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From Physics to Resilience Engineering

Posted by 4MAT Administrator
Posting date:9/15/2020 3:14 PM
Thriving in engineering with a STEM degree

Hi, my name is David, and I'm a Resilience Engineer at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group. In this article, I want to give you a look into the engineering sector and just tell you a bit about what I do.

Am I doing the right degree for engineering?

When I was doing my physics degree at uni, I often wondered if my degree would be applicable in engineering. Would I be at a disadvantage for not studying a more conventional engineering discipline? It turns out I've had no issues making the change over into the engineering world. In some cases, I've had a more fundamental understanding of systems to build on and use to solve problems. We also have mathematicians in the office who've had a similar experience and are very successful in their roles.

When I started at Atkins

As a graduate, I wondered how long it would take until a company would trust me to work independently and contribute to big projects. At Atkins, it was from day one. The organization really encourages contribution and innovation from its new starters. You just need to put your hand up for things that interest you, and Atkins will award you with essential roles on projects. 

What I do at Atkins

I work in the Resilience Engineering team of the Aerospace, Defence, Security & Technology (ADS&T) practice. As resilience engineers, we help build and design complex systems that are 'resilient' to change and disruption. These range from various defence industry assets, like submarines and armoured fighting vehicles, to technological investments, such as security and modelling software. In resilience engineering, our key focus is realizing the long term value of assets, working to ensure continued safety and sustainability throughout their entire lifecycle. 

Why I love what I do.

Our work really has an impact on the world around us. It gives me great satisfaction knowing that my day-to-day efforts contribute to a greater goal and a brighter future for us and generations to come. I feel very lucky to do my bit for the future and work on varied, interesting projects that I genuinely enjoy.

Pursuing what interests me

At Atkins, we graduates get the choice to work on a wide variety of projects. The three-year graduate scheme encourages you to try different projects to find the area that interests you most. Although I'm currently working in the ADS&T practice, when exciting opportunities arise in another practice, I'd be able to pursue those. While this sort of flexibility is rare in most organizations, at Atkins, it helps prevent employees from becoming overspecialized in one area. 

I love the teamwork

Our team collaborates with two main disciplines on projects – software and system engineers. Software Engineers are often called in to handle some of the more in-depth programming tasks that arise when producing or updating clients' reliability or modelling tools. System Engineers focus on a holistic, 'big picture' approach to solving problems, which is often beneficial for projects with many moving parts. As Resilience Engineers, we often share ways of working with the system engineering discipline and work alongside them on many different projects.

Support to get the job done

Before joining, another concern I had was that I'd be on my own, and my work wouldn't be checked. But at Atkins, there are rigorous technical assurance processes in place. Getting to learn on the job has been a really beneficial and efficient way to acquire an engineer's skill set.

Thriving on projects, big and small

Working at Atkins has taught me that I can solve difficult problems in the 'real world.' During my studies at university, I was often concerned that parts of my education wouldn't translate over to working life and that I'd find the adjustment challenging. Projects can be difficult, especially when there isn't necessarily a correct answer. But I always feel well supported. I'm surrounded by a network of experts and can reach for help to solve any problem, no matter how big it may seem at first. 

Here are some examples of projects I've worked on:

Air Defence & Electronic Warfare Systems (ADEWS)

This project involved authoring and updating safety case reports for various defence industry electronic warfare assets. The most challenging part of the project was learning how each one fundamentally operated. It was necessary to identify any potential hazards during their operation and proved difficult when having to navigate through copious technical documents to find the required information.

I was involved in updating numerous safety case reports for different ADEWS. This consisted of creating hazard tables for each asset and identifying viable controls. I also calculated the mean time between failure values for individual components. My role also had me liaising with clients to obtain information and going to safety panels with equipment operators to present and review findings. The project was really worthwhile as an introduction to different ADEWS. I found it incredibly rewarding when I identified hazards that were previously not recognized!

Laser Directed Energy Weapons (LDEWs)

This project looks at modelling different defence industry targets to support the development of LDEWs, now and in the future. 

I've been responsible for all of the deliverables on the previous two targets for this task. Essentially this project looks to reverse-engineer different defence industry targets so that a complete understanding can be formed and used to produce a comprehensive 3D model. This model includes all the targets' internal components and material properties and is used for lethality-modelling simulations for different LDEWs. 

The project also involves constructing fault trees for each target, identifying failure modes and damage mechanisms for each component and often travelling to the site to inspect the targets in person. I particularly love this project. By the time I've delivered a target, I've formed a really in-depth understanding of its internal operations. To me, that's what engineering is all about.

Great people make a place great

My teammates have played a massive part in helping me settle into my role. They've always been happy to help whenever I've needed them. Despite their extensive experience in the engineering industry, they've always valued my thoughts and opinions on project work since the first day I started. 

The most fun I've had with my team was at our Christmas party. It's always fun seeing everyone outside of work, and we had a great night out. We had a local hotel hired out for a three-course meal, including a magician for some entertainment and a DJ for those willing to brave the dancefloor.

The next steps for me

Even though I've just been here for a year, my work at Atkins so far has been incredibly diverse and engaging. So I'm excited about the projects I'll be working on in the future. I aim to gain as much experience in the defence sector as possible. Coming from a physics background, I'll be persuing my chartership with the Institute of Physics in the next few years, supported by Atkins. After that, I hope to progress in the organization to positions with greater responsibility and even larger-scale projects.

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