Max Simmonds - Application Engineer at National Instruments and CERN

My placement year made me a more rounded engineering, developing my social skills and engineering skills, making me more confident when I eventually get a job. It’s given me many opportunities that I would not have had without it, such as travelling to give presentations, publishing articles, and it’s even lead to me winning an industry recognised award. All of this will help me get a job in the future.

Who was your placement with and what was your job title?

 I have completed two placements during my time at Plymouth University. The first was between my second and third year of my degree at a company called National Instruments – this was a year long placement. The second was just recently, during the summer between my third and fourth year at CERN – again as an application engineer.

What attracted you to this placement opportunity?

For National Instruments the attraction was due to the diverse customer base that the company had, allowing me a huge insight into the hundreds of different engineering and scientific companies.

For CERN, the attraction came for many different reasons. I wanted to gain work experience in abroad and life experience living on my own in a foreign country. They are also at the cutting edge of physics and engineering and have developed the world’s most sophisticated man-made instruments. Of course, as a budding engineer, this was a great attraction to me, being able to help with their aim to solve the mysteries of the universe.

How did you go about securing your placement and what was the process for this?

For National Instrument, there were several steps. The first was to upload a CV and cover letter to their website to be reviewed. If this process was successful, they offered you a telephone interview. Again, if you are successful you are asked to complete an online test, which covered a broad range of subjects including Maths, Physics, Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Civil Engineering. If your score was high enough the final stage was to be invited to their UK headquarters for a day. During this day I had two interviews, one technical (where they asked 5 questions that tested your logic, maths and problems solving skills), and one personal interview. We were also asked to give a presentation on a technical subject of our choice. After this, we were then told if we were successful and could work at their company for the year.

CERN was very different in their approach for internships. A CV was uploaded to their website, along with your latest academic transcript. You were also asked to answer many questions relating to your studies, and what experience you had in certain fields. This was then reviewed and if you met the criteria you were told that you were accepted.

Can you describe the various roles and responsibilities of your placement?

I spent 13 months at National Instruments and my job roles were very varied as I wanted to gain as much experience as possible. My main job role was to help customers who used National Instruments’ software and hardware if they ran into any issues. As previously mentioned, the customer base was very broad which meant each scenario was different – one day I could be working with Rolls Royce, the next it’s for a company who monitor the health of the astronauts on the International Space Station. I also spent three months in a different section of the company – technical marketing. This was very different to my job as an applications engineer since I no longer worked with customers. Instead, I published two technical articles in engineering journals (which helped develop my soft skills) and also gave many presentations to customers all over the country. My main job role, however, was to produce and repair demonstrations of the company’s software and hardware.

At CERN, my main job role was to work on a project that was given to me by my supervisor there. Since this was only a two-month placement, it was not as varied as my placement year, but I still learn a great deal since this involved a lot more engineering – allowing me to put into practice what I had learnt at Plymouth. My project was to repair and upgrade a section of the antiproton decelerator.

How did Plymouth University and your lecturers support you both before and during your placement?

Plymouth has helped me a great deal throughout my placements. Firstly, they gave lectures on the whole placement process. They also helped me with my CV making sure it was professional and to a standard that companies require. My lectures were also very supportive, many offered their help during my placements if I was stuck or needed questions answered. They also gave me references and advice.

How did your previous studies enable you to be successful during your placement?

Plymouth's course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering contains a vast amount of practical work, which not only helps to reinforce the theory you learn in class, but also increases your hands-on skills which are a must have for an engineer. Without this hands-on experience and countless electronic projects that I have completed at university, I don’t believe I would have been so successful in obtaining a placement year.

How will your placement help you with the final year of your degree?

Placements teach you a lot of skills you do not learn in lectures, like timekeeping, leadership skills and how to act in a workplace. All these are vital in my final year, since I will be working in a team for our Masters project. This project also needs to have a business aspect to it, which I now understand a lot more due to my two placements.

In terms of your career development so far, what have been the benefits of undertaking this placement?

The main benefits of undertaking a placement year are that it had made me a more rounded engineering, developing my social skills and engineering skills, making me more confident when I eventually get a job. It’s given me many opportunities that I would not have had without it, such as travelling to give presentations, publishing articles, and it’s even lead to me winning an industry recognised award. All of this will help me get a job in the future.

What would you say to a prospective student thinking about undertaking a placement year?

To prospective students, I would really encourage them to undertake a placement year. The opportunities that you receive are plentiful, and there’s less pressure on you as an employee if you’re on placement, which makes seizing these opportunities easier. You’ll meet great people, and be head and shoulder above others who may be trying to go for the same job as you in the future.


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