So you’re here, in the same position I was in 2018, having received your conditional or unconditional offer to study with the University of Surrey within the MES Department (Mechanical Engineering Sciences), studying either Mechanical, Automotive, Aerospace or Biomedical Engineering. As you continue studying towards your A-Levels, or equivalent, you think towards the upcoming academic year and what you can expect from your first year of studying. What will the timetable be like? Who will be teaching me? Will I get to play with the wind tunnels and labs immediately?!! As I take a trip down memory lane, read on to find out more about your first few weeks as an engineer in first year!
Note: My memories, though mainly correct for the Undergraduate 2018 intake, may not match up with what will happen when you join the University of Surrey – please take this as more of a general guide as details may differ year to year
So let’s jump forward – you’re here!! Congratulations on your recent qualifications and joining our community here at the University of Surrey! You’re in Week 0/Welcome Week now, or colloquially Freshers’ Week; the week as everyone moves in to accommodation and you get your first taste of the university life. But it’s not just about socials and meeting new friends (though this is a very important part!), but the University and Student’s Union will also organise a “personalised” timetable for you, filled with activities and events throughout the week that you can/should attend.
These include general campus tours, as well as dedicated departmental tours to your degree to give you a better idea of the facilities available to you. For MES, that includes the undergraduate labs, the computing labs and the workshop areas – all the places you’ll be using in your first, and subsequent, years. You’ll also be invited to ‘Welcome Lectures’, where you will be informed about a range of topics from the structure of the multiple degrees offered within the MES Department, to the support services offered here at the University including the library and Hive services. As part of the multitude of support services we offer to students, the University provides each student with a Personal Tutor; a teaching staff member/research fellow within your relevant department who you be there throughout your degree offering academic and social support whenever necessary. During your first week, you will be given the chance to meet your Personal Tutor for the first time!
Now back to the socials! It’s not just ones with your new flatmates and your course mates, but also your department and societies! You may be offered a department social to get to know the lecturers and teaching staff better which is a great way to enjoy a more relaxed and informal environment with those helping you achieve your degree. But naturally, the main socials you’ll be part of are the ones arranged by our amazing Student’s Union, and that includes departmental societies – these societies are based around degrees and departments, often linked with the departments themselves, offering direct academic and social events for all and any students interested! For example, MechSoc is the departmental society for the MES Department (a society I was Vice President for for 2 years). Run by students, MechSoc offers a range of events from charity bar crawls to academic talks from industry leaders and in your first weeks, often a Welcome Event – this is an amazing way to get to know your course mates and a flavour of what to expect from the society!
But that’s just your first week! The following week starts, as you expect, Week 1 of Semester 1, and where your formal academic timetable kicks in. Your timetable will be filled with all the contact hours you will have each week – these are the hours you’ll spend with your lecturers/teaching fellows in the form of lectures, tutorials, labs and seminars. For First Year MES students, you can expect approximately 22 hours a week, every week (your timetable will barely change week-to-week which is great for creating structure). For the first few weeks, figuring out where you’re going for each timetabled event is often something MES students struggle with (there’s a lot of hours in a lot of different buildings on Stag Hill) but it soon will become second nature. Another important point to remember is that for all Mechanical, Automotive, Aerospace and Biomedical students, first year is common among them all so for many of these lectures there could be 200+ students with you!! Tutorials, labs and seminars are with a lot less students, usually about 30, but for the lectures be prepared to meet literally everyone in your year. My top tip would be find course mates that share the same tutorials/labs as well as lectures so that you’ll always seen a friendly face wherever you go in the week!
As you begin your first few weeks, you’ll also get your first taste of the workload of a first year engineering student. You’re expected to not just work and attend every contact hour, but also nearly match that in your own time. This could include consolidating your understanding in the lectures, working on the tutorials, doing extra background reading and completing assignments/coursework. Some weeks, you may find that you don’t need to spend as much time on your work, but other weeks you may be spending a lot more, especially closer to deadlines! Assignment deadlines are one of the biggest changes you’ll find when you start as an engineering student. No one will chase you for them! If you forget about a deadline, and you miss it, that’s a 0 for you – the lecturer will not ask for it, or remind you to submit it (most do to be honest, but some don’t!) but there will be an expectation for it to be submitted on time as set. That can sound daunting to some, but so long as you keep up with the work and make a note of the few deadlines in the semester, you’ll be a high-class engineering student in no time!
All that’s left to say is good luck in completing your studies and hope that you’re getting excited for your future as an engineering student here at the University of Surrey! Want to know how to prepare for your first semester a bit better? Take a look at another blog I wrote here!