Spotlight On … Clare Sibley

Clare at work at MercedesFor the latest in our ‘Spotlight On’ series, 2005 leaver Clare Sibley told us recently of her memories of her time at Withington, how the skills she developed at School left her more than able to hold her own in the ‘man’s world’ of Formula One Engineering, and how she “followed her heart” to realise her dream of becoming an engineer for Mercedes.

“Joining Withington as a Third Former was fun and exciting and I loved doing the house plays. I will also always remember life after the fire just as we moved into the Lower Sixth, eating packed lunches every day for a term made by the kitchen team for the whole school. There were so many chances to get involved in extra- curricular activities at School too, no matter what your interests. Most people will think I’m strange but I always loved Maths and of course Chemistry, but I loved Art too! I enjoyed the fact that at Withington the corridors were adorned with artwork from pupils and I always hoped that something of mine might make it up onto the wall!

“After leaving Withington in 2005, I studied Natural Sciences at Jesus College, Cambridge. The course was great as it meant I didn’t have to specialise in one field of science straight away, I spent two years studying mainly Materials and Chemistry before specialising in Materials Science for my final two years. I found this topic the most interesting as it encompasses what I really like about science; it incorporates elements of applied physics and chemistry with a close link to engineering, and it teaches you how things work and why things behave as they do on a macroscopic level whilst avoiding too much of the microscopic theoretical stuff, which I never enjoyed.

“During university I spent a number of summers working at Summer Camp in America; although it was slightly daunting at first going on my own, it was a great experience and lots of fun. I now have lots of friends over there and make regular trips back to visit. In my final year at Cambridge I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do afterwards so I decided to take a year off. After graduating I moved home and took on a couple of part time jobs along with tutoring a few students taking GSCE and A level science. I really enjoyed the tutoring, especially the mentoring aspect of working 1-to-1 with someone and helping them understand what they are learning; I do miss it and hopefully I may be able to do more in the future. My time spent tutoring inspired me to make sure that I try to get involved with encouraging girls especially into science and engineering.

“Finding a full time job was hard, the current economic climate made things tricky and I still wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do. To help me decide, I came up with a list of criteria; I knew I wanted to do something related to my degree as it felt like a waste to not use some of what I had learnt and I loved my subject, I also wanted to be able to work on a variety of projects, and preferably I wanted to join a graduate scheme where I would be able to rotate through different functions of an organisation within the first few years.

“As a result, I joined the Engineering Graduate Scheme at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (formerly Mercedes Benz HPE) in September 2010. The company is based in Brixworth, Northamptonshire and designs, manufactures and builds the Formula 1 engines and KERS systems for the Mercedes AMG, McLaren and Force India cars. Initially, I was placed in the Materials department but the scheme involves rotating through other disciplines with engineering and operations for three month placements, which is a great way to learn how the whole business works.

“I have now returned to the Materials department, where my job entails a combination of failure analysis to determine why parts may have broken during testing, materials selection and research and development projects into new materials, coatings and processes etc. The work I do is very varied and fast paced, which is just what I wanted, things you are working on one week could be in an engine for the next race weekend. It is also really interesting; I get to use what I learnt at university, while learning new things everyday too.

“I don’t think I ever thought I’d end up doing something quite so closely related to my degree course as I am now, but I’m very glad I do as I love it. Mercedes is a really exciting place to work as there are always new challenges, especially at the moment with the introduction of a new engine in 2014. There’s a great team aspect here and they trust you with responsibility right from the beginning, it’s daunting but my time at Withington means I have never been scared of hard work and a new challenge!

“I thoroughly enjoyed my years at Withington and I liked how it always remained small, so that we were all known as individuals, instead of anyone blending into the background. I think Withington is a great place to grow up and learn: it taught me how to be independent, believe in myself and gave me the determination to achieve. It was nice not to be labelled for wanting to work hard and enjoy learning as everyone was the same, and I don’t think I would be able to hold my own in such a male-dominated environment without some of the skills that were instilled in me at Withington. I feel very lucky to have had such support and encouragement around me, and to have had the opportunities I have had.

“It’s hard to choose my favourite teacher as so many supported and encouraged me through the years, but Mrs Farrell and Mrs Ferrol really stand out. Mrs Farrell taught me Chemistry and can probably be credited with helping me get to where I am today, as it was through her teaching that I developed a real interest in science and in understanding how things work. She was always encouraging and spent her own personal time teaching us Chemistry beyond the A level syllabus. Playing hockey has always been a big part of my life and Mrs Ferrol was always there to help develop confidence and team work, I went on to play for Cambridge and become President of the university club in my final year of study.

“My advice for fellow Alumnae and current pupils would be not to be embarrassed about loving learning or asking questions! I freely admit that I’m a geek at heart and I will always love understanding how things work, but I wouldn’t have got where I am without asking when I didn’t understand something. Make sure to play hard too – there is definitely more to life than work and it’s important to have a balance. Do things for you and have your own interests, grades are important but so are those other things you have to offer which you can’t learn from a book

“Finally, follow your heart and do what you want to do. It might not be the easiest path or exactly what everyone else does but you have to do what makes you happy. Whether it be a trip you want to make, or the career path you choose, don’t be scared to challenge convention. My university friends all graduated a year before me and moved to London to work in the city, I would have loved to have followed them and to have the city life but the jobs I was looking for don’t really exist in the centre of London. I could have compromised on a career for location but I’m so glad I didn’t, I don’t think I would have loved something else as much and I am proud to be an engineer.”

17th January 2012