Maeve Higham

I never planned to be an engineer; it was by happy coincidence that I have ended up here. Whilst I had always been good at maths and physics at school I had never viewed them as a route to an eventual career, and chose neither for my A Levels. Instead, I planned to be a Sports Scientist and chose subjects that would help me get there, such as Biology and Psychology.  Whilst researching Sports Science degree courses I became aware of Sports and Materials Science, a joint honours programme offered at the University of Birmingham, combining Sports and Exercise Science with Materials Engineering. The programme offered the chance to investigate design, materials, and engineering used in sports equipment with relation to an athlete’s behaviour during sport, and how they impact upon performance – and it looked perfect for me!  However, during the course of my three years of study I fell out of love with Sports Science and in love with Materials Engineering. As a result, I purposefully chose my third year modules to be heavily weighted towards the materials discipline. Additionally, I opted to complete my dissertation within the Metallurgy and Materials Department, investigating the use of Poly-lactic acid (PLA) in place of conventional Polystyrene within Lost Foam Casting of Aluminium alloys.    

My dissertation had sparked my interest for research, and following the completion of my undergraduate degree I was honoured to be offered a funded place to remain at Birmingham and read for a Masters of Research into the Science and Engineering of Materials.  My research investigated strengthening mechanisms present in Metal Matrix Composites, with specific interest in to the effect of combining a micron-sized and nano-sized metal matrix composite to achieve properties superior to both individual composites.  It was through my research, both undergraduate and postgraduate, that I became aware of Instron through using their materials testing machines. 

When starting to apply for graduate positions to start following the completion of my masters I remembered Instron and found their scheme advertised on their website. What really appealed to me was the structure of the scheme; the ‘business orientation phase’ during the first three months offered a chance to spend time in core parts of the business, including sales and marketing, roles I would not normally have insight to in a typical engineering graduate position. Instron seemed like the ideal place to use knowledge gained from my degrees, after all the business is built on testing the properties of materials! I decided to apply for the graduate scheme – and here I am today!  

As part of the Instron graduate scheme, following the initial rotational orientation phase, we undertake a series of six month placements in different functions and businesses to gain deeper understanding of the company. It also allows us the opportunity to get a further idea of what we may like to do as an eventual career within Instron. I am currently undertaking my first placement based in the Transducers department, within the wider umbrella of ‘Shared Engineering’. The Transducers department is responsible for the design, development, and production of load cells and extensometers found on Instron testing systems, those produced both here in the UK and at our American headquarters in Boston. My specific project within the department involves the development of Instron’s AVE 2; an extensometer that measures the change in Length of a material as it is being tested, and as such, provides a strain rate measurement. The project includes market research, verification and validation testing, results analysis, use of CAD to design a suitable mount for the extensometer, and control engineering. Alongside my main project, I provide engineering support to the production staff during the load cell build process. 

The graduate scheme is providing me with the opportunity to continue my learning within the field of materials science, but also to broaden my engineering knowledge, through constantly challenging me to improve. Each day during the scheme I am becoming much more aware and competent within a variety of engineering disciplines - mechanical, control, and electrical. Whilst this is incredibly daunting, it is also exciting, and it is continuously proving to me that Instron was the right choice to not only aid my personal growth but to begin my professional career.  

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