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Studying Engineering: Surviving Your First Year

Written on 8/2/16

Civil Engineering is a fast paced and intensive field, and if you have chosen to study this at university then you must expect to be challenged. Don’t let this put you off though; Engineering is a rewarding field and one with excellent career and income prospects. Whilst other scientific disciplines can mean sitting in laboratories or in offices, Civil Engineers are often out putting their knowledge into practice and applying it directly to the 'real world'.

University life and the different kind of learning that comes with it can be a shock to the system, so it helps to be mentally prepared before you start.  Broadly speaking, the objectives of First Year are to: consolidate what you should have learnt previously and expand on it; start on the basics in aspects that you likely will not have covered; and help you learn how to study at a university level. Essentially your First Year prepares you for the more challenging and stimulating years ahead.

One of the most crucial things to focus on when you step on to campus is the approach you'll adopt when studying at university level. Until this point, it is likely that you will have been told all that you need to do, and what you studied in your textbooks will likely have been the extent of the information you needed to access. This is not the case at university, so be prepared. You will be expected to read around your subject in order to expand your own knowledge and to keep up to date with recent news.  Most lecturers provide further reading suggestions, or can recommend books and journals on request, so this is a good place for you to start.

Usually you will be told what textbooks will be needed for each class several weeks before you start.  Make sure you get them as soon as possible, and don’t leave them unopened until the day you start lectures and tutorials - start having a look through straight away.


As a student Civil Engineer you will have access to high quality and potentially delicate equipment.  As such, you may want to include equipment manuals and guides in your further reading: this will help you gain a proper understanding of the equipment and ensure you can confidently handle the various tools available to you.

Engineering is a demanding field, and it is inevitable that you will make some mistakes along the way – especially in your First Year.  Whatever happens do not become disheartened as it is all part of the learning process.  Nobody achieves perfect results.  Here are a couple of practical actions that will help you during First Year:

  • Approach your lecturers for detailed feedback when you can. If you can identify your key strengths and weaknesses it will be easier for you to improve, which will lead to better results.
  • Try and approach the whole year as a learning process.  This also means not dwelling on any particular result.  Everybody has good and bad days, but if you work hard consistently throughout the year you will be rewarded with results you are happy with.

Whilst your placement year may seem a long way ahead, it is advantageous for you to begin planning ahead.  You might want to consider approaching companies you would like to work with and asking them any questions you have.  If you start these conversations well in advance it shows a long-term commitment that could give you an added edge when applying.

It is also wise to make yourself aware of the research interests of the Professors in your department, so you can start thinking about those you might like to work with when it comes to writing your dissertation.

Finally, try to keep to good study practices during your time in First Year and beyond. You could create study groups with classmates to go through work together, or approach Professors for some extra support if they are able to provide it. Remember to meet all deadlines well within the timescale, and avoid the temptation to leave work until the last minute.