The ins and outs of second year mechanical engineering at UP. Here’s what you can expect and how you can prepare yourself to have another successful year at varsity.
My first year of mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria (UP) is over. Now halfway through second year, I feel like I have a decent perspective on second year engineering. There is certainly no such thing as an easy engineering discipline, and mechanical engineering is no exception. Late nights and early mornings seem to be a recurring theme through both first and second year. Early morning lectures are attended in a state of semi-comatose and deadlines are frequently met by mere minutes. That being said, engineering is way more than just frantic studying.
Second year is definitely more math intensive than first year. Throughout second year we complete Calculus, Differential Equations, Numerical Methods, Vector Calculus and Engineering Statistics. However, the core of second year is not just the pure math element. Applied physics is the core of engineering that permeates second, third and fourth year. Almost all modules from now on are based on applying different branches of physics throughout that particular module. Particular emphasis is placed on thermodynamics and loads on structures. Jargon aside, second year is more interesting. It also tends to feel more like actual engineering than the fundamentals that were established in first year.
There is more practical work – a welcome break from the endless theory and maths. The increase in practical work tends to be fairly common across all engineering disciplines. With regards to mechanical engineering, second year is when the real specialisation starts to take shape. Mechanical begins to focus on designing machines, manufacturing processes and fluid dynamics. This specialisation will become more prominent as the years progress and the various engineering disciplines will slowly part ways with fewer and fewer shared courses.
An Unexpected Plot Twist to Mechanical Engineering at UP…
Second year comes with a surprise: an entire module is dedicated to community service. All engineering students at UP have to complete between 40 and 80 hours of community service in some kind of engineering capacity. Students have to put together a short video on their community service to post on YouTube. Typically, students will help fix schools, computers, build irrigation systems, and so forth, in underprivileged areas. These are not activities I thought I would be doing when starting this degree.
My Experience This Far
I have found second year to be more difficult than the first. However, it has been more enjoyable at the same time. This has helped me do better than before. The courses we study in second year are more interesting which helps make the constant studying less of a chore. It feels more like the investment in my future. In my opinion – that’s what studies should be.
It’s not all smooth sailing though. As much as I enjoy the majority of the work that I do, there is plenty of work that is tedious and difficult. Additionally, like most others, I have a few first year courses to repeat as a result of underestimating first year exams.
The most surprising challenge of second year is the increase in group work. Participating in group projects can test more than the technical aspects of the project. Countless hours are spent doing mind-numbing admin, chasing lazy group members and meeting to discuss every aspect of the project. All this work gets compiled into a technical report. Report writing is one thing I had not anticipated when entering second year. Engineering, being a very project orientated degree, means page upon page of reports are being written well into the night.
An entire module is devoted to teaching prospective engineers how to compile a professionally written technical report. Though it sounds tiresome, I have enjoyed the report writing as it is closer to what junior working engineers spend their time on. One of the most important soft skills developed in second year is the ability to work and be efficient in a professional environment. This ranges from the afore-mentioned report writing to keeping minutes at a meeting. I imagine these basic skills are very useful and applicable for a future job.
Now that I am further along in my degree, there a few things I would have done differently. The most important would be getting through first year without mishap. Looking back, first year modules were only challenging (with the exception of Mechanics) in that it was such a dramatic change from matric. The successful completion of first year means no additional work in second year. It is also crucial in developing the work ethic that is needed to get through the degree. Definitely easier said than done, but here are a few quick tips on how to make it happen:
- Go to lectures. Nothing is easier than allowing yourself to be persuaded that a 07:30 lecture isn’t important. Lectures are the most important part of getting through engineering.
- Revise the work at the end of each day.” This does not need to be a long five hour study session. Rather, a quick revision of the day’s work over an hour or two is fantastic for cementing the work in your brain.
- Organisation is key. Every parent and LO teacher stresses the importance of being organised. Turns out that they’re right. (Who would’ve guessed?) Without a diary of some sort, a substantial number of deadlines come and go. Keep track of when assignments are due.
- Check your online platform regularly. Most universities will have some form of online platform to keep track of all the work. Check this platform religiously.
- Look after yourself. Don’t underestimate the benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating. Again it sounds like what a parent would say, but discipline in other areas permeates into your study life.
- Ensure that you are utterly sure of your choice to study mechanical. Or any other form of engineering for that matter. It is not a degree that can be successfully completed without total commitment to it.
Final Say for Second Year
Mechanical Engineering is, without doubt, an extremely interesting and broad degree with plenty of great attributes. These attributes are countered by intense hours, tough numerical challenges and a wide range of subjects that need to be perfected. It’s no surprise that the world faces a shortage of engineers, but this shortage is what makes engineers so valuable.
With a strong math ability, a well-developed work ethic and a passion for the work, one can definitely pass engineering. It can be a great future career.
Just like most university courses, mechanical engineering requires dedication and hard work. If you’re uncertain if this is REALLY what you want to do, take a look at job shadowing or taking a gap year. Creative people can also do really well in mechanical engineering – we need new, cool innovations and inventions!