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Performance Engineer
About the placement/internship

Why did you decide to do a placement/internship?

I wanted to gain experience of the more general "day-to-day" engineering work in a power company, to see if it is a field I want to move into after completing my EngD.

How did you find your placement/internship?

I had previously worked with Sembcorp as part of my research in my EngD, therefore already had prior connections with the Performance Engineering team

Application process

I discussed the potential for a PREP placement with the head of Performance Engineering at Sembcorp UK, and we agreed a time period (multiple short blocks over a period of several months). I then completed the PREP application proposal and was accepted. Prior to starting, there was some short confirmatory & safety paper work to sign between the university and Sembcorp.

What made you choose this organisation for your placement/internship?

I am interested in working in energy engineering after my EngD, and Sembcorp has a varied set of power/steam generation assets and services, therefore plenty of potential to learn about day-to-day operations in a large utilities business.

Main responsibilities

Working in the performance engineering team, I assisted in various ongoing projects related to the different power generation assets on site. The Performance Engineering team has a responsibility to ensure the continued safe, profitable, operation of the assets. As part of the team, I created engineering calculation sheets for ongoing projects, analysed plant data to determine performance trends, and wrote short reports on the basis of the aforementioned calculations and analysis. I also got to take part in a workshop when the Singapore performance engineering team visited to discuss a new software platform for asset monitoring and modelling, contributing ideas and previous work to be used by the team.

Typical day

Typically I'd arrive at about 8am, and get up to speed on any issues that happened overnight to the generation assets that may affect/change what I am working on. Through the day, I'd work on my current project, perhaps with a meeting or two through the day, updating the team with progress/issues through the day as required. When there was the chance, I'd go on site to take a look around the assets. I'd generally finish work around 4.30-5pm.

What did I enjoy about my placement/internship?

The work was very varied. I helped on projects around the gas turbines, biomass boiler, power station emissions, and fuel specifications, and picked up a lot of skills/knowledge over a short period of time. Through this, I also applied many of the skills acquired during my EngD. I also saw the day-to-day work of the team (e.g. the regular reporting cycles and meetings) and how they keep things running smoothly. As my placement was in short time blocks spread over several months, I got to see changes over an extended period, from when the assets were running as normal, to the summer shutdown, and returning them to service.

Challenging aspects

As I visited for 2-3 days at a time, it meant that I had to quickly get up to speed with my given task - e.g. what the issue is, what calculations/information is needed - and then get to work finding an answer. However, as mentioned it was highly beneficial to spread the visits over multiple months to see changes over time, so this was a manageable challenge.

Did you use any skills learned from your course?

Yes. In many of the projects I was applying a very similar "project lifecycle" to what I do in my EngD, just over a (much) shorter time period, i.e. review the literature on a problem, analyse plant data and/or perform calculations, compare these outputs versus literature, reach a conclusion, write a short report. All of the skills I have acquired for each of those stages in my PhD were highly applicable to the projects, albeit I was having to apply them to new projects.

Has your time on placement influenced your future career choice?

My placement time was great, and has confirmed to me that I'd like to pursue a career in the energy industry after finishing my EngD. I can see that a lot of the skills I have a acquire would be useful in the industry, and the placement has given me some additional context that I can use when updating my CVs, applying for jobs, etc.

As a result of your placement/internship, what are your next steps in planning what you want to do after graduation?

I'll research potential energy engineering companies of interest and keep in touch with the team at Sembcorp. I'll use my experience on the placement as context to frame my skillset in a way that is more applicable to the workplace.

Advice to students

My piece of advice to students

Definitely do a placement and gain some experience during your PhD. It is immensely valuable in terms of providing real context to your broader field of work, even if not on your specific thesis topic, and can give you a flavor of what things are like on the other side.

Form completed: 22 Jul 2019

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