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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Captivated By 'Car Parts'

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    19 Oct

    Science fact

    Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy. 

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    How my degree has helped me

    Having graduated from Murray Edwards in June with a Masters in Chemical Engineering, I joined the graduate scheme at Jaguar Land Rover. While a very different field to what I studied at Cambridge, a lot of the ways of thinking when making cars are the same as designing chemical production processes. My degree was very much based in problem solving and using data to make decisions which carries over into my day job now, even if I have had a rather steep learning curve on what different parts of a car are (my first day on the job involved asking all the stupid questions - What’s a fender? How does that work? Where can I get coffee in this place?) 

    Studying a STEM subject wasn’t just about time in the lab - it involved learning to present, being able to work in groups, gaining skills in working to a deadline. I get the chance to put all of these into practise in my job and actually getting to make a difference to the company. This is everything from managing a team to improve timing (and save money) on the parts of the car I work on, or developing a new bit of computer code that increases efficiency so much in a team’s role that they don’t need to waste their budget on hiring another person. 

    What appeals to me about my work?

    I am lucky enough to say “I love my job” and really mean it. My role in the company is within the supplier quality department, which involves working with design engineers and suppliers to ensure that they deliver parts that are up to snuff and on time. I spend a lot of my time understanding complicated bits of engineering from electrical changes in a bumper to improve safety to how noise can be reduced in a car by changing the shape of a part. The parts and challenges that accompany them are all so varied that job is different every day and I get to enjoy the new challenges. 

    Aside from the more project management based role that my day job takes on, I get to be involved with side projects which are a really great way for me to get exposure to different parts of the company. In a business with over 35,000 employees it’s somewhat difficult to make a name for oneself but with some of the projects I have worked on in my short time in the company, I have gotten to meet many senior leaders and get to know a really great network of people. 

    Exciting Challenges Ahead

    The automotive industry is a really exciting sector to work in. You will have heard about the challenges facing the world today about climate change and pollution. Recently, the World Health Organisation has released figure that pollution causes the deaths of 1 in 4 children under the age of 5. Part of this is due to the build up of toxic fumes from car exhausts. Obviously, as an industry we recognise that this cannot go on and are always looking into ways to reduce this, with past solutions including light weight cars and hybrid vehicles. As the focus is shifting to become more and more environmentally friendly, the industry is having to become serious about investing in battery technology and electric vehicles, which sounds easy in the abstract but is a huge change and will involve rapid investment and generation of new technology. 

    Not only is the pace of development for the new technology a challenge but the industry faces the problem of an ever changing market, which is getting even more pronounced. The way in which people use cars is changing with the advent of companies like Uber, shared ownership and automated vehicles. In order to survive in this ever changing market car companies will have to be innovative in how they develop, market and sell their products. While all of these issues are challenging to the industry, they make for a very exciting environment to work in. 

    Why young women should choose science

    I firmly believe that with the challenges that face the world today, the only way to overcome them is to have the best minds working in science, although not necessarily in the lab. The skills you can learn from a STEM subject are more than just knowledge on why chemical reactions happen or how an engine works. They set you up with an ability to find your way through problems and explain solutions to the people around you. Studying a STEM subject will only ever open doors, never close them.

    Rachel Oldham
    Alumna