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Studying a Mechanical Engineering Degree at University. A guide to help you decide

Updated on May 7, 2017

Introduction

This article has been written to provide an insight for any prospective engineering student considering a degree in the field.

It will describe my personal experience from application through to graduation, discussing my opinions and hindsight.

I hope that anyone that is considering going down a similar path will be able to benefit from my experience.

I'll give a brief overview of my time at university with some thoughtful reflection and lessons learnt to conclude it at the end.

In summary:

Pro's of studying engineering

  • Extremely diverse fields to work in,
  • Lots of employment opportunities,
  • Many transferable skills,
  • Generally respected in the wider world,
  • Can be very well paid,
  • "safe", the world will always need engineers,

Con's of studying engineering

  • Not for everyone,
  • Can be complex and intense whilst studying,
  • Broad range of fields can be hard to take in, especially if you find one you don't like!

If you are interested in whether university is right for you, check out one of my other articles:

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A little about me

Writing this article, I am 25 years old and currently working for a manufacturing SME (small to medium sized enterprise) as an engineering project team manager.

I studied Mechanical Engineering at Sheffield (UK) for 4 years and graduated 3 years ago with a first class Masters degree.

Deciding on engineering: the early days

For me, the decision to pursue engineering came fairly late in my life.

I did fairly well during my secondary school years, with a proficiency in maths and an underlying interest in physics. I decided that my A levels were going to be Sports, Physics, Maths and Biology based on subjects that I enjoyed, but with no real purpose as to what would follow on.

My experience of Maths at college level was not a particularly good one. My maths teacher tried to kick me out of the first class as I scored the lowest of all the class at GCSE, which I stubbornly resisted and stuck with it.

All through the Maths course I never really took much of an interest in anything that the teacher would go through, which ultimately led to me scoring low on all exams through my core Maths AS and A levels.

With Physics, I had a lot more interest in the subject, although found myself less interested in many of the topics that we had to study. In particular I have memories of persistently trying to teach myself atomic physics with not much luck!

It wasn't until I started my mechanics modules in my math class that it finally sunk in exactly why I wasn't having much success. It was the physical aspect of maths and physics that I liked!

It sounds a bit odd, the physical aspect of physics. What I mean by this, is the aspect of physics that you can visualise in the everyday world around you. For me this came down to motion, structures, kinetics, kinematics etc.

From here I went on to score dramatically differently in my maths modules, scoring D's on my core modules and A's in my mechanics modules. Having a teacher break down the mathematical principles into real world problems (e.g. a ball rolling down a hill, with forces, friction etc) allowed me to take what the core maths module teacher had taught me and finally gain an understanding of why you apply certain formula and maths processes and not just how.

From here it was a fairly easy decision for me to pursue engineering in my further education.

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University: Deciding on my path

Once I had decided that I wanted to study engineering, I had to decide what field I would pursue.

At this stage of my life I had very little experience in the work place so didn't have much "real world" experience to apply to my decision.

I had narrowed down my choices to aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering.

The appeal of aerospace was an interest to be involved in flying crafts and potential space-bound crafts. Mechanical engineering was my fall back as it was less specific and kept my options open.

I went on a few opens days and was fortunate enough to land myself on a tour that no-one else applied to. I had a 1 on 1 session with a PhD lecturer of engineering and it really gave me a chance to discuss my thoughts with someone with more experience than myself.

I also was fortunate enough to have a friend set me up with an interview with a colleague of theirs who had studied and worked in engineering.

The main piece of advice that I took from both of these people was the it would be better not to specialise. Not that either of the subjects I was considering are particularly specific, but based on my lack of knowledge of the aerospace industry I decided to keep it broad and push down the mechanical engineering route.

My advise to anyone reading this article, that is at a similar stage as I was, would be to try and speak with people who have been down the path and can give you some advice. For me this was invaluable in helping me make an informed decision.


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University - Studying

Eventually I finished my A levels and embarked upon my study in Mechanical Engineering.

My experience at university studying engineering was generally a positive one. I found that most engineering students share a similar mindset.

I started out studying a bachelors degree (B.Eng), covering a range of modules from maths, mechanical engineering, electrical, electronic, control systems, dynamics, thermo-dynamics, FEA, CFD etc.

The first year was pretty simple and the second year was a lot more intense as a lot of new topics are thrown at you in pretty rapid succession.

Work Life - Internship

During year 3 of my degree I took on a year long placement at a manufacturer as a manufacturing engineer.

Honestly, out of my 5 years at university this was by far the most beneficial. Taking what you have been studying and using it in the real world gives a ridiculous amount of knowledge and experience to you.

I can't stress enough how important I felt that my year in industry was for building me up as a professional. Having this on your CV is also massively important for when you are looking to get a graduate position after you have finished.

Generally I got some good exposure to how engineering companies are run. It also gave me the opportunity to be around others who had a tremendous amount of experience in the field and were fantastic mentors for me.

I got the opportunity to work on improving manufacturing process, cost savings, quality engineering and prototype development.

Finishing University

Having finished my year long placement I returned to university to finish my degree and decided to push myself onto a masters course.

The final years were definitely more of a challenge, trying to fit in a dissertation project whilst studying as normal meant that I spent many nights in the university library trying to complete everything.

For me, the dissertation were enjoyable. It gave a nice freedom to pick something that really interests you (or a unique idea of your own) and investigate it.

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Finding a graduate job

This is what getting a degree is all about right?

For me it took a fair few interviews before I managed to finally land a job. For me the most important factors contributing to your success here is a good education and experience mix.

Most employers will avoid anyone that had no prior work experience, which can be a pain when you are starting out!

There are so many varied opportunities in engineering and other transferable fields, which is a huge benefit to engineering graduates. There really is so much that you can do with an engineering degree!

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Reflections on studying engineering

I consider myself pretty lucky.

I managed to pick a degree and a field that I now work in, and am happy to be in, with only a small amount of knowledge when I was picking it at school.

My main advice would be to make sure that you study what you want to work in and that you are sure of it! It worked out for me, but I know many people that graduated, only then to decide they didn't like their field and had to retrain in something else.

My opinion on picking engineering as a degree, is that you know if you are an engineer. I think more than anything it is a way of thinking and a greater interest in the physical world around you. I would recommend it to anyone that had a curiosity in how things work or why things work. The course itself can get very maths heavy, so I would avoid it if you don't like maths!

Pro's of studying engineering

  • Extremely diverse fields to work in,
  • Lots of employment opportunities,
  • Many transferable skills,
  • Generally respected in the wider world,
  • Can be very well paid,
  • "safe", the world will always need engineers,

Con's of studying engineering

  • Not for everyone,
  • Can be complex and intense whilst studying,
  • Broad range of fields can be hard to take in, especially if you find one you don't like!

Overall I am happy on my decisions to study the subject. I was able to slot in at a higher level in my current company because I held a degree and a suitable level of work experience.

However I would wholly recommend investigating apprenticeship schemes. These can be an excellent way to get a good work / education balance and create a kick ass CV at the same time as being paid! If I hadn't of taken the route through university, I would of taken an apprenticeship in a heartbeat.

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