I had always been good at maths and science in school and the bits I enjoyed most were the applied modules. I liked being able to see how the stuff I knew could be used in the real world – and that’s what engineering is, the application of science to solve problems.
I enjoy working with people. We have quite a social set up when it comes to working on the problem sheets we’re set for tutes and that helps when the work is piling up.
You use a lot of approximations to be able to do the maths in engineering and I like the feeling of ‘I can do this better than I did last year, which was more accurate than the year before’; you constantly feel like you’re building your knowledge up.
We made a radio in labs and the sense of achievement when that was finished was nice. Studying engineering at Oxford has also opened loads of doors to scholarships and widening participation work with the IET, IMeche and others, meaning I got to travel to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston this summer, which was something I always wanted to see.
I always wanted to know how the theoretical concepts we learnt in our maths and physics classes at school was applied in the real world.
In our course, I love the balance between theory and practical work. Our lecturers always give out very detailed lecture notes and all the theory we learn can be seen in action in our lab sessions. Our tutorials are also in small groups of up to 6, so I feel confident to ask questions and have in depth discussions about the topic.
We built a bridge as part of our first year lab project. We had to work in pairs to design and manufacture it, and then we tested it to failure by putting several hundred kilograms on it!
I was ridiculously shocked to find out how much maths I had taken on when I arrived! I chose engineering originally as I loved building and producing ‘things’. I was always either taking apart or putting back together anything I could find about the house. As a result, the theoretical body of work covered in the first and second years came as quite a surprise. Since then I’ve bizarrely grown to enjoy the more mathematical aspects and was grateful for the chance to specialise in areas that employ mathematical modelling more. That being said, I know many of my friends on the course have gone in the opposite direction – it really does depend on the person!
A particular highlight was the second year concrete lab. It really couldn’t have felt less like work! You spend the morning mixing up in great concrete mixers many kilos of concrete to then pour over a steel reinforcement frame. You leave it to set and then spend an afternoon testing your beam (along with everyone elses) to destruction!
In the first and second year, this engineering course is entirely general, and covers the basics in many aspects of engineering. In both years, there are four topics, which cover maths, electronics, mechanics and structures, and energy systems. You'll have lectures in the mornings and one day a week in labs. There you'll do things like designing a bridge, building a radio, or learning to use engineering software.
In the third and fourth year, you get a lot more freedom in choosing what you want to do. You can specialise in pretty much any aspect of engineering, including things like biomedical engineering or machine learning. You'll do both a group project and a larger individual project, which most students really enjoy. Most students choose to complete the 4 years.
Because the course is meant to be as general as possible for the first two years, you get a good grounding in lots of engineering disciplines. This is great if you aren’t totally sure what you want to specialise in yet, and when you do decide there’s a lot of flexibility in areas of specialisation. There are also amazing options for your third-year project – and don’t overlook the study-abroad opportunities in fourth year!
The BBC News science section usually has some pretty good stuff. It's how I discovered the Bloodhound 1000mph car and the attempts to land a satellite upon an asteroid.
I would recommend Henri Petroski’s Invention by Design. It shows how seemingly simple office essentials like paper clips involve a huge amount of complex engineering to make them suitable for their intended purpose.
Electronics: Looking at Arduino or Raspberry Pi might be interesting.
Structures/Materials: The New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor by J. E. Gordon
General Interest: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, and The Toaster Project, or, a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch by Thomas Thwaites
I had interviews at two different colleges. In my first interview I was asked lots of short questions, but in my second I was asked two/three much longer questions. I tried to explain my thought process as I was answering and I feel this helped the interviewers guide me towards the right answer.
The questions I was asked were are mixture of Maths and Physics, and were based predominately on the A level syllabus. If I could go back and do it again, I would read all of the 'application' boxes in the corners of the physics textbook, as quite a of these (e.g. springs in car suspension systems) came up in the interview (and in the Physics Aptitude Test).
There were no surprise or nasty questions, the interviewers were lovely and would prompt me whenever I was struggling. Overall I really enjoyed my interview and the time I spent in Oxford with the other candidates!
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Engineering interviews for more information.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.