What's it like to study... Engineering

Cat Clarkson studies Environmental Engineering at The University of Nottingham and has been studying engineering for the last seven years

“What do you want to go and fix washing machines for?”

I’ll never forget the moment I told my mum I wanted to be an engineer. So sure, engineering might not sound too glamorous, and it’s often almighty misunderstood (I doubt I’ll ever attempt to fix a washing machine in my life!), but seven years of various Engineering degrees later (MEng and now PhD) and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

As an environmental engineer at the University of Nottingham I’ve had the opportunity to study a huge range of key topics ranging from water treatment (one day clean water could well become as scarce a commodity as oil is today), to waste management (no one wants a Wall-E world), to resource sustainability. In addition to the theoretical side of things I’ve been given such a vast range of opportunities both practically, and in terms of social activities, with a relatively thriving chemical and environmental engineering society.

It’s hard work, I won’t deny that.  At university there’ll be days you get bogged down in equations, but the rewards are fantastic. I’ll always remember the first time I sat in traffic on the M25 and found myself analysing it as a fluid system, and every time I mix cornflour I can’t help but think about non-Newtonian fluids (ok, perhaps a touch geeky!).

In terms of practical work, there are many opportunities to practise the practical elements of the degree – from analysing local polluted river samples to building a pump from empty soda bottles. In addition to practical experience within labs at the university, I undertook a week long field course in my second year which allowed me to put many of the theoretical modules I’d studied in the first two years of my degree into practice. Over the course of the busy week, soil samples were analysed from an old mining site to assess lead contamination, and a final project involving a site investigation and environmental impact assessment for a golf course and leisure facility in the peak district (the area where the field course was undertaken) was produced as part of a team.

By the time I hit my masters project I’d developed an interest in waste management (glamorous-sounding, I know!) and so had the opportunity to perform a compositional analysis of printed circuit boards, which then allowed me to design a recycling facility to recover metals from the boards and separate out the plastic. 

This experience was what encouraged me to do a PhD – there’s something very magical about the moment you look at your results and realise you know something no one else in the world knows. As the project was a year-long solo project, it really helped me develop some key skills in time management, and self-motivation. In addition, in that final year I had a semester-long group work project which involved designing a car battery recycling facility to be positioned in South Wales. This involved site investigation, impact assessments, then the use of more key engineering skills to assess the most sustainable process. Being group work it also allowed me develop some management skills. So all in all, across the degree process as well as learning plenty of theory, I personally think the skills you learn as an engineer make for a well rounded (and employable!) graduate.

So now for my PhD I recycle activated carbon (the stuff inside brita water filters among other uses) using microwave heating – shows how varied engineering can be, really! And what will I do next? Well, the world feels a little like my oyster, I’m quite interested to give environmental consultancy a try, preferably with an emphasis on waste management. Having gained my degree (and soon my PhD too) it is a great feeling to know I can go out into a job and make a genuine difference, to help create a world which will be better place for my children to grow up in.

One last thing - lots of people ask me what it’s like to be a woman in engineering, and I thought about it long and hard, and I can’t say for certain, but I’m fairly sure it’s an awful lot like being a man in engineering. I’ve never experienced any discrimination for being female, and on the flip side, never really felt at any kind of advantage – but then perhaps I was lucky to be in the first entire engineering faculty in the country to receive the Athena Swan Silver Award.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea