EEE student Zoe presents at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research

Third year Electronic and Electrical Engineering student Zoe Benn writes about her experience attending the conference earlier this month at the University of Warwick

Photograph of EEE Undergraduate student Zoe Benn presenting at the Conference
EEE Undergraduate student Zoe Benn presenting at the Conference

At the beginning of April, I attended the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) at the University of Warwick. I am a 3rd year BEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering student at the University of Sheffield, currently I am in my industrial placement year working at BT Group.

I applied to the British Conference of Undergraduate Research and was accepted to do a spoken presentation at the event about research I have been carrying out. Across six weeks last summer, I took part in the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme. The scheme offers scholarships to students wanting to conduct research with academic staff at the University of Sheffield. My area of interest is wireless communications, so I approached world renowned telecoms expert Professor Timothy O’Farrell who accepted my request for him to become my academic supervisor.

My project was titled ‘Modelling the Performance of 5G New Radio Waveforms with Channel Impairments’, which involved using MATLAB to simulate waveforms travelling from transmitter to receiver. Different modulation schemes were applied to the waveforms and performance was measured via error rate graphs, constellation diagrams and the power spectral density. A critical part of developing a radio transmitter for 4G/5G networks is to ensure high linearity to avoid signal distortion and excessive back-off in the power amplifier. The research relates to reducing transmitter power consumption. Since the power amplifier consumes up to 40% of a base station’s power, such research is important for attaining net-zero targets in 4G/5G networks.

I gained invaluable research skills throughout the SURE programme that gave me an insight into what our lecturers and professors get up to behind the scenes! I was inspired by my supervisor's dedication to the subject area of wireless communications research and developed knowledge of modulation schemes from first principles by creating computer based simulation models on MATLAB. I would highly recommend the experience to anyone considering the SURE project. My supervisor, Professor Timothy O'Farrell, actually received a Supervisor of the Year award for his work on the project, which I nominated him for as a result of the way he went above and beyond to support me throughout the scheme. His door was always open, he ensured that I could reach out via email or in person with any questions and got back to me in a timely manner amongst his busy schedule. I have not yet encountered education like I have during the SURE project, and I could not be more grateful to have had this experience.

Photograph of Zoe Benn and Professor Tim O'Farrell taken after their involvement in the SURE scheme - Tim O'Farrell is holding a certificate stating he has won a supervisor of the year award.
Zoe Benn and Professor Tim O'Farrell taken after their involvement in the SURE scheme - Tim O'Farrell is holding a certificate stating he has won a supervisor of the year award.

I arrived in Warwick the night before the two day conference began and checked into the campus accommodation. After leaving my room in search of food, I luckily ran into a group of students from the University of Leeds, who invited me to dinner in the students union.

The first day began with a keynote talk followed by student presentations. The presentation topics varied from medical research to languages and the arts. The quality of presentations and undergraduate research was exceptional and there was not a single presentation that I sat through that I did not find interesting or learn something from. My presentation slot was at the end of the first day. I was nervous as I walked into the room, but I was reassured by the other presenters that it wasn’t going to be as scary as I had anticipated! The theme of the session was sustainability. The first presenter had talked about sustainable HR practices before my turn came around, where I conveyed an overview of my SURE research project talking about 5G and sustainability.

The first day came to an end with a Gala dinner followed by a drink or two and a disco. The event enabled many LinkedIn’s to be exchanged, and the networking resulted in interesting conversations about everyone’s future plans to go into research in their respective subject areas.

The second day involved more student presentations and gave me a chance to walk around the poster presentation hall, during which a project on the future of Artificial Intelligence stood out to me. Once the second day concluded I travelled back to my placement in Bristol.

The paid placement I am currently working on at BT allowed me to self-fund my attendance at the conference, however my SURE research was funded by the University of Sheffield. Undertaking the SURE project set me up perfectly for my year in industry working in telecommunications with BT Group, and for my final year Communications modules. I am now a lot more proficient using MATLAB and writing code – a skill that will benefit me throughout the rest of my degree and into my career. The research skills that I learnt and methods of approaching a research project has prepared me for my dissertation. The technical knowledge from this project has already enabled me to choose a related topic to focus my dissertation on providing me with less to worry about in September!

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