Department of Materials


24 Jan 2019

Materials Student on Placement in Switzerland

Dean Wheeldon Swiss x 670

Materials students have the opportunity to apply for and go on placements in their third or fourth year at Loughborough University and we have been catching up with a few of them to find out what they are getting up to.

MEng Materials Engineering student, Dean Wheeldon, is currently on placement in Switzerland - A place I am sure we would all like to spend a little time!

We asked Dean how he was getting on.....

Q: Where and what are you doing on your placement?

"I'm an intern at Empa, a materials research organisation in Switzerland. My role is to assist in the work of my supervisors in the field of body monitoring and textiles, which so far has been largely divided across three projects. It's varied and eventful; a week might be spent on characterising chemical changes in a batch of samples or helping to figure out why a new experimental technique isn't performing as expected, only then to have focus shift to work related to standardisation activities, liaising with other laboratories, or representing the organisation as I present findings to representatives of other groups. As the intern it's very much hands-on learning, but you're rewarded for taking a proactive approach and asking 'why?' when you encounter something new.

Q: How did you find the placement?

A: It actually feels as though it found me. An advert circulated in our department for an opportunity that sounded absolutely perfect, and being the very imperfect being I am, figured I had little chance but gave it a go anyway. To my surprise, events quickly developed and not long after there was a nerve-wracking Skype interview, followed by a nerve-wracking opening of their email to find if their verdict was that I was so terrible that they'd somehow figured out a way to knock me back down to second year. Luckily, that wasn't the case, and soon I was having to find out if the dress code called for Lederhosen.

Dean Wheeldon Swiss x 300

Q: What extra opportunities have you gained from doing the placement, outside of the placement itself?

A: I'm in accommodation with other students at Empa so it's a very familiar and friendly social atmosphere, where with most weekends you'll usually find there's something to get involved with or to find others to join one of your own plans for food, entertainment, or simply going for a walk.

The outdoors are incredible and the hiking is glorious. It's so far taken me and my friends across the country to climb mountains and walk through beautiful terrain, with the chance to see more of Swiss life & culture along the way; raclette is a wonderful event, and for all our British cheeses we're really missing out in the UK. I've even brought a tent with me for when the snow melts. No, I'm not kidding.

Before then the goal this season is learning to ski, so I'm looking forward to trying to wobble down my first slope and the bonus chance to get first-hand experience Swiss medical care for the inevitable aftermath.

Language is a day-to-day consideration and it's been a treat to be in a foreign country whilst trying to learn another language, though I'm fortunate in that English is the workplace language and most of the public have some background in it. Still, it's been fulfilling to progress from having to manually translate every sign or instruction, to interpreting meanings, catching segments of conversations, and just being able to get a haircut without too much trouble. 

Q: How will this help you in your future career?

A: Interpersonally I'm more likely to temper respect with more willingness to stand my ground when discussing a point to a colleague - particularly a supervisor or manager – as I've come to learn you are there to inform as much as simply do an assigned task. There is weight behind your decisions and much of what you do should have purpose to furthering a goal or reaching for a milestone you likely set for yourself, and additionally learning proper time management to govern yourself means more than being able to wake up on time and arrive when you're supposed to. No small amount can be said about the social impact of taking this placement, which has honestly been better than I could have ever previously imagined.

In a technical sense, I'm hoping to bring back practical knowledge for interesting and novel techniques for investigation & characterisation, and a mindset which benefited me in learning their application and operation. There has been opportunity to learn new topics and the encouragement to remain aware and knowledgeable of why I'm doing work is something that will benefit me in whatever field I choose to work in the future

I'm also certainly more open to working abroad come graduation and I intend to continue with my language studies, even if work does not take advantage of it."


We thank Dean for sharing his experience with us - and yes, we are a tiny bit jealous... We hope that Dean is looking forward to coming back to Loughborough and applying all of the knowledge he has gained during his year in industry and we are also looking forward to the Swiss chocolate he might be bringing back....

For more information on becoming a Materials student, please visit our webpages here