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How to succeed on an engineering course

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Engineering is a highly rewarding, complex, fast-paced industry. Engineers across all disciplines are in demand, but competition for the most prestigious jobs and internships is fiercely competitive.

Derek Dixon, the University of Sunderland’s Admissions Tutor for Mechanical Engineering, which was ranked 5th in the UK in The Guardian’s University Guide 2016, gives his top tips to help you get the most out of your course at Sunderland, no matter what discipline you choose.

Derek Dixon

Be passionate

“When selecting who to take onto our courses, a clear passion for engineering, regardless of the discipline, is one of the main qualities I’ll look for.

"There’s a lot of work to be done so someone who is willing to put in the hours, show the dedication to succeed even when the going gets tough, and is enthusiastic enough to jump straight into all the study activities we offer is essential – that’s the only way you’ll improve. So be passionate, be committed, show a willingness to learn and the University will do everything it can for you," says Derek.

Soft-skills are important

Engineering is a sector that’s changing fast. The need to create more efficient, cleaner, more streamlined materials and products is greater than ever before, and engineers are at the forefront of this challenge, meaning it’s a job in demand – one that could take you all over the globe.

Derek adds: “I would absolutely recommend students learn another language. It wouldn’t just allow you to get a job in another country but it shows you have the ability to push yourself and step out of your comfort zone.

“In an engineering degree, you build a set of skills that are quite logical and procedural but language skills call on your development and thought processes. If an employer sees you can rise to this challenge, it will interest them.

“We’ll encourage you to commit to extra-curricular activities such as Formula Student, getting involved with our sports clubs and societies and take part in the University of Sunderland Language Scheme. This will really make your CV stand out in a highly competitive industry and will show employers that you’re willing to engage with different sets of people without becoming blinkered by your core studies.”

Become a good communicator

“Regardless of what form of engineering you choose, there’s lots of study activities for you to get involved in that are really rewarding,” says Derek. “You’ll get to work in groups, work on challenging design projects and take part in industry placements, and all of these will increase your personal development. You’ll become more confident, get vital experience in presenting ideas to a group and being able to talk to people at different levels – this is vital for any engineer. You’ll need to be able to talk clearly and get your ideas across with people from senior managers to other students. We’ll help you with this and it’ll be invaluable when you go out and look for jobs and internships.”

Keep your options open

“In your first year, all students across all engineering courses will study the same modules to build that foundation," continues Derek. "If you’re still committed after that then you’ll go on to specialise in your chosen discipline.

“It’s not uncommon for students to come in and not fully appreciate the direction their discipline is going in, but that’s normal with young people, so If you start a course and then decide you want to change once you’ve seen what it’s all about, then you can, thanks to the common first year.”

Come to an Open Day

Derek adds: “Engineering is a very broad subject that equips you with a huge amount of skills. Students, because of this, may see it as a default programme because they’re not sure what they want to do.

“We don’t see this as a problem because we find the vast majority of students really enjoy what they do with us. However, we still need them to have some knowledge of what engineering is about and the direction is heading, otherwise, they may find it hard to hit the ground running.

“If you’re a student who is interested in engineering but isn’t quite aware of how it works or the scope of the subject, I would advise you to come and visit us on an Open Day and look around the department.

“We often run taster sessions so you can see what it’s really like to study engineering of any kind at the University.

“One of the misconceptions about engineering is that it’s often workshop based, but it’s not – especially at degree level – there’s a lot of theory with practical activities mixed in, so if you come here and look around, you’ll appreciate that more and then you can make an informed choice on what you want to do.”

We’ll support you

“You’ll be surprised when you come here.

“I think the reason for the Guardian ranking the Mechanical Engineering course 5th is a reflection on the staff and students.

“Our students really enjoy their time with us because they appreciate the time the staff put into the course.

“You’ll also have an open-door policy with our staff. That doesn’t happen at all universities. If you have an academic or pastoral problem, come and knock on the door and we’ll help you. That closeness makes the students feel supported, and if they feel like that, they’ll settle and focus on the things that matter such as their studies and their activities. So make the most of the resources and good quality teaching and take advantage of all the opportunities we give you,” concludes Derek.


Published: 11 September 2017