Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
Brum has a very good reputation for Mechanical Engineering, and the campus is the best that I've seen anywhere in Europe. The combination of being within a self-contained student environment but with incredibly close proximity to a major city centre is pretty unbeatable. I loved the fact that the University has a huge breadth of courses - I wanted to be exposed to a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds, interests and viewpoints. It's important to remember that university is an opportunity for you to grow into adulthood, as well as to challenge yourself academically and prepare for a career. More flippantly, I recall earnestly assessing which of the major red brick universities had the best local nightclubs, and at that time, Brum won out...coming from Manchester in the 1990's, that was a big deal at the time!
What are your fondest memories of the University?
Now... I should really say meeting my wife! It’s true that the things that stand out are the diverse and amazing people I met, and the friends I made. Twenty years later my best friends are still the ones I made at Brum. It's incredibly cool to see what everyone's gone on to achieve, but they are all thoroughly grounded, decent people. I credit a lot of that to the environment and ideals that the University imbued. From an engineering standpoint, firing up the Formula Student car we’d built for the first time was a high point. As a group of people, we’d all invested so much of ourselves in the project, and none of us wanted to let each other down. So when it worked, it was immensely satisfying.
Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?
I invested a lot of time in my last two years in the Formula Student project. I captained the departmental hockey team in the Inter Departmental tournament, with minimal success and maximum enjoyment. I formed a band with a couple of mates and we played some of the open mic evenings at the Guild, which was great. The University offers such a diverse community, and such a breadth of facilities, that there really is no limit to the opportunities available. In fact, some of my mates set new clubs up with Uni support. My friends were involved in activities as diverse as university radio and Korfball!
How did your time at the University help you start your career?
The launchpad of my first two years, with advice from the academic staff, got me my sandwich year. Coming back for Year 3, the industrial experience had changed my approach in a really positive way. I got involved with the Formula Student project, which was incredibly hard but fantastically rewarding. It gave me a taste for working on a collaborative technical project under pressure, and at that time was quite a new thing to have on your CV, getting my foot in the door for two undergrad summer placements with Reynard Motorsport, who produced chassis for the US Indycar series. Ultimately that resulted in a graduate placement, and I didn't look back from there. The teaching and technical staff and my peers were all big influences. One technician in particular (Carl Hingley) just had the knack of encouraging and motivating students - he's been responsible for launching about 30 F1 careers. There were fabulous tutors (like Mike Ward and Doug Walton) who had real passion for their subject. My course-mates showed me what could be achieved, helping me see the relevance of the subject matter. You know that you're going to be surrounded by high quality people at Brum.
What advice would you give to current students?
Firstly, enjoy it. My time at Birmingham was one of the happiest periods of my life, and I loved it there. You'll meet amazing people, discover new passions...I even fell in love! Secondly, I’d advise students to get some industrial experience as soon as they can. You’d be amazed how much easier the course seems after time in industry. An industrial environment changes your work ethic, and puts the course material into a much clearer context. That experience will also make your CV stand out when you start looking for graduate jobs.