Why I chose to study Materials Engineering

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A fun thing about telling people what degree I’m pursuing is the comment I often receive in response:

“Materials engineering? Oh! So you study fashion?”

My name is Bee, I’m in my fourth year studying materials and while I take it as a massive compliment that anyone thinks I dress well enough to study fashion, I actually spend most of my time talking about metals, ceramics and plastics – but no, to clarify, not for fashion reasons.

Materials science and engineering is the study of those three materials and every kind of material between; we’re the people who say “Hey! We need to make a plane/skyscraper/wind turbine/tissue graft/snowboard etc., what material can we make it out of so it does its job as well as possible?” We try to understand why materials behave the way they do and then use this information to develop better ones. It’s an important and far-reaching field of study: if you think about it, every object in the world is made of some sort of material. But about 90% of the people I encounter have never heard of it.

Until I started applying to university, I’d never heard of materials either. The first time I’d seen the word ‘materials’ next to ‘engineering’ was browsing university prospectuses in year 12. I had no clue what it meant – I must confess, at first glance I thought it sounded a bit dull! But I was stuck for what course to study, so I gave it chance and did a bit of research. I always knew I wanted to study an applied subject, like engineering, but was reluctant to give up the purer, more “sciencey” elements of physics and chemistry that I enjoyed. Materials ended up ticking all those boxes for me; soon I was sold.

Fast forward four years and I can confirm that, so far, it’s not been dull! Materials is actually quite fast-paced because there’s such a wide range of applications to cover. I’m proud of my not-very-well-known degree: I’ve participated in labs, worked on case studies and completed a research project on superalloys for aeroplane engines. I’m currently on a placement at Tata Steel in south Wales, working on a project for my masters report based around high strength steels. I would recommend doing an industrial placement to any student: it’s been a challenging, rewarding and eye-opening experience, albeit a bit of a learning curve – getting up at 6:30am is really not my forte.

Luckily in January I will be moving back to Birmingham, and I’m looking forward to embracing UoB life again. For me this means playing socially for the Women’s Rugby team and getting involved with my subject society, Birmingham University Materials Society (no prize for figuring out our amazing acronym!)

Over the next several months I’ll be writing this blog all about my degree and my experiences of student life in Birmingham. I hope this first blog has given you a little introduction to me and my subject. Or, at the very least, I hope that the next time you meet a materials engineer you’ll now know why they look confused when people talk to them about fashion.

Some of the other placement students and myself (third from left) posing in front of a Blast Furnace on a rare sunny day at the steelworks.