Tag Archives: education

Reasons I became an engineer: #2

Decorative photograph showning the entrance to the Engineering Faculty at the University of SheffieldThis is the second in a series of posts reflecting on my route to becoming an engineer.  In the first one I described how I chose a degree in mechanical engineering so that I would have appreciation of the technical difficulties that engineers might cite when requesting operational changes for a ship that I hoped one day to command [see ‘Reasons I became an engineer: #1’ on April 19th, 2023].  I think I selected mechanical engineering because it provided a broader engineering education than other engineering degrees and I did not know enough to choose any other branch of engineering.  I went to the University of Sheffield and during vacations returned to the Royal Navy serving onboard HMS Active and flew out to join her wherever she was in the world, except when I went to the Royal Navy Engineering College at Manadon outside Plymouth to undertake engineering applications training.  I cast a brass nameplate, which I still have in my office, and made a toolbox that I also still have at home.  After graduation, I returned full-time to the Royal Navy as a sub-lieutenant and started my career as a naval officer in the executive or seaman branch.  However, I did not settle and missed engineering so I asked for and was refused a transfer to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors who work on the design and development of warships.  As a result, I resigned my commission in the Royal Navy and got a job as a research assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield where I registered for a PhD in engineering.  I had taken a positive step towards becoming an engineer but perhaps on the premise of what I did not want to do rather than what I did want to do.

Reasons I became an engineer: #1

Photograph of aircraft carrier in heavy seas for decorative purposes onlyThis is the first in a series of posts in which I am going to reflect on my route to becoming an engineer.  These events happened around forty years ago so inevitably my recollections probably have more in common with folklore than reliable history.  Nevertheless, I hope they might be of interest.

I was good at mathematics at school but also geography and when required to specialise at the age of sixteen would have preferred to study mathematics, geography and perhaps economics.  However, my parents and my school, had other ideas and decided that partnering chemistry and physics with mathematics would give me more opportunities in terms of university courses and careers.  Physics was manageable but Chemistry was a complete mystery to me.  I left school shortly before my eighteenth birthday and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.  I went to Dartmouth Naval College where, as part of my training to become a seaman officer, I was taught to march, navigate, fight fires, sail yachts, drive motor launches and fly helicopters as well as spending time with the Royal Marines.  After my basic naval training, which included time at sea on HMS Hermes, I went to University sponsored by the Royal Navy with a free choice of subject to study.  So, I chose Mechanical Engineering because I thought as an officer on the bridge of a ship, perhaps eventually in command of a ship, it would be useful to understand what the engineers were talking about when they asked for a change in operations due to technical difficulties.  At that stage in my life, I had no intention of becoming an engineer, but with hindsight it was my first step in that direction.

Celebrating engineering success

Today is National Engineering Day [see ‘My Engineering Day’ on November 4th, 2021] whose purpose is to highlight to society how engineers improve lives.  I would like to celebrate the success of two engineers who are amongst the seventy-two engineers elected to the fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering this year.  Chris Waldon is leading the design and delivery of a prototype fusion energy plant, targeting 2040, and a path to the commercial viability of fusion.  This is a hugely ambitious undertaking that has the potential to transform our energy supply.  He is the first chief engineer to move the delivery date to within twenty years rather than pushing it further into the future.  My other featured engineer is Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, a leading advocate of innovations in engineering education that focus on encouraging enterprising and socially-conscious approaches to designing and delivering engineering solutions.  These are important developments because we urgently need a more holistic, sustainable and liberal engineering education that produces engineers equipped to tackle the complex challenges facing society.  Of course I am biased having worked and published with both of them.  However, I am not alone in my regard for them and will be joining other Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering at a dinner in London next week to celebrate their achievements.

Change in focus

Decorative image of a painting by Sarah Evans The new academic year is well and truly underway.  It was 2019 when we last welcomed students to campus in person for the start of the academic year.  In my role as Dean, I have been touring lecture theatres trying to speak to and welcome students in all of our taught programmes in the School of Engineering.  It is exciting to see packed lecture theatres full of students eager to listen and learn.  For the first time in a decade, I am not teaching this year so that I can focus on other activities.  I have mixed feelings about giving up teaching.  I taught my first class thirty-six years ago in Mechanics of Solids.  For the last eleven years I have been teaching Thermodynamics to first year students [see, for example ‘From nozzles and diffusers to stars and stripes‘ on March 30th, 2022].  So, teaching has been a substantial part of my working life and its absence will leave a large hole.  I will miss the excitement of standing in front of a class of hundreds of students as well as the rewards of interacting with undergraduate students who are encountering and engaging with a new subject.  One consequence of my change in focus is likely to be a decline in the frequency of blog posts featuring thermodynamics [you can read them all under ‘Thermodynamics’ in Categories], but perhaps that will be a relief to many readers.

Image: Painting by Sarah Evans owned by the author.