Peter Collen

For me, the best thing about engineering is its variety. You can spend your career in a way which is very difficult to match in other industries; constantly solving new problems and finding innovative solutions. I think variety is also what led me to choose Engineering Design. Initially I wasn’t certain what area of engineering I’d most enjoy, which made the course’s general first year very appealing. The chance to work at a diverse range of leading companies – on everything from aircraft to buildings – was also something that really excited me. Finally, I really liked the interdisciplinary nature of the programme: the course starts very broad, but then allows you to become as much of specialist in a particular area as you want. An unusual aspect is that you then continue to work with other Engineering Design students on different streams. This is how real projects in industry function, where making technical decisions requires an appreciation for how other specialist areas work, as well as ability to integrate that information. This was probably the deciding factor in my choice to study Engineering Design: the opportunity to continue learning about these diverse areas whilst also being able to pursue my own interests – whatever they might end up being.

There are three things that really set Engineering Design apart from other courses: the placements, the projects and the people.

I spent my year-in-industry working at Rolls-Royce, who allow you to do two six-month rotations to broaden your experience. I was initially in a relatively technical team, investigating heat transfer for a next-generation vertical take-off aircraft. This was followed by a placement in the Advanced Projects department, where I worked on both the development of new concepts and liaised with design teams to identify how they could work more innovatively. Whilst every company is slightly different, everyone who returns from placement comes back a lot more confident, with a much better understanding of how lecture material fits into the real world. They’re also generally a bit better in 9 a.m. lectures!

The projects are unique in that they span two years and are sponsored by industry. The direction of each project is left entirely up to the group, so you can focus it towards your own interests and decide what objectives will produce the best solution. In combination with the huge freedom to choose your own modules in the last two years (including lots of open units) this means you can really focus your degree where you want. As an example, our project involved adapting underwater vehicles (traditionally used for oil and gas) for the tidal industry. We narrowed the brief from a very general problem statement to a final set of targeted work packages, focusing on the hydrodynamics, control systems and mechanical design –  the areas we all wanted to work in post-graduation. The projects are also great ways to build contacts in various areas of industry; I sourced a summer placement working on the aerodynamics of the world’s largest aircraft by speaking to a project sponsor, whilst others discovered the sector they’d eventually enter as a graduate.

For me, the people make the engineering design programme what it is. Although everyone is very different, they’re universally passionate about what they do and highly motivated. Engineering Design students also seem to be natural leaders: in my year a disproportionate number of people led student societies, and in projects with other courses the EngDes students often ended up in the leadership role. Our generalist nature also doesn’t seem to hold us back in our chosen specialist streams, with Engineering Design students on average receiving higher marks than those on the standard engineering courses studying the same module. Also worth mentioning are the staff who run the course, who are probably the most supportive in the university and are very willing to help with any issue, from helping to source internships to answering desperate Sunday evening emails.

I knew very little about Bristol before I started the course, but with hindsight moving there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The city is large enough to have everything you’d ever need and to ensure there’s always some kind of event happening (example: the day the council put a slip n’ slide on Park St.). At the same time, the city is small enough that you can walk everywhere. It’s also beautiful, and is frequently voted one of the best places to live in the UK. In addition to all of the fun things to do in the city itself the student’s union has a huge range of societies and is very active in organising events for its members.

Since graduating I’ve started a doctorate in engineering, investigating space vehicles for Mars atmospheric entry. Specifically, my research focuses on heating effects which will be relevant for future manned missions. The project is intended to be experimental, and so the bulk of my time so far has been spent leading a project to develop the highest-energy wind tunnel in Europe. I feel Engineering Design uniquely prepared me for this challenge: not only do I know enough about my specific area, but the general background knowledge in design, structures and electronics has been invaluable throughout the project. Dealing with other specialists and suppliers and maximising the effectiveness of those interactions is also something I do every day, which really draws on the fundamental skills developed during the engineering design programme.

So, overall I’d say that if you’re interested in solving new, challenging and relevant problems – as well as being passionate and motivated – then Engineering Design could be the course for you. You leave highly skilled, experienced and prepared for whatever you might choose to do in the future. However, more than that, you get to spend your time with a group of great people, in a great city, and to have a genuinely really fun and rewarding five years.”

Peter Collen (MEng, 2016), Further Study (PhD)
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