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Engineering’s a great first degree for almost everyone with a sound ability in Maths and Physics. Given the broad based nature of the Cambridge Tripos you’ll find all sorts of characters doing the subject, from techies who’ve been programming since they were seven to people chasing the scholarship money! Given the eclectic mix of modules studied and the immersive practicals (think testing model bridges to destruction and pseudo-robot wars) you’re giving yourself all the exposure you need to decide what discipline’s best for you. Don’t quote me on it but I think about a third of people change their mind about which field to go into in the first two years.
Whilst the workload’s in theory pretty high, you can get away with doing just about as little work as you like (although you’ll feel pretty bad about it and it will tell). I had a supervision partner who often turned up not having touched an examples paper, no one got angry and he’s still here! But equally, there’s scope to explore basically whatever you like to as great a depth as you can manage, you’re almost certain to have a supervisor who’ll be more than happy to answer any questions.
“ You’ll almost certainly find there are some parts of the course you have no interest in/find ridiculously hard, but on the flip side of that it’s really interesting to find out how interlinked the subject is. ”
You’ll almost certainly find there are some parts of the course you have no interest in/find ridiculously hard, but on the flip side of that it’s really interesting to find out how interlinked the subject is. Be it materials lectures that focus on osmosis or using mechanics to prove where the sweet spot should be on a tennis racquet, you rarely feel that what you’re doing isn’t useful to someone, which people find surprising given the amount of Maths and Physics we do from first principles.
It’s a bit of a baptism by fire with the amount of examples papers, labs and supervisions thrown at you, but it’s good for your sanity to know everyone’s in the same boat and the 2nd years are always around to help. You may well have the feeling at one point or another (that most people go through, no matter how true or otherwise it is!) of feeling as though your best efforts still don’t mean you know what’s going on, but there’s guaranteed to be at least one person in the year above you in your college who seems to do absolutely no work and still survived your year, it’s a really useful point of reference to make sure you don’t do too much/little work!
Best thing? Hugh Hunt's boomerang lectures (make sure to duck!)
Engineering’s a large subject, accounting for about a tenth of the undergraduates at the university, so there’ll almost certainly be a great camaraderie amongst your year. The larger Engineering colleges in particular do a lot together socially, everything from squash to formal hall. It also has a (relatively) high girl to boy ratio compared to other universities so girls shouldn’t be put off applying for a supposedly “manly” subject, you’re more likely to find an Engineer playing a sport, moisturising their skin or drinking than you are to see them fixing a bike (although it’s been known to happen). Engineers do generally have a wide range of interests away from the subject, but equally there are lots of topical lectures and field visits (look out for a trip to The Lotus factory soon), as well as garden parties and balls organised by the Engineering Society. There are also societies such as Black Camel Racing that let you build a racing car and drive it on track days for those who enjoy the practical side of the subject.
Although not the prettiest building you’ll see in Cambridge, the department was supposedly one of the first to be designed using plastic collapse theory, which was developed in the previous department….proof that the research undertaken at the department is not only world-class but being applied all around you, as Engineering probably should be.
Worst thing? All day CAD (Computer Aided Design) labs fortnightly in first year are a bit of a killer