Robert May is a second year student in civil and structural engineering at Sheffield University Why engineering?
I have had an inclination towards engineering right from secondary school, where I excelled in design studies. So in choosing where to do my secondary school work experience placement I selected an engineering firm. But as it turned out, that experience turned me off the subject. The whole thing was not organised very well and I spent most of my time sitting in an office.
However following completion of my A-levels, I took a year out and spent half of it travelling. On my return I worked as a technician at local civil and structural engineering firm Smithers Purslow & Co. At the time taking it was more to do with paying off debts from travelling than getting experience, but I got on really well.
To start with I just helped out with paperwork, but I gained increasing responsibilities (as much as is possible in an unqualified position) - to the point where I visited sites on my own. It was my placement here that gave me the inspiration to be part of the civils profession.
Degree As perhaps is the case for many in my position, I most enjoy the more hands-on subjects. A recently completed design module included a group project where we had to design a footbridge, which was interesting because it seemed to reflect how things may be done in a real life design situation.
I find the interaction with other students during this type of module really interesting - listening to other people, hearing direct feedback on your ideas, and deciding where responsibility for a project is shared. One other module that sticks out as being interesting this semester, is the structural analysis module - where I feel my structural instinct is questioned and developed.
I don't enjoy the maths modules - but I put that down to not enjoying maths full stop. I generally prefer the other subjects where there is a clearer practical application for it.
Also I think there is a lot of room for improvement on the IT side.
With current technologies there are some amazing possibilities - such as 3D visualisation - which could be immensely useful and profitable to many civil engineering firms.
Last year, one module involved an AutoCAD drawing, using a windows 3.1 based version. Why we were not taught with the most up to date version (which is available on the university network) I was unsure.
Contact with industry I am in regular contact with the firm I work for during vacations - Smithers Purslow & Co. The contact is invaluable as it gives an insight into the working world. It has enabled me to gain experience and make more informed decisions about where I may like to specialise in the future. Smithers Purslow also helped arrange an interview with the regional ICE liaison officer, which I found incredibly informative. When it comes to site trips, however, I do think that more could be arranged.
Will you be a civil engineer?
I certainly hope to join the profession in some capacity, whether it is as a civil engineer or structural. I am unsure, as I am still learning about the field.