Get a personal perspective from Tierney, an engineering graduate, and Dr Jiwon Kim, a UQ academic.
Published 2 May, 2023 · 6-minute read
Considering studying engineering at university? You may have lots of questions. We're here to help you find answers.
Why study engineering?
What hands-on experience can you get while studying engineering?
What's a day in the life of an engineering student look like?
What can you do with an engineering degree?
Is an engineering degree worth it?
We've interviewed a UQ graduate and academic to find out. Tierney is a project manager (civil and transport) with Brisbane City Council and Dr Jiwon Kim is a senior lecturer in transport engineering in UQ's School of Civil Engineering. They’ve teamed up to answer some of your questions and uncover how UQ can give you the skills you need to face the future, even when you don't know exactly what the future will look like.
Let's find out if engineering sounds like the study area for you.
What's the most interesting thing you've learnt that's not part of your coursework?
Tierney: UQ was really wonderful in terms of the extracurricular things that we could do, and I was really fortunate to be able to take advantage of that. I also got to go overseas – to China and Canada, and even Nepal.
"I think one of the things that I really learned is that it's a big world out there, but the experiences that you have at uni and studying new classes can also be relevant around the world, no matter where you are, as long as you take it with you."
What opportunities do your students have to get hands-on experience in the industry?
Jiwon: I think that we are now living in a world where a lot of digital transformation is happening. One of the most important attributes that students are required to have is digital literacy. In our school, we have various types of extracurricular programs that connect students with academics to give them opportunities to learn on various projects. So students have the chance to learn and work with the industry, the partners and mentors, and I think those opportunities are really important and useful for students to get hands-on experience for industry.
What does a day in the life of an engineering student look like?
Tierney: Every day is different. But generally, as a student, you'll come and do a lecture in the mornings and then that will be followed up with the tutorials.
For lectures, you'll be sitting in a rather big hall viewing learning materials directly from your lecturer. Then in the tutorials, it'll be a smaller class sort of more like school, and you will work through problems and ask questions to get a bit more personal feedback. You might do that a few times in the day, or you might have a lab, which would be experiments and hands-on experience for what you're learning. Afterwards, people generally get together and do study for exams.
Often there's a lot of things going on around campus, so you might finish your day with a society event or just hanging out with friends. It's a pretty good day in the life to be honest.
If you were employing the next engineering graduate, who would you be looking for?
Jiwon: I'd be looking for students who have technical skills, because in the tech-driven world we live in, the students need skills. But at the same time I think that the softer skills like communication skills and also the ability to work with others are also very important.
What are the most valuable skills you've learned as part of your degree?
Tierney: Obviously a lot of really good technical learning happens here with our wonderful lecturers and tutors. That's really unparalleled when you walk into industry. It's really great to feel like you've got that behind you. But there are a lot of other things that I've learned here as well. Definitely networks, communicating with not only peers, but lecturers and other people in a professional kind of way, as well as in a social way. Being able to bring in the social side of things into those relationships to build them and make them a bit stronger.
How do you prepare students for the future, when we don't know what the future looks like?
Jiwon: As a researcher who is at the forefront of this research and technological advancement, I try to bring these emerging trends and advancements into my classroom. I design my lectures and tutorials to reflect on recent advancements and trends in the world we live in. And because this world is unknown, I also try to teach my students that they can actually learn the ability to learn. Whenever a problem happens, the ability to solve it when they face challenges is valuable. And I think problem-solving skills and the ability to learn when necessary is very important.
What do you think employers in your industry are looking for? How do you think UQ has equipped you with these skills?
Tierney: Above everything else, they're really looking for people who are approachable, easy to talk to and are willing to learn and give it a go, and also willing to maybe fail but pick themselves up and keep learning and keep trying.
"I think those sorts of resilience skills and the ability to be really interested in what you're doing so that you can push yourself, is something that UQ really teaches you."
No one can tell you that it's easy, but you get through and you really learn a lot by the way that you study here and learn here.
If you could give me one piece of advice that would set me apart as a job candidate, what would it be?
Jiwon: My advice would be to find what you really like and highlight what you are really good at. You think there will be a lot of things that you have to do well and there are a lot of skills that you have to learn, but the world is a very diverse place and there are a lot of jobs that really require specific skills. So, just focus on what you really like and highlight what you are really good at and I think that you will certainly find a job that really fits you and your profile.
How does the way you learn at UQ teach you the skills you need to face an unknown future?
Tierney: Studying at UQ is a good experience because although you will learn things directly from your lecturers and you are often faced with challenges and problems to solve that may not have an answer that's clear cut – and a lot of engineering is like that – it requires judgment, and no one can really sit there and say yes or no. So I did really find that in a lot of my courses that's what my lectures tried to teach me – that I could look at a problem, come up with a solution, and then have the judgment to say is that right? Is that reasonable? What's the justification for this? And that is a lot of what happens in industry because at the end of the day, there's no right or wrong answer.