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3 Things I’ve Learned About Engineering in Scotland

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1. Picking Your Courses

When I initially planned my course schedule for my semester abroad, the options for engineering classes seemed endless. Because of the strict engineering major track outlined by my home university, I knew I needed to take specific courses to fulfill my major while abroad, two of which were engineering electives. Upon first examining the pre-approved courses sent to my home university, I was overcome with the sheer amount of options; I could finally take aerospace courses like Aircraft Design that I had always dreamed of taking. However, upon arrival at engineering registration on the first day of classes, I learned more about Scotland’s university system. While my home university has little restriction in regards to the level of an elective you can take, the University of Glasgow required that all engineering courses stay within the same academic level (e.g. 3000 level). Additionally, there are different tracks with set courses; to take an aerospace elective constricted me to certain options; in other words, biological engineering classes would not be included.
After a week of finicking and nitpicking, I decided on a schedule that ensured I learn about the subjects I was initially interested in upon enrollment at the University of Glasgow. With the help of IFSA resident staff, comparing credits at my home university and abroad, I am ecstatic about my course load, even if it is more courses than most people take. I enrolled in the one mandatory engineering course I needed to take, Heat Transfer. Additionally, I scored two enlightening electives that let me explore aerodynamics like I cannot at my home university: Aircraft Design and Flight Mechanics. What’s more, three courses unique to the University of Glasgow help me learn about Scotland and tap into my creativity while simultaneously satisfying my necessary amount of credit. Working with the department and the advisors ensured that my anticipated course load would be achieved.

2. Self-motivation is Key

During orientation, me and my fellow program friends learned that academics in Scotland ran a bit differently than in the United States. Most high-level classes only meet twice a week for lectures that have a significant amount of people in each lecture. The total amount of time I will therefore be in class is much less than at my home university. However, I am noticing that there are no homework assignments except a project here and there, and there is only one final exam for most courses. The hand-holding I have at my home university with guiding problem sets and set reading is no longer applicable.
Because of this, I investigated the typical study methods utilized by full-time students at the university. After inquiring with fellow mechanical engineering students, I decided on a method to excelling in my courses. With class for only part of the day, the other free time I have during each day I plan on spending in the new library getting some of my work done. Additionally, reexamining lecture notes alongside library textbooks or with other classmates could be a helpful study tool. Professor office hours will also be a good tool for clarification if I have questions about the course content. It is difficult to turn down a fun excursion in exchange for busy work, but I know that sometimes it must be done!

3. Women in Engineering

In the United States, there is a significant and necessary push for more women to enter STEM fields, especially engineering, a traditionally male-dominated field. In my mechanical engineering classes, about 30% of students are female, so the discrepancy in gender is not normally evident to me. When talking to other international students during orientation, I learned that women in engineering abroad does not seem to be as common an occurrence. Many people have shown amazement; this made sense the minute I stepped into one of my engineering classes and counted very few other women.
Although I am not intimidated at school where everyone I know shares the same classes and knowledge, being one of few women in the University of Glasgow engineering program is somewhat daunting; I am not quite sure what the students here already know compared to my past coursework. Most of this is a mental block, and I am positive it will not impact my experience greatly. Already, a group project in one of my classes has begun, and as the sole female group member, I have not experience odd discrimination of any sort. Currently, I am more excited about learning from my fellow classmates than the apparent gender distribution of the major.
Upon learning everything as listed above, I was initially anxious about pursuing engineering abroad. However, upon reflection, I am so grateful that I chose to be at the University of Glasgow for the semester. I believe more engineers should study abroad since it is completely doable with the correct preparation and mindset. Before applying to a specific school, investigate the courses you would enroll in there and ensure that the credits transfer over successfully to your home university; perhaps even email professors at that university to double check your candidacy. Secondly, be prepared for the academic culture at your respective university; prepare a plan of action for studying that balances with planned travel or on campus activities. Lastly, learn more about how your identity is accepted at your university. With these three things in mind for engineers, the first week will go smoothly for sure.
Sophia Moak is a Mechanical Engineering major at Vanderbilt University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland in spring 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.