An Aspiring Engineer’s Perspective: Corporate Placement Insights

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 8 Apr, 2024 | STEM Untapped

What did you study at A-Level?

For my A-Levels, I studied Mathematics, Product Design, and Physics. I’m also currently studying parts of the Further Mathematics A-Level independently during my gap year.

How did you know you wanted to study Mechanical Engineering? And how did your A-Levels feed into that?

From a young age, I have had an inclination towards creative subjects, but also loved the challenge and problem solving skills that maths provided me with! Studying GCSE product design helped me realise that I loved hands-on work and 3D modelling – and I thought mechanical engineering would be a great combination of my skills, as well as open up a broad range of potential career options.

In 2020, I came across the work of Inali Foundation, an NGO in India that creates low-cost prosthetics for those who can’t afford them. Seeing the impact of humanitarian innovation really ignited my enthusiasm for engineering! For my A-Level Product Design coursework, I was able to put this passion into practice by designing and making an elbow-actuated prosthetic arm for a student at my school who was missing a limb. The research, design thinking and practical skills I gained through this A level, along with the problem solving and theoretical knowledge that maths and physics A levels provided have given me a strong foundation for a career in engineering!

Attending the Young Woman Engineer of the Year awards

What made you decide to take a year out before university?

My gap year was somewhat unplanned, as I had issues with my university fee status. However, since I held a deferred entry offer for Mechanical Engineering at UCL, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend this time gaining some practical exposure in Industry through my engineering internship at Renishaw, as well as developing my interpersonal skills through various volunteering roles and by attending networking events!

Judging the First Lego League Robotics Competition

You did a placement at Renishaw. Could you give readers some guidance on how to find opportunities like this, and what the application process was like?

While looking for various opportunities for my gap year I came across Student Ladder, through which I found this internship! The application process involved submitting a CV and cover letter, followed by a 1-hour interview that assessed both my technical knowledge and interpersonal skills. My advice for similar application processes would definitely be to research thoroughly about the company and certain current projects, along with preparing for commonly asked interview questions about your soft skills! 

To help readers find similar opportunities, I’d recommend signing up for email newsletters from organisations they’re interested in/ outreach organisations! A few early career websites I’d recommend are: EDT(Engineering Development Trust), OodlesSpeakers for Schools, and Stemettes. Attending networking events held at schools can also be a great way to make connections and learn about available placements. Be sure to follow up promptly with any new contacts you make at these events.

Could you tell us a little about Renishaw?

Renishaw is a global engineering company that specialises in making precision measurement technologies, founded in 1973 by David McMurtry and John Deer. The company started out by developing innovative touch-trigger probes, and today, they also use high precision technology for neurosurgery! They are also known for metal 3D printing, used in a range of industries, including transport and healthcare. Their headquarters are in Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire, UK – where I was based for the duration of my internship.

I was working in a team of mechanical design engineers and was very fortunate to have had my first corporate experience in such a collaborative and inclusive working environment, with a wide variety of early career programmes. I was a part of their ‘Greenpower’ team, where I worked with other placement students and apprentices to design, build and race electric vehicles.

The company often holds work experiences and other outreach events too, I’ve inserted a link to their early careers page below for anyone interested in exploring similar opportunities!

Early Careers (renishaw.com)

What did you do in your placement there? (how long was it, day to day reality eg working from home or office, plus the projects you were working on if you’re allowed to share)

My placement lasted from August to October 2023, and I will be returning this summer. I relocated to Gloucestershire for the duration since I worked on site for the whole time. I worked on an independent project for a client within the company, where I designed and made a prototype for bespoke tooling to be used in their facilities. I learned Siemens NX, a new CAD software, on the job, and had regular client consultations for design reviews, gaining real exposure to engineering in industry. As mentioned above, I worked with a team of mechanical design engineers, so I also regularly attended team meetings, and have definitely learned a lot about the collaborative engineering design process through them!

For the first few weeks, I learned how to use the software, after which I began designing and having regular client consultations, then ordered material and manufactured the prototype using a range of industrial equipment – I loved the creative freedom that I got throughout these months, and how helpful my team was regarding any questions I had. I also regularly visited various manufacturing sites where my product would be used, giving me invaluable insights into product development and manufacturing processes in industry!

Outside of working hours, I joined Greenpower, which took place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I connected with people from various different parts of the business, used various machinery, and learned about innovative gear and electronic mechanisms that the cars use! I attended 4 races with the team, including the Goodwood Motor International Finals where our cars won 2nd and 3rd place!

What were the best/most difficult parts of the placement?

The best parts of my placement:

  • Being able to work with a highly collaborative team that valued curiosity was a lovely experience, and I’m really grateful to have had a female manager who shared valuable insights about being a woman in the engineering industry.
  • Attending the races with Greenpower – the races were a really fast-paced environment where we learned a lot from other teams, and also had a lot of chances to help other schools and companies participating in the competition! It was also really memorable to socialise with the competing teams the day before the races.
  • Developing my design thinking and creativity skills, getting honest feedback on my designs by experienced professionals, along with having the opportunity to test my prototype in industrial facilities was definitely something that will stick with me!
  • Learning about the diverse projects that my team were working on and how their degree has helped them gain the problem-solving skills they need for this job!

Difficult parts of my placement:

  • The relocation was quite a challenge since my placement was in quite a rural area that I hadn’t lived in before, but I definitely grew to love how peaceful it was.
  • Self-learning a new CAD software was definitely daunting at the start, as my designs had to be industry-standard, and I was also using a 3D mouse for the first time, which was really fascinating! However, my coworkers were very supportive when I faced difficulties with this.
  • I found the corporate world to be quite different from what school had taught me, and it took me a few weeks to adjust to the increased independence. There was also a lot of technical language that I had to learn, but I asked many questions, and my team was very helpful in ensuring I understood the answers thoroughly.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about applying for this sort of thing?

  • To build on my previous answer, I’d recommend asking questions – especially in meetings if you don’t understand certain terms! I had a notebook in which I used to write down terms I didn’t understand, and ask my manager about them after the meeting – they don’t expect you to know everything as a person who’s just starting out, and asking questions definitely demonstrates active listening skills!
  • Document everything: this really helped me see my journey throughout the weeks and remember specific details for my project when needed, and also helped me reflect on what I learned during the months.
  • Be proactive: this kind of links with the first point, but when I found a coworker’s project interesting, I asked them to run me through certain features of their project, what softwares they used, etc. Or, if I was interested in a certain part of the business, I asked my manager to give me more information about it, and I learned so much by doing this! I also asked my coworkers questions about their career journeys, which was really insightful as someone just starting their career in engineering.
  • Do your research well: Before joining the company, I searched Renishaw’s social media handles, which is how I found out about Greenpower – and then got the invaluable opportunity to participate in the club regularly.

What are you doing now that you’ve finished your placement?

After my placement ended in October, I’ve had really insightful opportunities to meet industry professionals and like minded students through attending various networking events. A memorable event was attending the Young Woman Engineer of the Year awards back in December – seeing what fellow women in engineering had achieved, and the learning about the impact of representation in STEM outreach was extremely inspiring. I have also been an active member of the Stemettes organisation, and had an opportunity to visit the Mercedes F1 HQ last year through Stemettes, where I received a tour of the facilities, heard various panels from the staff there, and got to see the cars live! I am also a mentee on a programme by Stemettes, and have gotten so many valuable insights into the networking and corporate world through this. I am currently leading a team (formed through Stemettes Society) for the finals of the Imperial Science and Innovation competition on the 17th of April!

Alongside this, I work part time as a debate mentor, and volunteer as a leader in Girlguiding and as a STEM ambassador. A standout experience was judging the First Lego League Robotics Competition in March as a STEM ambassador – the effort that the students put into making their robots and research projects really resonated with me, and the volunteers had an opportunity to watch the robot battles live at the end of the day which was super fascinating!

For the next few months, I will be experimenting with robotics projects on my 3D printer, and definitely want to work on improving my guitar playing skills!

Visit the Mercedes F1 HQ through Stemettes

Related Articles

Navigating Competition and Community Building

So, you've done a few research projects and have now decided to do a few STEM subjects in school. This all eventually accumulates into a STEM degree. Congratulations, you're now a Woman in STEM! Now what? I'm still trying to find my way around what makes me a WiSTEM,...

Q&A with Engineering Students

Our Youth Advisory Board sent some questions to Lucia and Alex to gain insight into what it means to study engineering; what university life is really like and how they transitioned from studying A-Levels to a degree. Lucia is a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering...

Fast-track access to expert innovation insight and thinking – OnTap When You Need It

Written by Prisha Vadhel

An aspiring mechanical engineering student currently on a gap year. Prisha is passionate about diversity in STEM and currently volunteers as a STEM ambassador.