UCAS Listings: Understanding how things work

Student profile: Benjamin Marshall, studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield

Engineering may be one of the harder courses to recruit students onto, but straight-A student Benjamin Marshall, from Darlington, had no hesitation in selecting either the course or the university.

"I've always wanted to do engineering, because I'm so interested in how things work, and I've always been very practical with my hands. I'd heard good things about the University of Sheffield, as it is one of the top- rated departments in the country both for research and for teaching quality," he says.

Benjamin took his A-levels at a sixth-form college in Darlington, studying maths, physics and chemistry. "I had a look around quite a few universities and this one impressed me the most during its open day. The lecturers were really friendly, and I liked the city very much as well."

Benjamin's course is a four-year degree in Mechanical Engineering. "When I looked at this one, compared with civil engineering, I decided it had much more practical application to the real world," he says. "I've worked at an engineering factory in my holidays and at weekends for several years, so I know what the course is going to lead to."

During the first year, Benjamin has studied twelve half-modules, in subjects as diverse as fluid mechanics, which is the study of how fluids flow through pipes, to computer studies, in which they have learned the basics of computer- aided design.

"We've also looked at the structures of materials and how they behave under certain stresses and pressures, and we've done a module in Maths. I found that quite easy because I've done the A-level. We need maths to be able to make the calculations of certain things, so it's quite a big part of engineering, which people don't always realise!"

One module which did take Benjamin by surprise was 'the engineer in society'.

"To be honest, I thought it was a bit daft. We had quite a few lectures from people outside the department - some of them were quite interesting - and then we had to write up our notes as essays, and we were marked for accuracy and basic literacy. I suppose it's to make sure that we don't lose our ability to communicate!"

The course has also centred on communication skills - not always thought necessary for an engineer, but vital in the workplace. "We had to give a presentation to the group on any subject we liked. I talked about a coast-to-coast walk I'd done, and I actually found it very easy. I can see why it is important to have these skills as well as the practical hands-on experience with machines," he says.

He admits his course is male-dominated. "We had five or six girls to begin with, but several have left," he says. This is out of a course group of around sixty.

Course-work is very intensive. "We have one or two tutorials each week, in small groups of about four. Then we have 20 hours of lectures each week, and we spend on average around 20 hours each week doing homework. We also have a three-hour lab session every fortnight.

"At the busiest time, I think I was doing about a 60-hour week," he says. "I remember sitting up until 10.30pm some nights finishing off projects - but we'd always make sure we still went out and had a good time.

"I think you need to be able to work off the pressures and strains of studying."

As a result, Benjamin says he often only gets about five hours sleep a night, but is confident that his body-clock has readjusted!

The course is divided into two semesters, with exams at the end of each one. "The exams count for most of the overall mark, but there is some continuous assessment," Benjamin says. "We have to hand in all our of our project and design work, and that counts towards the final grade." Benjamin has continued his academic success, scoring Firsts in most of his exams.

Job prospects, he says, are bright. "The department has lots of work placements advertised, and I know they would help you to find a job at the end of the course."

There is no specific work placement during the course, but students are encouraged to take up some form of engineering work in the holidays, if at all possible.

For Benjamin, the future lies in the family firm. "We make secure metal boxes - the British Antarctics Surveys Team is currently using some of our products." The experience he's gained will help to continue the firm's success.

"I could have gone into the firm straight from school, but I think that would have been a pretty limited life experience," he says. "I think I'll gain a lot from this course, and the social life has been pretty good too!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor