Kick-start your engineering career with a student project

Joel Fryer, Ryan Thomas, and Kit Phillips are final-year Mechanical and Electronic Engineering students. Along with five other students they completed a student project, working with the Naval Weapons Group Team at Babcock International. 

Final-year Mechanical and Electronic Engineering students during their project with Babcock International.

Babcock International is a leading provider of critical, complex engineering services, which support national defence, save lives and protect communities. It focuses on three highly regulated markets – defence, emergency services and civil nuclear – delivering vital services and managing complex assets in the UK and internationally.

Babcock and the University of Exeter have been longstanding partners and this relationship has strengthened even further since Babcock’s acquisition of the Devonport Royal Dockyards in Plymouth in 2007. Having such a prominent and innovative partner on our doorstep is certainly an opportunity not to be missed!

The idea for a student project came to Mark Westcott an Exeter alumnus, now Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at Babcock. The project, coordinated by Professor Brownjohn, saw the participation of four mechanical engineering and four electrical engineering students in the final year of their integrated Master’s degree in Engineering. The students worked with the Naval Weapons Group Team and each had the chance to choose the project that piqued their interest the most.

During their time a Babcock, the team of students had a tour of Babcock’s factory and offices, as well as access to all facilities at Devonport Royal Dockyard. They could liaise with subject matter experts at Babcock and had funding available for building and testing prototypes. When the UK entered lockdown at the end of March, the students quickly adapted to working online, maintaining contact with Babcock through video conference calls.

All students worked to industry standards on a real R&D project, which was an incredible opportunity for them not only to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world engineering problems, but also to improve their employability as recent graduates entering the job market. Mark Westcott said, “I was impressed by the professionalism and commitment the team gave in supporting the projects.”

We had the chance to interview three of these students about their experience on this project.

What did you take away from your time at Babcock?

Joel Fryer: “Personally, having the opportunity to provide useful research for real-life engineering problems was exciting. The project briefs provided by Babcock were refreshing, and enabled us to complete interesting research that actually had real-world applications. Providing beneficial research for a company as prestigious as Babcock really leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, and is a great ending to my life at Exeter University.”

Ryan Thomas: “As a project it is more satisfying to know that what you are working on will have use to others in the future. Whist we were visiting Plymouth, we were able to see how our projects would be useful to structural health monitoring of the naval weapons they work with.”

Kit Phillips: “Creating a design from scratch for a system you will never physically interact with or know every specific detail is strange. It’s also rather exciting, the fact that I could create and simulate designs from the comfort of my bedroom which could be created and used on a real naval ship. Personally I found it very rewarding at the end, and a bit of a confidence boost in what I’m capable of.”

“Providing beneficial research for a company as prestigious as Babcock really leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, and is a great ending to my life at Exeter University.”

Would you recommend a similar experience to future student cohorts?

Joel Fryer: “I would definitely recommend this project to any students making their way into fourth year. Within the overall project, there are a number of varied and interesting parts that enabled us to put to the test our accumulated knowledge from the last three years. Bridging the gap between academic skills and professional work is key, and the experience gained during this project is something I’d recommend for any fourth year, not just those wanting to pursue an Engineering career.”

Ryan Thomas: “A better recommendation would be to choose projects that would be useful to yourself in the future. We were able to pick from around 8 different projects related to structural health monitoring, and we picked the projects we thought suited us well. This meant that we all enjoyed the project throughout the year.”

How do you think this experience will impact on your employability as you enter the job market as a recent graduate, especially during these difficult times?

Joel Fryer: “Personally, the experience was an important talking point during many of my interviews for graduate positions – I’ve been offered a graduate role and I owe a lot of the success with this application to my time working with Babcock. Employers are always looking for candidates that have experience, and providing research for Babcock International naturally comes in very useful. The personal experience was also really helpful. Our project supervisor, Mark Westcott, offered his expertise not only on the project, but also on any personal queries we had relating to our graduate application processes. Not to mention, liaising with a qualified engineer provides crucial professional skills.”

“I’ve been offered a graduate role and I owe a lot of the success with this application to my time working with Babcock.”

Ryan Thomas: “For the job I accepted I presented a 10 minute presentation on image recognition of circuit cards and explained how it is useful to Babcock. Companies like when engineers participate in group projects and it is good to show that you have participated in projects that work with industry personnel.”

Would you considering applying for a job at Babcock in the future?

Joel Fryer: “Definitely! During the project, we were invited to Babcock’s Combined Weapons and Electrical Workshop in Plymouth, where they showcased just a small part of Babcock’s cutting-edge naval weapons technology. This really demonstrated the exciting work that Babcock can offer.”

Kit Phillips: “I would consider and have applied for a job at Babcock, as it’s such a diverse company that the list of challenges to tackle must cover a lot of different fields.”

This student project has been an excellent exemplar of the fruitful collaboration between the University and Babcock International and is just one of the many ways in which students and recent graduates can get involved and kick-start their career with Babcock. The company offers industrial placements in Plymouth, Bristol and Leicester and multiple graduate programmes in Engineering and Science, Business Management and Project Management throughout the year.

We truly believe in this project and hope it will be the first one of many. Professor Brownjohn and Mark Westcott are already looking to create a new portfolio of projects and to recruit a new team of students for next year’s project, global pandemic permitting.