Friday, September 24, 2010

Back to Reality...

Well, first week of classes is officially over! What a week indeed.

In fact, it was quite a good first week. This year, I must say I have become accustomed to a bit of a leisurely life, travelling around alot, meeting people, learning and seeing plenty of not so necessarily career related things, and having generally a bit of a agenda-less time of reference since leaving UL. I still maintain it is something everyone should be able to experience at some point or another. But I've been looking forward to changing it up a bit, having a goal to focus on, and something to put my mind and energy to.

If I had only one expectation of the program, academically, it was that it was not going to be easy (but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy right? ahhh how cliche). I say this for three reasons. One, I haven't been a student for 3.5 years. I have forgotten a lot of the academic knowledge I learned in school, knowledge which in addition, I did not use a whole lot of at UL. Two, my mentality is not necessarily in 'student-mode'. And third, simply that I expected the classes to be difficult. I suppose I had a bit of a sneak peek at some of the upcoming academic material as a few UL colleagues are/were getting masters in fire safety at US Universities.

For the most part, my expectations were met based on what I have seen in the first week. I have had no problem getting into student mode, essentially studying my ass off. I attribute that in part to the fact that working for 3 years gave me a greater appreciation for learning, classes, etc, and I really want to put forth the effort to absorb the knowledge, learn it well, and not waste my time. I also feel almost that I need to put a good 40 hours plus extra in anyways (in reality it will be much more), as I did working normally.

Regarding the first and third points, well, at least two of the four classes are quite challenging, and this is compounded in parts by the fact that a few of them have pre-requisites that I (and some of the other Erasmus students), have not been exposed to. All that really amounts to is that I have to work doubly hard to cover material that I already should have known.

Let me explain further. One class, Finite Element Method, is a primarily civil engineering based course, for 4th or 5th year undergraduates. Well, I am a mechanical engineer. Most of the students have taken a course before Finite Element Method, and on the first day of classes, we were basically expected to know what was covered in that course. So basically, I spent hours and hours studying Mon-Thurs, checking reference books out at the library, and trying to learn the material of one semester in a matter of days. Of course, we did approach the professor about this as a group, and due to our special circumstances, he gave us 8 or so Erasmus students a 2.5 hour personal crash course on the stuff. It helped alot, but it will still be a bit of an uphill battle.

Other than that, the classes seem interesting. This semester will probably dictate whether I am interested in doing my thesis on something related to structures and fire, which is the specialty at Edinburgh. One class, as I mentioned, is Finite Element Method. In a sense that is explainable to all, it deals with simulating, through computer models (a program), what happens to a structure (for example, a building), or a part (for example, the bumper of your car), when 'something' happens to it (for example, simulating the effect of a car crash on a bumper and how the bumper changes shape as a result of the crash, or simulating how the heat of a fire might affect a wall or column in a building). There is a computer program we will be using, some mathematics (differential equations hooray!), and it is generally much more detailed and complicated than I have described above:

The second class is Fire Dynamics. This class is basically the science of fire and how fire behaves (yes, it does behave! Hopefully not naughty though...ok, commence tomato throwing at once). It uses a lot of chemistry, thermodynamics, heat transfer, differential equations, and other engineering disciplines. Admittedly, I haven't used a lot of that stuff in awhile, so I will have to spend some time (the real question is how much, haha) refreshing myself.

A third class, a bit of an odd class, is the Philosophy of Structures. This is another civil engineering class. Basically, thinking about how structures (such as bridges and buildings) behave when something happens (like an earthquake or fire), and thus also philosophies of designing the structures in light of possible events. It is not a class that is big on numbers and calculations.

The last class is Engineering Management. For me, I have taken a few similar classes, did some related training at UL, and, well, managed projects at UL. It is another word-heavy class. One lecture a week and an examination in December with 3 questions worth 100% of the final grade. Cost, Time, Quality, Sustainability, all those buzz words that you associate with management are all there.

So a few observations. The classes are bigger than I was expecting. Mainly because most of them are actually filled with undergraduates. The management class had 210 people! The others have had between about 40 and 80 or 90 students. Much different from my background at Bradley, where I felt like I could actually talk to a professor in a smaller classroom. Teachers don't really take many questions in class (actually, people don't really ask questions during a lecture, I should say...). I kind of had an impression the classes would be smaller since it is a post grad degree, but, there are 24,000 students at this school, so that kind of eliminates that possibility I suppose. Also, the marking system here is much different than my experience in the US. Almost all of the grades in each class is basically your score on the final exam. I will consider myself a bit of a test dummy on educational quality of US vs. European Universities. Check back in in 3 months and then next June for an update.

I am also I suppose a bit surprised at how heavily the class load is weighted to structural/civil engineering. But that's the specialty here, and it is what it is. I'm here to learn.

So it is going to be a lot of work. A lot of studying. Of course, as long as the subjects stay interesting, all should be fine. Anyways, it was all expected to begin with, and is now coming to fruition. In the meantime, hopefully I have a little time to enjoy Edinburgh!

In conclusion, I present to you a few things that just should not exist!

I didn't have the heart to purchase hot dogs that come in a can, but here they are in all their glory (barf!):

I did take a stab at these and must say, I will not be a returning customer. Final conclusions are that all animal products should not appear as flavors in chips (prawns, chickens, steak, fish, etc, and trust me, they have all these flavors here):

1 comment:

  1. I liked your post...our classes start on Tuesday and I find myself in the same situation as you, meaning I have no idea about what I am going to be taught.For me what you are doing should be easier as I am an architect but oh well we'll see how it goes. The problem is that at least for you there is a group of people dealing with the same problem but for me...let's just say I am the only one who is not an engineer or the only one who has had her last class of physics over 8 years ago.
    So I will keep you up to date how next week goes..hopefully at the end I will have such an positive attitude as you do.
    Good luck.


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