[Day In The Life] Cambridge Engineering Student

Are you curious to see what it’s like to study Engineering at Cambridge? In this series we ask current and past students to share what life is like studying at their universities. Siân gives us an insight into reading Engineering at Cambridge.

Author: Siân Evans

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Are you curious to see what it’s like to study Engineering at Cambridge?

In this series we ask current and past students to share what life is like studying at their universities. Siân gives us an insight into reading Engineering at Cambridge.

I’m Siân and I’ve just finished four years of Engineering at Cambridge. I studied at Robinson College (the one that looks like a red brick fortress) and I loved (almost) every bit of it!

What Is It Like Studying Engineering At Cambridge?

The first two years of the Engineering Tripos are very general and you cover everything from mechanics to machine learning and material science to electrical engineering! This was ideal for me because I didn’t know what I wanted to specialise in as I hadn’t had the chance to try everything out until I got to university.


However, some of my engineering friends who did know what they wanted to specialise in found this frustrating especially because they would often do really well in the modules they liked and rather poorly in those that they didn’t, meaning that they just missed out on a First Class.

Robinson College Cambridge
Robinson College, Cambridge

The Morning: Life As A Cambridge Engineering Student

After two years of general engineering, I decided to specialise in manufacturing engineering which is a special course separate from the main engineering department (CUED) in a lovely building in West Cambridge called the IFM.


An average day at the IFM would start at 9am in the lecture theatre; unlike in the first two years of engineering where there are over 300 students in the lecture theatre, the IFM has around 30 people in each lecture theatre. This means that the lectures are more interactive, similar to classes at school.


The first lecture is two hours long with a ten-minute break halfway through. Unlike at school where the teacher would talk for 20 minutes and then allow you to work through example questions for the rest of the lesson, each lecture is two hours of the lecturer talking and all example questions must be done in your own free time. This seems hard to keep on top of at first, but you soon get used to it!


There’s another ten-minute break between the first lecture and the second lecture (also two hours long) and if it’s a Friday, there’s free cake to have during this break!


The second lecture starts, this one has more discussion than the previous lecture and we break up into groups to debate. The Manufacturing Engineering Tripos has many elements of management so today we’re talking about the best methods of motivating factory workers.


The lecturer gives us all some reading homework on experiments that have been conducted to test methods of motivation so that we can have solid case study arguments in our essays.

The Afternoon: Life As A Cambridge Engineering Student

After a morning of lectures, it’s time for lunch! The IFM has a small canteen that serves some sandwiches and hot food, but it works out cheaper to cycle back to Robinson and eat with my college friends before cycling back for an afternoon of labs.


There are a whole range of labs that you complete when doing the Manufacturing Engineering Tripos. Whilst in first and second year the labs mostly lasted two hours, the labs in third year and fourth year can last anything up to six months.

Example of Engineering Labs at Cambridge

Robot Labs Cambridge
Robot lab session

An example of Engineering labs include completing CAD drawings and using CAM to produce the parts drawn, redesigning an electric peeler to make it more ergonomic and easier to assemble, and programming robots to construct gear boxes in the robot lab. These labs are often great fun because you get to work in teams and can really experiment with your ideas. I won’t say that they’re always great fun because there are often tears and all-nighters (the current record is over 48 hours spent consistently in the IFM!), but the staff always hold a celebration once everyone has handed their work in.


After labs, I have a supervision. This is a small group session where we discuss our answers to set questions with a supervisor. 

How to get the most out of Cambridge Supervisions:

To get the most out of a supervision you need to be well prepared; don’t just turn up and say “I couldn’t do question 3”. You need to show your working clearly to explain your thinking and you need to tell the supervisor exactly what you got stuck on. Make notes based on what the supervisor tells you and write them up as soon as you get home so that you have the perfect answer to an exam style question.

The Evening: Life As A Cambridge Engineering Student

Next, I head home and cook some dinner with my friends. The best thing about living in a college is that you get to meet so many people who do different courses; my best friends study politics and anthropology!


We eat our food and then I go back to my room to complete some work. More often than not, my friends continue to hang out with each other whilst I work because the subjects they study don’t require as much work. I join them again when I’ve finished working and I’m all dressed up, ready for pre-drinks (pres).


There are different clubs that are popular on different nights; if it’s a Friday we will go to the Robinson Bop (college party) before going out to Life (the club which is actually called Vinyl).


After a long day, it’s bedtime and we all go to our rooms to sleep. The good news for engineers is that there are no 9am Saturday lectures (but there are sometimes weekend supervisions).

What Are Your Top Tips For Studying Engineering At Cambridge?

Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge
Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

Siân’s Final Words On Cambridge Life

Obviously, not every day is the same, but I hope this has given you a flavour of what it’s like to study Engineering at Cambridge. I’ve really enjoyed my four years at Robinson and hope that you will be inspired enough to apply.

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