[Day In The Life] Oxford Engineering Student

For prospective engineering students at Oxford University, here's what a day in the life of an engineering student looks like, written by Matthew, who has just finished his final year of engineering studies at Oxford and is spending the last few years of his life at University College. In his own words:

Author: Matthew Stokes

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For any prospective applicants to the University of Oxford’s Engineering course, here’s what a day in the life of an Engineering student looks like.

This is UniAdmissions second in a series of accounts of a day in the life. This one is written by Matthew who has just finished his final year studying Engineering at Oxford.

He’s spent the last four years of his life at University College and loved it so much so that he’s going back to do a DPhil at the same college.

In his own words:

University college, more commonly known as Univ and less commonly known as The College of the Great Hall of the University of Oxford (its full name!), is in the perfect location, it’s equidistant from the Engineering department, University sports centre, shops and nightclubs, full of history and the friendliest college around, what’s not to love?!"

Mattew Stokes

What Is Engineering At Oxford Like?

The Engineering course at Oxford is a general one, in the first 2 years you study a wide range of engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electronic, structural and thermofluids.

In the final 2 years, you take on a range of option papers and projects, building on the knowledge you’ve gained in order to specialise in your chosen area and become an accredited Engineer.

There are a lot of labs in the early years to put what you’ve learned in lectures into practice, and you can usually expect two 1-hour tutorials in college every week, discussing questions on the content you’re currently studying.

The Morning Of An Oxford Engineering Student

8AM: Get up, think about going down to hall for a bacon sandwich but decide I can’t be bothered and settle for the cereal I’ve got in my room instead.

8.45AM: Cycle over to the department for 9AM lectures. (It’d be very hard to overstate the usefulness of a bike in Oxford. A worthwhile investment!)

9AM: Complex Numbers (Maths) Lecture. An introductory lecture, mainly as a refresher for complex numbers from A-Level. I hadn’t studied Further Maths so tried hard to keep up and ask some questions at the end to the lecturer outside.

10AM: Active Devices (Electronics) Lecture. Given by a University college tutor who might ask questions if he doesn’t see all the “univites” (members of the college) he expects to see. Me and a friend make our presence known by saying hello as we go to grab notes. The lecture itself is new content for everyone so is taken at a more reasonable pace so we get a chance to understand the fundamentals.

11AM: Structural Engineering lab. Myself and the previously mentioned friend have been designing a model bridge for the last 3 weeks with CAD software and today’s the day we start building it out of metal struts. 2 hours of cutting, riveting and problem-solving to get roughly the right sized pieces.

university-colllege-oxford
University College, Oxford

The Afternoon Of an Economics Student

1PM: Lunch break. I have a couple of friends at a nearby college which always serves a roast dinner at Tuesday lunchtime. While in the queue, I make sure to talk loudly about how lovely the food is here and give the server a knowing nod as they put on a larger portion of meat and gravy. The rest of my lunch hour is spent catching up with friends and going over the drawings to find out why that piece of the bridge doesn’t fit.

2PM: Back to the lab. More of the same but the bridge is really coming on now. 3 hours go by really fast and we’ve still got a bit more work to do before testing to destruction in the next lab. I get my lab signed off and cycle back to college.

5.15PM: Materials tutorial. Univ has 4 Engineering tutors each specialising in different disciplines. The materials tutorial is taken by a professor who’s designed materials for F1 brakes and NASA rockets so, as well as covering the work set, it proves to be a very interesting hour hearing about how this content was applied in his career.

The Evening Of an Oxford Engineering Student

6.20PM: Dinner. Just make it into the hall for dinner (it closes at 6.30). I catch up with friends on other courses and make plans for the evening.

7PM: Tutorial sheet. I have an hour spare to do some of the tutorial questions that relate to the complex numbers lecture we had today. I haven’t got a clue where to start on the first one I look at and get some help of my roommate (who I share a study with), a first-year physicist who’s also having lectures on complex numbers currently.

8PM: Bar crawl. I meet my friends down in the Univ bar after a long day and arrange to visit a few other college bars. Most of the colleges in Oxford have bars that serve cheaper drinks than the pubs in town, and most will let you in if someone from the college agrees to have you as their guest, so this is a great way of relaxing, experiencing different colleges and catching up with/making a large number of friends in a single night.

11PM: Home time? The college bar we were in shuts and we headed outside undecided about our plans for the rest of the night. One option was to keep going and go to a club, there were bands that get you cheaper entry in one of the college bars. The other option was to head back to Univ, grabbing some cheesy chips from the best kebab van in town (Ahmeds, don’t let any of the other Day in the Life’s tell you otherwise). I’ll leave it up to you to decide which really happened…

Ahmed's kebab van.

My Top Tips For An Oxford Engineering Student

As you can see a typical Tuesday is very busy and this was fairly average for my first year, I had much busier days, but I had much slower ones too.

The 8 week terms are short and there’s a lot of opportunities that are too good to miss, so one of the key things I learned in my first year was to stay organised.

Even without all the social stuff, Engineering is a contact-time heavy course and you need a way of managing your time effectively.

I did this by entering everything into Google calendar, so I got reminders on any screen I was looking at that I would soon be late, and by taking up a sport.

It might seem bizarre that piling more on your plate improves your time management, but having regular training sessions, matches and socials forces you to plan your time well very quickly, and motivates you to get the most out of any hour spent doing tutorial problems instead of spending 50 minutes on YouTube.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, I’d just stress this is my insight and everyone’s journey at Oxford is different, this is one of the best things about it. If you take anything from reading this make it the following:

  • Buy a planner
  • Buy a bike
  • Keep busy

You’ve only got 96 weeks until you graduate!

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