Name: Alex Cutler
Degree & university: Final year of an Automotive Enginering degree at Oxford Brooks University.
Gap year: After two years of his degree Alex took a gap year to work for BP in its Global Fuels Technology Division, where he worked on a project called The Green Driving Test. Alex is now back at university completing his final year at university.
Why did you decide to do a gap year?
There were several reasons really: to get experience in a job relevant to my degree, and I really wanted to apply what I was learning to a real world situation, having not had an engineering job before. It was something I really wanted to do, apply something that I finally hoped to use. It also broke up my time at university quite nicely; having been at uni for two years, I was out for a year before coming back for my final year and it made for a refreshing change. Financially, a gap year really provide enough money to live on – or maybe just to live on but not much more, but the money wasn’t the biggest thing, the experience was what I wanted and the possibility that experience could advance my career opportunities. At my university I’d say one third of students do a gap year placement, which will give us an advantage over those who do not.
What did you do?
I worked for BP Global Fuels Technology and the project was called the Green Driving Test. I was in on the project from the basic concept, which was to challenge journalists to drive round a test track using as little petrol as possible, which means you have to be less aggressive and a smoother driver, planning what’s approaching and your response to it. These techniques minimize fuel consumption. The course was at Millbrook and I designed it to contain conditions you would find in a city, on a motorway and also on an alpine country road. I got a huge amount out of it because I worked on it from the beginning of the project in January 2007 through to its completion in June 2007. It was really great experience as I was basically in charge of the technical side of things, from designing the system through to measuring the fuel consumption second by second. We had a professional driver do a test lap that became the benchmark and we compared the journalists’ laps against his. That was very interesting as most of the journalists used 30 per cent more fuel than the professional driver.
What did you get out of it?
I got to meet a lot of people who have been in engineering for many years and dipping into their experience and expertise was invaluable. I also think it helped me go through the learning process more quickly. Also meeting all the journalists face to face (I sat in the back of the car while they did their tests) and talking them through their tests because it really helped my communication skills. The whole process also showed me the importance of team work. I don’t see thr next point as a downside, just as something I learned and that was about my influencing ability. Influencing people can be difficult when you are a gap year student because there are all these other people at higher levels than you whose projects are higher priority and I had to learn it is difficult to influence these people because you are the new boy. It takes time for people to assess your abilities but once you’ve got their respect it becomes easier, and you become more part of the team over time.
Any advice or tips?
If you can get a high quality placement it is invaluable. It gives you an experience you can never get academically. Working on placement you are in the real world with real people doing things that can make a difference. Even if you don’t like it you get the knowledge of what you don’t want to do in the real world. As far as I’m concerned there are no downsides! I now very much want to work with BP when I graduate. I was assessed throughout my gap year and had an overall assessment at the end and I have beenoffered a place [dependent on his degree results]. Now I feel I want to go on to thenext stage of my career.