Mechanical Engineering (MEng)Alex Paterson

Alex joined the University of Strathclyde through the Faculty of Engineering’s pioneering Engineering Academy programme. The programme allowed Alex to complete his first year at City of Glasgow College, before progressing to his second year in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Strathclyde. He tells us here about his Strathclyde experience…

Choosing to study Engineering

I think most people tend to do engineering because they excelled at maths and physics at school. This makes me a bit of an unusual student as these were amongst my weaker subjects! However, I’d always been quite fascinated by engineering and technology, particularly space travel, and knew that I’d work harder on things I struggled with because I enjoyed the subject matter.

Mechanical engineering was my preferred discipline for several reasons. When leaving school, I knew I wanted to study engineering but was quite unsure as to where I wanted to end up career-wise. As the mechanical course has such a wide range of material, it means that your options once you’ve graduated are wide-open. And after five years of learning, you have a much clearer idea of the things you enjoy, and you can start to focus on a particular industry or sector. Personally, I’d like to go into renewables engineering.

Why Strathclyde

Like most other school students, I spent hours flicking through the prospectuses of various universities and attending open day events, trying to decide on an eventual destination. However, nowhere had truly captured my interest until I took part in the Strathclyde outreach programme, The Scottish Space School.

I was already aware of Strathclyde’s reputation as one of the leading UK universities for engineering, which made it an obvious option, but the experience I had as part of the Space School programme quickly sealed my decision, and I used all 5 of my UCAS choices for Strathclyde courses.

Alex Paterson holding his Dissertation in Rottenrow Gardens with the Livingstone Tower building in the background.

The Scottish Space School

The Scottish Space School is a week-long residential programme for 16–17-year-olds in Scotland with the aim of encouraging young people into STEM and higher education. This was my first real exposure to Strathclyde, and it gave me a real insight into the life of a STEM student.

As part of the programme, we were shown first-hand the leading research taking place at Strathclyde, including portable rapid eye tests for the developing world, instilling a real belief in the power of academia and its ability to make positive changes in the world.

I was also one of 10 students selected from the Space School to spend 10 days in Houston, Texas touring the NASA facilities and meeting some of my space heroes like Gene Kranz and Fred Haise from the Apollo missions. More than anything this showed me the scale of what was possible within engineering and how you can go anywhere with such a universal skillset. It was also a great show of faith from Strathclyde to give us this amazing experience at no cost, and by the end of the trip I knew it was the university for me.

Engineering Academy route

I actually entered Strathclyde through the Engineering Academy programme, meaning that I spent my first year at City of Glasgow College, before entering directly into second year at Strathclyde. This is an alternative route which gives students a more general introduction to engineering, and with a greater focus on practical work than a student would get with direct entry. I particularly enjoyed my first year because there was a greater amount of one-to-one teaching, improving my understanding of the fundamental engineering concepts. The skills I gained such as technical hand drawing, lathe turning, and hand fitting have also continued to be valuable to me throughout my university career.

There was quite a big change upon entering Strathclyde but it was a challenge I greatly enjoyed. As I mentioned earlier, the course is incredibly diverse so it’s great for finding out what you enjoy. It also means that you don’t get bogged down with an overload of work in one specific field. If I’ve had a tough day studying thermodynamics, I can move onto work on engineering case studies or a materials selection class. This also means that you graduate with such a great range of skills, both technical and personal.

Another benefit of this is that it makes you an attractive prospect for employers from a range of industries, not just engineering. Finance, consultancy, operations roles and more are all widely promoted to engineering graduates.

Support from the Engineering Academy

The Engineering Academy have been a huge help over the last five years, and my university experience has been heavily influenced by the network available.

While the course begins in college in first year, the link to Strathclyde is strong right from the beginning. You are still registered as a Strathclyde student and all Strathclyde facilities are available for use and special classes are arranged with the engineering academy representative to ensure fundamental skills such as maths and programming are up to scratch before entering Strathclyde in second year.

Our academy representative also went above and beyond to make himself available one-to-one with any student if they needed any support or advice. This was incredibly well received and it made the process much easier knowing someone was always there to help if needed, and I personally benefitted a lot from this.

Overall, the entire Academy network has been incredibly helpful over the years. With their support I’ve been able to fully enjoy the university experience, make a lot of great connections, and enhance my prospects.

I would recommend the Engineering Academy to anyone considering it. Nothing is lost by not joining Strathclyde in first year and the additional services make it a great option for anyone thinking about studying engineering.

What Strathclyde has to offer

Strathclyde has a wide range of services available to enhance the student experience and I’d highly recommend taking advantage of them. These include services to help with your university work such as the maths skills support centre, the fantastic careers service who help immeasurably, the new Strathclyde Sport fitness centre, and of course the Student Union.

The Union helps to support a multitude of student-organised events including social events, end-of-year celebrations, sports classes and much more. You’re only at university for a short while, so I’d make sure to get the most out of your time here and join in as much as you can.

I’ve been particularly active with the Electrical & Mechanical Engineering (EME) Society over my five years at Strathclyde and served as a committee member on the Strathclyde Consulting Society. I’ve met some of my closest friends through these societies, and even made some great professional connections.

Learning and teaching building exterior

Life in Glasgow, Scotland

My whole life I’ve lived just outside of Glasgow, so I’ve always known it well. However, I couldn’t recommend it enough for those who are thinking of starting university here.

It’s a place with a real buzz about it and there’s never a shortage of things to do and get involved in. Personally, I’d recommend going to see an intimate gig in one of the city’s great small venues. There’s an atmosphere and friendliness that you don’t get in many other places in the world.

Glasgow is a dense, urban city, yet some of the greatest Scottish scenery is within just an hour of the city centre. This makes it a great place for people who love to get outdoors, and I’d fully recommend getting out into the highlands, exploring, and climbing some munros if you get the chance.

Summer placement experience

In my summer between second and third year, I completed a three-month summer placement in a precision manufacturing firm in Glenrothes. I gained experience working in the quality assurance, design, and engineering teams, and was given the responsibility to implement my own design for a training bay for the welding department.

This was an opportunity promoted through the Engineering Academy network and has proved invaluable when applying for graduate programmes. For this reason, I’d fully recommend to any student to try and source industrial experience if possible. The confidence boost of having worked in an engineering environment is so helpful and makes graduate roles seem much less daunting.

Thinking about Strathclyde?

I’d always recommend Strathclyde to other people. I’ve only had experience in the Faculty of Engineering, but it’s been an incredible experience. The teaching staff have been first class and it’s obvious you are learning from people at the very top of their respective fields.