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Annabel Jefferies

Interview with McLaren Automotive graduate engineer, Annabel Jefferies

As part of #McLarenSkills Week, we speak to graduate vehicle development engineer, Annabel Jefferies, to find out how she made it onto the McLaren Automotive graduate scheme, and her favourite things about working as an engineer.

How long have you been in your role?

I have been in my current role at McLaren since August this year, but back in 2012/2013, I completed my university sandwich placement here at McLaren Automotive.

Talk us through a ‘day in the life’ of Annabel Jefferies.

Vehicle Development runs the fleet of development cars, and its job is to deliver the test plan for a programme from the beginning of development, all the way through to production. On a day-to-day basis, my job involves liaising with the workshop, and both Function and Attribute groups, to ensure that a car is fully prepared to conduct the necessary testing, then carry it out as required. I am currently working on a brand new project, called the ‘McLaren Sports Series’, which is top secret at the moment!

Have you had any other roles in your time at MAL? If so, what?

As I mentioned, I completed an undergraduate year with McLaren between my third and fourth years at university. During that time, I spent a year within the NVH (noise vibration and harshness) department, where I worked on the McLaren 12C Spider in its late pre-production development, followed by the 650S, before joining Vehicle Development to work on the proof of concept stage of the Sports Series (codenamed ‘P13’), for a further three months. 

What did you study at school and university?

I chose a fairly classic, broad set of GCSEs, before taking maths, further maths, chemistry and physics at A-level. This enabled me to gain a place at Oxford Brookes University to read Motorsport Engineering.

What made you want to choose these subjects as your specialist field of study?

I chose these subjects with the specific aim of gaining a place at university to study engineering. Further maths would definitely not have been my first choice of subject(!) but I knew it would give me the best chance of getting where I wanted to go, and that was the most important thing.

How did you secure a place on the McLaren graduate scheme?

I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the graduate scheme just before I returned to university for my final year, as a result of my work during my undergraduate placement year.

What made you consider a career in engineering?

I come from a fairly car orientated family, and my Dad studied engineering at university so it was always quite a visible career option. I had watched motor racing, Formula 1 in particular, from a very young age, and although it took me a while to appreciate it, by the age of 14 I was inspired enough to know that I wanted to make a career out of working with cars.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their career in the engineering industry?

Gain as much experience as you can. Take any work experience you can get, get any practical experience available to you – I started helping out with a BriSCA F2 stock car and learnt to weld. Also, at university, take a sandwich year if you can – what you learn is invaluable!

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I enjoy it most when I get to be hands on with the cars, carrying out testing or trialling potential solutions, even very rough ones. I like the unpredictable nature of working with prototype vehicles - things do not always work or fit together perfectly first time and helping to solve these issues to ultimately improve the car is very satisfying.

What makes engineering so unique as a career choice, from your point of view?

There are simply so many different sectors and disciplines to choose between!

What can we do to encourage more people into engineering careers?

I think if the breadth of areas within engineering could be made clearer from an earlier point, more people may be encouraged into the sector. Even at university, the wide variety of careers available is not necessarily clear. It took my placement year to open my eyes to quite how different roles even within the same sector can be, let alone across all forms of engineering.

What do you think are the skills or qualities (not just qualifications) that you need in order to become a successful engineer?

Communication is an important part of an engineer’s job, along with good problem solving abilities, and not always just of a technical nature. I think determination and drive are also vital skills – it is often difficult and hard work to get where you know you want to be!  

What has been the highlight of your job so far?

The highlight of my career so far would probably be being part of the team that worked at the press launch of the 12C Spider at the Ascari Race Resort in Spain. I was working in NVH, and our job was to assess each vehicle and ensure it was meeting our high standards. It was hard work, but reading the reviews of the cars afterwards? Definitely worth it!

Where do you see your engineering career in five years’ time?

In five years’ time I would like to be a confident and proficient development engineer with a thorough grounding of the numerous systems on the cars, making a valid contribution to a future project and the company.