Nick did Maths, Physics and Chemistry A Levels, with an AS Level in Further Maths.
"I have always been interested in engineering - I learnt how to solder at the age of 11 and electronics has always been a hobby of mine - so Engineering was a natural choice for me at university. I took a gap year between school and university, during which I worked for an engineering company involved in applications of radar: that meant working with electronics and software development, both of which I really enjoyed.
The highlight of the course at Cambridge, for me, was the robot design project which everyone does in the second year. I also got involved in designing and building a remote-controlled bicycle to take part in BBC's Technogames and other practical projects as part of the Design Club.
I devised my own fourth year project, which was to build some data-logging equipment to monitor the performance of rowers. I took up rowing when I arrived in Cambridge and had this idea as to how the electronics they already used in the boats could be improved. Basically the idea is that we can monitor the performance of rowers, as well as producing a radio-based communication system, which the coach can use to instruct the oarsmen instead of yelling at them from the bank or accompanying launch. I worked with researchers in the Signal Processing Group to develop this idea, and I still liaise with them now.
I have set up a small manufacturing company called Rowdata, based in Cambridge, to exploit the system. Now that I am designing my own instrumentation I have found the mechanical- and materials-related engineering I did in the first and second years at Cambridge to be very useful. The sensor technology I have developed to monitor the rowers is also being used by a company (Windjet) to improve the performance of a solid-sail, wind-powered craft, with which they are aiming to beat the three World Speed Records on land, ice and water. I am hoping to be present when they make the attempt."
At school, I was interested in mechanics and electronics and living in Lancashire, I was able to join the local 'Young Engineers Club' run by BAE Systems on Saturdays. I decided that I wanted to be an engineer, but where I lived unemployment was an issue, so I thought it best to leave school at 16, and train as an apprentice at one of the local firms, taking an HNC whilst working. I signed on with BNFL and took my ONC 18 months later, followed by an HNC. My training manager at BNFL suggested that I should take Maths A Level as well, as he thought this would be useful for me.
I had never really considered applying to Cambridge until one of my friends went there to study Maths. I visited him and found that Cambridge wasn’t anything like the image portrayed in the media. I applied for a place on one of the summer schools funded by the Sutton Trust which gives students a chance to experience life at Cambridge for a week in the summer.
I applied for a place, even though I did not have the usual entry requirement of three A grades at A Level. I was offered a place on condition that I got an A in Maths at A Level, and distinctions for all my modules in the HNC. I had to do the Maths A Level by studying at home in the evenings on a distance learning course.
I enjoyed the broad overview in the first two years. When I came to specialise my main area was Electrical and Electronic Engineering. However, I also studied some modules on thermodynamics and nuclear power engineering. The flexibility of the Cambridge course means you don’t commit yourself to one particular area before studying them at degree level.
I am now working back at Westinghouse as a graduate trainee. The scheme consists of a number of placements designed to give a range of experience. I am currently working as an Assistant Plant Manager in a chemical plant. This role entails engineering responsibilities as well as management of people and processes. I find the broad knowledge base that the Cambridge degree has given me invaluable, as engineering is very rarely confined to one specialist area.
At Cambridge I joined in with a group that helps teach in local schools. I spent one afternoon a week doing that and it was good fun, although exhausting. I also got involved with many activities as a Science and Engineering Ambassador. I am very keen to promote engineering in schools, and this is something I am continuing to do now that I am working.
When I chose my A Levels of Double Maths, Physics and Chemistry, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be a doctor, vet or mathematician. I was keeping my options open. After 'Insight into Engineering' work experience whilst at school, I was convinced that engineering was the right career path for me. I still wasn't sure what sort of engineering I wanted to do, however, except that it would certainly not be Chemical or Civil Engineering. And now I work for Arup (civil engineers!).
The course at Cambridge was attractive to me simply because I didn't have to make choices until I had found out more about each area. In fact, even by the third year I still didn't want to specialise. However, I had by then discovered that Civil Engineering was a lot more interesting than I had thought - not all to do with pouring concrete!
I spent half my gap year working for Yorkshire Electricity, to obtain some industrial experience before university. This was sufficient to cover the experience needed for the course. Then, at the end of my first year, I got a vacation job working with Balfour Beatty as a site engineer on the A1/M1 link road project. Site is a pretty male-dominated environment and I found working there quite different to my experience at Cambridge, where gender was not an issue at all. However, there was always a lot of support around, so it was never a problem. Balfour Beatty then agreed to sponsor me through the rest of my degree course, which was great.
In my fourth year I did a really interesting project working on the aerodynamics of long span bridges in wind tunnels. This combined my interest in both aerodynamics and structures. Structural dynamics is something I am still working on now that I have my job with Arup, where I am working in the Advanced Technology Group. I am doing similar work to that I did in my fourth year, but on real problems that need to be solved.
Most of my work is office-based using computer simulations, but I do go out on site to measure the movements of structures that I have to analyse.
Basically we get all the interesting problems to deal with. These range from fixing large span floors that are too bouncy for comfort, but wanted for architectural reasons, to how big to make a railway tunnel so that your ears don't pop when the train goes through it at high speed. I have found my general engineering knowledge invaluable in my job due to the variety in the projects I have been working on.
I still keep in touch with my fourth year project supervisor, Allan McRobie, and he keeps me posted on the research he is doing in the area of bridge dynamics.
I had a great time at Cambridge. The free afternoons mean that you can choose to play sport and then work in the evenings: I managed to play hockey four or five times a week. The College system makes sport far more accessible as there are teams playing all sports at all levels.
At school I was always successful academically, especially in the hard sciences (Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry). In spite of that, I did not even consider the possibility of studying at Cambridge until I was in the Lower Sixth and my brother, who was one year above me at school, was accepted to read Natural Sciences there. At the time I was taking A Levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and German, so it seemed to make sense for me to apply for the Natural Sciences course like my brother. I was accepted for the course; however, by the time I arrived in Cambridge I wanted to study something with a more practical focus. Engineering was the perfect fit and I was allowed to change course by my College.
I was quite apprehensive about accepting the offer to study at Cambridge, but looking back I can safely say that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The course itself was rigorous and intellectually challenging. One great aspect of the course is the environment in which learning takes place: the faculty members are obviously world class, and the students, I found, were generous in helping each other learn. The first two years of the course cover a broad range of engineering subjects which means that students leave Cambridge with an understanding of a diverse range of engineering fields.
Aside from the course itself, Cambridge was a great place to study. There are societies which cater to the interests of almost all students. During my time at Cambridge I played a lot of sports, which included playing hockey and rowing for my College. With a few friends I also attempted to build a small hovercraft, and photographed the transit of Mercury across the Sun.
When I graduated from Cambridge, I decided I wanted to spend some time travelling before starting a career. I took an internship with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) in Brussels called World Youth Alliance, which is engaged in advocacy at both the UN and the EU and development projects around the world. After a short time working there I realised my Engineering degree had equipped me with both technical and problem-solving skills that I could use to benefit the organisation. A year and a half later I had been promoted to the position of Director of Operations at their headquarters in New York. Work at World Youth Alliance has been rewarding: with memorable experiences ranging from building houses in slums in the Philippines, to speaking with high-school students in the Bronx. While I was studying Engineering, I never imagined that the skills it taught would be applicable in such diverse and rewarding work.
I went to state school and then got a bursary to go to a private sixth form college which meant that I could take Electronics at AS Level. After taking my A Levels I spent a year in industry working for an electronics company designing tools for microprocessor cores. It was good to get some engineering experience under my belt. During my year in industry I did an evening class in Further Maths at AS Level and was very glad to have this qualification when I started at the Department, it also helped to keep Maths fresh during that year. I applied to Cambridge once I got my A Level results.
The interviews at Cambridge were a challenge but I did not find them as terrifying as I had heard they could be!
In my second year I got involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) as a fundraiser and in my third year I was the EWB Chief Executive. During my fourth year I did a robotic unicycle project that was a real contrast to the EWB work. After graduating last year I started work for RedR (Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief) as a fundraiser and I hope to carry out overseas missions for them. There is a minimum amount of experience required that I have achieved by doing my degree here and through my involvement with EWB. I am an electronic and information engineer but the course here gave me the opportunity to do sustainable development and water engineering modules. In your third and fourth years when you have specialised you can still add a wide range of modules and, for me, this meant that both my passions (electronic information engineering and sustainable engineering for international relief) could be satisfied. Now I have graduated I am able to find ways to bring these both together.
I attended an independent school in North London where I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A Level and Biology and Further Maths at AS Level. I attended a College Open Day while in Year 12 (studying for AS Levels) and, at the time, was not studying Further Maths. After a brief chat with an Engineering professor, I realised how important it was to do more Pure Maths and Mechanics modules, so I went back to school and convinced my Head of Maths to put me in a fast-track class to bring me up to speed.
I was thrilled to get an offer from Cambridge, and chose it over my other offers because the first two 'general' engineering years of study would turn out to provide a great broad foundation that can lead to any further specialisation, while still stressing the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge.
I took a gap year, with the approval of my College's Admissions Tutor.
At Cambridge, I attended German classes alongside my Engineering classes. I was on the Department's Language Unit's week long trip to Paris, and in the following year I was a member of the group from the Unit's German class that spent a week in Germany. My study of German that year counted as one of my second year electives. I was an active member of the CU Engineering Society Committee and organised a management course, with workshops run by Rolls-Royce, Balfour Beatty, Pilkington and Shell.
In my third year I specialised in Mechanical Engineering, with a focus on Materials and Environmental Engineering. I followed the advice of the Department's Industrial Experience Co-ordinator, and applied for summer internships for the summer vacation before my final/4th year. I was lucky enough to spend 1 month with Schlumberger and 2 months with BP at their bases in Aberdeen. I managed to spend a week offshore on a semi-submersible drilling rig while I was working with BP. I was offered a full-time job with BP at the end of my placement.
I was heavily involved with Engineers Without Borders in my final year, attending most of their awareness courses on engineering for development and disaster relief. Through this, I applied for a place on the International Development and Design Summit, held for the first time this year at MIT in Boston, USA. I was one of around 40 participants from around the world who met to find appropriate technical solutions to some of the developing world's problems.
An Engineering degree seemed an obvious choice for me: Maths and Physics had been my strongest subjects the whole way through school, whilst my Design and Technology A Level had led me to start thinking about the practical aspects of what I was learning in the classroom. Meanwhile, I was already developing an interest in the built environment.
Therefore, when I started looking through university prospectuses, I concentrated on Civil Engineering courses. I was attracted to the Cambridge course despite the fact that it offered a general curriculum for the first two years, since I felt that it would be useful to maintain some level of knowledge in a range of fields. I was also well aware of the value of a Cambridge degree, and liked the collegiate system there. This decision was to give me a valuable grounding in "total engineering" when I was offered a job at the multi-disciplinary consultant Arup upon graduation.
I took a year out prior to beginning my degree, spending most of the time working in the highways and structures divisions at JMP Consultants Ltd, who kindly sponsored me through my course. The industrial experience provided by such companies is an important part of the course - once again, linking the theory to practical aspects of engineering.
By the time I started specialising in Civil Engineering in my final two years, extensive practical work formed part of the main course, culminating in a year-long project in the fourth year. I worked with the Bridge Assessment team, who were developing techniques for assessing bridges that needed to cope with trucks of ever-increasing weight: they were trying to predict the actual strength of the structures, often significantly higher than that to which they were designed. My task was to investigate some unexpected results in an earlier project, which proved to be an interesting and worthwhile mixture of theory, research and experiment, including the destructive testing of a number of concrete beams.
Engineering is certainly one of the more intensive subjects at Cambridge, but employers recognise this: the numerate, practical, hard-working graduates that the Department produces are highly sought after by many industries. Despite the demands of the course, I had plenty of time for College life, including rowing, magazine editing and a stint on the JCR (Junior Combination Room) committee.
At Arup, I joined one of the building design groups, where I have worked ever since, apart from one year getting experience on a construction site. Every project has had challenges that have required me to ignore the rule books and think back to the first principles that I learned at Cambridge: for example, how to make a tall tower comfortable for its occupants in high winds, or how to 'isolate' a theatre from its foundations so that it is not affected by an earthquake. A significant amount of my career has been spent on the Escher-like CCTV Headquarters Tower in Beijing, where I am now based. This building broke virtually every rule.
My task was to take the results of the extensive seismic analysis being carried out by my colleagues, and sit down with the architects to try and understand how we could create a functioning building inside the forest of steel beams, columns and braces required to hold it up. We spent the first month coming up against a seemingly unsolvable problem every day, but eventually we had developed a working scheme. Once again, my general engineering knowledge helped me to understand the problems faced by other parts of the design team, and come up with appropriate solutions.
I really enjoyed my A Level subjects (Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry), and have always loved problem solving, so Engineering was a natural choice for me. I was thrilled to be offered a place at Cambridge, as it would allow me to obtain a world-class Engineering education in an academically stimulating environment. I was also lucky to receive a James Clayton Undergraduate Scholarship, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Similar scholarships are usually available from all the professional Engineering Institutions to help support students for the duration of their course.
Many practical problems are of an interdisciplinary nature, combining mechanical, electrical and software engineering techniques. I think that some of the most interesting design challenges occurs at the boundaries between disciplines. The structure of the Cambridge course, with its 'general' first two years, has provided me with a very good foundation for such work.
I have always wanted to use my skills to help people with physical disabilities – possibly by designing wheelchairs or prosthetics. I therefore chose to specialise in mechanical and biomedical engineering modules in my third and fourth years. For my fourth year project I designed an ankle replacement (similar, in many ways, to a replacement hip joint), collaborating with surgeons in the University Anatomy Department and in a local hospital. It was good to have their expertise, as making mechanical devices work within the human body requires a detailed knowledge of medical as well as mechanical issues.
After graduating I received an Arthur Shercliff Travel Scholarship (awarded through the Engineering Department). This allowed me to spend three months in Bangladesh, volunteering in a hospital for the rehabilitation of the paralysed. I helped to redesign the wheelchairs they produced, making them easier to control and cheaper to manufacture. I also helped them to set up a new orthotics unit. Orthoses are devices, such as braces and splints, that support or assist the function of damaged or paralysed limbs. I used my knowledge of the ankle to train their technicians to make ankle-foot orthoses.
I am currently a second year graduate student here at the Department. I am looking at the microstructure of skin, considering it as a fibrous network of proteins. One of the aims of my PhD is to produce a computer model capable of predicting the mechanical properties of skin. This would have various medical applications, for example in the design of needle-free injection devices.
I'd strongly encourage you to consider applying to Cambridge – it's a wonderful place to live and study, with a rich variety of academic and extra-curricular activities on offer. I've loved it here, and I'm sure you will too.
I took Maths, Physics and Economics A Levels at school. Unsure of what I wanted to study at university, I attended an 'Insight into Engineering' course and was introduced to the 'real world' applications of maths and physics. Convinced of engineering's contribution to the world, my decision was made.
With my sights set high, I visited Cambridge on an Open Day arranged by GEEMA (a group which encourages applications from ethnic minorities and state schools to Cambridge), where I was enthused and encouraged by the Admissions Tutors and undergraduates. The application was made, an offer received and the conditions met.
At Cambridge, I specialised in the area of Structural/ Mechanical Engineering, winning a national prize for my fourth year project on "Low Velocity Impact Damage to Pipes" (motivated by the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988). However, without a background in Further Maths, I did find Engineering particularly challenging in my first year. This became less of a limitation as the years progressed, as my College provided excellent supervisions to get me on to a steep learning curve. Engineering aside, I feel privileged to have met so many inspiring and admirable people during my time at Cambridge.
Having had a taste of research in my fourth year project, I was decided on a PhD. I secured an EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) award at Oxford to carrying out research on manufacturing systems. Before taking up that place, I spent a further year at Cambridge (Institute for Manufacturing) as a T&N Scholar on the Advanced Course in Design, Manufacture and Management (ACDMM).
On completion of my doctorate thesis, I continued at Oxford as a researcher (with undergraduate lecturing responsibilities) at both the Department of Engineering Science and the Said Business School. I have now left academia to join RAND Europe (an independent think tank) as a policy analyst. In this role, I continue to do research, but with a specific aim of improving policy-making in areas that are of direct public interest such as health, education, transport, information security and defence.
I have always enjoyed making things and finding out how things worked. When I was studying for my A Levels I really wasn’t sure what degree I would like to pursue so I had an interview with the careers office and engineering was a suggested career path. I was very sceptical, so I read more about the subject and realised that engineering encompasses far more than I initially realised. For me the fact that engineering connects technology and people was the biggest appeal.
I was very nervous about applying to Cambridge, not quite believing I would get in. My comprehensive school suggested that I attend the Department Open Day which was excellent. Any fears I had were totally dispelled and I met so many helpful, approachable students and lecturers I decided to apply.
The Engineering course at Cambridge suited me very well. The broad overview that the first two years gives is great, as I wasn't quite sure what I would specialise in; it ensured I was well equipped to make that decision. It was also good to see how the modules overlap with one another.
I chose the Electrical and Information Sciences option for my third and fourth year. In the third year I did a module on 'Work, Technology and the Environment' which gave me a really clear idea of how engineers can have an effect on the world. Many of the assignments up until this point had been computational so this essay assignment was a real turning point for me.
I am now an assistant producer at BBC Learning and Interactive and I got the job through my fourth year project. The project was a new website for primary schools. I was working on the technical architecture. It was very satisfying working with technology to create an engineering and science interactive educational website for children. After I finished my degree, funding was found to finish the website and, by luck, during this time a BBC researcher visited the website and asked me to do 10 days consultancy for them. I visited the BBC, met the team I had been working for and when a job came up in that department I applied and got it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Cambridge in every respect. Your College provides a close-knit community both socially and for sporting activities. The wider university is there when you want more than that. Engineering was definitely the right choice for me and the management options were invaluable to develop my business skills.
I did Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry at school, because I was good at them but also really enjoyed them. I wanted to study a numerate and science-based degree at university, but I wanted to use the skills and knowledge I would gain in applications that would give tangible benefits to society, rather than be in a lab doing experiments, so Engineering seemed an obvious choice. I've always liked buildings and bridges: big things that you can look at, touch and walk into, but I hadn't decided to do Civil Engineering when I left school.Before I went to university, I did the 'Year in Industry', an Engineering Development Trust scheme that puts you in touch with engineering companies that take gap year students. I worked for Cambridge Consultants and that introduced me to the idea of working for a consultancy, which I liked, and Electronic Engineering, which I didn't like so much! I liked the general engineering course at Cambridge as it gave a really good understanding of the concepts of a wide range of engineering topics. The work is tough, but rewarding when you finally understand these concepts.
I did the MIT exchange in my third year. MIT is so different to Cambridge, better in some ways, worse in others. It was great to experience both systems and have a break from Cambridge for a while. Of course, when I returned, I realised all the things that make Cambridge really special that you tend to forget when you're here. I always took the opportunity to work in the long vacations between years at university, and when possible combine it with overseas travel.
After my second year I went to work for Scott Wilson in Malawi. Engineering challenges in international development is still something that interests me a great deal and something I hope to work on at some point in my career. After my third year I worked for two structural engineering consultancies: Whitbybird in Cambridge, and Ramboll in Denmark. I decided designing buildings was interesting, challenging and what I wanted to do.
I proposed my own fourth year project: I looked at the design of a small scale wind turbine used in developing countries, promoted by a charity called ITDG (now Practical Action). I built a prototype for the project which was a real challenge and fun. After I graduated I did a volunteer placement in South Africa with a small wind farm project, helping it get off the ground.
The great thing about a summer placement is it can be like a 12 week interview, so when you are looking for a job, there isn't much persuading to do, as you're already a known quantity. I was offered a job with Whitbybird and started in October after I graduated. In the three years I've worked here I've delivered the detailed design and seen through to construction three buildings with a combined value of over £24M.
Studying at Cambridge is a great privilege and I made the most of the opportunities open to me. I managed to fit study in with singing in the College choir and being captain of my College boat club for two years. It was hard work, but you get as much, if not more, out than what you put in.
I got interested in electronics at school, and could see this was a field where exciting things were going on. I decided to study Engineering because I wanted to combine an academically challenging subject with something practical. I applied to Cambridge because of its reputation as an excellent university. I was also attracted by the flexibility of the Engineering course and the collegiate system. I knew of students who went to different universities where they took more narrowly focussed courses which they didn't enjoy. For them, making a change was much harder. Even though I was pretty sure which direction I wanted to take, I enjoyed the breadth of the first two years of the Engineering course.
I took a gap year working with a major engineering consultancy and they also offered me a work placement in my vacations working for their telecommunications consultancy.
In my third year at Cambridge I chose the Electrical and Information Sciences option and it was great having so many modules to choose from. I could learn about Economics alongside the details of electronic circuitry and silicon chips. I loved the fourth year, which I spent mostly at the University's Superconductivity Research Centre. It felt more like doing a PhD than an undergraduate course, and the research was a mixture of Physics and Engineering, looking at the production of superconducting magnets for levitation.
Highlights of my time at Cambridge included being on my College May Ball Committee in my third year. It was very challenging fitting in all the organisational work required for that with studying for my exams, and it was excellent experience learning how to handle large sums of money and deal with various suppliers. In all, it was a good introduction to management skills. My involvement with the College drama society for which I did the lighting took me up to the Edinburgh Festival, which was very rewarding.
When I left Cambridge, I travelled to South Africa, then got a job with IBM working in IT services. I then moved on to work for Goldman Sachs, the investment banking and securities firm, as an analyst programmer in equities. This job makes use of all the computing skills I learned at Cambridge, writing software in Visual Basic and C++ using both Windows-based and Unix systems. The analytical skills I picked up are also very useful, as well as the experience of working in teams and making presentations.
I enjoy working with a large international company in an environment where results are expected quickly. It is challenging work but most importantly I really enjoy what I am doing.