Engineering

The thing about electronics is that it gets everywhere. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not. Your new iPhone is clearly identifiable as a piece of stand-alone electronic equipment as is your Sat-Nav, mobile phone and electronic notebook. A quick look around though and a little bit of thought has you identify all manner of things as having significant electronic components. A modern car has tens of microcomputers that look after the monitoring of the vehicle from brake wear to engine performance where both sensors (for collecting information) and transducers (for control) are connected. Then include displays for the driver, noise cancellation systems, traffic master systems and the like and we soon see that much of the added value in a car comes from the use of electronics.

It’s easy to go on in the same vein. Modern passenger aircraft are another example. All of the engine management, navigation, fly-by-wire, passenger entertainment systems, safety systems, radar and pilot information displays are electronic systems. There are a host of other electronic systems on an aircraft of course and wiring them all up contributes greatly to the weight of the aircraft so here is an idea. Get rid of the wire, replacing it with a fibre optic system employing a packet switched protocol to move the information about, saving weight and fuel! You can go further too and look for the electronic components in buildings, bridges, on farms and in the home. The point is this. Almost wherever you turn there is a need for electronic engineers to design bespoke systems. Unlike some engineering disciplines, where there are limited opportunities to devise and design things from scratch, electronic components are always needed. If you are looking to enter the aviation industry then there is limited demand for air-frame designers but plenty of need for expertise in electronics.

I hope that I have convinced you that into the far foreseeable future a good electronic engineering degree from a good university will open up a plethora of career opportunities. If

you are thinking of studying in the UK then you need to try

and identify institutions that suit you. Your own performance at university depends on how you are motivated by the course and how you are stretched by the staff and your own peers. Look at the entry grades that are needed and pick a place that you can “just” get in to. If the entry standards are too high for you then even should you get in you could be left far behind. If the entry standards are too easy then you might be top of the class but still learn less than you would at a more demanding place. Look for choice in a course too. Larger institutions offer chances to specialise in different aspects of electronics. You might be interested in biology but don’t want to do medicine – so you can choose a course that offers modules in bio-medical applications of electronics – just an example of what’s possible.

One way of assessing the merit of an electronics department is to look at their web sites where you will often find details of course content but you will also find pointers to the research that they do. Why am I bothered with that? Where there is plenty of good research going on you will find switched-on staff who are passionate about their subject and are keen to teach it and keen to persuade the best students that when their undergraduate days are done then a postgraduate degree might be in order!

Contributed by:
Dr Jeff Reeve, University of Southampton

CIVIL ENGINEERING

As civilization evolves and we place even more demands on the Earth’s resources, civil engineers will influence how society develops and how we live our lives sustainably.  The role of a civil engineer is varied and will have a bearing on most events that take place on a daily basis, including energy supply, infrastructure and transportation, clean water provision, flood alleviation, managing waste and recycling.  It’s much more than just buildings and bridges!
The career streams for a civil engineer can vary from specialisms such as sustainability experts, materials technologists and geospatial engineers to more traditional roles such as structural engineers, construction managers and project managers. Although there is a global downturn at the moment, the opportunities are still strong for students with degrees in civil engineering. Within the UK, many large companies are still actively recruiting graduate engineers, the lifeblood of many firms. In all cases, top ranking firms are looking for articulate, motivated students who will bring added-value to the company, in the form of specialist knowledge such as materials technology or sustainability.  Graduate engineers now working in the UK have found themselves involved in a variety of jobs including projects in the Gulf states, India and China, not just the UK.
The construction industry is going through a very challenging and exciting period with major projects such as the developing the east of London for the 2012 Olympic Games, harnessing power through the Three Gorges Dam in China or expanding the mass transit system of the Delhi Metro, pushing the boundaries of design, materials science, construction and sustainability and in many cases, graduate engineers are at the forefront of these challenges.  Indeed, it will be the graduate engineers of today who will shape these cutting edge companies in the future. As with most professions, the construction industry is driven by innovation and research and with a civil engineering degree, you can become part of an exciting research community.  Research is currently focusing on two areas: minimizing environmental impact of construction and maximizing the performance of construction materials.  Reducing the carbon footprint of concrete for example, is an exceptional challenge and alternative materials to traditional cement and aggregates are now being considered at a nano-scale level to reduce resource burden and improve performance.

When considering undertaking a degree in the UK, students should always check the quality of the Civil Engineering Department and University, find out more about the teaching staff and their areas of expertise, and, most importantly, examine the quality of research within the Department as this will determine how well the staff is tuned-in to the requirements of the construction industry.  In addition, always check to see whether the degree is accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) as only then will the degree count towards becoming professionally qualified (CEng) in the UK and recognised worldwide.

Contributed by:
Dr Moray Newlands, University of Dundee

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