – I have never really had a career plan, as my work has created its own path. I’ve adapted to each situation, worked to the best of my ability and my career has created itself. I will carry on like this and see where it takes me.

Department: ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

Job: Head of ISIS Instrumentation Division

What does a typical day look like for an engineer working at your level?

I typically go to lots of meetings which range from individual 1-to-1s with my group leaders, to large meetings with senior staff from other departments on matters that cross the organisation (things like Business Continuity, for example). I also spend a lot of time writing documents and papers – particularly around Health and Safety.

What is your favourite project you have worked on?

I loved working on the ATLAS semi-conductor tracker end-cap project (an important part of the ATLAS experiment at CERN). It involved managing teams from many different countries, and there were lots of technical and managerial problems to be solved. I loved commuting out to CERN. As I had small children at the time I would often just go out for one day – I would catch the first flight to Geneva and come back late in the evening. CERN is an amazing place to spend time. There is such a buzz amongst the particle physicists and the engineers who turn their dreams into reality.

Where do you hope your career will take you in the future?

I have reached the pinnacle of my career, in senior management, and am enjoying mentoring others. I see my job as a manager being mostly a support role – my team are all experts in their own fields and know much more than I do about their areas. My aim is to help them to deliver effectively and to grow in their careers.

Engineering at a glance

Engineering touches on lots of different aspects of our lives – here are just some of the things engineers around the world are working on.

Why do we need more engineers?

Engineering is a massively profitable sector for the UK – viewed in terms of Gross Value Added, its contribution is more than that of the retail and wholesale and financial and insurance sectors combined.

Not only that, but estimates suggest that every extra person employed in engineering supports another 1.74 other jobs.

However, when it comes to engineering, supply falls short of demand. According to some estimates, the UK is facing a shortfall of at least 20,000 engineering graduates annually.1 There are huge range of roles that fall within the field of engineering, and we need lots of different people to be engineers…But there is work needed to ensure that young people are attracted into careers in engineering.

This needs to start within education. Studies showing that many young people believe that science and engineering ‘isn’t for them’, counting themselves out of a career before they get started.2 This is particularly evident along gender lines, with boys 3.5 times more likely to study A-level Physics (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) than girls, and 5 times more likely to gain an engineering and technology degree. This in turn drives some of the patterns seen within the workplace – less than 1 in 8 of the engineering workforce is female.1

Some of the activities taking place as part of the Year of Engineering are set to tackle some of these issues, using inspiring activities and outreach activities to challenge misconceptions and bring engineering to a new generation.

References:

  1. Engineering UK: the state of engineering. Accessed: February 2018.
  2. The ASPIRES report. Accessed: February 2018.

Last updated: 23 October 2018

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