Abdullah’s Road to a PhD in Mechanical Engineering

We recently talked to Abdullah El-Rifai, one of our brightest alumni in the field of Mechanical Engineering, to see where his journey from BSB has taken him. He is currently in his second year as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, getting ready for a research-orientated career, either in academia or industry.

What university are you attending now? What made you choose your course? Which year are you in?I’m currently a second year PhD student at The University of Edinburgh, collaborating with Trinity College Dublin and Nokia Bell Labs to study nanoscale thermal resistances and their relevance in nanochip cooling. I decided to pursue a doctorate as I thoroughly enjoyed conducting research during my master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Edinburgh and a PhD seemed like a good method to pave the way for a research-orientated career, either in academia or industry.

How is university – what are you enjoying and what are the challenges? I’m really enjoying my postgraduate studies, as I get to delve deeper into the sciences I enjoyed most during my undergraduate degree. This is in direct contrast to my undergraduate studies, where the scope was much broader, albeit shallower. That being said, I wouldn’t have known what I’d have liked to specialise in had I not had the opportunity to gain valuable insight into the various sub-disciplines of Mechanical Engineering throughout my undergraduate studies. I’d say the biggest challenge in my current studies is to do with the ambiguous nature of research: during undergrad’, I knew for a fact that all my assignments, projects and exams had exact, well-defined solutions, so there would be no hesitation on my part when attempting to solve these. However, in my doctorate, months could be spent tracking down an idea that ultimately does not generate any meaningful results.

When did you graduate from BSB? Any particular memories that stand out from your BSB years?I joined BSB in 2014 and graduated in 2016. The two years spent at BSB were made very memorable by the wide variety of extracurricular activities it offers; in my case, these were the afterschool band, the makerspace and participating in the end-of-year School production.

How did BSB help you achieve your goals?BSB played a considerable role in shaping my career goals. Being a part of the engineering design extracurricular, in which we made use of BSB’s makerspace to learn rudimentary machining and assembly processes, sparked my interest in engineering and mechanical systems; so, I would say it is due to BSB that I developed an interest in engineering to begin with. Furthermore, the excellent teaching staff aided me in developing a solid grounding in the fundamental sciences and mathematics that comprise my degree, allowing me to do well in my higher studies. Lastly, BSB’s help in tailoring my CV and bolstering my UCAS application assisted me in receiving admission to my degree of choice, which would have been considerably more difficult without the support systems BSB offers.

Any achievements or contributions that you are really proud of?I’m proud of having received the Best Student Certificate, awarded by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to the best performing graduate in the degree programme.

Is there anything that you want to say to your BSB teachers or any tips to current students relating to academia or life at BSB in general?For current Sixth Form students, I’d say it’s completely alright if you’re unsure of what career you’d like to pursue more exactly. Postgrad’ studies are a good way to breach into industries different to what you might have studied in undergrad’. However, if you follow your intuition based on your favourite A-Levels, and get advice from your teachers at BSB, you’re very likely to end up with a fulfilling career.

 January 2022

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