My placement experience


Graduate profile

Alexander Patton

"Taking a Professional Training year is an opportunity you don’t want to miss."

Graduation year
2015
Placement company
TE Connectivity in Munich, Germany

What subject did you study at the University of Surrey and what year did you graduate?

I studied on the BEng Aerospace Engineering course with a placement year and graduated in 2015.

I’m originally from the United States and came to Surrey to study Aerospace Engineering. As part of my course, I spent my Professional Training year at TE Connectivity in Munich, Germany. Before my departure, the International Relations Office helped me secure Erasmus funding so that I could make the most of my time in Germany.

Alexander Patton
Alexander Patton

What were the best things about your course?

My fondest memories from the course were my group design projects. We built an aerofoil rig, a drone and even designed a full commercial airliner. The projects were a lot of work, but also very rewarding. What I learned about project management, systems engineering and control systems formed the foundation for my transition in to professional engineering.

Student life at Surrey is great. I lived in halls in the first year, and made friends straight away, some of whom I am still great friends with today. The location of Surrey’s main Stag Hill campus puts you at the heart of everything. Surrey provides a campus environment in a beautiful town, but it’s also very close to London, making it a great base for daytrips to the capital. There are pubs, bars, cafes and a nightclub on campus. A short walk west and you find Tesco and the massive Surrey Sports Park. Immediately east is Guildford town centre, along with links to London and the airports. The Students’ Union and societies put on quite a wide variety of events and trips. Some are specific to a faculty or interest, but the big ones are very open and inclusive; I remember when they had some international nights at the Students’ Union that were fantastic.

The University facilities are convenient, with lots of buildings grouped together on the Stag Hill campus. The new Library and Learning Centre was built during my first year and is a nice place to study. The IT labs in my department offer 24-hour access, which is great for typical nocturnal student habits and the workshop was recently expanded with an Engineering Design Centre, too, making group design projects much easier to carry out.

"My course, projects and Professional Training year have given me the confidence, as well as engineering and business awareness, to successfully start a career."

Why did you decide to take an Erasmus study/work abroad exchange?

When it came time to apply for placement year jobs, I was keen to consider roles abroad to gain international experience. Erasmus funding made it possible for me to afford moving to Europe and taking language classes. The University facilities are convenient, with lots of buildings grouped together on the Stag Hill campus. The new Library and Learning Centre was built during my first year and is a nice place to study.

 

The IT labs in my department offer 24-hour access, which is great for typical nocturnal student habits and the workshop was recently expanded with an Engineering Design Centre, too, making group design projects much easier to carry out.

On my course, lots of lecturers use the online learning environment, so you can follow along with the lecture right on your tablet and make notes directly on the slides. This year we got involved with an aerospace project, similar to Formula Student, called the ‘IMechE Unmanned Air Systems Challenge’. We’re building a small autonomous aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid and compete with other top universities. It’s my hope that we can leave a lasting legacy in my department, by laying the foundation for future years to participate in national and international aircraft design competitions.

I’d recommend Aerospace Engineering at Surrey because of the academic and administrative staff. Academics here are passionate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the administrative staff are always kind and helpful. My broad range of experiences these past few years have opened up new doors, and now I can see myself following one of several different career paths. I’m very excited to return to industry after having experienced my placement, so I’m hoping to find a place on a graduate development scheme where I can continue to learn and develop, but also contribute in the professional environment.

Where did you go and what did you do on the Erasmus scheme?

I went to Munich, Germany and worked for one year as an R&D Intern at TE Connectivity’s manufacturing site. My role involved destructive testing of materials, so I spent a lot of time breaking and burning stuff! In my free time, I travelled extensively around Bavaria and Austria. I performed mechanical and electrical testing on products, helped rewrite testing procedures used in their lab and created some IT solutions that let the team work smarter. My university tutor flew out to visit me three times and set goals for my professional development. I was the only intern working with people who were significantly older than me, who spoke a different language and were of a different culture.

How did your Erasmus experience help you develop personally or professionally during your time as a Surrey student, and has this influenced your choice of career?

I really enjoyed living in the busy Munich city centre and the freedom of its vast tram, rail and underground networks. This was influential to me in some ways, and my desire to work on large-scale projects, combined with my love of city life, led me to take an interest in urban transport. In addition to strengthening my technical ability, I learned to overcome the challenges of working in a team with individuals significantly different to myself. I also discovered how to hold effective meetings and to manage my time efficiently. I feel like I’ve developed long-lasting and genuine connections with my colleagues in Munich. Just before I left, we all exchanged gifts, had farewell dinners and of course celebrated Germany’s victory in the World Cup. Taking a Professional Training year is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. It may take a year longer to graduate, but it’s usually less stressful to find a job having taken a placement than it is without. In some cases, you’ll already have a graduate offer from your placement company.

In addition to strengthening my technical ability, I learned to overcome the challenges of working in a team with individuals significantly different to myself. I also discovered how to hold effective meetings and to manage my time efficiently. I feel like I’ve developed long-lasting and genuine connections with my colleagues in Munich. 

My course, projects and Professional Training year have given me the confidence, as well as engineering and business awareness, to successfully start a career. I understand now what it means to be an engineer. I understand perspective, innovation and the systematic approach, and how to apply them in all aspects of the professional world. At the same time, I appreciate just how much more there is to learn everyday as my career continues to develop.

 

What do you do now and what do you find most enjoyable about your line of work?

After graduating, I joined Siemens, another German company. Based in London, I work as a Systems Engineer supporting the tender for a £1bn upgrade of London Underground control systems. It’s exciting and fulfilling to see how the projects I work on improve quality of life in my city. There are sometimes travel opportunities, and this year I will present at a technical conference in Singapore.

How can students hoping to work in your profession make the most of their time at Surrey?

Students looking to take a leading role in megaprojects found in the aerospace, defence and transport industries should give extra effort in their design projects. Learning to apply techniques such as requirements management and failure mode analysis is particularly useful. Summer internships and placement years can also lead to securing a place on a graduate scheme with a prestigious company.

What advice would you give to current students thinking about a study/work abroad placement?

If it's a work placement, try and learn as much of the language as you can before you go. A little effort goes a long way, and you’ll feel a part of the team. Working abroad can be a bit less social than studying abroad, but it provides a unique window in to a different work culture and potential job opportunities later. In many big companies, international work experience is seen as a prerequisite for upper management. 

 

Learn more about our mechanical engineering programmes, including our BEng Aerospace Engineering.

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