A passion for electronics has led to a career in renewable energy

Alex Duke, Alumnus of EEE
Alex Duke
Specialist Electromagnetic Engineer, Siemens
MEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Alex completed an MEng in Electrical Engineering and continued into a PhD in Electrical Machines and Drives sponsored by Rolls-Royce. He left academia to pursue a career in industry and now works for Siemens Gamesa in their world leading renewable energy sector.

Why did you choose to study at EEE at Sheffield and what did you enjoy about the course?

"I’ve always had an interest in electronics and all things technical from when I was younger ‘helping’ my father fix cars in our garage through to taking apart outdated family cameras and computers.

When given the opportunity to take electronics at A-level I jumped at the chance to continue studying my hobby. This then paved the way for finding a university where I could pursue my interests further.

Along with Electronics A-level I also studied Maths, Physics and Geology.

After attending open days at several universities around the country I eventually decided on Sheffield University. First and foremost, Sheffield University is rated very highly in EEE as well as more generally as an excellent University along with a fantastic student life. Another major bonus for me is the close proximity to the beautiful Peak District National Park which I have been using as an outdoor playground since my arrival in Sheffield. I love the outdoors, in particular hiking and climbing, so Sheffield as the centre for climbing in England is the perfect choice for me!

The EEE lecturers were obviously passionate about their subjects and were always happy to meet up to discuss subject topics further.

Having a large range of modules gives a broad range of knowledge across the whole electrical and electronic subject, but then it is in your hands to specialise in the areas which you find most interesting. So the direction of your knowledge is very much in your hands.

I particularly enjoyed the large range of labs and individual and group projects throughout the course. The new students are particularly lucky to be able to use the fantastic facilities of the world class diamond building.

Finally, I enjoyed the diverse range of students from all around the world to work with and learn about the many different cultures."

What has been your career path from completing your PhD to Siemens Gamesa and what areas do you enjoy most about your job?

"After a summer internship (between my 3rd and 4th years) in the Rolls-Royce office I was then offered a PhD in Electrical Machines and Drives in the same office on completion of my MEng.

This satisfied my taste for further research which I gained from my initial foray into the world of research during my summer internship.

After completing my PhD I wanted to continue further down the path of research, so I took up a Post-Doctoral research post at the University for a Chinese high speed rail company. During this posting I was designing the electromagnetic, thermal and mechanical aspects of traction motors to be used in the next generation of high-speed trains.

Research has a lot of advantages in terms of being on the sharp edge of research in your particular field, as well as often a more relaxed atmosphere. However, after a year in this post I decided that I wanted to move in to an industrial role. The one thing that was missing for me in academia was the product design cycle, i.e. following a product through from the drawing board, through to testing and finally being sold to the customer.

During my undergraduate I really struggled getting my head around coding and how this would be useful in the real world. But now I write, develop and use scripts everyday and in fact my job would be nearly impossible without them. Also, during the individual and group projects in my undergraduate degree we were told to record everything in log books. I still write in a log book everyday now and it can be incredibly important if there are ever any intellectual property disputes….as well as remembering what was discussed in the many meetings we have!

One of my favourite parts of my job is working with a range of engineers from countless backgrounds as well as knowing that my work in renewable energy is helping the planet."

What advice would you give to students studying or considering studying EEE?

"EEE gives a solid grounding and overview of all aspects of Electrical and Electronic engineering, with the advantage of then beginning to specialise in your field of interest. Getting a solid base across all aspects of EEE certainly helps in your future career, as even if you specialise in a certain discipline you will certainly always come into contact with other areas of the wider EEE landscape. For example I specialised in electrical machines but I come into contact with control, power systems and power electronics colleagues on almost a daily basis and to understand even the top level of their technical issues is incredibly useful.

I would recommend also getting to know your tutors, supervisors and lecturers well as they are here to help and advise you throughout your undergraduate. The University staff will also help you in to where to look for internships during your course and graduate positions after your course.

The Global Engineering Challenge in your 1st year of study is a unique opportunity to work in inter-disciplinary engineering teams to solve real world problems. After you complete your degree you will work with engineers from all backgrounds on a daily basis, so being able to try this in your undergraduate degree is an extremely useful insight.

During your study I would suggest joining the IET and IEEE (both offer student discounts) as these will expand your knowledge as well as provide opportunities to attend seminars, lectures and conferences. These will provide plenty of discussion points for future interviews with prospective employers.

Along with your studies I very much recommend pursuing your non-academic interests while at university, for example joining a club, society and/or student board. These really show an ability to work as a team and show that you have a wider soft skill set rather than just the hard skills of knowledge gained from your course."

What do you feel is the role of EEE in the future?

"EEE is very much at the forefront of technology and will be for many years to come. As an example close to my interests within renewable energy, it is up to the future EEE engineers to increase the efficiency of wind power generators, power electronics and photo-voltaic cells. With tight UN and country-specific renewable targets this research will be critical for the future health of the planet."

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