Mechanical engineering is great because of how practical it can be

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Max Champneys
PhD student
PhD in Mechanical Engineering
Max is a PhD student studying with the IDC in Machining Science, an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training that funds doctoral research to improve the machining of metals, alloys and composites.

His PhD project is exploring machine learning and nonlinear dynamics and aims to develop a framework for conducting modal analysis of nonlinear systems. 

As a former undergraduate at the University of Sheffield too, he tells us more about his time in Sheffield and his experiences of going on to study as a postgraduate.

Can you tell us more about your background and what you studied as an undergraduate?

I studied as an undergraduate here at the University of Sheffield where I undertook a four year MEng in Mechanical Engineering.

Developing ways of making things more efficient has always been something I’ve taken great pleasure from, nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing some aspect of theory being used to solve real-world engineering problems.

Why did you choose the University of Sheffield for your PhD?

I really enjoyed my time as an undergraduate here in Sheffield, the city is a great place to live and work.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering has always inspired me with the world-leading research it produces and so I really wanted to be a part of that. Doing my masters project gave me a taste of how rewarding working in this environment could be and I knew I had to get involved.

The IDC in Machining Science works in partnership with the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

Not only does that offer me a cohort of peers who I can go to for help or unpick problems, but it also gives me access to some of the most advanced equipment in the world. It’s amazing to see projects in the AMRC that will go on to form the basis for next-generation industrial manufacturing.


It is one thing to develop a model or technique that works well in theory, but mechanical engineering gives you the opportunity to go out, collect real world data and see the impact of your work first hand.

Max Champneys

PhD student


What do you particularly enjoy about studying Mechanical Engineering?

Mechanical engineering is great because of how practical it can be.

It is one thing to develop a model or technique that works well in theory, but mechanical engineering gives you the opportunity to go out, collect real-world data and see the impact of your work first hand.

Can you tell us a bit more about your project and what you are working on?

My project is concerned with machine learning and nonlinear dynamics.

Controlling vibration when machining complex high fidelity parts is extremely important. In advanced machining, there are a whole host of problems that make the standard linear analysis of vibration unsuitable. These include sources of harsh nonlinearity such as friction, wear and complex geometries.

The gold standard for the study of structural vibration is modal analysis. Sadly, this technique is only well developed for well behaved linear systems.

My project hope is to develop a framework for conducting modal analysis of nonlinear systems by leveraging recent advancements in machine learning. A successful approach could have wide-ranging impacts in how machining processes are monitored and controlled.


The Department of Mechanical Engineering has always inspired me with the world-leading research it produces and so I really wanted to be a part of that.

Max Champneys


Tell us about being a postgraduate student here. What’s a typical week like for you?

The postgraduate week is what you make of it. My personal preference is to treat the work like a 9-5 job (although there is no one to shout at me if my coffee break is an hour-long!).

As well as the research, I also find time to attend French classes which were offered to me for free by the university as a PhD student. I also play competitive sport at the weekend.

I think that everyone likes to find their own balance with these things. Sometimes the research will be going exceptionally well and you will want to work on exciting new avenues until the middle of the night. Other times you’ll stare blankly at something that isn’t working for hours with no progress and be home by lunchtime.

The real benefit of a postgraduate lifestyle is that there is time and flexibility to incorporate both of these states and everything in between.

What is your favourite thing about Sheffield?

It is impossible to choose just one thing, but if I had to I would have to say Henderson’s Relish.

What are your plans for the future and how do you think your experience at Sheffield will help you in your career?

It’s hard to say what the future holds but I must admit that a career in research is an attractive one. Either at an institution or university, or perhaps a forward-thinking engineering company.

It is easy to see how the skills and knowledge I’ve learned here at Sheffield will be invaluable in helping me achieve this.

Do you have any top tips for anyone considering a PhD?

I would say to go for it!

A great piece of advice I was given was to explore options with Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and Industrial Doctorate Centres (IDCs), as I found the idea of more independent PhD study a little intimidating.

It’s a great option as not only will you get the benefit of a cohort of peers, but the training and development opportunities offered by these Centres are fantastic.

Ultimately, if there is a topic you are passionate about then postgraduate study will be enormously rewarding and won’t feel like work at all.

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