Richard Van Arkel

It’s been six years since I finished my MEng in Engineering Design with Study in Industry.  Below is some 1st class drivel describing how I felt about my degree shortly after completing it (delighted).  Oddly enough, even though I cringed a little when re-reading my over-enthusiastic profile, I find that I still agree with its core message: my degree started me on a track of escalating opportunities which keeps on going and going and going.  I have recently been appointed as a Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, researching orthopaedic systems, and I couldn’t be happier.  I developed lasting friendships at Bristol, and am still in touch with a number of my course mates – it’s great to see them excelling in their chosen careers as well.  This was a fantastic course to take as an undergraduate, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Perhaps best to stop reading here…

Sometimes I find it hard to decide on whether I want a Snickers or a Mars Bar for a snack so I found the prospect of choosing a career for my life at the age of 18 pretty daunting.  I toyed with all sorts of science based career paths and finally decided that engineering sounded great with its prospect of designing aircraft, bridges, phones or renewable energy systems.  The difficulty was how do you choose a type of engineering without any experience in them?

Engineering Design was the answer to my dilemma; its multidisciplinary first year allowed me to delay the decision for another year where I could make an informed decision – perfect.  Even better was the fact that I could get placements with multiple companies throughout the course giving me even more scope to be indecisive and allowing me to try different work places before committing to a career path – done deal.

So, I went into the course, wanting to do engineering but feeling pretty indecisive about where I wanted it to take me.  Five years later I still struggle with chocolate bar conundrum but more importantly I’ve left Bristol confident and motivated and I’ve had a truly exciting time at university.  A lot of this comes back to the course and I would recommend the course to anyone who is willing to listen to me.

The reason why I think the course is brilliant can be summarised by two words: Escalating Opportunities.  I found that throughout my time on the degree program and at Bristol I was presented with various opportunities and each one I took advantage of I gained more experience putting me at an increasing advantage over other applicants to the next opportunity.   Hence how they escalated.

There were three main highlights of the escalating opportunities for me:

  1. A two month all expenses paid trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineers through an Engineering Leadership Award where I learnt Spanish, saw how engineering differed in a developing country and attended a medical engineering conference.
  2. Being sponsored too present my final year project at an international conference in Hawaii. 
  3. Where the course has lead me.  By the time I graduated I had various job offers on the table however I actually ended up turning them all down to go on to study for a PhD in a topic I am passionate about.  The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are sponsoring my PhD providing me with a stipend for living costs.  On top of this I also have also recently won an IMechE bursary for postgraduate research making my PhD oddly financially beneficial.

Three area of the course I think stood out in my chain of escalating opportunities are:

  1. The summer and industrial placements:  I did two very different things, at Atkins Aerospace I worked on the analysing the wings of the Airbus A400M to ensure it was safe for its first flight.  At Renishaw I gained practical skills in their expansive manufacturing facility as well as gaining design experience in their Neurological Product Division where I was working on the design of medical robot for neuro-surgery.  These placements led me to an Engineering Leadership Advanced Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering which in-turn enabled my Argentina opportunity.
  2. The design projects: in second year I worked in a team of eight students to design and build an automated crane.  In my fourth and fifth years I research the feasibility of innovative hydropower device which involved designing and building a £2500 prototype and a testing facility (the results of this project were the ones I presented in Hawaii).
  3. The competition:  The course had a tough application process but the result was that the course ends of with 20-30 like minded students who drive each other.  Within the course there is healthy competition which we affectionately called the “Eng Design Arms Race” In short, everyone keeps trying to improve on other students’ work, especially in the design projects where cash prizes and a significant proportion of the total degree marks are up for grabs.  Outside of the course, most people end up involved with the running of societies or sports teams and I found that hearing about the successes of my course mates in their extra-curricular activities motivated me to do more outside of my degree as well.
Richard Van Arkel (MEng, 2011), Lecturer

I found that throughout my time on the degree program and at Bristol I was presented with various opportunities and each one I took advantage of I gained more experience

Richard Van Arkel
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