I Got Hired: Engineer at the National Proton Beam Therapy Centre

Posted on: 30 April 2020 in Case studies

Adam graduated MEng in Electrical Engineering and Electronics degree from the University of Liverpool. He is currently working as an Engineer at the National Proton Beam Therapy Centre.

What made you choose to study your course and at the University of Liverpool?

I’d always been inquisitive and I’m sure I frustrated my parents by dismantling anything that I could get my hands on; to work out how it works and attempting to return it to a working state. I think engineering of some sort was always an avenue that I was likely to pursue.

Through extracurricular clubs in school (science and maths), I’d ended up at The University of Liverpool a few times for events. I took part in the Engineering Education Scheme, which involved a week residential period at UoL, working in the electrical engineering department’s labs and workshops. I was really impressed by the facilities. So the foundations were there already at UoL and the department even before I’d considered my choices of where I wanted to study.

Another of the appeals of the course was that the University offered was the integrated Master’s degree. At the time these were few and far between. At the age of 18, I’m sure most of us don’t know one hundred percent what we want to do with the rest of our lives, and thought that the MEng was more likely to provide opportunities.

What was your best experience while studying your course at the University of Liverpool?

During the third year a major component of the course was a group project and I chose the Formula Student programme that was run in conjunction with other engineering disciplines. The team comprised of approximately 20 engineering from different disciplines. The project required the team to design and build a single seat racing car from scratch within the academic year and then race it at Silverstone race course against other universities around the country and Europe.

This was an absolutely brilliant experience for me; getting to work in a large team with a diverse skillset all pulling together towards a common goal. As well as the “hard” engineering skills picked up during this project, it allowed us to acquire some of the “softer” skills that an engineer will require in their career, such as project management, finance and procurement, and designing to tight specifications and standards. I definitely feel that this project helped to set me up for my career in the way that others may not have done.

Which aspects of your course do you think have been the most beneficial to your career development?

For me, it has been the initial development of core skills that every engineer needs. These fundamental skills are the basis that an engineer will build their career upon, without these to help; I don’t know where we would be.

Whilst I was studying, the electrical engineering and electronics department would organise a bi-weekly talk from an industrial expert on what their industry did, what challenges they faced (both in an engineering sense and in general), what the potential future for that industry looked like and how it impacted upon the wider world. The speaker was not always, but quite often an alumnus of the engineering department or the University and it was interesting to see how their studies had impacted the direction of their career.

I guess this opened our eyes to what was out there in the “real world” beyond academia and to opportunities that we might not know had existed. One of the best talks that we had was with Sir Robin Saxby, who went on to become the first CEO of ARM which is now a global leader in its field of embedded systems (mainly mobile phones – over 95% of all smartphones contain some sort of ARM technology). These talks, I feel were invaluable and offered a real insight in to the engineering world beyond that experienced by us as undergraduate students.

Can share an insight into your current role and if this was supported by your time at the University of Liverpool?

Since university, I’ve had two jobs both of which have built upon my studies. For the first nine years of my career since graduating, I worked as an electrical engineer at a two thousand Megawatt fossil fuel power station which provided enough energy to power three million homes.

This career went hand in hand with what I had learned at university; generators, transformers, switchgear and all sorts of “heavy” electrical engineering. I also got to experience the other end of the spectrum here too; working on electronics and instrumentation systems, like gas analysers that measured the composition of flue gases to component sensitivities of parts per billion that used optical techniques that I was taught by Prof. Spencer in his photonics and optical information systems lectures. My time here also involved project management and managing staff and contractors to provide services to the power station.

The power station, which was ran by SSE was used as part of the energy mix within the company and throughout the industry to keep the national electricity “grid” balanced while renewable technology and storage capacity caught up. I understood that it was highly unlikely to be a “job for life” and that the move away from fossil fuels was on the horizon.

Since leaving the power station, my current role is now working as an engineer at the national proton beam therapy centre. The work they do here truly is mind blowing and at the absolute cutting edge of technology.

The principals are similar to regular radiotherapy treatment of cancer; however, the properties of using protons as opposed to photons mean that there are many advantages in terms of treatment success and quality of life of the patient following treatment. I’m currently working in a team of electrical and electronic engineers. However, we work closely with radiographers, radiologists, consultants and physicists in order to provide a service to the trust.

Did you take part in a placement or use the Careers & Employability services?

In addition to attending the alumni talks that I’ve already mentioned, I did use the Careers and Employability service, especially when nearing the end of my studies. When applying for graduate schemes they were useful in getting interview hints and tips, psychometric testing practice questions and showing resources such as job sites etc.

Do you have any top tips to share with future and current students?

I would encourage current and future students to make the most of the facilities at their disposal. At the time you may not fully appreciate where you are and what you have. 

I may be biased as I am from the area, but from my travels I think I can safely say that Liverpool is a fantastic place to live and study for the time that you are here. You have everything you need on your doorstep.

From an academic point of view, I’d say to get in to a routine as much as you can. I was always one to review my notes of the lectures that I had that day when I got home of an evening before I did anything else. I’d also set aside at least half a day at the weekend to work on projects or assignments that I had. This set me in good stead and it was very rare that I was stressing when a coursework deadline was looming.

Another tip I’d say is to familiarise yourself with the library as soon as possible. During the exam periods I spent countless hours studying in the “stacks” in the Harold Cohen as I found it the best place for me to revise without distraction. Finding the right books and loaning them was great for me, and saved me plenty of money instead of buying them from Blackwell’s or Amazon. I think over the four years, I only had to buy 3 textbooks and used the library the rest of the time.

Are there any memories you would like to share from your time at the University of Liverpool? 

I loved my time at the UoL and had an absolute blast, both academically and socially. To say my time there was special would be an understatement! In a word, I’d say “growth”. The amount of growth that I did during my four years there was immense. In terms of my knowledge and myself as a person, I came in basically still a boy, and when I left I was becoming a man equipped for the “real” world.

One memory that does really stick in my mind, is that of “Bench Inspection” day in final year. It was a really nice spring day, the sun was shining and it was unseasonably warm. After we had presented our projects to the assessors the whole of the Electrical Engineering and Electronics department (Students, lecturers, technicians) gathered on the steps out at the front of the department and had a photo taken. Realistically this was the last time we were all going to be together before graduation, so we made the most of our time together, chatting, reminiscing and wishing each other luck for the exams.