Thomas, a mechanical design engineer, talks about his role at Thorlabs, his experience of the Thorlabs scholarship scheme, and shares some advice for students
Thomas is currently a mechanical design engineer at Thorlabs. He graduated from Cambridge University with an MEng degree in engineering, specialising in mechanical and aero engineering. During his time at university, he took part in the Thorlabs scholarship scheme, which offers summer internships in engineering to 2nd year students and a pathway to a full-time role after graduation.
Thomas, what attracted you to the scholarship scheme at Thorlabs?
I was also promised the chance to contribute to real engineering projects… both the products I worked on in my internships are on sale on the Thorlabs website today!
I’ve always been interested in product design and knew that I wanted to work in mechanical engineering with some exposure to other engineering disciplines too. The type of work at Thorlabs was a perfect fit for my interests.
I found out about the engineering scholarship scheme when looking for an internship at the Cambridge University careers fair. I was initially attracted by the cool range of motion control products on display, but also the generous offer of £9000 per internship!
After speaking to Thorlabs staff, everyone was enthusiastic about their work and very friendly, giving a sense of a good culture at the company. It was clear that students would be well supported during an internship, and I saw this as an opportunity to learn a lot from the employees at Thorlabs.
I was also promised the chance to contribute to real engineering projects, not just simple tasks designed for interns. This promise was indeed fulfilled and both the products I worked on in my internships are on sale on the Thorlabs website today!
The scheme offers an 8-week summer internship in engineering to 2nd year students. Upon successful completion of the internship, students are offered another the following year, and then a graduate role after completing their studies.
Can you describe what your role is and what Thorlabs does?
Thorlabs is a photonics equipment manufacturer with a diverse range of products used in research and industrial applications. We sell just about everything you could need for a photonics lab and are famous for the Lab Snacks included with every order! We have multiple locations across the globe, including an office in Ely (just north of Cambridge) which specialises in precision motion control and vibration isolation products.
As a mechanical design engineer at Thorlabs, I’m responsible for the design of new products at the Ely office. These could range from tiny nano-positioning devices and handheld controllers to room-sized cleanroom enclosures and heavy optical tables. Most of our work is project based, so we’ll be assigned to a particular project and be expected to lead it from initial concepts and prototypes, all the way through to manufacturing and release, working with a multi-disciplinary team along the way. Day to day work includes a mixture of practical and computer-based tasks, with the balance varying depending on the stage of the project. Most of the computer-based work will include CAD and various project management tasks. The practical work is usually building prototypes, testing them, and analysing results.
Aside from being a great way gain real-world engineering experience, it allows you to try out a job for a short period of time, decide if you like it, and get a better idea of which career path to take.
What advice can you give future students looking at their career options?
If you know which industry you want to work in, try to take part in relevant societies or do your own projects in the same field. This will really help you to stand out when applying for internships or jobs, especially if one or more aspects of what you did matches with the skills or responsibilities an employer is looking for.
Come along to the Engineering Careers Fair! This is where I found out about Thorlabs’ engineering scholarship scheme and had the opportunity to meet with Thorlabs’ staff and learn more about the opportunity and culture.
Definitely do an internship if you get the chance. Aside from being a great way gain real-world engineering experience, it allows you to try out a job for a short period of time, decide if you like it, and get a better idea of which career path to take. You generally don’t get to do this once you start working full-time!