What attracted you to apply for a placement with Atkins?
I knew I wanted to work in the energy generation sector, in a renewable or sustainably sense; nuclear seems to be the way to go at the moment in order to get a cleaner producer for our baseline needs, before being supplemented by some renewables such as wind and solar. I have had experience with consultancy work before and I enjoyed the ‘professional problem solving’ aspect of it. Atkins works with both nuclear and wind power, so it seemed like a good place to be! I networked with a few current employees to get an idea of the culture of the company because I had previously not heard much about them, and their collective comments were very compelling.
How many placements with Atkins did you complete?
I completed a year placement, lasting 54 weeks in the end.
How would describe your roles and responsibilities?
I worked with the nuclear division of Atkins, in the Mechanical Analysis team. The MA team sees a lot of project work that involves CAD and other computer models of nuclear reactor core components – both existing and those for repairs or upgrades! I was able to build some small models and test these, check other peoples’ models and their outputs and proof read the associated reports. This skill set was similar enough to the Offshore Wind team and I worked a few days a week for them on a long-term problem faced by a client’s farm. It was this particular project that I really came into my own and was called on to make some tough decisions and be the first line of contact on same days! I received a lot of responsibility, which included performing model analysis and writing a report for a nuclear conference, SmiRT 23. I also got involved with outreach work with local schools at career fairs, engaging with the next generation of students interesting in STEM careers.
What have been your top 3 highlights?
My biggest highlight was attending the SMiRT 23 conference, which was fortuitously held in Manchester in 2015. The Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology (SMiRT) conference is a biennial international event spanning a week and brings together over 500 of the nuclear industry's technical experts and researchers to present their findings. It was just a fantastic week to meet all sorts of disciplines and fields being studied; I was most intrigued with the research that looks at plane strikes to nuclear plants and attended quite a few presentations on this topic.
Secondly, was the sheer expertise I gained on both CAD programmes and working knowledge. I really enjoy the challenge of learning new software, such as Abaqus, and I even picked up some basic coding skills! I was able to attend a multitude of training days and events which really helped to give a broader understanding on the nuclear industry. I really have found my passion here!
Thirdly (not strictly work, mind!): the Atkins culture is very familial – it’s the people that make it so wonderful to work in - and there are numerous team and project socials that occur throughout the year. I’d be hard pressed to pick my favourite one, as I got to experience both paddleboarding on the Bristol canal, and an escape-the-room game for the first time on these socials.
Did you find conducting a placement helped you in your studies?
Returning back to my final year of study was a lot more pleasant compared to the previous three years, as I brought back the 9-to-5 working day habits with me and ensured that I got at least Sunday off every week. This enabled me to keep pace up in a healthier fashion and not burn out from overworking.
The final year of undergraduate studies at Warwick has a group research project that span the whole year and I approached this the same as I learnt in industry; these were a group of five people I had not previously known and had no choice in working with – just like you get in industry! I bought my honed organisation and networking skills to the table to ensure we kept up with deadlines and secured external assistance to our work. My year placement also increased my confidence, specifically in giving presentations and meeting new people.
Following your placement, did you find it easier to obtain a graduate role?
You could say that! At the end of my placement, I was granted sponsorship for my final year of studies and offered a conditional graduate place in the same team that I was working with. It certainly reduced the worries that can burden a final year undergraduate!
What advice and tips would you give to others for the future?
For those who are starting out with work experience and placements during their studies, do not be afraid of all the interviews and assessment centres; they are all valuable practice and you’ll be surprised at how well you can do. If your university offers a service to give mock interviews, proof read your CV and cover letters, take them up on it. Also ask your family and friends for help on these as well, there is a good chance a family member has gone through hiring an employee and given a few interviews in their time. Always be yourself and never be afraid to ask questions; you may well be the reason for a breakthrough or a much needed different view in a discussion
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I’m in the middle of my summer holidays, so lots of traveling, hiking and soaking up culture! Come September, I will return to Atkins to begin my journey as a fully-fledged Mechanical Engineer and enjoy being back at in the work family that is the Mechanical Analysis team. My first target is to tick off my chartership – with a bit of luck it should only take two years of work as I can put my year placement experience towards it.