Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022, Helen Thomas, Senior Executive Producer, BBC Studios

For International Women’s Day 2022 we’re celebrating the career of Helen Thomas, who graduated from the University of Exeter with Physics with Medical Physics, 1982.

Helen is currently Senior Executive Producer for BBC Studios, specialising in science broadcasting, working with Sir David Attenborough, Brian Cox and many more. Find out how her time at Exeter helped shaped her passion for science communication.

Helen Thomas, Senior Executive Producer, BBC Studios and Exeter alumn

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

I joined the BBC as an Audio Assistant after leaving University and worked as a sound engineer in television, film and radio – in studios and on location. It was such varied work: from boom op on dramas such as ‘Casualty’ to fitting radio mics on TV shows from Sunday night favourites such as ‘Antiques Roadshow’. I worked as a Spot Effects Op for documentary films – creating footsteps alongside a myriad of other sound effects on cue. I assisted with the sound recording of music programmes on Radio 2 and 3 and current affairs, drama and poetry programmes on Radio 4.

“I have been responsible for a wide range of science programming for the BBC and International Broadcasters from live series such as ‘Stargazing Live with Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain’, to hard-hitting, journalistically rigorous films such as BAFTA nominated ‘Extinction: The Facts’ with Sir David Attenborough, and ‘Coronavirus: A Horizon Special’.”

However after a few years of working on the technical side of broadcasting I found I missed Science and decided to change the direction of my career and move into Production. I started as a trainee Assistant Producer in the Science Unit, working on live TV programmes such as ‘Tomorrow’s World’. I then moved into making long-form documentary and science films as a Producer and Director.

After working as a Series Producer (making series of programmes, rather than individual films) I became an Executive Producer in 2010. Since then I have been responsible for a wide range of science programming for the BBC and International Broadcasters from live series such as ‘Stargazing Live with Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain’, to hard-hitting, journalistically rigorous films such as BAFTA nominated ‘Extinction: The Facts’ with Sir David Attenborough; ‘Greta Thunberg: A Year To Change The World’, and ‘Coronavirus: A Horizon Special’.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have such a stimulating career. I am relentlessly curious about the world and how it works and my job allows me to explore topics as wide ranging as space travel, medicine and climate change.”

I have made expedition series such as ‘Journey to Fire Mountain’ with Kate Humble and competition series such as BBC2’s ‘Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes’ headed by Astronaut Chris Hadfield.

My credits also include emotionally charged medical documentaries such as ‘Your Life in Their Hands’ and ‘Countdown to Life’. At the moment I’m making a programme that hasn’t yet been announced so I’m afraid I can’t mention what it’s about or who it’s being presented by – but it involves shooting in a Virtual Studio set up which has been really exciting as it’s the first time it’s been attempted in this way for a documentary.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I’ve always loved music – which is what drew me to the role of a sound engineer. After a few years, however, I began to miss Science and decided that I wanted to combine Broadcasting with Science – and that’s when I became an Assistant Producer in the Science Unit. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a stimulating career. I am relentlessly curious about the world and how it works and my job allows me to explore topics as wide ranging as space travel, medicine and climate change. I enjoy helping to tell people’s stories as well as having the opportunity to meet and work with incredibly interesting, diverse programme contributors.

“I studied alongside people who challenged my views and opinions which was invaluable. I learned how to assimilate new information quickly, how to work as part of a team and how to present written and spoken arguments – which has been useful ever since.”

I work with fantastic, creative teams and make series which I really hope inform and entertain audiences. No two days are the same and the problems I have to solve are endlessly varied. My work is a wonderful creative outlet as I can develop ideas, write scripts, work with on-screen talent and head complex productions on locations and in the studio. I can’t single out one particular aspect as it is this variety which makes it so rewarding.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Studying Physics was extremely useful for both Sound Engineering and Science Journalism. The course helped me turn my curiosity into an ability to research thoroughly and it enabled me to hone my analytical skills. I studied alongside people who challenged my views and opinions which was invaluable. I learned how to assimilate new information quickly, how to work as part of a team and how to present written and spoken arguments – which has been useful ever since. I believe gaining a Physics degree enabled me to pursue my career in broadcasting.

“I believe gaining a Physics degree enabled me to pursue my career in broadcasting.”

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

If you are studying for a Science degree consider one of the MSc courses available in the UK in Science Communication. In my experience they are a very good stepping stone towards a career in Science Broadcast Journalism. Follow the Science news stories, discuss with friends, form opinions, but also watch films and television and analyse what works well and what doesn’t and why. Try to gain experience whilst you are studying by joining a relevant society such as a film, TV or radio society. Consider which stories you think are important and you really want to tell – perhaps you can make a short film – perhaps shot on your mobile phone to demonstrate your interest.

What are your plans for the future?

I so enjoy making science-based television programmes that I plan to continue doing that. In a world that has become prey to so much disinformation, I believe there has never been a more important time for us make programmes that are factually accurate, accessible and stimulating.

Wribhu Ghosh – My Career in Renewable Energy Engineering

Wribhu Ghosh graduated from the University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines, Penryn, with an MSc Renewable Energy Engineering, 2020. He’s currently a Data Analyst with Celtic Sea Power. 

Before my MSc I was a mechanical engineer, and had a career in the auto industry in India. I was a regional service manager overseeing the business and operation in seven states, with a team in the excess of four hundred people reporting to me directly or indirectly.

Then I started growing a conscience. I feel the term ‘saving the planet’ is massively arrogant and the fight is actually for saving humanity, and is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced and everyone is obliged to contribute to this fight in whatever capacity possible.

“I started growing a conscience. I feel the term ‘saving the planet’ is massively arrogant and the fight is actually for saving humanity… everyone is obliged to contribute to this fight in whatever capacity possible.”

Wribhu Ghosh, MSc Renewable Energy Engineering, and current Data Analyst with Celtic Sea Power

What did you enjoy most about your time at Exeter, and what was the biggest highlight?

Academia and seeking knowledge and qualification was the first step for me. The course was initially intimidating after coming back to education post a twelve-year hiatus, but the University and the curriculum, the faculty, and the staff were extremely friendly, supportive, and encouraging that I have never felt this inspired in my life. The course is very expensive for someone coming from a weaker economy, but it was absolutely worth it.

The course was full-on and I wanted to invest every ounce of my energy to learn as much. This became my life and I didn’t have time for any distraction, and I enjoyed every second of it.

The thoughtful design of the curriculum, how it was kept open and left to the students to pursue their interest, and how the institution and the faculty provided every kind of support to go into as much detail with it. ‘Uncle Kev’ – as we would call Doctor Kev Hughes – always said, “knowledge is cheap and easily available, but it’s the skills that are worth its weight in gold”. I think that’s the biggest takeaway, and also the biggest difference from the previous education system I am coming from where I struggled to keep my motivation at times.

“The course was initially intimidating after coming back to education post a twelve-year hiatus, but the University and the curriculum, the faculty, and the staff were extremely friendly, supportive, and encouraging that I have never felt this inspired in my life.”

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

In the second term, I took one module called Sustainable Architecture, the main reason for taking it was the module leader Adam, and I just wanted to work with him. His enthusiasm energy and honesty were infectious. I didn’t have any other expectations from that module initially and focussed my attention on the other more engineering focussed modules. But in my previous job designing solutions to make domestic properties energy efficient and cutting their carbon footprint, the knowledge I acquired in that module has proven invaluable.

After my MSc I was employed by ZLC Energy Limited as a Renewable Energy Design Engineer.

My role included

  • Designing and delivering renewable energy solutions including Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Heat Pumps as well as develop skills in Wind, Hydro, and Combined Heat and Power.
  • Developing initial as well as detailed designs, performance calculations, installation specifications, system drawings, and schematics.
  • Project support by developing detailed project planning, procurement of necessary materials and equipment, method statements, and risk analysis.
  • Tracking of jobs, including cost and schedule analysis as well as securing third party approvals like planning, and grid connection
  • Monitoring and evaluation of individual and alternative sustainable technologies specifically all aspects of microgeneration, energy efficiency, off-grid autonomy, water harvesting, and recycling
  • Developing integration solution including control system engineering as well as evaluation and monitoring of product suppliers

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Keep an open mind, and never get intimidated by anything. There are wonderful people around to help with it, but you must make the first step towards it. Never feel shy to reach out.

“Keep an open mind, and never get intimidated by anything. There are wonderful people around to help with it, but you must make the first step towards it. Never feel shy to reach out.”

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently working as a Data Analyst for Celtic Sea Power, and offshore wind has always captured my imagination. I do have aspirations of teaching young minds and in a few years will probably come back to academia. I also want to do something meaningful for my home country India, whose taxpayer money subsidized my first degree and helped me be where I am today.

Alumni Profile – André Luis Martins Filho, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Uello

André Luis Martins Filho studied Bsc Engineering and Management at the University of Exeter on a 1 year exchange program, Graduating in 2016. He is the Co-Founder and Head of Product at Uello

André Luis Martins Filho, University of Exeter alumni, and Co-Founder and Head of Product at Uello

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now? 

As soon as I left Exeter, I came back to Brazil and co-founded Uello, a logistics tech startup. Going straight from the University to founding a startup is not your usual career path, and it has been very demanding. We began as a company of just 2 people sitting in a co-working space, validating the business model. Today we have over 90 employees, 10,000+registered drivers, and have delivered over 2 million packages in Brazil with an innovative business model revolving around the gig economy and technology. When you found a startup, you have to do a little bit of everything from carrying boxes in warehouses and delivering packages to modelling the business plan, planning budgets and building operational processes. Today, I lead the product division of the company and am responsible for identifying, prioritizing and delivering technology and product enhancements.

“When you found a startup, you have to do a little bit of everything from carrying boxes in warehouses and delivering packages to modelling the business plan, planning budgets and building operational processes.”

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I always liked doing things differently than expected. At Exeter, for example, I sought out experiences that I would have never had in Brazil, such as being a part of the Rifle Club. Many of my friends and classmates from University were seeking out careers in banking, corporate or consulting, but I wanted a different experience. What I enjoy most about my work is how much ownership I have. I am a part of every major decision that the company makes and am involved in every step in a way it would take me years to achieve had I followed a more traditional career path. I also like the fact that I can look back and be proud of how much we built from scratch; it is very satisfying and keeps me going even in the hardest times.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I have always been a very practical person; I prefer to get my hands dirty and actually execute rather than just study. The Engineering and Management course provided me with several opportunities to visit actual companies and see our studies in action and being implemented. My final paper, which I wrote under the tutelage of Prof Voicu Ion Sucala, was a wonderful experience exactly for this reason. I got to work with a metal manufacturing company directly and simulate their processes in different scenarios. It was great to present my results and to know they would be used to generate positive results for a real company. I left wanting to experience that again with more intensity.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

I enjoyed how international my experience in Exeter was. I got to meet people from all over the world, to live among them, and learn a lot from them. It expanded my horizons a lot.

“What I enjoy most about my work is how much ownership I have. I am a part of every major decision that the company makes and am involved in every step in a way it would take me years to achieve had I followed a more traditional career path.”

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

The University of Exeter was one of the most prestigious and recognized universities available within the scholarship programme I was a part of. At the time, though I was studying engineering, I very much wanted to pursue a career in business. The Engineering and Management course seemed like a great fit for what I wanted, and my experience at Exeter and how it has influenced me since underscores how great that choice has been for me.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

In an early stage startup everyone has to be generalist to some extent. There are just not enough people to have specialization. So I think that being able to navigate through most areas of a business whilst not necessarily being a specialist in any was invaluable. Courses like Business, Engineering and Management and others provide the necessary knowledge to become that generalist. For a startup, being tech savvy enough to communicate with and understand software engineers and other people in more technical fields is also critical. The rest is drive, dedication, and hard work.

“For a startup, being tech savvy enough to communicate with and understand software engineers and other people in more technical fields is also critical. The rest is drive, dedication, and hard work.”

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Find a company with a mission and identity to which you connect completely. You are going to be working a lot and facing difficult odds, so there has to be a lot of drive, motivation, and eagerness to make this work. This only happens when there is fit between you and what the company represents. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks, especially in the beginning of your career because it only gets harder to take those risks later.

What are your plans for the future?

I fell in love with the startup and innovation environment. I plan to keep with it, either growing Uello beyond and beyond or helping other companies navigate through their journey.

Givaudan’s Guide to the Flavour and Fragrance Industry

Jonathan Fairclough, Exeter alumni, and current Head of Operations for Givaudan

Jonathan Fairclough is an Exeter alumni, and current Head of Operations for Givaudan Ashford UK. He talked to us about the fascinating world of flavour and fragrance careers. 

Hi I’m Jonathan, I work in the Fragrance and Flavour Industry which I joined right after graduating from Exeter in 1997, where I studied Chemical Engineering. Today I work for Givaudan as the Head of our site at Ashford, and lead the Operations team, producing Fragrances and Oral Care flavours that go into many of the products that we use at home each day.

We purchase thousands of raw materials from around the world, and use them to manufacture products that have been developed by our perfumers, ensuring that all quality standards are met, and that they are shipped to our customers to meet their requirements.

Tell us about Givaudan and the flavour and fragrance industry.

Although we all experience the results of the fragrance and flavour industry every day, it’s an industry that’s often overlooked. From your mint flavoured toothpaste to your lavender laundry soap, your chocolate flavoured protein drink or your strawberry gum… consumer products in cosmetics, beauty, food and beverages can be differentiated through the variety of their scents and tastes. Consumer product manufacturers don’t generally produce them in-house, but work with suppliers which are experts in the field of Fragrances and Flavours, and with 25% market share Givaudan is the global leader.

“This fascinating industry has existed for over centuries and uses synthetic as well as organic ingredients combined with bio-chemistry and neurosciences which are key for creations.”

This fascinating industry has existed for over centuries and uses synthetic as well as organic ingredients combined with bio-chemistry and neurosciences which are key for creations. In the recent years Givaudan has expanded our offerings adding active cosmetic ingredients to our portfolio as well as nutrition, health, and natural ingredients.

We’re also investing further into new technologies (for example, artificial intelligence) and adjacent industries to expand our portfolio.

You can find out more about our history here

https://www.givaudan.com/our-company/rich-heritage/timeline

https://www.givaudan.com/our-company/rich-heritage/odyssey-stories

What’s the process a company goes through with you if they want create a new flavour or perfume with you?

It would all start with a customer brief for a given product idea destined for a given market segment. Our sales professionals would collect the brief and build up the team to work on it. The team is composed of perfumers and evaluators (for fragrances and beauty), or flavourists and food technologists (for taste and wellbeing solutions) along with marketing professionals, lab application, regulatory, and pricing experts. Once our creations are ready we submit them to the customer and it can take sometimes up to two years to know if we’ve ‘won’ the project. Before we can launch the manufacturing process, there is a phase called ‘testing and sampling’ in collaboration with the customer. We own the formula, produce the material and deliver it to our clients.

“Once our creations are ready we submit them to the customer and it can take sometimes up to two years to know if we’ve ‘won’ the project.”

What kind of companies use Givaudan, can you name names?

Unfortunately we can’t name customers because it’s very confidential. But we can say that we co-create solutions with most global consumer product manufacturers in beauty, cosmetics, food and beverages.

How has your career evolved at Givaudan? 

I feel very privileged to have been able to grow my career within Givaudan, starting as a chemical engineer improving our processes to manufacture ingredients, moving into management and developing from the maintenance manager to Head of Engineering, broadening my skills into other areas of Operations and Supply Chain as the Planning manager and lead for Continuous Improvement, and now Head of the Site. Givaudan has enabled me to develop, grow, learn, be recognised and valued, while having a lot of fun along the way.

“Givaudan has enabled me to develop, grow, learn, be recognised and valued, while having a lot of fun along the way.”

What kinds of roles are there at your company? What kinds of students are you looking for?

We have two distinct divisions: Taste and Wellbeing, and Fragrances and Beauty. In each division, we recruit professionals with a background in chemistry, food technology, food sciences, but also professionals in sales and marketing, and sciences and research (R&D), Regulatory, Logistics and IT, Procurement, Finance, HR for the corporate functions.

Our Givaudan site in Ashford is a Fragrance and Beauty site, where we also have our Oral Care Global Business Centre. At our Ashford site we have our Science and Technology department, we usually take placement students for each of the S&T departments on a yearly basis. In the last year the student/graduate recruitments for our Ashford site have been:

  • Oral Care Consumer Marketing Insight Student
  • Oral Care Marketing Graduate
  • Sensory Science Student
  • Malodour Research Student
  • Neuroscience Research Student
  • Microbiology Student
  • Junior Laboratory Technician Student
  • Finance Intern

Our Milton Keynes site is our main UK site for Taste and Wellbeing. The main activities on our Milton Keynes site are product creation and application, customer care and sales. We have less student opportunities on our Milton Keynes site, we take two Food Technologist students each year that work in our application labs.

We hire interns and trainees all year round. The best is to go to our job portal https://jobs.givaudan.com/ create a profile and signing up for a job alert https://www.givaudan.com/file/207736/download that way you can get notified as soon as a matching opportunity comes up.

What would be your advice to students today?

Be curious, explore every opportunity until you find one that really excites you.

Graduate Profile; Apurva Baban Varute, Senior Structural Design Engineer

Apurva Baban Varute graduated from University of Exeter in Engineering and Management in Civil and Environment, 2014. She’s currently Senior Structural Design Engineer at Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Private Limited, Mumbai  

Apurva Baban Varute, Exeter Graduate and current Senior Structural Design Engineer at Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Private Limited, Mumbai

After leaving Exeter, I returned back to India and applied for jobs as a structural design engineer in Mumbai and New Delhi. I was then interviewed by various companies and I got opportunity to work with SYSTRA, New Delhi. While at SYSTRA, I worked in Metro projects, mainly the detailed design of depot buildings and metro stations. After working in SYSTRA for 2 years, I switched to Shirish Patel and Associated Private Limited, Mumbai where I got the opportunity to work under Dr Nori and Mr Shirish Patel for Pune Metro and Kochi Metro Projects. I was exposed to detailed design and drawings of Viaduct /Bridges. Currently I am working for Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Private Limited, Mumbai. I am positioned as Senior Design Engineer for the fully underground metro line MML3. I am involved in the detailed design and drawings of underground stations including permanent and temporary works. I am also involved in a highway project.

“My advice to all the young students is to never give up. We all have dreams and we all work hard to achieve it. But in the process we may feel demotivated or have self-doubt. It is important to stay focused and have patience.”

The reason for me to choose the profile I am into is because I wanted to stay in core technical field. I am good at math and I like solving math related problems. In my current profile, there are various kind of problems that arise everyday due to site conditions which need to be solved quick and with proper decision making. I enjoy facing these problems and finding solution.

At Exeter I enjoyed receiving lectures by the academic staff mainly by Dr Khurram Wadee and Professor Akbar Javadi. All lecturers in all my subjects made tremendous efforts so that we as students could understand the subject and were open to answering questions anytime during college hours. My lecturers were always polite and have helped me grow academically as well as professionally, which I deeply miss. The biggest highlight for me was the course structure. I enjoyed solving assignments and group discussions with my classmates, spending time in the library in search of answers or studying. The course structure gave me enough time to complete my assignments in time and self-study and also have time for myself since the campus was so beautiful. I made many friends from all over the world and it was quite an experience learning about their country, culture, traditions, and education. Even with such a diversity I found harmony within the campus. Everyone I met from my personal tutor to my career adviser have been extremely helpful and understanding. My experience at Exeter turned out to be extraordinary and much more than I expected.

“My future plans are to gain more knowledge in my field and start a company of my own. I aspire to become one of the few woman engineers in India and around the world who can make a difference.”

My advice to all the young students is to never give up. We all have dreams and we all work hard to achieve it. But in the process we may feel demotivated or have self-doubt. It is important to stay focused and have patience. Exeter changed my life hugely and I feel deeply honoured and lucky in a way. It had such positive impact on my life that it helped me grow into a confident and better person.

My future plans are to gain more knowledge in my field and start a company of my own. I aspire to become one of the few woman engineers in India and around the world who can make a difference.

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.

A creative career with IBM

Graham White graduated from the University of Exeter in BSc (Hons) Computer Science and Management Science in 2000, and has been working for IBM for 20 years since joining their graduate programme. 

Graham White, Certified Expert Technical Specialist, Emerging Technologies (IBM Research)

I work for IBM in the world-renowned IBM Research division. My focus is applied research within the Emerging Technologies group. In this role, I generally take new technology to our clients as part of a first-of-kind project which is always hugely interesting and very exciting. It is extremely varied as I can be talking to a client about a particular solution in the morning and in the afternoon I might be working on some fundamental research with my university partners. Hence, people in my job are typically very broadly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about technology but also have at least one area of deep technical skill.

It’s hard to pick just a few, but I wanted to share 3 projects I’ve been involved with in recent years:

 

  • I was involved with creating a system to automatically translate spoken English into British Sign Language. The project was created by IBM interns under the Extreme Blue programme (for which I would encourage everyone reading this to consider signing up to) that hooks up experienced technical people from IBM to mentor students during a summer project. Rather than describe it in detail, take a look at this 15 second clip to get a rough idea or listen to Helen explain it. Helen has since gone on to become one of the managers in my department. This is still one of the project we get asked about on a regular basis.

 

  • During 2018 I worked on a system to enhance rail travel codenamed Stepping Stone for people with disabilities and older people. This group of passengers find it harder to travel by train, and can often be extremely anxious while travelling. My solution was to create a mobile application that walks the passenger through their journey but does so by continuously linking them with a member of staff. So they can ask questions, get help, meet up with passenger service assistants and anything else they want at any point during their journey. It’s a bit like a WhatsApp type of interface where people can chat to station staff and staff on the train. It detects when they arrive at a station and contains a lot of features resulting from accessibility research so it can be used by people with visual or hearing difficulties, people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, or older people.

 

  • A more commercial example of something very creative I’ve done is through our partnership with the Knorr food company. They approached us for help with a marketing campaign and through a period of consulting with them we came up with the idea of profiling flavours. The idea and tech we needed to implement involved working out the flavour profile in two respects: how people experience flavour and which ones they prefer; and which flavours different foods contain. In a broad sense, this allowed us to come up with a mapping between preferred flavour and different foods. It allowed Knorr to recommend certain products to particular individuals based entirely on the science behind which flavours they are most likely to enjoy.

 

To give a little more background to my career, starting from when I graduated with a Computer Science and Management Science degree, I still wasn’t entirely sure what career I wanted. I had narrowed my options to management consulting or computer programming. I applied for a few roles but was really attracted to IBM as it fitted my preference of a more technical job. After a 1 day interview in London and 2 day assessment centre in Winchester I was offered a place on the graduate scheme and started work at the rather lovely IBM Hursley on 4 September 2000. The site has a similar stately home history and campus feel to it as the Streatham Campus.

I formed the first Linux support team when the company invested $1 billion in transforming the IBM product line to work on Linux. My job was to provide support to the 3000 people working on site and consisted of being away from my desk a lot, either in a huge machine room working on servers or at people’s desks helping them more directly with one-to-one support. Since then, I have worked in a number of different roles that have taken me around the world. I have set up and worked on some of the world’s fastest super computers (they all run Linux); helped scientists crack some particularly hard problems such as mapping the human genome, weather prediction, seismic surveying and nuclear simulation; worked on teaching computers how to understand human speech, something we now fashionably call machine learning or artificial intelligence.

For more information about careers at IBM, see our website: https://www.ibm.com/uk-en/employment/

 

Alumn Profile – Liz Sherratt, Lifing Development Manager, Rolls-Royce

In celebration of International Women’s Day we’re profiling Liz Sherratt, who graduated from the University of Exeter in Mechanical Engineering 2009. She is currently Lifing Development Manager for Rolls-Royce

Liz Sherratt, Exeter alumn and Lifing Development Manager for Rolls-Royce

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?               

Following graduation I joined the Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace graduate scheme. The scheme places graduates around different parts of the Civil Aerospace business so they understand the various functions and how they work together to deliver engines to market and service those engines.

During these placements I worked within Development Engineering which I particularly enjoyed and so I returned to this area upon completion of the scheme. Development Engineering define and deliver the testing required to demonstrate new engines are suitable for entry into service and that changes to existing engines are acceptable. During my time in Development I worked on engine tests, both in the UK and abroad, and completed flight test campaigns to make changes to the engine mounted hydraulic system. After a couple of years in this role I took on a team lead position where I lead a small team delivering changes to the compressors of the Trent 900 as part of an improved efficiency package. Within these roles I got hands on experience of gas turbine engine hardware, build procedures as well as gaining an understanding of the airworthiness regulations and how to demonstrate compliance.

“I choose this career because of Rolls-Royce’s reputation as a leader within the aerospace industry and the complex and innovative nature of the products they produce. Almost 10 years later I still enjoy the varied nature of the work and the fact that I am constantly learning.”

Looking to increase my breadth of knowledge I moved into the Engineering for Services function taking on the role of Trent 900 Lifecycle Engineering (LCE) Team Lead. In this role I lead a team understanding and resolving issues encountered by the Trent 900 airline customers in service, from simple questions about how to interpret maintenance instructions to understanding why an in-service event has happened. I was involved in leading root cause investigations and working directly with airline powerplant teams, as well as with the aircraft manufacturer and the airworthiness authorities. This role evolved into leading the LCE team responsible for ensuring a new version of the Trent 900 engine would be mature at the point it entered service and thus free from reliability issues throughout its life.

Currently I am the Lifing Development Manager within Engineering for Services. This role is about managing any in service issues with engine critical parts and delivering new methods for predicting component life in service. This role sits across the different engine projects with an overview on how we best use the data we get from our engines to accurately predict when those engines need to be removed from wing thus improving operational reliability and getting the most life from our parts.

The next time you go on holiday it could be Liz’s team keeping you in the air! Photo credit: Hrishit Jangra (Unsplash)

 

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?            

I choose this career because of Rolls-Royce’s reputation as a leader within the aerospace industry and the complex and innovative nature of the products they produce. Almost 10 years later I still enjoy the varied nature of the work and the fact that I am constantly learning. Working in such a large company allows for lots of different opportunities and Rolls-Royce are very supportive of people moving into new areas. We also have many people who have chosen to focus on one area for a long time and are experts in their field, and they are always happy to share their knowledge.

 

Were you a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?  

I was a member of the University climbing club throughout my time at Exeter and was club captain in my final year. This gave me lots of useful skills outside of my degree and was a brilliant source of examples for competency based interviews.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I very much enjoyed the various group projects like the pelton wheel in the first year and the buggy project in the second year. Overall my biggest highlight was the individual project in the penultimate year as I found getting really stuck into something novel where I was completely responsible for the direction really engaging.

 

What did you enjoy most about studying here?               

In terms of the university as a whole I think the location was a real highlight, near the sea and Dartmoor and with a lovely campus environment. In terms of my degree I always found the staff very supportive and enjoyed the range of different modules.

 

“Do everything you can to keep your options open. This includes taking and making all the opportunities you can in terms of work experience, year in industry, summer placements and applying as early as possible for graduate jobs. If you have a really strong desire to end up in a particular place keep trying; I have been involved in interviewing for Rolls-Royce and we would always encourage someone to seek feedback if they are unsuccessful and to try again the next year. Also go and speak with the university careers office, they offer good advice for applications and interviews.”

 

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?              

I was initially not sure about the type of Engineering I wanted to go into so the general first year allowing me to keep my options open until I had an improved understanding of the various disciplines is what particularly appealed to me about Exeter. Additionally I attended an ‘Insight into Engineering’ course at Exeter during my A-Levels and found the University and department very welcoming, this definitely influenced my decision.

 

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?    

I think you pick up a lot of the specific knowledge you need for your role when you start, however university really prepared me for teaching myself and being able to learn efficiently. Things like learning how to read research papers, write clear, concise reports and present well have all stood me in good stead at work. Also the group work that you do throughout your degree prepares you for the teamwork required in most Engineering roles.

 

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?   

Do everything you can to keep your options open. This includes taking and making all the opportunities you can in terms of work experience, year in industry, summer placements and applying as early as possible for graduate jobs. If you have a really strong desire to end up in a particular place keep trying; I have been involved in interviewing for Rolls-Royce and we would always encourage someone to seek feedback if they are unsuccessful and to try again the next year. Also go and speak with the university careers office, they offer good advice for applications and interviews.

 

What are your plans for the future?      

Given the range of opportunities at Rolls-Royce I don’t currently have any plans to move on. So far I have taken roles based on the learning available, thinking I would enjoy them and that I could add value to the team and I plan to continue in this way. There are a few specific jobs I have my eye on but like to keep my options open.

 

Do you have any tips or advice for beginning a career or working in your industry/sector?          

For starters apply early; applications are reviewed on a first come, first served basis so the earlier you apply the better chance you have – start looking in the summer before your final year and apply early in the first term. The same goes for summer and 12 month internships. Beyond this I would follow what you enjoy as I think people perform best doing jobs they enjoy.