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Topic Title: Please help - guidance greatly appreciated!
Topic Summary: I would like expert advice in a decision about University
Created On: 07 August 2012 12:52 AM
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 07 August 2012 12:52 AM
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I have known of the IET for a while, but I've only just joined the forum today. Therefore, I apologize if this question is misplaced. Also, please do not be put off by the length of this post - the subject is very important for me; I've included a short summary at the end in case you haven't time to read the full post.

A couple of years ago, I started a Mechanical Engineering degree. However, due to various personal reasons, I soon fell behind and dropped out in less than a year. The University kindly gave me the option to defer my course for a year until I was ready to resume.

That time has now passed, and I've still not made a decision about resuming. If I do go back this year, then I will pay lower fees (£3,500 instead of the new £9000), but there's still a risk I will fall behind again.

Aside from determining whether I'm fit for the course, which is a task solely for my parents and I, the other major factor in my decision is whether I'm still interested in the course. It is this query with which I would really like help.

I have a few things I'd like to ask, but my main issue is thus: Before I started the course, I had in my head a vision of engineers being "inventors" or "designers", but the course seemed more to do with "tweaking" things.

To explain my terms more fully, "inventing" is using previous knowledge to create something completely new, or making a creative leap forward in an already developed field. "Designing" projects would be using engineering knowledge to develop plans for building structures, or manufacturing new products. Each of these jobs would require a high level of creativity.

On the other hand, I use "tweaking" to refer to the very methodical task of taking a part of a machine, testing it in a prescribed fashion, and making adjustments, without much room for imagination.

I appreciate that as a junior engineer, I would have less opportunity to make decisions than if I were a higher-up; and that any 'juicy', 'interesting' work might require some less glamorous foundation work, especially in my first year. However, aside from having a passion for roller coasters, I was taken in by Engineering by the claim that it needed a "problem-solving" mind. I was thus a little disappointed that most of the work I did on my course was standard and methodical.

I think that I could become very interested in the 'foundation' knowledge of engineering if I knew it would soon open up more creative options, but without that knowledge, I would find it a lot harder to sustain a passion for it. I am still a little interested in the mathematics for its own sake, but without being able to imagine its utility, I find it often quite dry.

I now have only a couple of weeks to decide about my course, but I have no idea to whom I should put my question: my parents advised me against talking directly with the course staff, as admitting to them that I might not be interested in the course would be a bad move.

If anyone in this forum is an engineer, or thinks they know someone to whom I would find it helpful to talk, please RSVP. I find it easier to think when typing, but due to the urgency of my situation I would prefer to talk via Skype or telephone in this instance. However, if you feel uncomfortable about sharing details (by Personal Message, I suppose?) then I'm happy to reply in this topic instead.

As a little extra information, there is a chance I might be able to change from Mech to Civil engineering when I go back; this is not a certainty. However, I'd still appreciate opinion on which course might me more suitable for me - the way I see it, if I wanted to "invent" things, I would go for Mechanical, but if I wanted to design projects, I would go for Civil. Is this assumption in any way correct?

A summary:

    I have to decide about going back to Uni.
    If I return this year, I can still pay on the lower fees band.
    I have problems with motivation, but I think I would be sufficiently motivated if I were interested in the subject.
    I aspire to have a role in a creative job.
    However, I was disappointed that my course seemed too methodical.
    I could sustain my interest far more easily if I knew I was working towards a creative role.
    I might possibly be able to switch course from Mech to Civil.

    Could an expert please help advise me on these issues?
    Could anyone please help direct my questions to an expert?

Thank you,

Patrick Emmerson
 07 August 2012 01:14 PM
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Hi Patrick, I'm not sure from your post whether you're really interested in the application of engineering knowledge or whether a Product Design course would be perhaps what you need to consider. A first year of a degree course is not about the end product but to ensure grounding in the "theatrical knowledge" using lab room activities where applicable. I think you're jumping the gun a bit with dreams of grandeur, engineering is about design and problem solving but this involves meticulous calculation and consideration of the small stuff before you can have any satisfaction of the end product (sometimes this takes years).
I'd suggest you look at the complete degree programme prospectus and ask yourself whether you are keen for thermodynamics, materials, thermofluids, mechanics of solids etc. and make an honest judgement. Others may be able to tell you the career prospects ahead but these are not certainties. I've moved from Electrical Systems to C&I to Design Engineering in my somewhat short career for example.
 07 August 2012 02:02 PM
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To reiterate what the post above states, it might be worth considering a Product Design course rather than a specific engineering discipline.

Bear in mind that whatever technical course you decide to study, you will always have to learn the fundamental engineering principles first so that you have a basic knowledge and understanding. This may seem boring at the time but it is essential should you want to develop a career as a design engineer or an "inventor".

 08 August 2012 11:25 AM
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Perhaps a slightly different view...

I spent the engineering part of my career very much as a creative designer. (After many, many years of this I'm now a creative manager if you can imagine such a thing!!) Looking back, I had exactly the same problem with my degree, I found it boring and did not feel that it gave me what I wanted to go out and be creative. (Which is why I did not get anything like the degree level which I should have done.)

That was my mistake, through immaturity. In fact, as the posters above say, if I had concentrated on my degree, and really understood the basics, my creative work would have been much better. Faster, more reliable, and actually more original as I would have had a bigger "toolbox" of techniques to draw from. It would not have stifled my originality, it would have informed it.

It's like playing a musial instrument, or football, or cooking, or whatever: you've got to know the basics really thoroughly to become excellent, but it's worth it when you get there.

Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 09 August 2012 07:56 PM
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Have you considered doing an OU degree? You can have the flexibility of studying Engineering, Technology and Design or mix and match subjects from different courses to produce a degree specific to you needs.

You can also get credit transfer for your past exam passes towards the OU degree.

Lastly, you have the flexibility to study in your own time and gain qualifications (Certificate, Diploma) leading to your degree award.

Good luck.
 04 September 2012 09:58 PM
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Hi Patrik,

I think much of your own problem is that your own experience through university hasn't been an overly pleasant one, so let me first discuss a few things.

ENGINEERING: Engineering is the development of an issue, idea, thought, project or existing device which cannot be found in the natural world.

This doesn't mean engineering is about 'fixing' things - it's about designing something that nature hasn't provided for us. So, how can we do that? Well, if you felt confident enough to design your own sports car, computer system, sky scraper or mobile phone you wouldn't be worrying about university. Unfortunately, none of us are. Anybody who designs something must first build upon the experience of others - this mean hard graft through study. There's no way around it.

Whether you choose Civil or Mechanical, you must consider that in order to become a true 'engineer', you must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. University is about proving your cut out to do what needs to be done in this job - usually with early mornings, late nights and long dissertations.

So, will you get the chance to design a roller coaster? Well, get your degree, get the skill, knowledge and experience, move in the right job with the company at the right level, and yes. Maybe, one day, you could. Chances are though that by then you'll be so passionate about something else you've seen on the way that you'll look around you and realise you've been working towards this all along.

On the other hand, you might complete your degree and not want to work in the industry. Many people go on to do MSc's in business, commissioning, project management and all the other avenues associated with our wide and diverse industry.

The decision is yours - weigh up time versus cost. Weigh up whether you really WILL like this new course better than the old one - and weigh up what you'll do if you don't.

If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to message me on here and I can arrange to talk with you via telephone or Skype.

All the best.

Sam Foster
Schools Liaison Officer - South Yorkshire Local Network

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