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My Surrey experience - Christian O'Brien, MEng Civil Engineering

"Surrey’s the ideal place if you want to excel in your field of study, discover new interests, meet inspirational people and learn a lot about yourself"

I’m in my fourth year of MEng Civil Engineering at the University of Surrey. I knew that Surrey’s programme was for me as soon as I visited campus. The lecturers on the applicant day were friendly and I was attracted by the employment rate, industrial links and experienced lecturers as well as the scholarship scheme.

Academic staff genuinely care for your wellbeing as well as your learning, often going the extra mile to offer you advice or guide you to the correct person to speak to. Modules cover main technical applications of civil engineering – spanning structural, geotechnical, water and environment subjects – and optional modules let you focus on things such as transport and infrastructure. Practical surveying aspects and laboratory exercises are interwoven into each module and I enjoy the group design project, which gives you a chance to apply all your modules and develop team-working skills. Most modules are delivered through lectures, tutorials and laboratory exercises. The software programmes that you use throughout your course are likely to be used by industry too. My favourite module has been ‘Structural Design’ in which you apply theory from other modules and use computer software to analyse different structures under loading. It’s satisfying to start with a blank page and finish with a live working model.

Surrey’s a diverse university. I’ve made friends from Nigeria, Greece, Cyprus, China, Czech Republic and Malaysia and accommodation, lectures, learning resources and support services are all located on campus which makes living and studying here very convenient. I’ve had the opportunity to join the Student Life Mentoring team this year, offering support to new students living in university accommodation – opening my eyes to the extensive range of support services offered and gaining perspectives on CV skills, leadership and commercial awareness. I’m also a student helper at open days and welcome week; I wanted to give something back after my older friends gave me guidance on the university experience.

I’m on the University of Surrey/Institution of Civil Engineers’ scholarship scheme and as a result I’ve been matched with a design consultancy and sponsor, Peter Brett Associates LLP. Coming from a one-parent background, having secure finances throughout my degree and a prospect of securing a job upon graduation was important to me. The scheme’s meant I don’t need to take up part-time work during my studies and has allowed me to focus on my course and have more time to relax. During my placement year I was also offered a graduate role which is a huge weight off my mind. On placement, I pursued my interest in renewable energy and sustainability on an intensive learning programme in Costa Rica, and the technical work I’ve completed will directly help me with the modules in the fourth year. Although I went abroad for my placement year, I’ve also worked on a project on the road that I lived on in Reading: a perfect example of how civil engineering influences our daily lives.

Since starting my programme, I’ve gained confidence throughout the course, particularly in the placement year when I’ve had to have faith in my calculations, give reasoning for my answers and assure colleagues that the numbers are correct. I’ve matured through living and working away from home, meeting new people from a range of backgrounds and scheduling in all of my activities and personal study. I wasn’t very strong at mathematics when I joined, but by the end of first year I’d exceeded some of my friends from home who were a lot better than me – if I can do it, anyone can! Engineering’s taught me to develop problem solving skills – I’m now able to look at any challenge in my life and weigh up how it will be solved.

For anyone considering a degree in engineering, it can be tough at times when you have to learn new theories across a wide range of topics, with looming deadlines and group work. But it’s all worth it at the end of each year when you look back on what you’ve achieved. Surrey’s the ideal place if you want to excel in your field of study, discover new interests, meet inspirational people and learn a lot about yourself. I’d highly recommend Surrey to others. Coming here has been an incredible journey and the University offers a real provision for you to excel and develop as an individual.

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