Grace Hayward (MEng Chemical and Energy Engineering, 2017) shares a heartfelt reflection of her time at Birmingham.

I graduated from the University of Birmingham in the summer of 2017 and it was the proudest moment of my life. Family and friends came together to celebrate the hard work that went into obtaining my degree. Surprisingly all the blood, sweat and tears quickly became a distant memory as I proudly accepted my graduation certificate on stage in the Great Hall (where only a couple of months ago I would have been fiercely completing exam papers) and it all suddenly becomes a prospect worth redoing a thousand times over for all the wonderful memories I made. I spent four years surrounded by both modern labs and dusty bookshelves before I achieved my Joint Honours Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering with Energy Engineering, and I honestly wouldn’t be the person I am today without it.


It is hard to describe how I knew Birmingham was the University for me and you probably will not understand it until you have gone through the experience for yourself. That said however, when I walked through the glass doors of the Chemical Engineering Building at the age of 17 for the first time and was greeted by current students, I knew the University of Birmingham would be my home for the coming years.

On that Open Day in June, bright blue skies overhead set the scene for the day’s exploring. I can remember the smell of Kangaroo burgers in the air from a nearby BBQ, my parents being even keener than I was having never been to University themselves and nudging me forward to talk to any professor that hovered close enough. I can still remember sitting in a lecture theatre that was large enough to take your breath away, which sadly in the coming years, simply became hardly mentionable because of the normality of my day-to-day lectures within it. We sat through a talk on the opportunities available to Chemical Engineering students and the chance to be a part of the Birmingham University Chemical Engineering Society (BUCES).


There were discussions of socials, adventure weekends to Coniston in the Lake District and fancy networking dinners in posh hotels in the City Centre – all of which got my imagination doing summersaults! As I sat and watched the incredible students talking so freely in front of such a large crowd of scrutinising parents, I knew this was the type of person I wanted to become. From that moment, I set my sights on obtaining both the required A Levels to get a place at my University of choice, and to one day be an intricate part of this community and sit on the BUCES committee. And guess what, I did just that! As my Dad drove us the 150 miles home to Kent that evening, my decision had already been made

If someone were to ask me of my fondest memories of the University of Birmingham there would honestly be too many to list. From the all-nighters in the Medical School Library to complete my final year dissertation and consequently ordering Dominoes at ridiculous o’clock, to enhancing my creative skills and designing my own version of a green and sustainable Athletes Village for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games – with both being work-related, just think how much fun the social side of things must have been… let us just say I had a well-stocked fancy dress box!

As briefly mentioned, I have always been keen to get involved with the community that operates around my education. Whether this being Head Girl at my secondary school or holding a position on the BUCES committee at University, I have always wanted to give back in terms of both my time and experience. However, it would be unfair to say these were selfless acts; they indeed made me the person I am today. They pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me able to present in front of large groups of people and taught me how to manage a wide variety of situations with a wide variety of people, all from differing backgrounds. Both the University and my course offered me the opportunity and the confidence to get involved in almost anything I wanted to. Overall, it was building me for the tough journey of obtaining a graduate job; the communicating with interviewers, the networking with peers and the rejection that comes hand in hand with this process.

As with my personal development, my learning experience was equally what I had hoped for. The course offered learning styles for all types of students – whether it be pages and pages of mathematical workings, written essays or group presentations; there was never a chance of getting bored. Equally, the content of the course took a holistic approach to engineering including finance, business and sustainability lectures alongside the classic topics of momentum, mass and heat transfer, process systems and teachings in the use of MATLAB. The School also enhanced my learning in many ways with the opportunity to spend a summer on an exchange scheme with our sister school in Malaysia at Taylors University. Myself and a handful of other students got the opportunity to sit in engineering lectures with students of this sister University, both designing and developing a sustainable housing element for a house build for a family in the north of the country – overall enhancing skills in cultural differences.


As mentioned above, with the heavy workload of the course I think it is fair to say that the degree itself could not have been achieved without the help from both peers and lecturers alike during their free time. The open space within the Chemical Engineering Building helped with this aspect and was valued by all – especially when it came to lunchtime with it offering the opportunity to pounce on lecturers for help with work as they innocently ate their lunch in the glass Atrium!

Whilst at University you are constantly surrounded by inspirational people, examples being lecturers and researchers dedicated to their works and to the teachings of others. However, the charity work that individuals within the School and BUCES committed themselves to was outstanding. An annual event strongly supported by the School is the Birmingham Half Marathon, with all proceedings at the time going to the local charity Acorns. The strong sense of community from all members of the Chemical Engineer is something that continued to inspire me and even got me to run this event three years in a row. It is the reason why I am proud to be both an Alumna and Class Ambassador.

As I hope I’ve shown, it is quite clear that my time at University was probably the best years of my life; meeting people along the way that I can now call friends for life. If I were to give any advice to up and coming students wanting to study Chemical Engineering, it would be simple – never ever give up! All degrees are difficult and you won’t always be the smartest person in the room, but that first time you fail something, whether a small class test or that grade boundary you worked so hard for, that will be the time you learn the most. It will give you the motivation to continue and succeed. I most definitely was not the smartest person going but I worked towards my own goals and achieved what I set out to do. I am now into the second year of my Graduate Scheme with Colas Rail UK and in my wildest dreams would never have thought I would have ended up working on the railway. It is the additional experiences alongside your degree that build you into an employable character. And I love the unlimited opportunities a degree such as Chemical Engineering can get you.


Being on the Colas Rail UK Project Management Graduate Scheme has so far been a whirlwind adventure. It is a rotational scheme offering the opportunity to see its diverse business – Urban, Infrastructure and Rail Services. For the first 10 months of the scheme I was positioned within the Operations and Standards Team for Rail Services at Rugby Depot, learning the basics of Colas Rail train operations, completing works on a Single Passed At Danger (SPAD) and Incident Profile, and remedying start-up faults with the in house Route Learning and Retention System. I have now had the opportunity to spend 6 months on a secondment to Paris as part of the Urban Division to analyse the different workings between the business in the UK and France.


I am very grateful for my experiences so far and I am excited to see where my degree can take me in the next steps of my career.

If like Grace you would like to share your story, please email Grace Surman or complete our online profile form.