Deborah Harris

Graduate Trainee - Materials Engineering, Rolls-Royce
(MEng Mechanical and Materials Engineering 2016)

I am currently on the Materials Engineering Rolls-Royce Graduate Scheme, which means I will complete a series of four or five placement rotations across different engineering functions during the eighteen month scheme. My first placement was in the Repair Technology team in Materials Engineering. The team works to develop new technologies for the repair of current and future engine programmes, and I got to work on Blisk Repair and On-wing Repair projects, which I absolutely loved. My current placement is the Graduate Design & Make project – I’m part of a graduate team with two others, and we are working on a Manoeuvring Room Simulator for a Nuclear Submarine for the Royal Navy to use at recruitment fairs.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
The best thing about the graduate scheme is the range of placement opportunities that are available to me. I get to explore the industry and find out what I’m interested in, and I have the chance to get involved in so much more than just my day job and meet so many people. Every graduate is required to get involved in at least one STEM outreach activity, and I’m also part of the team organising the Apprentice and Graduate Charity Ball in June.

What motivates you?
I’m motivated by a genuine enjoyment in what I do, both in work and outside. I have a real interest in learning more about materials engineering and industrial developments and a hope that the gender gap in engineering can be narrowed sooner rather than later. Only 9% of employees in engineering and technology are women, and girls’ involvement in STEM subjects drops faster than that of boys at every stage in school, but in order to fill the engineering skills shortage over the next ten years we need to encourage many more people to consider STEM based careers. I want to change the perception of engineering and what an engineer does so that more young people, especially girls, recognise the value and options available in an engineering career.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
At the time, Birmingham was the only University to offer the joint-honours Mechanical and Materials Engineering course, so I came to an Open Day to find out more. I fell in love with the beautiful campus and the friendly and welcoming department, and knew I would enjoy my degree and my time there.

What are your fondest memories of your time at University?
My best university memories centre around the societies I was part of and the people that I met. Dancing on stage at the annual BUDS show, winning EPS Society of the Year in 2014 for BUMS, and the many new and wonderful friends I made over the four years.

How did you grow as a person over your time here?
Before University I was very shy and quiet, and didn’t really know what I wanted to do for my career. Birmingham gave me the chance to develop so much as a person, and discover so much about myself and who I wanted to be I’m now more confident and more comfortable within myself, always interested in trying something new and at the start of what I hope will be a long and fascinating career in engineering.

What did you think of the learning experience within the University?
Being able to study the joint honours course and learn across two different engineering disciplines helped prepare me for work, where project teams are made up of people with lots of different backgrounds and experiences. The self-motivation and organisational skills that are developed through project work are vital, and the practice doing technical presentations was really useful as it’s so important to be able to explain your topic and your work as you are doing it.

What inspired you most during your time as a student?
I was always inspired by the other people around me, both students and staff. I met some of the friendliest, most genuine, passionate and driven people at Birmingham, and I owe them all a great deal.

What advice would you give to current students?
Get involved in as much as you can! University is about so much more than just what you study – it’s an amazing time for trying new things and meeting new people, definitely make the most of it. Any work experience or internship opportunities you can get will help you work out your interests, think about the type of work you want to do and the type of company you want to work for, as well as the industry that it’s based in.