When it came to choosing a placement, I knew I wanted one where I could learn more about topics that interested me in university. The placement in RAL Space fascinated me because the type of projects done here matched my interests and offered me a chance to develop my skills in them.
I was given a big project which took the full length of the time I spent at STFC. It was to design a circuit board that would read out an image from a space grade Charged Coupled Device, a device that helps take images by converting light into electric charges. I had to include the newly produced Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which were created by STFC, in my design. ASICs are chips that are custom designed to meet certain requirements.
It was an exciting project to take on as I got to work on innovative technologies in the form of the ASICs and work on something that hasn't been done before. The aim of the project is to create an ASIC based version of traditional camera electronic systems. If my ASIC board design passes the tests and proves that it can read out images, it can pave the way for the ASICs to be used in future projects as the advantages of using ASICs are the flexibility that they offer and the potential to reduce board size for example.
I was able to approach completing such a big placement project by splitting it up into smaller tasks, setting a timeline of when I needed to start and finish these tasks, and by asking my manager a lot of questions!
During the year, I attended a CAD software training course that my manager thought would be important for me to undergo. It was funded by RAL Space as taking this training course would directly benefit them as it would really help me with my project (and it did!).
In my working week, there are always interesting events on that you can attend – as you would expect from the largest science campus in the UK - my favourite being the RAL Talks. These are weekly short talks that showcase the many areas of science and technology that people at STFC are working on or are interested in. I often go to these talks as it is quite interesting to learn about the various projects happening around the site. The talks are followed by a Q&A session, coffee, doughnuts and networking (or going back to work if you're too busy). Many graduates and sandwich students attend these talks so it's also a good way to meet them. During the summer months, there is a Rounders season that involves many teams from around Harwell Campus. I joined my colleague's team from last season called Base Invaders (Space pun is intentional). Although it is competitive, it is great fun to be involved in.
Now that I'm reaching the end of my placement, I can say that my expectations were met. It has taught me industry level skills that I did not get a chance to learn in university and I am now more confident in my abilities as an electronic engineer. For example, I learned various circuit designing techniques which I have applied to my project, I learned how to create a design that makes it easier for others to understand. I can take everything I learned from this year to apply in university and beyond and feel better equipped to handle engineering related challenges in the future.