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Nicole Fisher, aged 21, from Shrewsbury and Rebecca Meadows, aged 21 from Liverpool, are both studying Chemical Engineering degrees at the University’s Thornton Science Park. The BEng degree is a three-year programme, but both Nicole and Rebecca were so impressive during their second-year five-week work placements that the same companies have taken them on for an unscheduled sandwich year, before they return to University in September to complete their final year.

Rebecca has been working for Thornton-based motorsport engineering company Motrac Racing this academic year. Rebecca was initially involved with the company when she successfully secured a part-time research and development position advertised by Motrac. She then carried out her work placement there, liaising with both the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s Dr Gavin Phillips and Motrac’s owner, Steve Hammond, to help with the evolution and testing of the next generation of fuel treatments being developed by Merseyside-based fuel treatment manufacturer, Cataclean Global Ltd., which trades globally. The work was completed and Cataclean staff were so impressed, that they strengthened their partnership with Motrac through increased investment in Research and Development by creating a year-long sandwich placement role for Rebecca, so that she could continue her work on new product development and product testing (investigating fuel additives in a variety of aspects).

Rebecca said: “As a student, working in an industrial environment, I have been able to use knowledge I have gained from university and the whole experience has been invaluable. Working at Motrac has allowed me to develop a whole range of skills: communication; interpersonal; meeting deadlines; working under pressure and presentation; as well as technical skills. It has also increased my commercial awareness as I have gained an understanding of how things work in terms of business.”

Rebecca’s work is on the analysis of particulate emissions and exhaust gases – which also marks a new direction for Motrac Racing, away from its core motorbike business. This shows that Rebecca’s research and development skills are proving invaluable to both her as a student and to the company too.

She said: “Establishing test protocols and conducting tests for a product in its development stage, together with evaluating the outcomes, is a massive learning experience and furthers my knowledge and understanding of a process that I would never have gained from university alone. As a result, I feel significantly more prepared to graduate. Throughout, I have had a great deal of support from the University and I have had the opportunity to work with academics from a range of STEM departments.”

Steve Hammond, Owner of Motrac Racing, said: “Working closely with the Faculty of Science and Engineering was always part of the intention when Motrac moved to Thornton. It is not just out of sentiment that we do this; it does give a sense of satisfaction to see students progressing into their professional careers, but it also taps into fresh outlooks, youthful enthusiasm and good access to current academic knowledge. It is an all-round win-win situation which makes sound business sense. This is something that we continue to develop.

“Often, undergraduates are still searching for direction for a future career, so giving them a window into the wider world of commerce really helps. Industry bemoans skills shortages as a key factor holding back growth. Maybe more focus should be placed on the ‘Thornton way’, where students can interact with, and learn from, commercial partners, whilst helping their businesses thrive.”

Fellow student Nicole Fisher had a similar experience when she began her second year work placement with Winsford-based disinfectant products company Safe4disinfectant, through the University’s Analytical Centre, which is part of the Department of Natural Sciences (also based at Thornton Science Park). The company was so impressed by Nicole’s attitude and approach to workthat a ‘sandwich year’ role was made available for her.

She is now spending her year in industry working with Safe4disinfectant and the University on a project to help the company map out what is required by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for registration of its products under the biocidal products regulations (which protect humans, animals and the environment from harmful substances).

Alan Dudley, Managing Director of Safe4, said: “We first went to the University’s Analytical Centre in the spring of 2017 to do some analytical testing. When we went to collect the results, Nicole and I officially met. I asked her if she was interested in taking the project forward - she said yes and the rest is history, as they say. We worked with Nicole and the University through the autumn of 2017, using her reading days and weekends to get ourselves in a position for her to join us last May. During this time, it became clear to me that she would be a real asset to the company, as her work ethic and effort were first class. We have taken two overseas business trips and she has helped with half a dozen very different conferences. She is confident in all aspects of work and has an excellent customer facing ability. We are hoping that she will keep up some part-time work in the next academic year, and then work with us as we support her through her Master’s.” 

Nicole said: “Gaining this job has helped me as a student and is crucial to Safe4. My interpersonal skills have been enhanced as I am constantly in contact with colleagues, customers and suppliers, so it has made me realise how important it is to judge how to approach situations differently. It has also helped my time management skills as there is always something going on! It’s been a huge eye-opener to be able to apply what I have learnt over the last two years into real life situations and take responsibility for a large scale project. My role is crucial for Safe4, as the company cannot continue to legally sell products in Europe without submitting this dossier.

“I’m loving the job and it has allowed me to see every aspect of a company from the manufacturing side to the product being sent out of the door. It’s great that when new products are being developed, I can just go straight into the lab and get stuck in, gaining the hands on experience I believe not many students would have the opportunity to do. I strongly believe that this opportunity has widened my future job prospects. (I have already been headhunted on LinkedIn for a biocides manager for a European company!)”

She continued: “I would highly recommend studying at the University and in particular Chemical Engineering. The facilities are second to none and the links with industry (I believe this is massively due to the location) are great. The highlight of my experience at the University I would say is the amazing support network I have around me, formed from staff to fellow students. My experience would definitely not have been as enjoyable without it.”

Rebecca added: “I would definitely recommend Chemical Engineering to potential students because of its vast applications and possible directions. I would also highly recommend taking a year in industry to anyone. It has given me a fresh prospective on my course and opened my eyes to the opportunities after university. To work in an environment where I make an impact and influence a commercial product being developed for the mass market is so exciting and rewarding. To have this opportunity to do this was beyond all my expectations when I started the course.”

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