MEng Chemical Engineering, 2018
Development Engineer, Net Zero Energy Developments (PeakGen)
I work in the development team in the Net Zero Energy Development branch of PeakGen. PeakGen is a flexible energy company that is enabling the transition from traditional fossil-fuelled electricity generation to renewable generation. Working in the Net Zero Energy Development branch of PeakGen means I am working on developing Net Zero projects in the energy industry, where I am able to manage and oversee the project from start-to-finish, overseeing aspects such as design and location.
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
Being able to be part of a company that preaches and actually practices flexible working, and also having total responsibility and control over my projects. Working in an intimate team with specialist knowledge has meant I have learnt a lot since joining a year ago. I have found it challenging (in a good way!) to pivot from a classic chemical engineering oil and gas career, to one in a totally different industry – but one that is going to be so important to get us through the energy transition.
What made you interested in your current role?
I had a great two and a half years working in oil and gas, and I learnt an incredible amount about process engineering, troubleshooting, projects, presentations, energy etc. However, I wanted to pivot to a job that would be a part of looking ahead and being a small part of the wider solution to the energy transition and climate change. Being able to develop projects for Net Zero Energy Development and bring with me all of the principles of engineering that I had already learnt was an exciting prospect for me – so I made the leap!
How has your career developed since graduating?
I had various work experience placements whilst at university. Between my 3rd and 4th year I did a summer placement with ExxonMobil for 8 weeks, working on a singular project which was at its conceptual design stage. I was then offered a position with ExxonMobil starting after I graduated in 2018 and I worked there for around two and a half years. I had roles in the utilities and energy sector of the refinery, spanning from day-to-day optimisation to long-term projects, budgets and forecasting. I then, as mentioned above, decided I wanted to be part of an industry that is looking ahead to new solutions for the energy transition, and moved to my current Development Engineering role.
What motivates you?
I am a firm believer in a healthy work life balance. I have been in a position throughout my working career of doing far too much, getting to the burnt-out stage where I physically couldn't work anymore. I've learnt a lot from this and hence learnt to have a healthy balance between work life and personal life. I love to work and be productive, and I really (really!) enjoy ticking things off my to do list! However, I also love spending time with friends and family; I enjoy running and exercise so I always try to strike a balance and never let work interfere too much with my evenings or weekends. My main motivation in my professional life is to constantly learn and grow, and know in myself I am doing my absolute best to succeed – but equally accepting that not all days are good and to never be too hard on yourself. In my personal life, being happy and healthy, close to my family, and a good friend to those around me are the most important things.
Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
I am originally from Wolverhampton and so I was familiar with Birmingham as a city anyway. However, when I came for an Open Day and then to the Chemical Engineering interview day, I absolutely fell in love with the campus. It had a real family-feel and it was like a home away from home. The Chem Eng School was also fantastic, really welcoming and I felt like I'd fit in.
What are your fondest memories of the University?
I really love the homely feel of the University of Birmingham. There is a fantastic community, not only in the School of Chemical Engineering, but also across the whole University. I have some very fond memories of living in Selly Oak (the predominantly student area right next to campus), and also of late-night library sessions, going out with housemates and walking to and from campus alongside hundreds of other students every morning and evening. I also really loved being part of BUCES (the Birmingham University Chemical Engineering Society); it is a testament to the work that students are putting in to create this fantastic community for all chemical engineering students, and enables students from various years to meet and communicate.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities?
I was a member of BUCES from my very first year and attended various Frank Mortons (the national chemical engineering student sports day – super fun!) and other BUCES-organised activities. In my final year I decided to run for Academic President; this was great to be more closely involved with the department staff, attending as a representative for various meetings and gathering student feedback, which was arguably one of the most important aspects of the role. I also played the flute in the Wind Band (I was not very good!) which was good fun to go to weekly rehearsals and also the concerts every term. I also joined the Yoga Society towards the end of my time at Birmingham which was great, the classes really helped to mentally ground me in a time where things could feel quite stressful!
How did your time at university help you start your career?
The staff in Chem Eng were genuinely fantastic. They went out of their way to provide support and guidance, and the School holding career events was incredibly helpful for those like me who weren't sure what they wanted to do! I especially appreciated Phil Robbins for his support throughout my years. Additionally, being able to speak with alumni and their career paths was great – it can seem daunting figuring out where your career path might take you. It became apparent that graduating from a university such as Birmingham with a chemical engineering degree opened up a lot of doors!
What advice would you give to students studying Chemical Engineering?
I would spread out module choices between coursework and exams as this gives you a bit more breathing room with deadlines and revision. If you have connections with those in older years, such as your Chem Eng Parents organised via BUCES’ Family Scheme, lean on them for support and reading of your lab reports, coursework etc as you learn a lot as every year goes on in terms of writing styles etc. I wouldn't worry too much about module choices tying you down to various paths – do what you enjoy. There are always going to be difficult studies (thermodynamics comes to mind...) but I'd make the most out of tutorials and practice throughout the year so you're not starting from scratch when it comes to exams. But aside from all this... get involved in uni life, join societies, strike a healthy balance and just have fun!
“I had a genuinely fantastic time at the University of Birmingham and look back on it with great fondness. I'd like to thank the School of Chemical Engineering for the best start to my working life I could ask for.”