Working in Labs as an Engineering Student

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By Will, Civil Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham


Hi, I’m Will, and I’m a third year MEng Civil Engineer.

Lab work is a very important part of understanding how the things that we learn in the classroom actually work in practice, so students (first years in particular) frequently undertake labs. These labs allow us to explore and understand how things work, and are usually guided by postgraduate students (often studying for a PhD) which means our learning is reinforced by their knowledge.

In first year, I usually had at least one two-hour lab session a week. Because the first year at Birmingham is combined with mechanical, electrical and civil engineers all studying together, we undertake mechanics, fluids, electrical and computing/coding labs to give us a broad introduction to the concepts that underpin the engineering world.

I was very lucky to join the University of Birmingham at a time when the university has just opened brand new lab facilities, and all of our labs took place in facilities and used equipment that was no more than a year old at the time. We are very lucky to have use of the new Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) building which has a wet, dry and e-lab, the latter two we used for electrical and computing labs respectively. All computers in the CTL are fully adjustable and fitted with two screens which makes working there efficient and easy. Even though I don’t have labs there anymore, it’s still one of my favourite spots for studying on campus, particularly for design and group work.

The mechanics and fluids labs are in a separate part of the CTL attached to the Engineering Building, which were likewise brand new when I arrived at university and have hi-tech lab kit to explore key concepts in mechanics and fluid mechanics, from angular momentum to energy losses in pipe flows.

Going on into second and third year, labs are less frequent but the content is more focused on civil engineering principles, as the different disciplines (civil, mechanical etc) diverge after first year into their own independent modules, lectures and labs. Second and third year civil engineers have labs for geotechnical engineering, exploring how the ground influences buildings; labs for materials engineering which explores the many ways we can manipulate materials to achieve what we want them to; and labs for open channel flow hydraulics, investigating how water flows in open channels and how engineers can manipulate them. These labs take place in the civil engineering labs which means we work alongside kit set up for academics’ research projects – which are at the forefront of technology and innovation in the world of civil engineering today.

Overall the labs at Birmingham are a fantastic resource to underpin your learning. The ultra-modern facilities make working in them brilliant, with learning outcomes to match.