Formula Student – Hard work, but worth it

by Gabby Coe, MEngIMG_1458 Materials Science and Engineering (Research)

I last wrote a post for this blog a couple of years ago, and it’s been interesting to reflect on my time as a student since then. But I’ve also thought about what the future holds and how my time in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering will help me in the future.

My four years at Sheffield have not only taught me a huge amount about materials science but also helped me to develop as an engineer. This is my final year taking the Materials Science and Engineering (Research) course, although I originally arrived on the Materials Science with Nuclear Engineering programme. The decision to switch between the two was based on a desire to experience a wider range of materials and have greater choice over my modules (although I have ended up taking all the same modules anyway!!).

When I’m not busy in labs, lectures or writing coursework I am also part of the University’s Formula Student team, Sheffield Formula Racing (SFR). The team represents The University of Sheffield in The Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ (IMechE) annual Formula Student competition.

Each year SFR designs, builds and races a single seat formula style race car to take to an international competition at Silverstone, which is entered by over 100 universities from around the globe. During the project we gain valuable teamwork, networking, machining, design, business and financial planning skills. The competition is also an exceptionally good way of demonstrating practical engineering ability.

The Formula Student website describes the competition as “Europe’s most established educational motorsport competition…Backed by industry and high-profile engineers such as our Patron Ross Brawn OBE, the competition aims to inspire and develop enterprising and innovative young engineers.”

We are almost unique here in that we accept applications to join the team from first years only and then stay for the remainder of our studies.

After attending several workshops, writing two reports and completing a group project I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the team along with 13 other first years out of around 80 initial applicants.

The application system is fairly tough in comparison with most other teams, this is not necessarily to find the best students but the most committed and enthusiastic to learn.

The SFR team is split into five main sub-teams to which each member is assigned based on personal choice before the start of each year. The teams are; Chassis and Vehicle Dynamics, Drivetrain, Engine and Electronics, and Ergonomics and Bodywork. Different teams around the country will vary their structure according to how they feel the project is best approached. The SFR system is designed to ensure the knowledge within the team has a chance to grow year on year.

Students that have taken part in Formula Student become incredibly attractive to future employers upon graduation, or even for short placements during summer vacation.

Further to this the team itself creates industry contacts as we have to secure funding through sponsorship ourselves. Included in many of these contacts are factory tours, technical meetings and workshops, many of which I have attended, gaining an insight into what an engineering career is really like. Additionally, I have been able to take part sessions to develop manufacture skills specifically for composite parts. These may also prove to be very useful to me as my career progresses in later life.

The environment created by the team has been a huge learning curve and over the years I have developed many new skills and managed to overcome fears. Alongside help and challenges from materials lecturers and tutors I have gone from a shy first year to voluntarily attending outreach events and presenting about my time in Sheffield.

I spent my first three years as a member of the bodywork team, focusing on developing my knowledge of composite materials, mainly carbon fibre. For my final year on the team I have been managing any events we attend, including a week-long celebration of The Department of Mechanical Engineering’s centenary year. I’ve also been running the team’s social media accounts so if you find us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that’s all me! These roles have developed professional skills which have complemented the academic knowledge gained through my degree helping me to gain a role as a graduate scientist and engineer from September 2018.

Formula Student is difficult at times and a huge time commitment, but very rewarding, and the materials department have been incredibly supportive of my involvement. Through the team I have met incredible, like-minded people and so formed some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. By the time competition in July rolls around there is a real sense of camaraderie, and not just within our team but between all of those at Silverstone with us.

Graduating from Sheffield this summer will be bittersweet; this city has been an incredible home for the past four years, and I have loved studying here. But, all good things must come to an end, and to be honest, I’m already looking forward to watching Formula Student 2019 with none of the stress!!

Gabby

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