Raw Experience – Becca
“I hadn’t lost interest in engineering but I lost all, sort of… respect for it I guess. Because whilst beer and trifles are good things in and of themselves you get very fed up very quickly of people taking them so seriously… Whereas of course renewable energy is… is deep blue hero stuff! You actually get to save the world whilst doing something interesting with spanners. That is the difference for me, it gives me the chance to do something that I find fulfilling and meaningful.”
Becca graduated from the Renewable Energy and the Built Environment masters course at CAT a couple of years ago. On a recent visit back to talk to current students about her projects we caught up with her to talk about her experience of studying at CAT. Here she talks openly about the difference it made to her:
I originally studies mechanical engineering at Salford University a long time ago. I had a couple of summer jobs doing building services and then I spent 4 years working in process engineering – mostly dairies and breweries. I got fed up of that, left engineering all together and then spent several years doing a random selection of things.
In 2007 I found myself at a bit of a crossroads and I applied to be on the volunteer programme at CAT with the engineering department – and got in. So I spent 6 months doing that. At the end of that I thought “you know what, actually I would like to be back in engineering again and this is something I could feel passionate about”.
I put a CV out on a job site and one of the job agencies came back to me and said “how would you feel about doing some more studying – one of the companies is quite interested in you but you have been out of engineering a long time”. And I said “Yeah – I’d take their hand off” and then I thought god, I actually meant that.
And the REBE course was just starting up at CAT then so I came into the department and had a chat with them. I started a couple of weeks later.
I hadn’t lost an interest in engineering but I lost all, sort of, respect for it I guess. Because whilst beer and trifles are good things in and of themselves you get very fed up very quickly of people taking them so seriously. You think ‘well really, the sun will still come up on Monday if M+S don’t get their Ski yoghurt on time’. I just couldn’t really care about it as much as the people who are working on that need you to care about it. Whereas of course renewable energy is… is deep blue hero stuff! You actually get to save the world whilst doing something interesting with spanners. That is the difference for me, it gives me the chance to do something that I find fulfilling and meaningful.
I started work a couple of weeks after I did my first module, with another building services firm. That was based partly on my summer at CAT and partly on the summer job in building services I had years ago. That was a very steep learning curve. They had some really good environmental aspirations and had done some really good work on low energy building for a lot of years. We were bought out by a multinational then merged with another company…
Since I graduated I moved into the climate change and renewables team. So I’m still doing some buildings energy, using my existing knowledge on that, but I’m getting to do more specific renewable energy and also carbon management programmes. I’ve been involved in BREEAM looking at the more big picture sustainability stuff looking at things from every angle”.
The course is incredibly intense. You turn up on a Tuesday evening and from then until Sunday afternoon you are sleeping, eating, breating, living that particular module.
The people who came on the course – it is partly that the course inspires people to great things but also that some really interesting individuals are drawn to CAT anyway and and I learned just as much from the people I was studying with as the lecturing staff – who were also brilliant. I’ve stayed friends with a number of them and I’ve got a really good network through that.
They were just putting up the rammed earth walls for the WISE lecture theatre when I was volunteering – running practice trial with endless different variations in the woodchip barn – different amounts of water and techniques for tamping it down – taking the mould off an seeing it crumble into the ground. So it’s really exciting to see it finally up and operational.
The first lecture I had in here was when I did the science symposium last summer and presented my thesis. For my thesis I was looking into bacteriological levels in domestic hot water cylinders that are twinned up with solar thermal. Basically trying to investigate whether the addition of low grade heat means that you are running the risk of increasing your bacterial levels, specifically Legionella because that is the big one.
I would like to do more on district energy and not just looking at it at a building scale but at a district and community level. I think that is where you can have projects that are technically viable but small enough that they can be approved by one council, built by one developer, funded by one backer. And local enough that you can hopefully get some sort of community ownership or engagement with it.
Keep a look out on the CAT blog for more raw experience student stories over the next few weeks.