Anna Young studied Engineering at Cambridge from 2004-2008. She stayed on to do her PhD, then received the Maudslay-Butler Research Fellowship, moving on to a Senior Research Associate role in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Gas Turbine Aerodynamics at the Whittle Laboratory. She is now a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath.
After my PhD, I got the Maudslay-Butler Research Fellowship, which enabled me to stay at the Whittle Laboratory for a further 3 years. I also got some funding to run a large project on improving the reliability of tidal turbines.Anna Young
Tell us about your career path to date.
I did A-levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and History. Between my AS-levels and A-levels I did the EDT's Headstart, which is a week-long taster course for people considering studying Engineering at university. After leaving school, I did the RAEng's Year in Industry Scheme at Southeastern Trains in London.
I studied Engineering at Cambridge from 2004-2008. I did the MEng course, which starts out general but you specialise from the 3rd year, when I took all the fluids/aerodynamics courses I could find. In between 3rd and 4th year I did a summer placement at a small company working on engine exhaust energy recovery. I ended up doing my final year research project in the Whittle Laboratory, studying aero-engine compressor stall. I enjoyed my final year project more than the industrial placements I'd done, because of the opportunity to look more deeply at a problem, and so I stayed on to study the same thing for my PhD, which I finished in 2012. What I enjoyed most about the Whittle Lab was the sense of community. While the academics all run their own research groups, there is a lot of collaboration and sharing of ideas. The Lab runs on tea/coffee, and teatime officially happens at 11am and 4pm every day. This is a good chance for staff and students to talk informally about research (when you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall all morning, it’s often the case that you come to tea and find someone else has a piece of kit or a bit of code that will solve your problem. It's also a good chance to fill up on cake to celebrate/commiserate with someone on their latest prize or broken piece of equipment.)
After my PhD, I got the Maudslay-Butler Research Fellowship, which enabled me to stay on for a further 3 years. I also got some funding to run a large project on improving the reliability of tidal turbines. This might sound like a strange move from aero engines, but the physics involved is the same - aerofoils spinning through a fluid and adding/removing power to a flow. I moved from the Research Fellowship to a Senior Research Associate role in the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Gas Turbine Aerodynamics at the Whittle Laboratory, which was a mix of research and teaching. Through hosting the CDT, the lab has grown a lot and the students really benefit from getting to see research in Oxford, Cambridge and Loughborough during their MRes year, as well as interacting with all four of the industrial sponsors (Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Siemens and Dyson). They have a far more holistic view of the power and propulsion research landscape than previous generations of PhD students and they have grown their own network of future leaders in the field. For me, the CDT job was a great opportunity to develop my own research group and to expand my network too.
I started my current job in May 2019 as a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. I'm involved in various aspects of undergraduate teaching and I run research projects. My work is mainly experimental as opposed to computational; I am currently testing improved tidal turbine blade designs and I have a PhD student working with me to understand the fatigue loading generated on turbines by gusts in the sea. On the teaching side, I'll be teaching first-year fluid mechanics next academic year.
What inspired you into your field?
I've always been interested in how things work and in the practical applications of maths and physics. Initially, I wanted to design cars, and when I said that to the careers adviser at my school, she suggested I consider an engineering degree. I never really considered that engineering was a subject for boys, though I was the only girl in my A-level physics and maths classes. I have two brothers and my parents always gave us each the same opportunities and let us continue with what we enjoyed. My brothers went on to do degrees in languages and philosophy, which might be considered more girly subjects.
What contribution to your field are you most proud of and why?
Over the past six years, I have been using my expertise from aerospace to solve problems faced by the tidal power industry. This different perspective has enabled my team and I to come up with novel solutions. For example, we've used aerospace techniques to develop a new probe for measuring the turbulence at tidal sites that is cheaper and more accurate than the state-of-the-art marine device. We've also shown that the fatigue loading on a turbine can be reduced by using flaps like those found on aircraft wings.
What aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
I enjoy telling stories and enabling people to understand something new. In my job I get to do that when I'm teaching, and when I'm presenting my research.
What do you see as being the next big thing in your field?
In aerospace, there's going to be a lot of disruption from urban air vehicles and new propulsion technologies to meet emissions and noise targets. Tidal power is a very new industry and I'm excited to see the MeyGen project in Scotland going ahead - this will be the first large-scale commercial tidal power farm and should be built over the next 5-10 years.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Do it! Engineering is a great career and there are lots of different options. Try things out, get some work experience, go on some taster courses, get a Raspberry Pi and see what you can make it do. That way, you'll see what you enjoy (and what you don't), and you can set the direction of your career towards things you most enjoy.