Cigdem – YINI student
Cigdem developed a number of cost saving projects at a polypropylene plant during her Year in Industry (YINI) placement at LyondellBasell in 2010. Cigdem overcame multiple engineering challenges to produce designs for modifications to fuel gas, steam, water and nitrogen systems across the plant. Cigdem made such a large contribution to the company that she was shortlisted for the YINI National Contribution to the Business Awards 2010. Cigdem answers our questions below.
Which post-16 qualifications did you study?
I studied Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English for my AS Levels in Cyprus and then applied to do a Foundation Degree Course (preliminary year) at the City of Bath College, where I studied Chemistry, Mathematics and English. I then applied to do Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath.
How did your education help you on your YINI placement?
I studied for 3 years at university prior to my placement which meant that I already had some technical knowledge as I had completed several design and research projects throughout my degree. During my time at university, all of the projects and unit modules were based on core chemical engineering and my job as a process engineer involved a lot of core applications such as mass and energy balances, sizing equipment and process optimization. I am certain that my placement will have a bigger positive impact on my final year as it has enhanced my theoretical skills and given me a real insight into the industrial world with both its positive and negative sides.
What motivated you to apply for a placement?
I applied to do a placement because I wanted to enhance the skills that I learnt at university and gain a view into the industry. Additionally I thought it would be good to take a year out to learn and develop new skills, understand how a manufacturing site operates as a whole, and basically broaden my mind by seeing the opportunities within my sector and for networking.
It is a hard world we are living in now. Many more people go to university and then go on to study for a Masters degree and I believe that having one year of additional training in industry is a great way to boost your CV.
I applied for Process Engineering jobs thinking the work I would do would benefit me in my final year product and process design project.
What did your typical day whilst on your placement involve?
Each month I would have a meeting with my manager and he would appoint me to 3-4 projects. He would provide me with some information and the outcome expected. From there, for the whole month I would typically read around the processes according to the job and try to understand what needed to be done. I would collect data, evaluate it and then develop a design proposal including technical and economical justification. Following agreement with my manager, I would then develop process instructions including the design calculations and set actions to be implemented. This was my general routine. I used to try and concentrate on one project per week and then move on to the next one the following week.
And off course there were times when I poured myself and my colleagues a cup of coffee and enjoyed short afternoon chats!
What were you most proud of during your placement?
The last day of work where I gave my final presentation on the work I had completed was my proudest day. Many people didn’t realise how much I had done and contributed to the company. My manager gave a speech to everyone saying that I was the most successful placement student he had ever supervised and that the projects I was involved with were equivalent, even better than what a new graduate would do. Just knowing that I had tried and delivered my best makes me proud.
What was the best and worst thing about the experience?
The worst experience throughout the year was the Polyethylene plant closure. The closure was announced in September 2009 and the people staying and/or leaving wasn’t announced till December. It was very stressful at times as no one, including myself, was sure if our positions would remain or not. It was very hard to see people leaving their jobs and the personal factors raised from the closure did affect me as I had very good relations with some of the people who had to leave.
The best thing I could say is that till December I was not given major cost saving projects to deal with. After the Polyethylene plant closure the new business objective was introduced: To cut the operating cost for viable standalone Polypropylene operation. So I was given the opportunity to take ownership of very challenging cost saving projects that enabled me to win a National Reward.
Did your experiences whilst on your placement change your career ambitions?
Yes, in a positive way though. It gave me confidence and it made me realise that I am actually good at what I do. I am not going to lie, I was initially unsure if I would enjoy working in industry. I always thought I would go into research by undertaking a PhD and then become a lecturer/researcher in a university. However I loved every single minute of my placement and I am now certain that I would want to work in industry after I graduate for the time being. Maybe a PhD later? Why not!
Why did you choose to study a chemical engineering degree?
I have always been good at and enjoyed Chemistry and Maths so I found a course that incorporated both of these subjects. Chemical Engineering is such a diverse course that once you graduate you could work in any manufacturing firm such as oil, gas, food, chemicals, equipment’s, energy, cars, pharmaceuticals etc. Additionally, during my studies I developed my management, social and organisational skills giving me a world of options for employment areas after graduation.
What skills will you take from your placement into your future career?
Working in a team and ownership of my process designs enabled me to apply and strengthen my academic knowledge and enhance skills in research, process design and understand project management. The Year in Industry training course was also extremely beneficial as we were trained in the areas of Process Improvement, Project Management, Leadership and Team Development.
If you could pass on some advice to future students who are given similar opportunities for work placements what would you say to them?
Learn as much as you can from it. Don’t be stuck on your chair doing routine jobs, go outside your office and ask for more work in addition to your profession to get a broader understanding of how the business operates as a whole. During my placement I asked to work in other departments such as Finance, Health, Safety and Environment, Logistics and Customer Services which apart from developing new skills, it provided me with the insight of the importance of team work for a successful sustainable business. One last thing, enjoy it!
What did you dream of doing when you were growing up and how has that changed?
When I was a child I always dreamed of being a musical performer. I took dancing, singing and acting lessons. However when I reached 15, I started to be fascinated with science so I knew from there that I would study something related to science. The thought of being an Engineer occurred to me whilst I was in England for my foundation year.
If you had to describe yourself in 3 words what would they be?
Ambitious, Perfectionist, Optimist.
What do you like to do in your free time when you are not working or studying?
I am a member of the dance and musical society in University where I carry on with my dance, singing and acting lessons. I took up a language class during my Placement and learnt Arabic. Now I am overly busy with my Final year so I try to fit fitness training and running into my schedule to keep active.
And finally…looking back over the choices you have made and the opportunities that have been available to you so far regarding your education, would you have done anything differently?
No, I am very happy with where I am now. I am just working extremely hard to keep it this way.
For more information on the Year in Industry scheme, please click here.