Nick Upjohn

Nick Upjohn completed his Nuffield Research Placement in 2011 at EDF Trading. He now studies Mechanical with Automotive Engineering at the University of Bath.

What was your project about?

EDF Trading, in Warmingham, store gas that is supplied to homes and businesses in the UK in Cheshire’s disused underground salt mines. They buy the gas when the price is low and sell it again when the price is higher to make a profit. It is stored at a lower pressure than that in the National Transmission System (NTS) and so when it is returned to the NTS, the pressure needs to be increased, to match. To achieve this, two large electrically driven centrifugal gas compressors are used. These compressors, one 5.5kW and one 11kW, used a large amount of electrical energy, which lead to high energy costs. My task was to create a way of optimising the running of these compressors to reduce the cost of running the plant.

What is your current role?

I am currently a placement student at Xtrac, who are a world leader in the design and manufacture of custom, high performance transmissions for motorsports, high end road car and military applications. The company’s portfolio ranges from the WEC, World Rally Championship, MotoGP, Rally Raid and more. In my role as a Trainee Design Engineer, I am learning how to design the transmissions and any other bespoke tooling that may be required. At the end of my placement I will be returning to the University of Bath, where I will continue my degree in Mechanical with Automotive Engineering (MEng, Hons). I will be completing a master’s degree which will be based around the university’s Formula Student car.

What path did you take after finishing your NRP and how has that led you to where you are today?

Following my placement at EDF, I applied to carry out a ‘Year In Industry’ placement through the Engineering Development Trust (EDT). I went on to carry out this placement at Delphi Diesel Systems, based in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire as a Manufacturing Systems Engineer. In this role, I worked on a number of machines used to assemble a fuel pump used in the DAF XF lorry. This had a very good mix of hands on engineering and theoretical work, design and problem solving, and was a role I really enjoyed. Following this year, I gained a sponsorship contract with the company, who would part fund my degree in return for me completing summer placements with the company. Without my placement at EDF, I feel I would not have got the job at Delphi as the recruitment process was extremely competitive.

Having completed my gap year I started at the University of Bath on a 4 year + 1 sandwich year degree in Mechanical with Automotive Engineering. I quickly became involved in the Formula Student team, Team Bath Racing, who design and build a brand new single seater racing car each year to race at competitions around the world, against student teams from other universities. I was soon appointed Finance Manager for the team, tasked with purchasing all the items we needed to build and run the car, ensuring we stuck to the budget, saving money where possible, and gaining sponsorship deals for the team. I carried on in this role throughout my second year at university, and during the two years went to Silverstone twice and Hockenheim once with the team, which was an incredibly rewarding experience. When I go back to university, I will begin designing the car in the second semester of my third year, which will count towards my final degree. In my final year I will be part of the team who builds the car, and will do a final year project (FYP) on an area of the car, before racing it at racetracks around Europe.

Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?

Absolutely! At the time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go into at University, however this placement made it very clear to me that engineering was what I wanted to do. Working at such a company motivated me to work as hard as possible through my A Levels, leaving me with the results that got me into the University of Bath, and helped me gain both my year in industry at Delphi, and my current placement at Xtrac.

What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?

It’s a brilliant field to get involved with. I have had 2 jobs in the STEM field – the first I spent working on robot arms, lasers and other cool equipment and the second I work on race cars. Since I am passionate about what I am doing, going to work is a fun experience. It’s not just a desk job using excel or word, you get to make an active contribution to really exciting and interesting projects.

Furthermore, with the jobs market as it is at the moment, if you get involved in the STEM field, you will never struggle to find a job, and the jobs you do find will be exciting, interesting, and usually be well paid and have numerous perks. If you want to get a head start on all your peers and make yourself very employable, getting involved with STEM programmes such as the NRP is an extremely good decision.

Any other comments?

Just to say thanks to everyone at Nuffield who helped to kick start my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today without your help!