Almost an engineer

Published on August 30th, 2011
Almost an engineer

What made you decide to study engineering, and why mechanical engineering, specifically?
I decided to study engineering because I enjoyed solving logical puzzles from a young age at school. I think that, no matter which field of engineering you decide to study, it will definitely involve problem-solving. I specifically chose mechanical engineering because I’m interested in how machines and other devices work. Mechanical engineering provides a good platform on which other careers can be built, as it equips you with a background in mathematics and problem-solving.

Have you enjoyed the course?
I have enjoyed the course, but there have definitely been some highs and lows. The course is very time-consuming and you have to be extremely dedicated to stay on top of the workload. I have enjoyed studying thermodynamics and the mechanics of solids, but found that computer programming and electronics weren’t for me.

What have been the best and worst parts of your experience?
The best part of the course has definitely been the third and fourth years. During your final two years you get to choose certain courses that interest you most, and I enjoyed learning about internal combustion engines and heat transfer.
The worst part of the course has been the compulsory two-month vacation work each year. Although you learn a lot about what happens in the industry during your vacation work, I often felt like more holiday time to enjoy with my friends and family after working hard throughout the semester. As mechanical engineering is a specialised course, you tend to spend most of your time with a small group of students, and I have enjoyed meeting new people and making good friends along the way.

Describe your journey from Matric to where you are now.
I started studying the year after I matriculated. One of the major challenges was to secure a position in my course at UCT. It was important for me to achieve the results needed in Matric to be able to study what I wanted at university.
One of the biggest challenges during my degree was that I’m not the most practical person. Unlike many of my peers who often gained an understanding of many of the practical problems easily, I often had to take more time to fully understand.

What are you planning to do next year?
At the end of the year I will hopefully qualify as a mechanical engineer. I have not quite decided what to do next year, although I would like to continue studying further. I think that studying a postgraduate degree really distinguishes you. That said, it would also be great to begin my career and start working. If I was to continue studying it would hopefully be at UCT or abroad, and I’m quite passionate about pursuing sustainable development, whether it be in engineering or commerce.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In five years, I would like to be working for an engineering firm that focuses on sustainable development in South Africa. I think South Africa has the potential to lead the way for other developing nations and I would like to be part of that process. However, as mechanical engineering can easily be practiced globally, it would be ideal to travel and experience the world with my degree first.

What school did you go to and what were your subjects?
I went to Diocesan College (Bishops) in Cape Town and took English, Afrikaans, mathematics, science, biology and economics for Matric. I enjoyed science, maths and economics, hence the decision to study mechanical engineering.

What subjects are required for engineering, and what kind of person would enjoy it?
Science and maths are required to study engineering and anyone who enjoys problem-solving and particularly mathematical problems should enjoy engineering. To study engineering you need to be hardworking and interested in your chosen field.

What’s your motto in life?
‘Remember the kindness of others; forget your own.’

If your house was on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?
My old family photo albums, and my dog.

Any advice for high-school learners?
Make the most of every opportunity as the time passes too quickly!

What are the basic differences between the various branches of engineering (mechanical, chemical, electrical, etc) and how should a learner choose?
The difference between certain branches of engineering is basically the application. Similar mathematical tools and laws are applied across engineering subjects. The best way to decide is to think about what really interests you – if you’re interested in designing and learning about applied physics then mechanical engineering is for you!

Tell us a joke…
An engineering student was walking across campus when another engineer rides up on a shiny new motorcycle. ‘Where did you get such a rockin’ bike?’ asked the first. The second engineer replied, ‘Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, ‘Take what you want.’ The second engineer nodded approvingly ‘Good choice, the clothes probably wouldn’t have fit.’