The UK Engineering Degree:  an Experience-led Brand

There are over 120 UK universities offering master’s and bachelor’s degrees in various engineering disciplines. As one would expect, each of these engineering degrees is influenced to some extent by the people who teach on it as well as the ethos and culture of the institution offering it. However, if one takes the time to scan the various institutional web pages, it quickly becomes clear that there are common strands running across all UK engineering degrees. In fact, these commonalities are so extensive and far-reaching, and so uniquely British that I believe it is time we started talking about the UK Engineering Degree as a generic brand encompassing all UK engineering degrees.

There are several reasons why we should identify and characterise the UK Engineering Degree brand, and these include:

  • Prospective students applying to get into a UK Engineering degree programme will have a clear picture of what is involved in studying for an engineering degree in the UK;
  • Employers will have a very clear understanding of the capabilities, qualities and characteristics of engineering graduates from UK universities;
  • The UK Engineering Degree brand will serve as a common reference standard which stakeholders such as employers, government departments, academics and students will use to objectively compare degree programmes, to evaluate and monitor learning and teaching processes in each programme, and to encourage and guide innovation in engineering education.

Defining the generic UK Engineering Degree

The key distinguishing feature of the UK Engineering Degree is the strong integration between theory and practice. In the typical UK engineering school, theory is not taught for the sake of theory. Rather, theory is taught to be put into practice.  In general, students get introduced to theory, followed by practical demonstrations, and then they are expected to apply the theory to problem solving.  Mini-projects are an integral part of most UK course modules, and these mini-projects are often designed with input from industry. Furthermore, the UK Engineering Degree also has stand-alone design & skills modules where students learn to apply the theory they have learnt across several modules to the analysis and solution of industry-type problems. These design & skills modules simulate industry conditions in that students are presented with a problem, and they then work in teams to come up with appropriate solutions within a specified time-limit. Because of this, the UK Engineering Degree is best classified as an experience-led degree programme.

The term “experience-led engineering degree” first appeared in the report for the Engineering Graduates for Industry Study that was commissioned by the UK government in 2008 (Lamb et. al. 2010). The main purpose of this study was to identify effective practices within current and developing engineering degrees that went some way towards meeting the needs of industry as identified in the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Educating Engineers for the 21st Century report. The study defines an experience-led engineering degree as an engineering degree which develops industry related skills and which may also include industry interaction.  Industry related skills comprise all those skills and attributes which make an engineering graduate work-ready.

The Ideal Skill-set for a UK Engineering Graduate

On the basis of the information presented on the various UK institutional websites, the ideal work-ready engineering graduate  has indepth theoretical knowledge of their chosen discipline and is a competent problem solver, with highly developed analysis and numerate skills, and one who is also well-rounded, with an understanding of the impact of engineering on society, and with experience of working in teams.  According to the Royal Academy of Engineers, the ideal engineering graduate should have

  • Appropriate technical knowledge, understanding and problem solving skills;
  • A full appreciation of life cycle processes and Systems Engineering;
  • People and professional skills, team-working, co-operative strategies and leadership;
  • A commitment to lifelong learning.

Essential Features of the Generic UK Engineering Degree

What do students expect to see and experience when they enter a UK engineering school? One attribute that clearly stands out is that the generic UK Engineering Degree is built on a strong tripartite relationship between staff, students and industry that directly impacts both teaching and curriculum development(Lamb et. al. 2010). Figure 1 illustrates this three-way relationship:

engineering-led degree.png

Figure 1: Relationships between academic staff, students and industry for experience-led engineering degree programmes – Adapted from the Engineering Graduates for Industry Study report (Lamb et. al. 2010).


From the diagram in Figure 1, industry contributes significantly to the teaching that takes place in UK engineering schools. For example, in design & skills modules, practitioners from industry work alongside academics to deliver the module as well as to assess student work. Practitioners from industry also present guest lectures, in which they they share their experiences and knowledge. Some practitioners are also employed by universities as visiting lecturers and professors. In this role, they take charge of the teaching and assessment of industry-specific modules, including supervising and mentoring students during work placements.

With regard to academic staff, an increasing number are being directly recruited from industry. Whilst the traditional academic and research staff focus on teaching theory and material related to their research, staff recruited from industry are responsible for design & skills based modules, and for supervising projects with an industrial element to them. Hence, in the typical UK engineering school, students get to be taught by academic researchers and industry experts, and this provides an enabling environment for students to systematically integrate theory and practice.

Curriculum Design

The design of the generic UK Engineering Degree is also carried out in partnership with industry. As a general rule, all UK engineering degrees are either accredited, or are aspiring to get accredited, by the Engineering Council. Teams comprising people drawn from industry and universities are responsible for setting the accreditation standards and for monitoring and evaluating individual degree programmes. Within universities, industry liaison boards comprising academics and industry representative oversee the engineering degree programmes that are taught in individual institutions. Again, at the programme and module level, academics and industry practitioners work together, formally and informally, in designing core aspects of the curriculum.

Role of the Students

Students are actively involved in the design and delivery of their programmes. They provide formal and informal feedback on the quality of teaching. For instance, in the UK, student liaison committees comprising both academics and students meet regularly to review the teaching. Furthermore, in some institutions, students also sit on academic recruitment panels, which means that recruitment decisions are now jointly carried out by both academic staff and students. Within the class, students also contribute to the creation of course module material, and are also actively involved in assessment as peer assessors.

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, the generic UK Engineering Degree is now an established feature of the UK higher education landscape, and it is time that it is properly acknowledged as such. To quote from Professor Nigel Seaton, a chartered chemical engineer who is now Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Abertay University, UK engineering degrees “are good degrees to have, and equip students for a wide range of jobs. While many students embark on an engineering career, others thrive in a range of jobs, for example in management or finance” (Sellgren, 2011).


Lamb, F., Arlett, C., Dales, R.,  Ditchfield, B., Parkin, B. & Wakeham, W. (2010). Engineering graduates for industry. The Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Royal Academy of Engineering. (2007). Educating engineers for the 21st Century.

Sellgren, K. (2011). Engineering graduates ‘taking unskilled jobs’. BBC News. Available at (Downloaded 11 Dec 2016).

The Experience Factor: It Matters

I have long been an advocate for internships and work experience. My reasons are two-fold: First, work experience helps students to integrate theory and practice.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly,  I have come to know from the experiences of hundreds of students that it facilitates a pathway into that all important first graduate job. However, despite this awareness, I had never sat on the other side of the table as an employer who has the unenviable task of sifting through hundreds of applications to choose the next set of potential graduate recruits. One large employer finally gave me this opportunity,  and what a huge learning experience it has been for me!

One thing immediately became clear to me after I had gone through tens of applications, and reading through the various employment statements: Work experience neatly divides a pool of applicants into two: those who are in a ready state to be employed, and those who are not ready, despite their excellent academic performance.

Key on the employer’s list were the applicant’s leadership skills,  awareness of business practices, and team-working skills. Applicants with little or no work experience struggled in all these categories, particularly in those instances where the application process required them to provide approapriate examples. At best, their examples looked unreal, contrived, wish-washy, and definitely out of this world. Some were hilarious, to the point of bordering on comedy. And comedy they would have been, except that these were applications from serious individuals who had spent four years in university, had attained good grades, and were looking for their first real jobs. Yes they had all graduated, yet quite a significant number of these applicants had no idea of what to expect in a job.

Another important lessson that I learnt is this: It pays to think back on what went well, and what went wrong in your work experience. For example, some of the applicants had clearly reflected on their experiences. In their applications, they  discussed their personal achievements, honestly took stock of their shortcomings, and suggested what they could have done better, and how work processes could be improved to accomodate interns and  early-stage employees. Some of these applications even went further to identify specific areas where the applicant  thought they would need additional training and support. I realised that employing such an applicant would certainly make the job of everyone within the technical department that much easier, and it was quite clear that any of these applicants would be able to fit into the organisational work culture very well.

This was not so with the other applicants with substantial work experience. This category simply narrated what they had done. They gave no indication that they had thought about their work experiences, or that they had learnt anything at all. For most of the applications in this category, it appeared as if they had simply gone through the motions of work experience without engaging with their roles. They certainly looked disinterested and unmotivated. Perhaps this was down to inexperience in writing applications. But given the significant investments made by universities in student career services, this is quite difficult to believe. Whatever the reason, for this particular large employer, this simply reduced to: Who in their right mind would want to employ a disinterested, demotivated graduate employee? 

If you are a student, the point to take home is simply this: Get a work placement while you can. Your future may depend on it. And when you get one, learn all you can from it. Learn about the role, and learn about yourself as well.

If you are an academic, the take-home point should be this: Make it a point to talk about work placements with your students at every conceivable moment. They may not yet appreciate it. But it matters, and if you care for the future of  your students, just do it.

If you are an employer, the take-home point is this: Open up your work places to students. That may be the greatest service you can do to your bottom-line, your industry , and to society in general.





Fast-Tracking Yourself into a Lucrative Engineering and Technology Career

Almost all engineering and technology students get into jobs after graduating. But that is where the similarity ends. Most will get into run-of-the-mill graduate roles where the salary is, at best, average, and where career prospects are, at best, dull and unfulfilling. Some will only manage to scrap into jobs that don’t actually require a degree, and where the salary is painfully below the average graduate level salary. ­Only a few graduates ever manage to get onto the fast-track route to high-paying successful careers.

As an academic, my hope is that ALL my students should get into high-paying, fulfilling graduate roles. So I invited some of my colleagues in industry to give you some essential tips on how you can position yourselves for these roles. Here are their verbatim responses. Apart from highlighting key-points, I’ve refrained from the academic urge to summarise, theorise etc. Hopefully you get something from this.

IT Management & Business Graduate

Research & network – students should really consider the opportunities they want to pursue after university and align them to their degree & personal interests.

For example, a student who is passionate about getting into a Tech Giant such as Facebook should better understand Facebook’s position in the market, the key focus areas they want to expand in (for example Facebook for Business), what the company mission and vision is and use their social networks to attend as many Facebook events as possible.

Building your network and speaking to people on LinkedIn or at events is imperative!

IT Management & Business Graduate

I would say work on personal projects outside of uni to find what part of IT/Technology/Engineering you are most passionate about because these are very big areas. Whether it is making iPhone apps, Databases, websites, Bots or video games.

You’ll need to find what you are most excited about before you know what your ideal job is. During this process, try to also get experience (internships, industrial placements, summer placements, voluntary work, etc.. ) in any area. Any experience is good because if it’s something you don’t 100% enjoy, then it’ll make it clearer to you what you do want to do.

In terms of getting hired – Just make it easy for employers to hire you. You know what they would want to see on your CV (Solid degree + personal projects + work experience). And you know what kind of person they are looking for (Enthusiastic about the work + Good at problem solving + Personable). So put the odds in your favour by simply becoming what they want and give them no reason not to pick you.

IT Management & Business Graduate

I would say doing a summer internship as a developer would be great. I did an internship at blur Group at the Exeter science park. Although it was minimum wage the experience was great, I learnt a lot on the job.

Getting as much practical experience as possible is the key I believe. Even if it is doing personal projects or startup business whilst at uni.

Civil Engineering Graduate

In my field I have realized that everyone is looking for hands on experience even from the ones who are just leaving colleges. So it pays to go to in-service training if the curriculum allows it, if not, it means on vacations one should take time to find somewhere they can do apprenticeship if I may call it that.

Be familiar with the various technologies that are being used in your field. I remember when I left college all the design we were doing it from first principles, years later when I tried to get employment in the consulting field, what they needed was someone who can use the design software. Learning to use these tools early on will give you a head start.

Know where you want to be with your career from the onset. In civil engineering there are different disciplines and fields. Not knowing where you want to develop the rest of your career will lead you jumping from one field to the other and as such you tend to lose the chance of developing specific skills. However, it is also good to know a bit of everything that is happening in you field even though you have specialized in one area.

Find a good mentor early, and remember, experience is a good teacher.   Also registering with your professional body helps you to associate with like-minded peers and it is a good way of getting mentors in your field of study. It also helps you to keep abreast with the current development in your field.

Electrical Power Systems Graduate

My suggestion is based on my observation here in Nigeria. First, there is a need for creativity so as to adapt the technological skills learnt in the UK to the local environment. The conditions in different countries differ, while the theories we learn at university may hold through in all places, their application need a bit of creativity in order to sell well and adapt to needs in third world countries.

Secondly, engineers need to add on marketing skills these days to remain relevant and stay ahead of the competition. The jobs are not just easily available and you may need to go through the route of entrepreneurship & self-marketing to kick start your career.

There are many challenges in Africa requiring engineering skills and acumen for solution. However, the platform for being the solution won’t be given easily, so you might just need to ‘grab it’.

Chemical Engineering Graduate

  1. Seek career advice: attend career talks, make use of the university careers centre – to know where your degree can take you (which is not always immediately obvious, especially for engineering!).
  2. Get some work experience during your undergraduate degree – whether through internships or an industrial year out (I didn’t do this and it didn’t impact me, but things would have been much easier if I had).
  3. Know your strengths: figure out what you enjoy and are good at in your subjects at university – this can help you determine what you will enjoy as a career (e.g. Research, design, modelling).

Mechanical Engineering Graduate

I would say the most important thing to do is to start researching about careers and companies right from the first year at university.

And the second thing I would recommend is to make sure you complete a relevant summer internship every holiday during the four years and try to work in as many different industries as possible.

Excelling in Engineering School: Collaborate – Being smart is not enough

Human beings are at their most effective when they work together in teams. In the area of business, groups of people organised into companies conduct more business, and generate billions more revenue than individuals working alone as sole traders. In engineering and technology, the lone wolf only exists in the imagination. Virtually all the technologies that we routinely use in our daily lives are produced by organised businesses. Even in politics, the independent politician is extremely rare, with almost all world leaders belonging to one political grouping or another.

Despite the very clear evidence that the human being is essentially a team-working creature, engineering students all over the world prefer to study alone.  Raymond B. Landis, former Dean of Engineering and Technology at California State University, Los Angeles, estimates that only 10% of all engineering students study at some point with at least one other student. Of all the students that he has asked, 90% categorically state that they spend all their time studying alone.

Why Do Students Prefer Studying Alone?

There are several reasons why students prefer to study alone, rather than collaboratively with other students. Some of the reasons that I have found include:

  1. The prevailing culture of the individualistic genius: We tend to associate success with specific individuals, despite the important contributions made by other people around them. For instance, in the technological sector we often associate the iPhone with Steve Jobs, Windows with Bill Gates, Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, and blissfully ignore the fact that all these individuals lead, or led, organisations employing teams made up of some of the most brilliant engineers of their time. This belief in individualistic genius is unfortunately reinforced by our scientific tradition of associating each scientific theorem with an individual. For example, we talk of Newton’s laws of motion, Kirchhoff’s  laws of electrical circuits, Ohm’s law of electrical resistance, etc., whilst completely disregarding all those other researchers who contributed to the eventual formulation of these laws.
  2. Negative peer pressure: Academically weak students routinely discourage hard-working students from staying focussed on academic studies. This problem is particularly rife in high school. Hence, by the time a student enters engineering school, they have mustered the habit of studying alone and in secret.
  3. Erroneous belief that isolation improves concentration: Most students who prefer to study alone wrongly believe that this helps to improve concentration and understanding. This may work if you are memorising your study material. However, if you really want to understand your study material and to be able to apply it to solving problems, then studying with other students is much more effective.
  4. Fear of embarrassment: Most students prefer studying alone because they fear being embarrassed before their peers when they get things wrong. However, it is best to have someone let you know of your areas of weaknesses during the year. Otherwise, you will only discover your weaknesses in the final exam, which can be quite distressing.

What are the benefits of collaborating with others when studying?

Teaming up with other like-minded students to study has several benefits. In this section, I discuss some of the reasons that academics have offered in support of collaborative studying.

  1. Team-working always trumps lone-working: I have commented on this already. The fact is, in general, people often achieve the greatest results when working collaboratively with others. Therefore, if you study collaboratively with other students you have greater chances of achieving higher academic grades. In addition, by studying with other students, you learn essential skills like team-working and communication.  If you look at the typical job advert for graduate engineers, you will find that these two skills are highly prized by employers. Therefore, by studying collaboratively with other students you kill two birds with one stone. First, you improve your academic performance. Secondly, you acquire important skills that you will need when you start practising as an engineer.
  2. Learning and supporting each other: As most students quickly realise, in engineering school you are introduced to many engineering and scientific concepts that are complex, and sometimes difficult to understand. In addition, the pace at which you are taught is much faster than in high school. Concepts that are often taught over several weeks in high school are usually taught in just one lecture in engineering school.  Studying with others will help you to easily figure out difficult material. You also get to support each other during difficult periods. In turn, this makes engineering school less difficult and more enjoyable, and helps you to perform better academically. In fact, the failure to integrate and collaborate with other students is one of the biggest indicators that a student is most likely to underperform or to drop out of their studies entirely.
  3. Collaborative study gives you a more positive student experience: Students who collaboratively work and study with others often have more positive experiences of engineering school than those who prefer studying alone. Maryellen Weimer, writer of the Teaching Professor Blog, believes that when students collaboratively study with each other they reap the following benefits:
  • Studying and working with others provides a safe environment to ask questions and admit confusion
  • It is often easier for students to understand each other than the teacher
  • When students figure out things on their own, that builds confidence
  • When students explain to each other, the student doing the explaining develops a deeper understanding of the subject matter
  1. Collaborate, being smart is not enough: This point is taken from an aptly named study guide by Dilaura. In  this guide he suggests that studying with others helps students to discuss and share ideas in problematic areas. This enables them to hear and consider different viewpoints, thereby enriching their learning. Most importantly, when students study together, they are better able to resist the temptation to put off things. It also enables them to resist distractions when studying.
  2. Multiple heads are better than one: When students take part in a study group, they achieve more than they would each do in their individual capacities. For instance, three students working collaboratively to solve a calculus problem have better chances of solving the problems than when they are working individually. Moreover, study groups help students to benefit from each other’s’ individual talents and strengths, and to ultimately succeed in their studies.

What makes an effective study group?

Valeria Burdea has published a blog post entitled “Joining a Study Group: The Benefits”. In this blog she gives four steps that students must follow if they want to set up effective study groups:

  1. Seek to study and work only with those students who motivate and inspire them. Students should omit from their study group any student who is simply looking for an easy way to get a passing grade.
  2. Look out for those students who are alert and focussed in class. These are usually the students who participate in class through asking questions and answering any questions posed by the lecturer.
  3. The ideal study group is made up of 3 or 4 people. If it is too large, then it becomes too difficult to coordinate and to maintain the necessary discipline required.
  4. Each study group member should prepare adequately prior to each meeting. This will enable the study group to focus on group discussions, as well as adding value to individual student understanding.

How to Create an Effective Study Group?

In 2007, Anastasia Pryanikova published a blog post entitled “How to form an effective study group.” This has since become  one of the most widely referenced articles on creating effective study groups. In this section I outline the major steps that she set out for those considering forming their own study groups:

  1. Choose your study partners wisely. Ideally, these should be self-directed and motivated learners who are responsible enough to prepare for the study group meetings. They should also be able to contribute with ideas and tips, and their  schedule must be compatible with your own.
  2. Always have a meeting agenda. At the end of each meeting set an agenda for the next meeting, and allocate specific times for each task. Make sure that you have an ending time, and during the meetings ensure that you stick to the agenda.
  3. Assign a person to each topic on the agenda to lead discussion. Do this in advance to ensure that the assigned people have enough time to prepare. Whilst the assigned person will lead discussion, other group members should actively participate in the discussion.
  4. Speak concisely. Whenever you contribute to the group discussion, do not waffle about. Make sure that your message is brief and to the point.
  5. Always resolve uncertainities. If your study session reveals disagreement, confusion, or misunderstanding in any area of your study topic, prepare a list of questions and ask your subject lecturers and tutors.
  6. Practise questions as part of your meetings. These could be workshop questions, homework questions, or even past exam questions. Work out the questions individually, and then compare answers and give each other comments and tips for improvement.
  7. Predict the exam. Get into the habit of predicting the questions that are likely to come in the exam. Each group member should contribute by setting a possible exam question. Group members should individually answer each question, and then compare and discuss answers, giving each other advice and tips for improvement.


Landis, R.B. (2000). ‘Academic Success Strategies’. In Studying Engineering: A Road Map to a Rewarding Career (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Discovery Press. (Read excerpt here:

Weimer, M. (21 /09/2016). Faculty Focus: What happens when students study together [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Dilaura , D.L. (2001) Being smart is not enough – Chautauquas for first year engineering students. (p. 60). Boulder: University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved from

Community College of Allegheny County. (n.d.) The power of study groups. Retrieved from

Pryanikova, A. (18/04/2007). Lawsagna: How to form an effective study group. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Burdea, V. (15/04/2013).Topuniversities: Joining a Study Group -The Benefits. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

The Piano Method for Studying Mathematics

Mathematics underpins the study of virtually any theoretical studies related to engineering. In fact, so important is mathematics to the study of engineering that your performance in mathematics is often an accurate indicator of your subsequent performance in more advanced engineering subjects as you progress through your degree programme.

For example, if you want to excel in electronics and electrical engineering, you need a thorough understanding of electrical circuit theory. This subject equips you with the analytical tools to design and troubleshoot any electronic or electrical circuit that you will come across in your practice as an engineer. And to master this very important subject, you need to have a good grasp of basic mathematics topics like matrices, complex numbers, differentiation, integration and differential equations.

If you are studying mechanical or civil engineering, then mechanics is an essential part of your studies. Mechanics deals with the forces that act on stationary bodies, and on bodies that are in motion. You therefore need a good understanding of mechanics for you to be able to design and analyse civil engineering structures like bridges and high-rise buildings. On the other hand, if you are a mechanical engineer, you need a good grasp of mechanics in order to be able to analyse and design engineering systems like automobiles, aeroplanes, and artificial limbs. And to be able to make headway in your study of mechanics, you need good mastery of mathematics topics such as vectors, differentiation, integration and differential equations.

Given the importance of mathematics to engineering, you would expect all engineering students to fully immerse themselves in studying and mastering mathematics, especially those topics that are relevant to their discipline. Sadly, this is not the case. A frighteningly huge proportion of engineering students do just enough to get by in their study of mathematics. They do just the minimum needed to progress in their mathematics modules, namely attending lectures and workshops, doing the mandatory coursework, and studying to pass the exam, and nothing more. Here at UCL Engineering, we believe that mathematics has to be a way of life, just as music is a way of life to the master musicians. Such an approach enables you to think beyond mathematics and basic engineering theory, and to reach that level of mastery where engineering innovation becomes second nature to you.

At UCL Engineering we believe that there is a lot that we can learn from music in our efforts to improve student mastery of mathematics. We are not the only ones looking to music for inspiration in the learning and teaching of mathematics. Just recently, in April 2016, the U.S. Education Department brought together musicians, educators and researchers to discuss how music can contribute to the study of mathematics, engineering and even computer science (see Washington Post, April 2016 article: Educators want to pair math and music in integrated teaching method). We believe that our students will benefit by learning mathematics in a similar manner to someone learning to play the piano.  We call this the Piano Method for learning mathematics.

The Piano Method is best described by taking you through the steps that a novice needs to go through in order to be an expert piano play. To do so I have turned to answers posted on the question-and-answer web-site, Quora, in response to the question: “How should an adult beginner start learning piano?

The Piano Method Step by Step

  1. It’s never too late to become an expert at mathematics:

There is a genuine fear of mathematics amongst  some students coming into the first year of engineering school. Some have had difficult experiences with “A” level mathematics. Some have been out of formal education for some time, and are coming back from industry. Yet more, some never did mathematics at “A” level. At UCL Engineering we believe that regardless of the route you took into engineering school, and regardless of your age, you can still become an expert at mathematics.

“It’s never too late to learn to play the piano. If you are an adult and want to learn to play the piano don’t let thinking you are too old deter you.” – Natalie White, Pianist Pro.

“You are not too old to learn piano.” – Lorri Robinson, Know organ, now I’m tackling that pesky left hand.

“Don’t worry about your age. It’s never too late to learn a new skill, older age just might make the intuitive and technical parts take longer to develop. In terms of the theoretical aspect a more mature mind actually puts you at an advantage.” – Tia, Started piano lessons at 11, self-taught since 13.

  1. Be passionate about studying mathematics:

Develop a genuine love for mathematics. This will sustain you during the ups and downs that you will experience as you learn and master new concepts. A genuine love for mathematics will also enable you to spend the necessary time that you need to become an expert in mathematics.

“Great news, you already have the most important ingredient…. passion!  If you’re not passionate about music in general, and more specifically learning to play the piano, then you’ll never get good at it.” – Rich Coogan, Playing piano for 40 years via private lessons and college lessons.

“You said you’re interested, and very much so. Basically, you’re already halfway there. You’ve got motivation. Learning an instrument primarily depends on consistency, motivation and determination, ‘talent’ can only do so much to kickstart your progress …” – Tia, Started piano lessons at 11, self-taught since 13.

  1. Find a good engineering mathematics textbook that you will use in your studies:

I would suggest that you use one of the textbooks recommended by your engineering mathematics lecturers. Here at UCL Engineering we recommend “Engineering Mathematics” by K.A Stroud. This textbook has a lot of practice examples that are organised progressively by order of difficulty.

“Let’s begin with the basics of your wants. A piano: There are some decent practice pianos out there, but I am personally a Yamaha person. It has the best quality, will sound like an acoustic piano if you want it to.” – Dezi Rivera

“Find an exercise book.  I recommend ‘Hanon’.  I believe there is now an easier beginners Hanon, but if you can’t find it, don’t be intimidated by the Hanon published by Shirmer Library.” – Rich Coogan, Playing piano for 40 years via private lessons and college lessons.

“I’ve become the owner of a Yamaha Key Arranger Workstation PSR710, which is fancy talk for a souped-up digital piano (or pie-nanner, if you want to annoy people). I’m using Alfred’s Adult Course for my re-learning, the Hanon book, and First Lessons in Bach.” – Lorri Robinson, Know organ, now I’m tackling that pesky left hand.

  1. Practise for 20 to 30 minutes each day:

Consistent daily practice helps you to reinforce in your mind the mathematical skills and concepts that you have learned.

“Practice, practice, practice. Even 15 or 30 min here and there is better than no practice at all.” – Lorri Robinson, Know organ, now I’m tackling that pesky left hand.

“Just as you did not learn to read and write going to school once a week, it is virtually impossible to progress by practicing once a week.  Most piano teachers recommend practicing from 30 to 60 minutes per day.  Even if you can get 15 minutes of practice in on busy days, that is better than nothing.  Practicing 3.5 hours, once a week, is not the same thing as 30 minutes per day.  Concepts take time to settle in and be digested.  It is not a test your can ‘cram’ for.” – Garrick Saito, I’ve been playing for about nine years now.

  1. Make it a habit to practise mathematics daily:

If the study of mathematics does not become a daily habit for you, then you are unlikely to reach the level of mastery needed to perform at the highest level in your study and practice of engineering.

“I think the best thing that you can do to prepare yourself for the journey you’re about to begin is to realize that it is, in fact, a journey.  The journey is one which requires a strong commitment on your part to learn.  Many adult students never make it past the first year of studies because they did not realize that making progress on the instrument requires daily practice.”  Garrick Saito, I’ve been playing for about nine years now.

  1. Be patient, and don’t give up:

Sometimes it may appear as if you are making no progress despite the amount of time that you are putting in. Sometimes you may get frustrated as you experience difficulties mastering certain concepts. But remember that it takes time to master a skill, and this includes mathematics.

 “The most difficult obstacle for you might be the amount of time you can spend practicing and playing.  For most players, it takes quite a while to even just get “pretty good”.  So don’t get discouraged.” – Rich Coogan, Playing piano for 40 years via private lessons and college lessons.

“Don’t let how long it might take you discourage you.” – Lorri Robinson, Know organ, now I’m tackling that pesky left hand

“Don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than you think (and it probably will).” – Charlotte Lang, Took lessons as a kid. Thanks, Dad!

  1. People have different learning rates, so set your own goals and avoid comparing yourself to others:

We all learn at different rates. Just be consistent, avoid comparing yourself to others, and learn and progress at your own rate.

“Everyone learns at different rates …” – Rich Coogan, Playing piano for 40 years via private lessons and college lessons.

“To me (I’m not a teacher, by the way), it seems distracting to have two people in the lesson.  You will both progress at different rates and your teacher’s attention to either one of you will be split into two.” – Garrick Saito, I’ve been playing for about nine years now.

  1. Have fun, enjoy your studies:

“HAVE FUN!!!!” – Lorri Robinson, Know organ, now I’m tackling that pesky left hand.

Starting Engineering School: Frequently Asked Questions

Students entering engineering school often find out that that they have to study certain courses, and carry out certain activities they had never anticipated. For instance, quite a number of students often wonder why they have to study certain theoretical courses before they can get to do the real thing that they came to university for.

In addition, students are often surprised and dismayed that they have to do certain courses, such as communication and professional skills, which don’t seem to have any connection to engineering at all.

Lastly students often wonder why they have to undertake a final year project, and why they have to seek work experience alongside their studies.

In this article I have put together some of the questions that beginning students have asked me. They don’t cover all that a beginning student needs to know, and I will be very happy to add to this list if you have some more questions.

I have organised the questions under three headings:

  • Basic Science and Engineering Fundamentals
  • Communication and Professional Skills
  • Final Year Project and Work Experience

Basic Science and Engineering Fundamentals

Question: Why do we have to waste time in the first year and second year studying maths, science and introductory fundamentals that we are never going to use in engineering practice?

Answer: When you come into engineering school, you want to start on the really interesting stuff like designing and building aircraft, bridges, high rise buildings, nuclear power stations or developing your own mobile communication system. However, typically, you only get to do some of this stuff in the last two years of your degree programme (for a four year MEng), or in the third and final year of your degree (for a 3 year BEng). The chief reason for this is that you need a thorough understanding of the science and engineering concepts that form the building blocks of most of the really interesting engineering stuff. For instance, to effectively design and analyse high rise building structures you need to understand the physical principles of bodies at rest and forces in equilibrium. And to build a mobile communication system, you need a good knowledge of telecommunication theory. And to understand the necessary telecommunication theory, you need to be familiar with mathematical concepts such as series, transforms, probability and statistics.

Question: Nowadays we use computer systems to design engineering systems, so why do I need to master any engineering theory?

Answer: In general, for every problem that you are solving there is more than one solution. Whilst a computer system can give you a design solution based on the data that you enter, you need to make a professional judgement on which design is the best, and this requires an understanding of the technical theory underpinning the problem area. Also a computer system usually generates an output even when you have entered the wrong data, or there is a faulty bug in one of the computer systems algorithms. An understanding of the appropriate technical theory will enable you to know when this happens.

Question: Why do I need to study mathematics in engineering school?

Answer: For two reasons mainly. First, because the relationships between engineering variables, for example force and mass, are best described using mathematical expressions. Secondly, because the behaviour and operation of most engineering systems is best explained and modelled using mathematical functions.

Communication and Professional Skills

Question: I applied to study engineering at university. Why do I have to learn how to compile reports, make presentations and write and send emails as if I am on an English language course?

Answer: As a practising engineer you will spend a significant amount of time communicating information to fellow engineers, work colleagues, managers, customers, suppliers, regulatory authorities, and the people whom you lead. For example, you may write a report documenting how you solved a problem faced by your customers, or putting together operating instructions for a system that you have procured and installed.

Question: I prefer working alone. Why are we forced to work in teams on some of the programme activities, for example in design and problem solving tasks.

Answer: In general, as an engineer you will be working as part of a team. For example, when building a bridge, you will exchange design ideas with other bridge engineers in your team, and you will work with various categories of skilled and unskilled labour to ensure that the bridge is completed on time, and within the allocated costs.

Question: I am an engineer who loves technology, and I have absolutely no desire to go into management? Why am I being forced to learn and demonstrate leadership and management skills during my degree programme?

Answer: As an engineer you will routinely lead and manage other people. For example, experienced engineers generally lead a team of technicians and junior engineers. In addition, as an engineer one of your roles may be to lead project teams made up of people from within and outside your own organisation. You therefore need to learn leadership and management skills.

Question: I am studying to be an engineer, and not an accountant. Why should I attend business management courses?

Answer: Managing financial costs is critical to the survival of organisations. As an engineer, therefore, you need to ensure that the engineering solutions that you provide are cost-effective for both your organisation and your customers if your organisation is to remain in business.

Final Year Project and Work Experience

Question: I have to do a final year project as part of my course. Why is this necessary?

Answer: A final year project offers you the opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which you can apply your engineering knowledge and skills in carrying out a non-trivial engineering task. Your project is useful in revealing your understanding and application of technical theory, problem solving skills, design and implementation skills, time and cost management, as well as your ability to communicate your work in multiple ways to targeted audiences. For example in your project you will communicate your work to the examiner by way of a written report, and you will communicate to other students and academic members of staff through presentations, videos and pitches. All these skills are required in the engineering workplace.

Question: Why do I need to do work experience as part of my degree programme?

Answer: Work experience gives you the opportunity to work on real projects that have an impact on an organisation and on individuals. In the real world you will experience the tensions, conflicts, and uncertainties associated with everyday engineering work, and you need to develop appropriate coping mechanisms in order to effectively apply your engineering knowledge and skills.

The Internet of Things – Hype and Reality, Opportunities and Threats

IEEE UK and Ireland Systems Man and Cybernetics Chapter Invited Webinar (27 July 2016)

The term Internet of Things refers to a global infrastructure of interconnected objects that can collect and share data and information. It is a coming-together of various technologies and approaches such as the Internet, ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, near-field communication systems, real-time localisation, sensor technology, and embedded artificial intelligence.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already a reality in our lives, and currently, in excess of 25 billion devices are already connected to the Internet. In just four years’ time, by 2020, this number is expected to double to 50 billion. These connected devices are to be found in all aspects of everyday life, including healthcare, transport systems, energy systems, smart cities and smart homes.  The individual and social benefits of the IoT are immense, and include personalised and real-time management of individual healthcare, pollution control in cities, proactive prediction and control of emergencies within cities, and real-time traffic congestion management. Within industries, the IoT offers the opportunity for tighter process management, leading to better control of inventory. In the emerging smart home, embedded intelligence is being used to monitor and control energy use, temperature and humidity, and even taking charge of the home shopping.

In this talk I will discuss key features of the emerging IoT, and explain how it has emerged as a convergence of competing technological visions and paradigms. I will give an overview of the technological drivers for the IoT. This will include identification and sensor technologies, and communication technologies, with a primary focus on 5G, the fifth generation of mobile communication technologies. I will also illustrate my talk with discussions of a number of applications that have already been deployed. This will include applications from transportation and logistics, healthcare, and smart cities.

I will conclude my talk by discussing current and potential threats of the IoT. This includes security and privacy. I will discuss advances that have been made to improve security in the IoT, and highlight shortcomings that are likely to compromise its current and future growth.  I will also look at potential socio-political implications of a ubiquitous and pervasive IoT. This will centre around privacy issues and the potential for abuse by both state and non-state actors. Like any new technology with the potential to revolutionise social and economic activity, the IoT has the potential for causing social upheaval. I will also consider the likelihood for this, and will suggest proposals for consideration by policy makers.


The Abiding Hold of the Exam on University Education

The exam season is nearly over, the exam results have been released to the students, and I am taking a much needed rest before the conference season starts in earnest at the beginning of July. Walking up and down the campus this week, one is greeted by an unusual silence in the academic corridors. The undergraduate students are all gone. The only people working, it seems, are the masters’ students getting started on their dissertations, the PhD students and the postdoctoral researchers. And the academics need the rest, especially after the tortuous exam marking, and the perennial wrangling that come along with the examination board meetings.

Coming to think of it, there is no disputing that the end of year exam has a particular hold on the university system. A long a time ago, the only method of assessing a student’s progress was through the exam. Now coursework has crept in, and for good reasons, but the exam still holds sway. It largely determines the curriculum, the yearly academic cycle of activities, and the future of the majority of students. This statement might appear sacrilegious, particularly after so much research and effort to provide inclusive and more meaningful assessment of academic progression, but it still remains a fact.

The exam is normally a 2-hour or 3-hour academic exercise carried out at the end of the year, usually in the month of May. In fact, the UK academic calendar is made up of three terms. The first term runs from September/October up to the onset of the Christmas holidays in December. The second term runs from the beginning of January up to the beginning of April. Usually the end of the second term coincides with the beginning of the Easter holidays. The third term starts at the beginning of May, and runs until the end of June. Teaching takes place in the first two terms, and the third term is reserved primarily for revision and for writing exams.

Twenty or so years ago, the exam was the only assessment in most course modules. However, nowadays, most course modules have some coursework in addition to the end of year exam. Some modules nowadays are even entirely assessed through coursework. The reasons for introducing coursework are many, but the primary reason is that it enables the academic to assess various aspects of academic mastery. With coursework, it is feasible to assess critical academic skills such as data gathering and research, critical thinking and academic discourse skills, as well as academic presentation skills. One can assess essay writing skills, argumentation and academic presentations using a variety of media, including the ubiquitous PowerPoint slides, video and even social media. In short, an astute academic can tailor coursework to assess the transformation of an academic into a professional through assessing the enactment of various aspects of academic practice. For example, within engineering, one can assess a student’s leadership and team-working skills, in addition to academic competence in the subject in question. All this can be directly linked with current modes of active learning, to the extent that learning, assessment and feedback become one whole, rather than separate, tenuously related entities. It is therefore arguable that the future is likely to go in favour of more coursework and less and less end of year exams.

But what does the exam assess? Previously, it was widely held that the exam was the only vehicle for assessing mastery of academic knowledge. Students would be questioned on the theoretical concepts covered in course modules, and they would all have to provide answers within a set amount of time, under observation from eagle-eyed invigilators and examiners.  The strength of the exam was, and still is, that a student could demonstrate mastery of academic concepts without any outside assistance, unless, of course, they brought into the exam some forbidden external help.  The exam was also seen to be fair, since all students attempted the exam at the same time, and under the same environmental conditions.

But the exam’s strengths is also its weakness. First, it is best suited to assessing mastery of theoretical concepts, and not mastery of professional practice. An exam result cannot shed light on whether a student is going to be a good engineer or not. All it says is that the student has mastered a certain amount of theoretical knowledge. On the other hand, a well-designed piece of coursework can provide irrefutable evidence of the student’s progression towards professional competence. With properly designed coursework, what you see is what you get. It enables a more rounded assessment of the individual student compared to the exam.

Because the exam is primarily theoretically oriented, the focus of a course module can easily be on examinable theoretical concepts. This means that although the stated module syllabus might cover various aspects of study, an exam will constrain students and academics alike to focus only on a very narrow segment of the syllabus. In fact, the end of year exam has given rise to notions of the hidden curriculum, whereby the actual syllabus followed by students is not the one laid down in the course handbook, but the one gleaned from past exam papers.

Then why does the exam still hold such a high prominence in university education? One reason, in my opinion. The exam is well established; it is part of our university culture, and everyone expects it. Professional bodies such as the engineering institutions expect it, parents expect it, students expect it, and external examiners expect it. In fact, within most exam boards, the exam holds pride of place, even in those courses where coursework forms the bulk of the assessment. And when you have to redesign the undergraduate curriculum, the decision to remove the end of year exam is usually the greatest source of conflict.

And another reason for the continuous hold of the exam on university education is this. It is not easy to design effective coursework. Effective coursework is one that assesses all aspects of course mastery, and one that actively discourages students from copying each other, colluding, or farming out the coursework to professional coursework writers. Effective coursework requires the active involvement of both the teaching team and students throughout the coursework period. Effective coursework requires time, thought and tenacity to put together, and even within universities, these three attributes are not always available. And so the easiest escape route is to go down the end of year exam route.

So what does the future holds then? Simply this, more coursework will creep into the university curriculum, but the end of year exam will continue to hold pride of place, at least for the foreseeable future.

Preparing for Engineering School

At this time of the year I normally receive one or more emails from students who have just finished their high school studies and are waiting to go to university to study engineering. These emails normally go along these lines:

Dear Abel

I have been accepted by such and such university to study such and such branch of engineering. I have finished my Advanced Level exams and expect to get the necessary grades to enter onto the engineering programme. Can you give me some advice on what to expect at university, and the things I need to do to prepare for university?


Engineering student-to-be

In this blog I will try to address the queries raised in this email. For most of us, the transition from high school to university is not as simple as it seems. At the very minimum, this transition may involve changes to your personal life circumstances, changes in approaches to learning and studying, and it marks your first steps onto the road to becoming a professional engineer. There may be a host of other changes as well, but for me, these three are the ones that clearly stand out. I will now deal with each in turn.

Managing the Changes in your Personal Life Circumstances

Going to university is usually the first time that most young people leave home to go and stay on their own. For a start, as a general rule, you don’t have to worry too much about where you will be living. Most universities offer accommodation to all their first year students. You can opt to live in catered accommodation, which means you don’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning up. However, catered accommodation is usually quite expensive, so if you are on a limited budget, this may not be an option for you. This means that you may be moving into non-catered accommodation.

Whether you move into catered accommodation or not, the most significant thing is that all of a sudden you will be living with other people, other than your family. Depending on which type of accommodation you choose, you may need to share your room with someone else, and to share such important facilities like the bathroom. If you are fortunate, you can have your own accommodation with its separate bathroom and toilet facilities. However, in most cases, you have to share with other students the same living lounge, the same television set, and in the kitchen you will share the same cooker and fridge. Personal cleanliness and etiquette are very important in this situation. Clean up after using the kitchen, don’t hog the television set, and don’t play your music too loud.

At a personal level you will have to learn to do a lot of mundane things on your own, like doing the laundry and your own cooking. You can’t live on pizza and fast food all year round. So the most important thing that you can do now is to improve your cooking skills. Follow your dad or mum into the kitchen, and start cooking. It will be bad at first, but in a few days you will become a good enough cook. For some, cooking is the easy part, and the worst part is cleaning up afterwards. Learn to clean up the cooker after you are done with cooking, and clean your plates and pots as soon as you have finished eating. Don’t leave them in the sink. These are important life skills, and they will make it easier for other students to live amicably with you.

Another important aspect is learning to handle money on a day by day basis. You will need to set aside money to buy essentials, and for entertainment. If you have not started doing so, get into the habit of carefully budgeting your expenses against your income. For most students, you will receive government support at the beginning of the term. If you are not careful, you can blow all this money in the first week of term. Rather, before the money comes in, draw up a list of the essential things that you need to buy, and decide how much money you need to set aside for the rest of the term. When the money does come in, make sure you stick to that plan. Money is the lifeblood of life, and when it runs low, it will impact on your ability to concentrate on your studies.

Going to university can be a huge emotional challenge. Once your parents have dropped you off, and they have gone back home, it will suddenly hit you full in the face that you are alone. You will miss your dad, mum and your brothers and sisters. You will wake up in the middle of the night thinking of home, and wondering why you chose to go to a far-away university in the first place. But remember, your family are also feeling the same about you. And most importantly, they all know that you have taken the next important stage of your life, and they are proud of you, and though you may be separated by hundreds of miles, they are in it together with you. You are never alone. Make sure you keep in touch with your family through regular phone calls, and the occasional week-end rush back home. But above all, make friends with the other students around you.  You are all going through the same experiences, and it helps to have someone to talk to and to share life experiences. And don’t give up, because in a few weeks, it will become normal, and you will get used to living away from home.

The Nature of Engineering School

One thing that you will immediately notice when you start engineering school is that university is very different from high school. Whereas you may have spent the last two years of high school studying three to five subjects in detail, at university you will be studying four to six course modules simultaneously in any given term. Each of these modules will have its own coursework schedule, with non-negotiable submission deadlines. Although universities have done a lot to improve the scheduling of submission deadlines, it is not uncommon to have three or more deadlines falling in the same week. You will need to have very good time management. Buy a diary if you don’t have one, and get into the habit of referring to it on a daily basis. In fact I usually advise my students to always travel with their diary. It is not uncommon to wake up at midnight one day to realise that you have a pending deadline that you had completely forgotten about. If anything, going to university teaches you to value and manage your time.

Another thing that will strike you is the rather impersonal aspect of studying compared to high school. You may have been used to small classes at high school. This is usually not the case at university. Normally in the first year of university, there may be a hundred or more of you taking the same class. Some classes may even have two hundred or more students. You can get lost in a sea of other students. Be prepared to develop relationships with other students. Most students who manage to overcome the challenges of studying at university quickly form study groups of five or more students. They will typically walk together to the library, sit in the same study section, and study the same material at the same time. It is normal practice to see pizza deliveries being made to the library all through the night. If at all possible, don’t be a loner at university, learn to work with others.

Another aspect that may shock you is the intense nature of university studies. As a general rule you will cover in a single lecture an amount of material equivalent to three weeks of study in high school. And because of the compressed nature of university terms, there is normally very little scope for the lecturer to go over the material again. There is usually no time for a gradual introduction of course material. Lecturers are under intense pressure to deliver the syllabus in the given amount of time, which may be no more than thirty or forty hours of teaching time for an entire course module. This means that you have to prepare for your lectures beforehand, and to do follow-up reading after the lecture. Usually all the material is available on the university virtual learning environment. Get into the habit of reading ahead, and reading and doing your assignments in between lectures. Unlike high school, you may be attending not more than four hours of lectures per day.  Don’t get fooled by the seemingly empty lecture timetable. It’s not free time. It is time for you to go into the library and do some serious work. As a general rule, for every hour of lectures, you need to put in four hours of personal study.

At high school you may be used to being taught by a few teachers at any one point in time. You will get to know your teachers very well, and they will also get to know each one of you individually. This is usually not the case at university. You will be taught by multiple lecturers, and sometimes, two or more lecturers will share the teaching on a single course module. And given the number of students in each class, few lecturers get to know ten or more students in any of their first year classes. The same goes for the students – only a few get to know the names of all their lecturers in the first term of university. This can be very difficult for most students, and in some universities, some students can quietly drop out, and despite all the student management systems in place, it can be weeks before someone within the university administration notices.

What does all this mean for you? All it means is that you have to take charge of your learning. This includes working with other students, making sure that you attend your lectures and that you submit your coursework on time. It also means that you have to take the initiative to approach lecturers and course administrators to address any concerns that you may be having.  If a lecturer hasn’t explained something clearly, follow it up. Send an email, go and knock on his or her door, stop them in the corridors, and ask your question. University is a place for asking lots of questions. This is expected of you, ask questions and don’t stop until you are satisfied. In fact, this is one of the key benefits of going to university. You learn to take personal responsibility and control of your own life, and this is a highly sought-after skill when you get into employment.

In general, universities usually provide you with a personal tutor. This is a lecturer from your department, and their role is to support you in your learning. Your tutor will give you advice about how to conduct your studies, and he or she will be interested to know how you are settling into university. If you miss a coursework submission, or if you are not performing as expected, your tutor is usually the first person to know. Make sure that you meet regularly with your tutor, and let him or her be aware of anything that may not be going well in your life. Inform your tutor if you are taken ill, or if you have broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend and this is affecting your studies. Get to know your tutor very well. They are an important source of information concerning what is important to do at university. Take their advice seriously, and if you are having successes, or challenges, with your education, or any other activities you are involved with in the university and beyond, let them know. Throughout your university life, your tutor is likely to be one of the very few lecturers who will get to know you as a person. They will be there to provide you with work references, and when you start working, they will be important contacts for you if you wish to re-connect with the university.

Connecting with the Engineering Profession

You will be going to university to learn and study your particular field of engineering for three or four years. Most students show up at university with only a hazy idea about their chosen engineering discipline. After the first few weeks, some students may realise that they made the wrong choice. What they thought was engineering may be very different from the reality. Get to know your future engineering field. Search on the Internet all about your chosen discipline. Look at the various engineering syllabuses offered by the various universities, and read all the stories involving engineers in your discipline.

In most countries, there is usually a professional association for engineers. Find out which association engineers from your discipline belong to, and sign up. Engineering associations are always on the lookout for student engineers, and in most instances the cost of joining as a student is very small. And be involved with the association. Attend meetings, even if they may be talking about issues that make no sense to you. Pretty soon, some of those things will be your bread and butter issues. Talk to practising engineers, make friends, and volunteer your time. By doing so you will begin to know a lot about how your engineering discipline is practised, and you will develop useful contacts that may well lead you into your first job.

Everyone has a fair idea what a medical doctor does. In contrast, few people can explain with certainty what an engineer does. Sadly, this includes a large chunk of beginning engineering students.  Knowing what engineers do in every day working life will enable you to appreciate why your course is organised the way it is. It will also help to give you an idea of the additional skills that you need to acquire outside of your engineering classes. Find out which organisations are involved in your field, and ask to shadow one of their engineers for a day.  Most organisations are happy to give prospective engineers some shadowing experience, but they don’t normally advertise. Take the initiative, and ask them, and if they say no, go on to the next organisation. Be persistent.

A day spent shadowing a practising engineer gives useful insights into engineering practice. You get to see the engineer at work, reviewing designs, contracts, answering phone calls and emails, sending instructions to workers involved with projects, and communicating with senior managers within and outside the organisation. Follow the engineer to the tea and coffee machine, and listen as he or she exchanges chit chats with other colleagues. Imagine yourself in their role, and ask yourself: “Is this for me?”

Grooming yourself for Engineering Studies

There is at least three months between the end of high school and the start of engineering school. You can forget a lot in this period, and it is not helpful to turn up at university with a rusty brain. Mathematics forms the basis for most of the course modules that you will be studying at university. Find time to refresh your skills in such areas as trigonometry, differentiation and integration, and probability and statistics.  Most universities usually give advice on the mathematical and scientific skills that you need to have when you come into university. Take time to keep  these essential skills up-to-date. They are the bread and butter of engineering school. If you talk to most engineering lecturers, they will advise you that you need to spend at least half an hour each day, week in, week out, in the study of mathematics. Make the study of mathematics a habit, and this will smoothen your transition into university.

Nowadays computers are central to the study of engineering. You will use spreadsheets like Excel, programming languages and modelling software to simulate, analyse and model engineering problems. Find time to experiment with spreadsheets, especially their use in in graphical plotting and visualising mathematical equations. Again, the Internet is a great source for good practice material.

Most engineering disciplines have courses on computer programming. Even if you won’t be doing any computer programming in your university course, it helps to have an idea of programming.   After all, programming is one of the pillars of this current technological era. Find out which programming languages are taught in your university, and start learning some basic programming. It can teach you a lot about how to organise your thoughts and how to solve problems in a systematic manner. For most programming languages, you can easily download the essential software for free from the Internet, and there are loads of free online courses that you can work through. Start small, be inquisitive, and enjoy reading, modifying and experimenting with the many examples that are available for free on Internet.

Concluding Remarks

As a parting shot, don’t go into panic mode. Getting into engineering school is a very competitive process. The fact that you have received an offer means that you are one of the best engineering prospects out there. Thousands have gone through engineering school, and they have excelled in both their studies and in their job roles after graduating. You are no different from any of them. Believe in yourself. You can do it.

Help! Is there an Engineer in the house?

I love those old Victorian movies, especially those with a romantic bent. Invariably, the movie plot involves a scene where a young lady swoons, and faints, usually during a ball. Someone tries to revive her, but with no apparent success. Suddenly a dashing young man comes over and takes charge. The young man is a medical doctor, and soon the young lady is well again. And everyone is forever grateful to the young medical doctor. Even today, such scenes happen in real life. For instance during the recent Rugby World Cup held in England, a rugby fan had a heart attack, and this would have been fatal had it not been for a ‘hero’ doctor who miraculously appeared and gave him the breath of life (BBC News, 23 September, 2015).

But who has ever cried out for an engineer in a moment of need? Certainly not my wife, or my sister, or my  brother, or my two daughters.  Certainly I can’t think of any ordinary person ever expressing a sudden and dire need for an engineer in their life. And who has ever seen an engineer, anyway? Of course there must be engineers around in the community. I, for certain, am one of this elusive breed of professionals, but people see us and look through us without ever knowing that we exist, or worse still, without ever giving a second thought on our role in society. We engineers are there, but we remain invisible. Faceless, unknown, unacknowledged, we go through our lives. Just like spies, someone would say. But even spies are known in Hollywood.  Who has never heard of James Bond? And we do not normally call them spies, anyway. They are intelligence officers, and most of us are quite certain we know what they do in their day to day work, and they are certainly an intelligent lot.

But what about engineers? Certainly there are many films which showcase a lot of exotic technology, including the James Bond movies, but it’s almost impossible to get a film where an engineer is a hero, or where the word  engineer is explicitly mentioned. One post on the Internet can only think of the movie Apollo 13, and notes: “it is the very rare film where the engineers are heroes.”  So, we can safely conclude that even Hollywood is unaware of the existence of this profession called engineering.

But surprisingly the handiwork and brainwork of engineers abounds everywhere. Just take a look at the skyscrapers in our cities, and the cars, buses and trains that brought us to work today, and even the computer systems that are now indispensable for any modern-day work activity. Yet even these artefacts bear no reference at all to their creator – that elusive engineer, quietly, and mysteriously working away in the background. Even when a brand new car is launched there is scarcely any mention of the engineers who carried out the important work. Even when Land Rover launched its Range Rover Evoque series, the only person specifically named was the creative designer, former Spice Girl band member, Victoria Beckham. Where are the engineers who developed the vehicle’s superb transmission system, or worked night and day developing its unique aerodynamic features? Just silence, just a blanket silence.  Even when it comes to buildings, we hardly ever hear of the structural engineers, and the building services engineers who together design the infrastructure that make the building a reality. All we hear of is the building’s architect.  For instance, just across town is London’s answer to the seven wonders of the ancient world. This is the Shard, London’s highest building. And only one name springs to mind – that of Renzo Piano, the building’s architect.  Where are the engineers?

But once every year we try to remember the engineers in our midst. For example, in case you didn’t know, this week, 2 Nov to 6 Nov 2015, is Tomorrow’s Engineer Week. This is a week set aside to raise public awareness of engineering, especially amongst the youth and children. During this one week individual engineers, engineering organisations and educational institutions will compete to tell our children all the good things about engineers. Universities will organise sessions for school children where they show them how to do intricate things with maths and science. Newspapers will outdo each other telling us that engineers are found everywhere, even in professional tennis, Formula One, and in all the other things that we have come to take for granted. Then, after one week, we go back to our deafening silence. The elusive engineer goes into hibernation, waiting to be wheeled out once more into the public domain this time next year. Like a religious ritual which everyone seriously participates in, but which no one believes in. Thus goes the engineer, always necessary, ever voiceless, ever elusive, a figment that resides in the dark recesses of the public mind, except for that one week called Tomorrow’s Engineer Week.