Upon commencing my second year at university, I thought it was time to share my experience as a girl studying first year engineering.
As is most people, I was apprehensive but extremely excited to start university. My first memory is walking into university on enrolment day and having to stop and ask for help next to a queue of boys waiting to go into the enrolment room. I felt like I was being looked at as though I was in the wrong place! I was!
As I have said before, in medical engineering the ratio of girls to boys is more even but because the medical engineering department at my university is small and at most universities the first year of an engineering degree is generic, all of my lectures were mixed with the mechanical engineering students.
I found that a lot of the first semester material was covering a level work I had already done (especially maths!).
One aspect of the course I had not experienced was the practical work in the workshop. We spent the whole semester gaining experience and knowledge of the machinery used for metal work and making a toolbox using it. This might put some people off and I have to say I was not keen on wearing overalls, steel toe cap boots and goggles! However, it is important to understand how things are made, even if you might never physically make them again. It does help with future project work, believe me!
Being a very small girl I had no problem getting help when I couldn’t reach handles on the machine! I think I should recommend they keep a stool in there! Regardless, I still managed to win an award for best toolbox!
Throughout semester I took part in a lab sessions every week. At 3 hours long they were definitely not as intense as the electronic engineers’ at 6 hours! We were expected to read up on the lab before hand, and this was not pages and pages of work but as long as you had shown an understanding of the principles and theoretical basis of the lab you were marked well. The labs range from basic tensile tests (if you have/are currently studying physics at a level, this kind of thing will naturally be easier) to the testing of other properties of materials, deflection in beams and we even managed to fit in a medical lab. This lab involved a basic model of the human arm and investigating what force from the biceps was required to keep the forearm still when a load of 2N was applied. After each lab, we had to write a full report. I have to admit it can be long and tiring (maybe even stressful) but it is really good practice and you get a really satisfying feeling once you have completed one!
My experience will not be the same as everyone else’s. But it is nice to know it might not be as scary as you think it is! Even though it may be male dominated us girls can still do it and enjoy every minute of it!
Going to university was the best decision I ever made, and it opens the door to so many opportunities. Look out for part 2 (Semester 2)!
Women Can Engineer