Henry Cross - Engineering
I knew I would study engineering from a fairly early age; to me it is the perfect combination of intellectual challenge and practical applicability.
The course at Cambridge is distinct for several reasons. The first two years cover all areas of engineering (mechanical, civil, information, etc.) and no specialisation is required on application. This equips students with the fundamentals of all disciplines, as well as providing them a chance to experience these properly before specialising. It is increasingly true that engineers need a broad education, as problems become more interdisciplinary.
The course in Cambridge is considered to be theoretical, which some view as a disadvantage. However, I don’t think this could be further from the truth: Here students are taught more than mere facts. They are taught substance. This more in-depth understanding helps a great deal; I feel like I am taught something which makes sense, not something I’ll have to exert much effort on memorising. In this way, you learn a great deal without feeling overburdened.
The department has a strong history of success in research, and continues to build upon this. It is a great feeling to have the brightest minds in the field teaching you. The lecturers will often mention research relevant to the lecture material, relating the course material to the world beyond undergraduate level. The department runs a research outreach program, taking in undergraduates to work over the summer with researchers, and experience the academic world. I am currently on one of these programs and am enjoying it immensely.
The department’s great academic prowess attracts the highest levels of industrial R&D. Many companies come here to have problems and ideas investigated. Lectures often draw on this work, highlighting current industrial research.
The main teaching methods are lectures and supervisions. Lectures are attended by all students in the year for the first two years. Supervisions, which are usually two students and a Fellow, are organised by the College. The supervisions at St. John’s are a truly excellent experience.
The department sets problem questions, and the students prepare answers for discussion in the supervisions. This tests and improves your thought process as well as understanding of the subject. I have often realised that I was looking at the problem in the wrong light. Even if I got the correct answer, there was frequently a much better approach, enabling me either to do the problem much faster or to see what was going on in a more fundamental way. In this sense, many problem questions resemble the maths puzzles in schools. They can be very difficult to solve using conventional methods, and require intelligent insight. The understanding I have gained here is vastly greater than I feel I could have got anywhere else.
St. John’s is one of the largest colleges. Located approximately two minutes’ walk from the centre of town (I have measured it, taking the centre as Great St. Mary’s Church), it is not far from anything. The architecture is stunning, and the sense of all the great minds who studied at the college is a constant motivator.
I chose St John’s because I wanted a grand old college, and I had heard nothing but great things. Cambridge alumni often speak fondly of their time here, but St. John’s alumni are on an entirely different level. The food (especially at Hall) is some of the best in Cambridge, and well-priced. The College is known for its sports, and has great facilities, which are entirely free for students. There are around 15 engineering students in each year at St. John’s, more than in most colleges, and there are many great engineering Fellows, giving us a great advantage in terms of supervision quality.