My student experience
Stephen Batchelor is a Requirements Manager at NATS.
What attracted you to choose the University of Surrey and to study your course here?
Before applying to the University of Surrey, I knew that I wanted to study Aerospace Engineering and I had already decided I would choose an MEng degree rather than a BEng due to the advantage it would provide when applying for Chartered Engineer status in the future. I also wanted to put myself in the best possible position for applying for a graduate job.
Once I had decided on the course I wanted to study I started looking through university league tables and saw that Surrey was performing at a high level both as an overall university and specifically for Aerospace Engineering.
When looking through the University prospectus and website, there were three main elements that made the University of Surrey my number one choice.
Firstly, the contents of the degree included aspects that I was interested in, but more importantly for me it included a lot of project work (both individual and group) which would give me experience that can easily be translated into a professional work environment.
Secondly, the employability rate of University of Surrey graduates was one of the best in the country, giving me the confidence that employers hold a degree from the Surrey in high regard.
Finally, the inclusion of a placement in the middle of the degree was highly attractive to me, so that I would be able to apply the knowledge I had gained during my studies into a professional environment, giving me that extra edge when applying for graduate positions.
Little did I know at the time that the company I worked for during my placement year was to become the company that I would return to as a graduate, and am still working for today!
What were the best things about your course?
The best things about my course were the staff, project work, variety of modules and the placement year.
I found the staff and the quality of teaching to be excellent throughout my time at the University of Surrey. They were always willing to offer help and support when required and made the who learning process enjoyable. They were clearly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the particular aspects that they taught and this rubbed off on the students, helping to get the best out of us.
I really enjoyed the amount of project work that was included in the course, particularly in the final two years. This was a great way of applying our learning to a problem and developed my team-working skills. It was the closest experience that the University offered to a professional work environment and I feel that this helped set me up for my career.
I also enjoyed the variety of the modules that we had, as there was a good mixture of highly technical content focusing on detail, as well as being able to take this up a level to look at a system (or group of systems) as a whole.
This is a key part of being an engineer: we need to be able to look at the surrounding environment and where the particular element that we are working on fits in with the bigger picture.
Finally, the placement year was a key part of the course for me as it gave me that real-world work experience.
How did you change as a person during your time as a Surrey student?
I feel that I changed a lot during my time as a Surrey student. I matured a great deal and gained vast amounts of new knowledge and experience from being able to study a subject that I was passionate about.
My time at Surrey was highly enjoyable and gave me an environment in which I could challenge myself and always push to achieve the best possible outcome that I could. This is something that I have been able to take away with me and apply to my career at NATS.
What do you do now and what do you find most enjoyable about your line of work?
I left the University of Surrey in 2012 and returned to NATS, who I had also worked for during my placement year, completed a summer placement with, and also completed my final-year project with.
I joined the Engineering Direct Entry Graduate scheme – I was only on this scheme for a year as apposed to the usual two as I had already completed a year as a placement student.
I finished the graduate scheme in 2013 and moved into a Systems Engineer role – the role that I am currently in, although I am now a grade higher than when I finished the graduate scheme. I work as part of the Airspace Systems Engineering team, delivering airspace changes into our Air Traffic Control operation.
Within this team, I am a Requirements Manager for airspace projects which requires me to ensure that we have a valid set of requirements from our external aviation stakeholders, such as airports and airlines, as well as our internal project teams, such as Human Factors and Safety.
I ensure that all of the project stakeholders are in agreement with these requirements and support the project’s Validation & Verification Manager in the collection of evidence to show the owners of the requirements, be these external or internal, how the project is meeting their requirements.
I have also been involved in a number of large-scale simulations. These are conducted in our simulation environment which is set up to be a close representation of the operations room that the Air Traffic Controllers operate in.
Here we are able to simulate the new airspace designs to ensure they are acceptable for an Air Traffic Control, Human Factors and Safety perspective and they are used to derive additional requirements for changes to our engineering systems that support the air traffic operation.
What I enjoy most about my line of the work is the diverse range of projects and opportunities that are available to me, as well as the people that I work with.
There are so many great people at NATS, with a wealth of knowledge and experience, who make you feel welcomed to any team that you may join. From day one, I was made to feel part of the team and given the support necessary to be able to develop my knowledge and confidence.
Throughout my time at NATS, I have been able to build relationships with a whole range of people, from engineers and Air Traffic Controllers through to lawyers and Commercial Managers. The people are one of the main aspects of NATS that make it such a great place to work.
How did your time at Surrey influence your career?
My time at Surrey influenced my career greatly. If the job advert for a placement year at NATS hadn’t been on my department's careers website, I would never have heard of NATS!
The fact that I hadn’t heard of NATS when I saw the advert made me interested and that’s when I went off to research the company in greater detail and discovered that it sounded like a really interesting and varied place to work, which was exactly what I was looking for.
However, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to complete a placement year if it hadn’t of been for the emphasis that Surrey places on Professional Training. That was one of the key things that really sold the University to me and helped to influence my chosen career – without it I’m sure I would have never ended up at NATS, so for that I am extremely grateful.
How can students hoping to work in your profession make the most of their time at Surrey?
I would recommend that students look for opportunities to develop themselves that may not be directly part of their degree.
For example, being part of the committee of a student society looks great to employers and is one of the things that would make a CV stand out – it demonstrates aspects of leadership, communication and teamwork that are all vital skills to have when working at a company such as NATS.
To work in engineering at a company like NATS, it's important to have a good understanding of general engineering principles and being adaptable to new environments.
We don’t necessarily expect students to join NATS knowing all of the technical detail of the systems that we develop and operate, but we would want students to be motivated to work in the aviation industry, be willing to get stuck in and work hard, and be able to work well as part of a team. Much of the work that we do is project work, so we are always working with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds.
Any extra-curricular activities that students can get involved with is always something that will help to make a CV stand out, be this voluntary work or being part of a sports team. I would recommend that students embrace these opportunities to ensure that have a fully rounded experience and make the most of their time at Surrey.
Finally, I would highly recommend that students take the opportunity of doing a placement year if this is something that is offered as part of their course. It gives you real experience of what it could be like working in your chosen profession once you graduate, and gives you an opportunity to reinforce the learning that has taken place during the degree course.
What aspects of being connected with the alumni network are most important to you/of most interest to you?
One of the aspects of being connected to the alumni network that interest me the most is seeing the wide range of careers that University of Surrey graduates go on to have. It is always fascinating to see the breadth of industries that everyone is working in and see the progress they have made within their industries.
I am also hoping that the alumni network can be used to inspire current and future students to show them where you could possibly end up with a degree from the University of Surrey.
What is your strongest or happiest memory of your time at Surrey?
I have two keys moments that have really stuck in my mind from my time at Surrey. The first is the day I arrived on campus for the very first time as a brand new university student. I was surrounded my hundreds of other students all in exactly the same position as me looking forward to our time at Surrey and wondering what the next few years would bring.
Of course, there was some apprehension as it is a completely new environment and the first time many of us had moved away from home, but the organisation of the day and the Fresher’s Angels were brilliant - they were available all day to ensure we knew where to go, ensuring we got settled into our accommodation, and making us feel welcome. They were more than happy to help us all out and it was a great welcoming to the University of Surrey family.
The second strongest memory for me was my graduation ceremony. Being in the Guildford cathedral surrounded by family and all of the friends I had made over the past five years knowing that we had successfully graduated from the University of Surrey was a proud moment for all.
We knew that we had made it and given ourselves the best possible start in our future careers.