A Day at University of Southampton
If you're reading this, you're probably already aware of the innovative creative and technical work undertaken by BBC R&D. However, despite the department's long and impressive history, when I tell people what I do I often get the response 'R&D? I didn't even know the BBC had an R&D department!' In fact, it's a problem that has manifested itself in our graduate recruitment process: many of the applicants just don't have the relevant technical skills, and we aren't reaching enough of those that do. It's understandable: when people think of the BBC they probably think of TV, radio, journalism and media - while the many opportunities for technical graduates in the organisation may not be initially obvious.
So that's how Rod, Mark and I (two of us trainees and the other an ex-trainee) found ourselves on the road to the University of Southampton to attend their Science and Engineering careers fair on the 7th of February this year.
After setting up our stall and taking a wander around to scout out the competition, I was initially worried about whether we would be able to attract students to our stall without the array of free laptop bags, flasks and even shot glasses that other companies were happily offloading onto willing undergraduates. My fears were unfounded - our virtual steadicam demo got the students’ attention and they were genuinely interested in how it worked, how it was developed and its potential applications in industry.
Although it was apparent that many students were surprised either at the existence of BBC R&D or at the work it does, they were in general very clearly interested. The look of slightly terrified awe in some of their faces reminded me of my own experience of wandering around careers fairs a couple of years ago – bag of freebies in hand – feeling excited but overwhelmed by the tales of impossible sounding work being undertaken across the industry. Fortunately for me, the abundance of training and support available in R&D gives trainees the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and gradually those impossible projects seem a little more achievable. Many of the students were disappointed that we had already closed applications for this year’s intake, but went away excited about applying for the following year. Let’s hope this is reflected in the number of applicants!
We had been kindly invited by the university’s student branch of IEEE to give a talk about our work at R&D after the fair. Despite my nerves, I was encouraged to see the room was full with curious students, and had clearly been well advertised by IEEE. Rod led the talk with an introduction to the BBC as well as an overview of the work of R&D. We then each talked about the projects we’ve worked on, including semantic subtitle analysis, holographic helmets, mood-based classification and audio fingerprinting for content synchronisation. After a few questions from the audience, the event ended with success.
So, after a long but rewarding day, we packed up our cameras, monitors, laptops, power cables, banners and posters and got back into a rather chilly car for the drive home. I would like to congratulate Southampton University for a very well-organised careers fair and thank the IEEE society for making us welcome. We’re looking forward to attending more events and talks to inform people about the work of BBC R&D and get it more solidly established in the public consciousness as world leader in technology.