Thursday, 26 September 2019

International Quant Championships - report by chemistry student Matt Markham

Matt Markham, now in his 3rd year of a Chemistry degree here at Edinburgh decided to do something a bit different recently and entered a "Quant" competition. He didn't expect to get very far but ended up coming 2nd in the whole of the UK. A great example of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and trying things out for size. You might want to think about doing something different too-  after all, what's the worst that could happen?

  • How did you hear about the International Quant Championships competition? My flatmate is a computer science student and he showed me an email he had received -  It was a circular inviting students to take part in the 2019 International Quant Championship (IQC), organised by WorldQuant, a hedge fund which specialises in quantitative trading. I decided to give it a go!
  • What is Quantitaive Trading? Quantitative trading is buying and selling of securities based on computer pricing models. The competition involved making, testing and submitting these models. Higher scores were awarded to ones that made more money, were consistent in their returns and traded with a lower frequency. The competition ran through exam season, ending just before my final exam.
  • Was the competition time-consuming in the first instance? It seemed an interesting opportunity and so for the next few weeks I made algorithms, fitting the time in where I could in the evenings alongside revision for my second-year exams. It was only an hour here and an hour there initially but previous experience in similar areas allowed me to quickly become familiar with the platform. I’d previously used Quantopian a bit, a platform for creating trading algorithms using the Python programming language and had some other experience recreationally using Python.
  • Were you expecting success? I ended up focusing more on the exams and the competition was at the back of my mind as the first stage came to a close, I assumed I hadn’t made it through, having only joined halfway through the competition. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I got an email through congratulating me on making it through to the second round. If I remember rightly it was about the top 200 or so teams from the UK had made it through to the second stage. This time I decided to really give it some effort.
  • How did you prepare for the next stage? I picked up a book - The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, and crawled through investing pages on Wikipedia and Investopedia  as well as using WorldQuant’s own learning resources to improve my knowledge base. For the next month or so, I committed to producing as many alphas as I could. Working a full-time job and using their platform, Websim, in the evenings. I slowly saw my score improve and I crawled my way up the leader board. When the out of sample testing had come through in the following weeks, I had moved through to sixth place on the U.K. leaderboard.
  • What happened at the Final? The next challenge was to present three of my algorithm ideas to WorldQuant executives at the national final, held at the Lansdowne club in London. It was held on a Wednesday, which fell in the middle of a weeklong family holiday in France. With some apologies to my parents, I booked a set of return flights to London and put together some slides both before and during the holiday. The final was exciting, but I was quietly confident. I figured that most teams would get bogged down in the technicalities of the code they had written and that instead I should be focusing on the broader ideas which had inspired each algorithm. I had 3 slides, one for each algorithm. Each with a chart and almost no text to avoid the age-old trap of reading from the slides.The judges seemed to be impressed, and I was awarded second place.
  • How did chemistry help? I think being a chemistry student helped me during the development process. The goal was to create algorithms that were unique in their approach and the first two years of my degree had provided me with analytical ability but allowed for a fresh perspective when thinking of original ideas for algorithms.Quantitative finance seems a natural fit to people working within chemistry. The degree focuses heavily on data analysis and this translates well to looking at pricing and stock data, as well as cultivating the manner of thinking required.
  • What were the other contestants like?  Most were economic students (some who now work at investment banks), as well as computer science, but also including a surprisingly high proportion of chemistry students.
  • What next? There’ll be an IQC 2020. WorldQuant plans to advertise directly to chemistry students this time and it would be great to see more participants from Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Chartership for Chemical Engineers

A common question of student engineers:

What's Chartership and is it worth getting? 

What is a chartered engineer? CEng (Chartered Engineers) develop solutions to engineering problems using new or existing technologies, through innovation, creativity and change and/or they may have technical accountability for complex systems with significant levels of risk. Chartership is seen as a worldwide benchmark of the expertise of an engineer, making you a desirable employee, and usually attracting an enhanced salary compared to non-chartered engineers

The first step to becoming professionally registered as a CEng (or EngTech, IEng, ICTTech) with the Engineering Council is applying for membership of one of the 36 licensed professional engineering institutions (eg IChemE). The institution will act as the awarding body for your registration. When choosing which institution to contact it is best to join one closest to the discipline of engineering you work in – so for chemical engineers it's probably IChemE as they will be best placed to assess your competence for professional registration.  If you find that there are two or three suitable institutions (maybe the Energy Institute, or the Nuclear Institute), you might wish to join more than one, or contact all those suitable to choose which best meets your needs. The  assessment standards for Chartered Member of the IChemE also satisfy the requirements for CEng. This means that you can apply for CEng registration and Chartered Member (MIChemE) via a single application.

Your accredited Edinburgh MEng will qualify you for the first part (academic) of your Chartership application. This is called Learning to Masters Level. The second part is achieved in the workplace, where you will officially record your professional skills and experience developed over (on average) 2-4 years with the company.  If your company is accredited by the IChemE for its graduate training schemes (called ACTS -, it makes it a bit easier for you to provide evidence when you submit your assessment; you usually get assigned a mentor who has experience in this. If you are working in a non-ACTS company with no mentor, then the IChemE (or other institution) can usually offer one.  

If you have a BEng, there are other methods of achieving the Learning to Masters level required for Chartership. These include: 
  • completing an accredited MSc or engineering doctorate (EngD) before starting work
  • taking the Engineering Council’s MSc in professional engineering, currently offered through seven universities, designed to be studied while in employment:
  • submitting an enhanced technical report, based on engineering experience, further learning in the workplace and demonstrating an understanding of engineering principles.
If you feel unsure about your academic eligibility, contact the relevant institution for your discipline. A list of all 36 licensed professional engineering institutions and contacts is available on the Engineering Council website.

The Engineering Council breaks the process of Chartership into stages:

Careers Service Presentations 2019-2020

Here are the Powerpoint slides of Careers talks from this year so far:


PhD Induction (4th September 2019)

Intro to Careers Service - Early Years  September 2019

Intro to Careers Service - Later Years September 2019

Work experience/Industrial Placements and Applications (16th September 2019) (Years3-5 + PGT)

Interviews (23rd September 2019) (Years 3-5 + PGT)

Your Options with a Chemistry degree 30/10/19 by collaborate

Careers & Alumni Evening Chemistry 1 & 2 (14/11/19) 

Chemical Engineering

CV exchange workshop (13th September 2019) (ChemEng 4)

Reviewing your Options MSc ACE September 2019

What do Chemical Engineers do? How to get ahead (Years 1 and 2) TBC

Final Year Chemical Engineers - Your Options with Chemical Engineering  6th Nov 2019 @ 5-6pm by Collaborate (BEng 4, MEng 5)

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Quality Control - Argent Energy (biofuels)

Charlotte Fowles – Senior Quality Control Technician  (Argent Energy) gives an insight into the current state of the biofuel industry and its future direction.

What does Argent Energy do?

Since February 2018 I have been a member of the Quality Control Analysis Team at Argent Energy. Argent specialises in the production of biodiesel by utilising waste fats and oils from other industries such as tallow, used cooking oil and sewer grease. The biodiesel we produce is compliant with the British Biodiesel Standard EN 14214.

What are the current issues with the biofuel industry?

The use of biofuels provides significant greenhouse gas savings in comparison to regular mineral diesel; and the carbon footprint of Argent’s fuel is exceptionally low due to only waste materials being used as feedstock.

However, the biofuel industry generally has met with criticism over the use of crops being converted to biodiesel rather than contributing to the natural food-chain/feeding livestock. Thus, it is important within the manufacture of biofuel to have a highly sustainable feedstock supply which is achieved by excluding any raw materials which may be used as food or agricultural feed. 

What is the future for Biofuels?

The biofuel industry is tipped to continue to grow through the next few decades, this is due to ever-growing mandates for renewable fuels to replace mineral fuels, a continuing demand for biodiesel for decades to come and an increase in global population causing a higher demand for transportation. However, at the same time, there is a real urgency needed to lower the levels of greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming before it is too late. That is why when the opportunity to become a part of a green energy company arose, I did not hesitate to apply.

What is your role in the company?

My role within the Quality Control Team includes analysis of finished distilled biodiesel, in-process materials, raw materials as well as blended products which are mixtures of biodiesel and regular mineral diesel (these are sold to emission conscious fleets who are wanting to reduce their environmental impact). Due to such a large level of analysis undertaken on a day-to-day basis this contributes to a high-pressure job where time management and organisation are key. This is a role in which I have thrived within and have recently been given a promotion to a senior role.

What advice would you give to current students interested in the biofuel industry?

One piece of advice I wish I had been given whilst at university is that practical scientific/engineering lab experience is invaluable. Breaking into any science or engineering industry is not always easy, and my first laboratory role was part-time which I did alongside a waitressing job at a busy restaurant. If you can do a placement in industry or shorter work experience placements in your summer breaks, I would recommend that you take them. Employers will always value experience and I do believe it gives you the upper hand when searching for your first job role as a graduate.

BSc (Hons) Biochemistry, 2014, Liverpool John Moore’s University.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Case Study - Online Tests for a Manufacturing Engineer position - Rolls Royce

Francesca Ballard
MChem Chemistry (2017)
University of Edinburgh
Current Role:  Manufacturing Engineer- Welding Engineering, Core Design and Manufacture

Francesca was keen to give us some tips on the online application process for Rolls Royce engineering roles. Chemical engineers are often keen to work for Rolls Royce, but Chemists do not usually have them down as a typical employer, so good to get a perspective from one of our own MChems.

After you submit an application to join a Rolls-Royce an internship or graduate programme, you will be invited to complete a series of online tests.  Having put valuable time and effort into your application, you don’t want to fall down at this next hurdle!  Alongside your application, the score you achieve in these tests directly affects whether you will be invited to an Assessment Centre.

I sat the online tests in October 2016 (during my MChem final year), and was successful in obtaining a position in the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate programme. Some advice I would give to other students facing the online tests follows –

Try to understand the type of tests you will be given i.e. a Situational Judgement Test, Numerical Reasoning Test or Verbal Reasoning Test (depending on which internship or graduate scheme you are applying to), plus a Competencies test.

The key to success is preparation (for most of us), by practicing similar tests.

You can find free online tests (and even books) with questions of a similar type. Slowly work through some questions to understand their structure and objective.  Following that, I would try to do some questions every day, building up your speed to match what will be required in the Rolls-Royce tests.

For the Situational Judgement tests, you can improve your chances of success by getting to know the company values, and aligning your answers to these.

You only get one attempt at the tests.  Plan a day and time to take the tests, ensuring you complete them all before the deadline.  Find somewhere you can focus, and give them your best shot!  Be aware of your time, ensuring that you balance speed and accuracy.

The time invested to prepare for the online tests will be valuable not only for Rolls-Royce applications, but also many other job applications that you may have to complete in the future.  I forfeited some study time to practice for the tests, and justified this as time invested to secure a graduate job before exam time – because I definitely wouldn’t want to have had to practice tests at that time!

No subject knowledge will be required to complete the tests.

Negative marking isn’t used, so if you feel unable to complete a specific question quickly enough, just move onto the next question.

Within a few days of completing the tests, you will be emailed to inform you whether you have passed the tests.  If successful, well done – your application will be reviewed by one of the recruitment team. If you pass the application review, you will be invited to an Assessment Centre, which is fortunately the last hurdle to pass in securing an internship or graduate position at Rolls-Royce.