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Steven Tilbury, Placement Student, Atkins


Placement Student

What attracted you to apply for a placement with Atkins?

I applied to Atkins through the QUEST Undergraduate Scholarship from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). The scholarship works by pairing you with a leading civil engineering company throughout the duration of your university studies, with Atkins of course being one of them. I chose Atkins as my preferred choice as it was (and still is) one of the largest and most highly respected design consultancies in the world, working at the forefront of some of the most influential engineering projects and challenges worldwide. At the time the London 2012 Olympics was underway, for which Atkins had been the official engineering design services provider. I was in awe of what Atkins had achieved, both for London 2012 and for many other projects of notable scale worldwide.

How many placements with Atkins did you complete?

I’ve completed three two-month placements in the summers between each university academic year while I was studying for my Masters of Engineering (MEng) degree. For each placement I worked within the Civil Infrastructure team.

How would describe your roles and responsibilities?

The Civil Infrastructure team at Atkins tends to both manage the entire project whilst also carrying out the technical civil engineering design. The type of work can therefore vary significantly, from undertaking the detailed design of utilities sizing or diversions all the way to liaising with different teams, external contractors, stakeholders and clients themselves to communicate very complex information between the parties and to verify that the project requirements are being met. It’s a very rewarding experience: being a part of the detailed design of a large-scale project whilst also grasping a sound understanding of how the entire project is progressing and how your design fits into it all. An amazing thing about the company is that, while these roles are crucially important in the success of each project, Atkins still gave me the responsibility to do all of these myself alongside the Graduates and Senior Engineers alike.

What have been your top 3 highlights?

I would have to pick my first ever week as one of them. Most people might expect their initial week to be relatively dull, with much of it spent doing administration; not at Atkins! On my very first day I was thrown into the deep end and had to teach myself pipe flow analysis so that I could then check the adequacy of a stormwater system design for a school. I had not expected that I would find the system to be inadequate, leading me to design an alternative system which was then adopted!

It has also been rewarding to have worked on the Olympic Park redevelopment following the London 2012 Games. For several areas of the Park I have assessed the existing information, undertaken qualitative and quantitative design using this information and prepared consultation documents surrounding the new design to issue to the client and any relevant stakeholders. It makes a huge difference being able to see the work through to completion like this; you get a real sense of achievement!

Similarly, I have assisted with work on Heathrow Airport for each of the three placements. Much of the work involved a managerial overview of the current works and client and stakeholder liaison. Being able to directly experience the progression of each stage, through regular client and stakeholder meetings over a total of two years, gave me a beneficial insight into how such large-scale projects evolve.

I also have many further highlights outside of the actual placement work; the Atkins staff have a vibrant social community that hosts many events outside of office hours and is a pleasure to be part of!

Did you find conducting a placement helped you in your studies?

Immensely! Academic tuition can only take you so far, and while there were opportunities to gain some practical experience at university, it is in no way comparable to the experience that I gained over my six months at Atkins. The three placements helped to cement the theory that I had learnt as I actively witnessed how it is used in industry to design physical structures and solutions.

Following your placement, did you find it easier to obtain a graduate role?

There’s no question that industrial placements make it far easier to obtain a graduate role. However the QUEST Undergraduate Scholarship makes the graduate application to your sponsor company even easier as it bypasses much of the procedure; I felt like a permanent member of Atkins before I even finished my final placement!

What advice and tips would you give to others for the future?

The value you put on industrial placements can never be high enough. They not only give you practical experience that is very desirable to both universities and employers and that greatly compliments academic work, but they help to confirm whether the career is actually right for you! Make sure that you undertake a good amount of research into the company before applying for a placement. The company website is a must, but any further information you can find will help to make sure that you only apply for placements that will interest and benefit you.

What are your plans for the future?

I have returned to Atkins as a Graduate Engineer and am now working towards attaining Chartership from the ICE.

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