What’s it like studying Aerospace Engineering — Duncan Hui

This article looks at the experience of studying Aerospace Engineering (AE) at the University of Bath and gives tips on how to manage workload as well as get the most out of university.

Duncan took four A-Levels – Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Computer Science. For him, the most useful were definitely the first three and he took Computer Science mainly due to his enjoyment of the subject. He took part in lots of extra-curricular activities at school such as being a member of computer club. Deciding to study AE happened because of his interest in aviation – he’s a private pilot!

One of the planes which Duncan flies

Duncan’s main advice for working towards an enriched personal statement is to ensure that you have a genuine interest in the subject that you want to study. This is because admissions tutors are looking for applicants that actually care about the course they’ve applied to, rather than just deciding that they liked the sound of it. One way to do this is by taking part in university masterclasses and summer schools in your subject. This shows that you’ve already experienced it and that you actually are passionate about it.

Duncan also applied to other top UK universities for AE, but chose Bath over them due to the course structure. He wanted a course with a lot of practical work involved, or at least the opportunity to get involved in it. Whilst courses at universities like Cambridge and Imperial were very focussed on the theory, Bath’s course gave plenty of opportunity to get hands on.

The next section is about Duncan’s experience at university. When he first started he found it a big step up from school. Initially, this is because for most people it’s their first time living away from home. They have to get used to this on top of the increased workload. However, this got a lot easier with time as he became more independent.

The other thing he found is how much more self-sufficient you must be with your academic work. The phrase he used is that your ‘lecturers are lecturers and not teachers’. This means that your lecturers will not take an active approach in helping you out. Even if they can see you struggling they will wait for you to ask for help, but when you do they are more than happy to assist you.

One of Duncan’s personal projects in action

For Duncan, the first year was fairly relaxed, but then it ramped up in year two. The second year was probably the least interesting. This is because you are still in the general mechanical engineering stream, and therefore still learning about stuff that isn’t necessarily what you want to be learning. There is also a chance that because of this your motivation will drop in the second year, and maybe this is one of the downsides of the way Bath structure their course.

However, the third year is likely to be your favourite. You have now chosen to study much more of what you’re learning. Compare it to the jump between Year 11 and 12. In Year 11 you are studying for ten-plus subjects and you don’t always like them all. When you start Year 12 you only have three or four subjects which you have specifically chosen, so you are likely to enjoy more of your studies.

During project times towards the end of your course, most of your time will need to be devoted to work. On top of this, lecturers expect you to do at least one or two hours of revision per lecture per week, so you begin to have a lot less free time. This is why planning your time systematically becomes so important. It is useful to build these habits when you are less stressed, ie. in earlier uni years, or even now whilst you’re still at school. There are more articles on planning your time and productivity – this is also useful for A-Levels and GCSEs.

The highlight of Duncan’s time at Bath was being part of Team Bath Drones. This is one of Bath’s six engineering teams. It gives you a great opportunity to apply the knowledge you have been learning in a team with your friends. It gives you experience in manufacturing and assembly, and also an opportunity to pick up and get comfortable with basic tools. As an engineering graduate you should be comfortable with practical skills, as without them you may come across as slightly incompetent even if you have excellent academic scores.

Team Bath Drones was mainly extracurricular, but some of the work from it did count towards Duncan’s degree. He even wrote his final dissertation on an aspect of it, which he found gave him excellent motivation to complete it to a high standard. Any work he did for his dissertation would not only help his grades but also the team as a whole.

A prototype of the Team Bath Drones Aurora

Duncan has three main tips for your time at university. The first is to focus on enjoying the course. You are paying a lot of money for it so have fun and make friends – extracurricular activities are a great way to do this. Next, remember to ask for help when you need it as lecturers won’t come and find you like teachers may have done at school. Finally, ensure you build planning habits early – they will help when the workload gets heavier.

Duncan still plans to work in aerospace in the future. However, there aren’t many UK companies actively hiring aerospace engineers at the minute. His advice is to try and get a job in engineering and slowly work your way back to aerospace. His ideal job role would be as a Research and Development Engineer in the testing department of an aerospace company. He also suggested that by working in a smaller to medium sized company, any work you do will feel like it has a greater impact. In large companies, the projects are so massive that there isn’t much of a chance that you’ll get the opportunity to follow any from start to finish.

I’d just like to thank Duncan for talking to me for a bit about his experience at university. This article will be able to helps lots of prospective students out, and if you know somebody who could benefit from reading this then make sure to share it with them!