How to make the most of your degree: career tips from a graduate engineer
I arrived at Loughborough in 2013, having never studied ‘engineering’ in my life before. I didn’t have LinkedIn, I had never had a job, and I certainly didn’t know what a CV was.
In all honesty, I didn’t really know what I wanted from my Mechanical Engineering degree, I just knew I liked the look of Loughborough, and the department seemed welcoming. In the five years since, I had an immeasurably fun time, got to take part in some fantastic work and activities, and to top it off I now have enough relevant experience to get me to the interview stage of some of the coolest engineering jobs out there.
The next three / four / five years of your life are going to be a rollercoaster. You will have the most fun you’ve ever had, party hard, study harder, and make some lifelong friends in the process. And at the end of it, you’ll come out with a degree.
You’ll emerge, blinking in the sunlight, along with tens of thousands of other graduates across the country. And now, you have to find a job. Sooner or later the cushioning embrace of student finance will end, and the realities and burdens of the real world will start to take hold. It can at times be easy to forget the end goal of studying for all those late nights; to get a fantastic job once you graduate. The problem is, thousands of other students are trying to do the exact same thing. And thus, you need to stand out from the crowd. The sooner you realise this, the better.
But fear not, there are plenty of ways in which you can stand out. Below is a cheat-sheet of some fantastic schemes and pro-tips I’ve come across over the last 5 years, with input from several colleagues too. I hope this will help you to make the most of the next few years, and to help you take the first steps towards an amazing and fulfilling career.
- Summer / Year Placements & Overseas Trips
Placements are, in a word, invaluable. Their effects often ‘snowball’ – getting a summer placement after your first year of Uni can greatly increase your chances of getting a top industrial placement, and so on and so on… Placements are a great way of gaining experience, earning some extra cash, developing your network and understanding whether a company is right for you before applying to a graduate role! The University Careers Network are an invaluable help in getting your CV in check and preparing you for those first interviews.
An all-expenses paid 4-week trip to China, with training and networking events all throughout the month. The website is a year out-of-date but they’ve been running the scheme for years so the information and contact details should still be correct.
Global Grand Challenges Summit 2019 (London; TBC) and 2021 (China; TBC)
Some travel bursaries are available for travel to the London and China GGCS summits, coming up in 2019 and 2021 (websites TBC). Some of the biggest names in engineering and technology attend these events, and there is a huge push for student involvement – info on the 2017 summit here.
One for the space enthusiasts – a UKSEDS and UKSA-backed scheme to collate a huge bunch of summer internship opportunities in the space sector in the UK. Check regularly for new job updates and look up the completed list for an idea of some of the incredible projects available to students.
Adecco Way to Work – CEO for One Month – (EUR 15,000/mo salary)
- Scholarships, Prizes and Professional Development Schemes
A scholarship, prize or professional development scheme is a fantastic way of getting a leg up towards the top jobs. These schemes give you extra cash that you can use to seek out development experiences around the UK or even the world, and some even include leadership training courses, or lots of free publicity which can attract recruiters to your LinkedIn.
Apply in 1st Year:
IMechE Undergraduate Scholarships – (£2k/yr during your degree)
IET Diamond Scholarships – (£1k – £3k/yr during your degree)
Apply in 2nd Year:
£5k scholarship across three years, plus a leadership training and networking weekend every autumn across three cohorts of the scheme.
Telegraph STEM Prize – Paid summer internship, chance at £25k grand prize
- STEM Outreach, Positions of Responsibility & Voluntary Work
If you don’t manage to secure a placement or a scholarship, fear not; there is still plenty you can do to maximise your chances. If you can gain experiences in positions of responsibility, in a non-engineering job or as a volunteer, you will often be able to talk about the skills you gained in an interview. At Loughborough, there are a huge range of options;
- LSU Society Committees
- Programme Rep / President
- Sports Club Committee
- LSU Executive Committees
- Volunteering / Fundraising – STEM outreach (LSU Action, or with a placement company) or Maths Mentoring (via the University Student Ambassador program).
And don’t worry; it is possible to take on a couple of extracurricular roles during your degree, and still have time for a (moderate) social life, alongside getting good grades(!)
- Networking, Conferences, Professional Registration and Final Advice
Finally, make the most of the professional body representing your field of interest; be that the IMechE, IET, RAeS, IOM3, etc. Try and attend as many events as you can; including the big conferences that seem to have a hefty entry fee. In those cases, give the organisers a call – they often have a few seats available for students at a massive (80-90%) discount, and some even give out free tickets to students. Attending these events can really help to inspire you and get you close to some of the big companies in the UK – even the odd astronaut!
It’s a lot to take in, and I can appreciate it can all be a bit overwhelming when you’re just starting out on your degree as an 18-year-old. But take the time to read through this article, and plan the next five years of your life;
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- What do you need to do to get there?
I can’t help with the first two questions, but hopefully some of the links above will help you with the third. Good Luck!
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