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A Day in the Life of an Engineer

06 September 2021

A Day in the Life of an Engineer: Problem Solving and Teamwork

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An engineer is, essentially, a problem solver. 

What problem they are solving depends on the type of engineering they do. They may be working to prevent climate change, building space-saving infrastructure, improving AI or designing autonomous vehicles. 

It’s the kind of work that allows a person to think creatively, work collaboratively and have a tangible impact on the world around them. 

Sound interesting? A career in engineering may be for you. 

But it's a good idea to learn as much as possible about the industry before you commit to it so you can be sure you're making the right choice.

To that end, we spoke to Bhavik Bhatt, an engineer at global automotive company Rolls-Royce, to get an inside look at life in the fast lane. 

After studying Aeronautical engineering (the design, production and maintenance of aircraft) at Imperial College London, Bhavik secured a place on the Rolls-Royce engineering graduate scheme

He now works there as a thermofluids engineer, a branch of mechanical engineering that encompasses heat transfer, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and combustion. In short, he works with engines. 

Bhavik gave us unparalleled access to life in engineering and provided plenty of unique insider knowledge. If you’re looking for more information about one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, read on... 

Interested in gaining a unique, 360-degree experience of engineering? Take a look at InvestIN's Engineering Programmes; each is jam-packed with immersive career simulations, exclusive site visits and personalised career coaching, all designed to give you a more hands-on experience of the industry.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What does a typical day in your working life look like?

The thing with being an engineer is that there is no typical day. 

Every day varies depending on which project you’re on, what team you’re working with, what deadlines are approaching and occasionally ‘what’s gone wrong and how do we urgently fix it?’.

As a thermofluids engineer, I typically work in testing facilities doing the experimentation phase of a project. Then I’ll be at my computer crunching numbers and data to see if we’ve been successful in our experiments. Certain parameters might need retesting or re-developing.

Hours as an engineer are quite good. I’d say the work-life balance is one of the best out of all the industries. When I talk to my friends who went into finance, law or medicine, they’re all so busy. 

If no deadlines are approaching and nothing’s fallen out of the sky, I’ll normally start between 8:30am and 9am, then finish around 4:30pm/5pm.

I’m part of a large organisation - it might be different at smaller ones - so there’s a lot of trust within teams. In terms of working hours, it’s quite flexible - as long as you’re getting your work done. When we were in the office pre-COVID, you could step out for a couple of hours to run an errand. 

The great thing about working on a campus is it’s exactly that: a campus. 

We’ve got about 17,000 people working here. So in terms of people I work with, there’s never a shortage of people to ask technical questions to or just have a chat in the kitchen.

What first inspired you to consider engineering as a career?

I don’t think there was a single point as such. 

I did have a couple of family members who were engineers, so growing up I would hear about what they did at work. That was always quite interesting. I also loved taking things apart as a kid, tinkering with them and trying to put them back together. 

Plus - the classic personal statement for an engineer - I was good at maths and physics. I also joined the astronomy club at school. We got to play around with really expensive telescopes which got me interested in the space side of things.

I grew up in London but coming up to A-levels, my family moved to Norfolk, near the RAF Marham Base. Every weekend we’d see F-35 fighter jets doing their test runs. Some people complained about the noise but I was fascinated by how quickly these planes could fly and how manoeuvrable they were. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

In engineering, there is a lot of variety and freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom to be creative.

Initially, it was quite a shock. 

At university, you would study various topics, do coursework and do lab experiments. But there was always an answer. Those experiments had been done hundreds of times. Whereas, in the professional world of engineering, you’re working on something that’s never been done before. 

You could spend a couple of weeks trying to design a new wing or blade only to find you’ve gone down completely the wrong rabbit hole. 

But the satisfaction when you see something you designed in production is great. That’s definitely the best thing about my job: [the feeling that you’ve done] something that no one else has. I designed it, I made it, it works, it’s been approved and many, many people will fly in that plane to go on their holidays. 

What’s the hardest thing?

(Laughs) If I’m being honest, it’s probably the admin.

I don’t think engineering is alone in this. I’ve learned to enjoy putting business cases together for new projects and [come to] understand revenue streams, customers, and how to effectively spend budgets. 

But sometimes the paperwork, the governance and the admin can get quite frustrating.

Obviously, with engineering, safety is of the utmost priority. We have to make sure all of our products and services are safe to fly. Every project you’re involved with you’re constantly checking, double-checking, testing and re-testing. The testing is quite fun, but reporting and presenting to boards to get approval can be quite a long process.

Find something about engineering that you really enjoy...if you think you might enjoy something, go out and try it first.

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How did you find your first 12 months in the field?

Definitely exciting.

I had done the 10-week internship and met quite a few people so I wasn’t going into a completely new environment. Additionally, as a large organisation, there were 120 other graduates who joined with me, 7 of which were from my university, so there were some familiar faces. 

In terms of the work, the graduate programme was good because it had rotations between different areas of the business. My preference going in was thermofluids - fuel and oil systems - so that’s what I spent my first couple of months doing, which was quite a technical role. 

I also spent a couple of months in customer sales and marketing, which helped me understand Rolls Royce as a business and who our customers were.

After that, I went down to the Heathrow service centre in a more operational role. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, the role itself was very short-term engineering work; trying to fix issues as they came. However, it’s important to sometimes have that experience and find out what you don’t like. 

I then spent another four months in the testing facility “on the shop floor”, actually taking apart engines. It was great exposure to the mechanical side of things. 

It was the combination of trying all those things that got me to where I am now.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I love sports, particularly football. 

I also discovered cycling over lockdown - I bought my first adult bike last January with the intent to cycle to work, but that lasted all of two months before lockdown [arrived]. I then started going on bike rides and they just got longer and longer. 

I’m really into photography, too, and love going out with a camera. 

Landscape photography and astrophotography (photography of the night sky) started when I was playing with those expensive telescopes. I’d spend a long time focusing on the right things, trying to find the moon or Mars or another planet. Then I’d try and describe it, but it’s not the same as taking a picture and just showing them. Moving to Norfolk and now Derby, it’s so much better than London in terms of light pollution. The peak district is right around the corner. 

As an engineer, I still love breaking stuff apart and putting it back together, too. That doesn’t go away. 

Do you have any advice for young people thinking about pursuing a career in engineering?

Find something about engineering that you really enjoy. 

For me, it was a bit of a gamble going into my first day, having chosen aeronautical engineering with no real exposure to it beforehand. I sat down in Aerodynamics 101 and thought ‘If I don’t enjoy this, it’s gonna be a long couple of years’. Luckily, I did. 

So the advice I’d give is, if you think you might enjoy something, go out and try it first. 

The other thing I would say is to talk to people. People love talking about their work, particularly in engineering. Try to find someone on LinkedIn or go to an event (The Royal Aeronautical Society, for example, does lots of events). It might be a lecture with questions at the end, sometimes it’s just networking. Go attend those. 

Also, make sure it’s two-way. As a student trying to network, don’t just expect to get advice, be interesting yourself. The most interesting people I’ve spoken to on InvestIN programmes are the ones who don’t just ask ‘what do you find interesting?’, they’re the ones who say ‘I did this’. One student had actually built his own go-kart! It went up to 70mph and he competed in races. I was like ‘sign me up’! He was a very interesting person and, because of that, I wanted to talk to him more.

Make sure to bring something to the table.

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