Introducing Matthew

IET Power Academy scholar Matthew talks about his passion for engineering growing up, his hobbies and how he moved from focusing on mechanical to electrical and electronic engineering.

Matthew Nethercote As clichéd as it may sound, I’ve always had an interest in how things work, but particularly why they work. I think I always knew that I wanted to be an engineer. My fascination with how machines worked and why they did was apparent from an early age. I spent my childhood building Lego Technic sets - I never bothered with “ordinary Lego”, I think I thought it wasn’t real enough, besides it was much better to build the bigger more complex sets for the big boys!

I’d meticulously follow the instructions, building the model exactly as the instructions intended. I would then proudly admire my work before carefully putting the model in a safe place. These sets really helped me to understand basic principles, as almost all of them had basic mechanical, electrical or pneumatic systems.

I’ve always been a very practical person, which is probably best demonstrated though my hobbies. When I was 13 my dad and I began the complete restoration of a vintage tractor, from rebuilding the engine to painting the bodywork. It was a process I enjoyed immensely, and since then I’ve been bitten by the restoration bug.

The process taught me so much about how mechanical systems worked - as these tractors were pure mechanics, the only thing the electrics did was start the engine and operate the lights. There certainly wasn’t any engine management system or engine control unit. So given all this mechanical interest how did I ever come to do an electrical engineering degree?

Electrical and electronic engineering - surely not!

Electronics has always interested me. I got the basic principles but how and why they worked was always a bit of a mystery. I could only see the effects of the inputs on the outputs - not everything else that happened in between. I could imagine how a gearbox worked but not how a processor on a computer, tablet or phone could multitask everything you threw at it. Tough one, isn’t it? 

My first real taste of electronics came in secondary school through technology and design classes. Being practical I enjoyed technology and design as I loved making the simple projects in class such as keyring torches and timers, but little did I know that choosing to continue studying technology and design for my GCSEs, AS and A levels would be a huge factor in choosing my future career.

For my GCSEs, AS and A levels I had to do projects which involved both design and build. It was at this point I realised that I had a real passion for the design process, which allowed me to not only apply the theoretical knowledge I had gained in class, but also the practical knowledge I had acquired through my hobbies.

I also got my first taste of electronic circuit design and programmable logic - something that demonstrated the potential of electronics to me and how much could be done with relatively simple components. The build stage of the projects allowed me to use my practical skills to produce a high quality product.

The sense of reward for working on these projects was a contributing factor to my degree choice. I loved every minute of it - from the design to building through to testing and debugging. When this passion was combined with a flair for mathematics and science I knew that engineering was for me.

I’m a strong believer that people do best at what they enjoy. I loved circuit design and the rewards it brought so electrical engineering seemed perfect!

Choosing a university

There are so many universities to choose from but I was fortunate that I knew that there was one which really appealed to me - Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

Queen’s gave me the best of both worlds; a top class university with recognised credentials (Russell Group), which was only an hours’ drive away from home. I appreciate that this may not be to everybody’s taste but it really appealed to me. This would allow me to continue with hobbies and other extracurricular activities outside of university - a keen mechanic and shooter. I’ve always been a keen sportsman, enjoying almost all sports, and with QUB being a sporting university, it seemed to be the obvious choice!

At the time of applying I knew that Queen’s was one of the seven universities in the IET Power Academy [new window], which was important as it showed that the university was recognised not only by academic bodies, but also professional ones like the IET and power companies themselves. Little did I know at that time that I’d eventually become a scholar on the scheme!