By Caitlin, Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham
At the University of Birmingham, Civil, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering have a shared first year. This means that the three disciplines have all their lectures/ labs together and partake in the same modules. The labs are completed in the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory Phase I and II, which were built with cross-disciplinary use in mind. It is a state-of-the-art facility with all the equipment needed for both first- and second-year laboratories.
The idea behind having a shared first year is that there are fundamental skills that are important to becoming an engineer of any discipline. Just because you qualify as a Civil Engineer doesn’t mean you will never cross over to the realm of Mechanical or Electrical Engineering. This makes it really important for engineers to have at least a basic understanding of the other disciplines.
Some of the modules in first-year focus more on different disciplines than others but there are also crossovers within these modules. This means that you learn a broad range of topics across the year. Personally, I found this very interesting as it means that the degree has a lot of variety to explore and enjoy as the subjects of the modules are quite diverse.
The shared first year also gives the opportunity to make friends from the other discipline areas. In the first year, nobody really cares which degree you’re doing as you’re all doing the same thing for the time being. Making friends in other disciplines can be particularly useful when it comes to the Integrated Design Project Module as you will continue to work with the other disciplines in later years in this module. Moreover, real engineering projects have cross-disciplinary teams so it’s good to get practice early on.
Having a common first year provides flexibility to swap course before the end of the first year. Since everyone is doing the same modules, no content will have been missed. For example, you could start off doing civil engineering and change to electrical as long as you decide to do this before the end of the first year. The process is really simple too and basically involves just filling out a form.
Furthermore, for those who really have no idea which type of engineering is best for them, Birmingham offers a General Engineering course for the first year. This means that nobody has to decide without at least having experienced what their chosen discipline entails when it comes to studying it at university. Then, at the end of the first year, those studying on the general course choose which discipline they would like to pursue and study this for the rest of their university career. This is practical, as nobody really knows what an engineering degree will be like until they do an engineering degree – many people don’t have the opportunity to study engineering at school, so university is their first chance to do so.
The common first year of engineering at Birmingham provides students with skills and opportunities that would not be possible to have without it.