As I have said many times before, I am a man of the people, this time I bring to you, the people, interviews from not only graduates but also PhD students. This will give you a broad perspective of what life can be like after you graduate from Imperial, if this was UCL you could just pop down to Subway and ask how their recent graduates are getting on. ZING. This month I have focused on the fluids side of civil engineering, our first graduate interview in with Finlay McPhail who graduated this summer and is now working for Shell in their Offshore Structures department.

Where's Finlay?
Where's Finlay?

What was the highlight of your degree? 

Difficult to say, winning a pennant at the Head of the River Race with the boat club in first year is a strong contender, taking the prize for the best presentation at the final year project conference, just finishing the degree and getting the first-class is also strong. The real highlight for me though was probably travelling to Rwanda with e.quinox over the summer of third year with two others from Civil Engineering to project manage the building of a micro-hydro power system in partnership with some American Students from Dartmouth College then returning this summer to upgrade the turbine as well as work on some other e.quinox projects. The things I’ve really taken away from the degree though are a fantastic set of friends, some great contacts, and a truly great education. The technical background you build at Imperial really is astoundingly good and it enables you to start your professional life with a cutting edge.

Rwanda Team
Rwanda Team

Where do you see yourself in five years? Has your experience changed where you want to go?

My life was pretty much undetermined up until June 2013. Prior to that I was looking at working for a consultant in London, returning to Rwanda to work on humanitarian energy projects, joining BP in Aberdeen or Sunbury, and joining Schlumberger to go adventuring. In the end I joined Shell and am now based on a long-term basis in the Netherlands in Den Haag. I’m loving it at the moment but also know there’s a huge scope to travel with Shell. In 5 years time I will have finished the Graduate programme and be an “Independent technical professional” and the world is truly open. I could be in Nigeria, Iraq, Houston, Kazakhstan, India, KL, Australia, Canada, or almost anywhere else. It’s pretty exciting.

Did you always know that you want to work in Offshore Structures? 

The whole field was pretty foreign to me up until the third year group project. I was on the Offshore Team for that project and it opened a new and exciting world for me. Structures were bigger, boundaries were pushed way back, and things that would have seemed insane previously seemed totally reasonable. I did a gap year and two summers with Arup’s Advanced Technology and Research team in London, and one with Arup’s Transaction Advice team. Until September 2012 I thought I’d go back to Arup, then I ended up doing my final year project with Dr. Christou at Shell, applied for BP and Schlumberger – totally changing fields in the process. Arup are a great company and I have enjoyed working for them a great deal, but the choice I made I firmly believe was the correct one for me at the time and don’t regret it.

How much of your degree do you use in your current job?

-Difficult to tell, this is only week 5! What the degree does give you is a confidence you can tackle almost anything thrown your way. Imperial teaches you how to outthink most people and problems, and if that doesn’t work outwork them.

What part of your degree do you use most in your job?

Dynamics and hydrodynamics are probably the most important. Having a firm grasp on the fundamental maths and physics of dynamics and how to apply it is really important. Everything is becoming lighter, stranger, deeper, bigger, heavier, and with smaller safety factors, dynamics is more important than it used to be.

Finlay McPhail, Imperial Graduate
Finlay McPhail, Imperial Graduate

Do you get to try out different departments in Shell before deciding which one you want to work in?

I’m currently working in the Civil/Structural/Offshore discipline, within the Offshore team. I did my internship with MetOcean. The way the Shell recruitment system works is based more on personality than anything else. The whole of Shell was open to me after I was successful on the internship, I could have gone into Wells, Pipelines, Operations, or even something non-technical. Offshore was the obvious choice though. It seems daunting to have to choose a particular department or group initially, and seems very permanent. It shouldn’t be viewed this way though, you do eventually have to commit to something, but I’m looking at 45 years before I hit my retirement age so I very much doubt I’ll spend perhaps even a fraction of that doing what I’m doing now. Whatever you do, do what you enjoy and give it your all, you won’t be successful otherwise.

Have you worked on any new and exciting projects?

I’ve only been here a few weeks, and mostly been doing training so far. But there are a huge number of interesting projects on the horizon. This is a great time to be an offshore engineer. The industry is ramping up production to cope with growing demand, skills are in short supply and the projects are larger and more exciting than ever before.

Do you have any tips for getting on to internship or graduate programs?

Read the careers section of the websites. Shell publishes the guide on what you need, there are no secret handshakes or systems it’s all purely merit based. But you’ve got to be able to represent yourself effectively. Don’t BS, be honest, but don’t be afraid to make sure your accomplishments are front and centre. Be well rounded, at the end of the day companies are generally interested in hiring people, not technical dictionaries. The Imperial Careers Centre advice is great, pay attention to it. Prepare thoroughly for interviews; work out questions and answers beforehand. Be rounded outside of engineering, delve into politics, energy policy, and economics and make sure you have a global perspective.

What's your favourite way to unwind and take your mind off civil engineering?

It’s difficult to get me to shut-up about engineering. Skiing would be my preferred activity, otherwise running and cycling.

Is there anything at university that you wished you had tried or taken part in?

I wish I’d quit rowing during 2nd year and taken up another sport earlier. Don’t devote yourself to something for too long at university unless you really love it. The most important thing is to come out with a depth of technical knowledge, good friends, a balanced personality, and at least a 2:1.