Engineering by far has the largest percentage of enrolment by college in NTU. If you are planning to be one of the thousands of engineering undergraduates out there, chances are that the thought of choosing mechanical engineering has crossed your mind.
I have just completed my first year as a mechanical engineering undergraduate, and looking back there were many things that I wish I knew as a freshman coming to the course.
The purpose of this article is to showcase my mindset as a freshman enrolling into mechanical engineering, as well as how my perspective has shifted after spending two semesters here. Rather than go into the fine details of what each module entails (which you can find on NTU’s site), I think it’s more valuable to give you an overall idea of what the course is actually like from the perspective of a student, as well as things I wished I had considered before choosing Mechanical Engineering as a major.
After reading this article, you should be able to find the answers to the following questions:
- Why did I choose to go to Mechanical Engineering in NTU?
- What did I learn in the first year?
- What is the teaching style like in MAE?
These are the questions that I usually come across from incoming freshmen, and hopefully, after this, you’ll have a better understanding of the course.
Why did I choose to go to Mechanical Engineering in NTU?
Unlike my polytechnic cohort-mates that came from similar backgrounds in engineering, I took the A-level route and graduated from a Junior College (JC). I took a very common combination in JC consisting of Physics, Math, Chemistry and Economics, and had a natural inclination towards Physics and Math. Since I did not have any prior experience in engineering, I chose a major based on the following considerations:
- Will I (likely) be good at the major?
- Is the degree specific enough to be valuable in the future?
- Is the degree general enough to give me career flexibility?
I figured that Mechanical Engineering was a good fit for those metrics. Since I’ve always had a natural inclination towards Math and Physics, which are the foundations for most engineering, I guessed that I would be better off being an Engineer rather than an arts major, for example. Secondly, I specifically chose mechanical engineering as it focuses on anything that moves, and it seems likely that the world will always need mechanical engineers in this regard.
Lastly, it is not unheard of for engineers or STEM degree holders to end up working in another industry such as finance. Which gives me enough flexibility to change my mind in the future.
Needless to say, the academically focused environment in JC did not provide me with much insight on how to choose my major, and I found it quite useful to think of choosing your major with these three questions in mind. I felt it important to balance a specific enough skill to be valuable with a broad enough set of expertise to be flexible in my career choices. That said, studying what you are interested in is equally important as well. After all, we are humans before we are students, and without the basic interest, it is difficult to persist through four years of studying the same thing.
What did I learn in the first year?
I will not be able to go through every single module in the first year in detail, but, as a whole, the first year is still quite introductory and aims to set up a strong foundation for future years. (Do note that this was based on the curriculum that I had experienced as an undergraduate admitted in AY2020/2021) The modules in the first year can be broadly categorised into three categories to me: Foundation Engineering modules, Introductory Mechanical modules and General modules.
Foundation Engineering modules encompass things like Mathematics and Physics. These aim to introduce you to common mathematical concepts in a general context. They can cover anything from differentiation to vectors to complex numbers. For undergraduates who took Math in JC, you would find a lot of these concepts familiar from your A-levels.
Introductory Mechanical modules encompass things like Mechanics of Materials and Dynamics. These modules often apply the mathematical concepts taught in the context of mechanical engineering. These modules equip you with the basic analytical tools to make sense of common mechanical engineering scenarios. This could range from things like how force affects the bending of a beam (Mechanics of materials) to how two pivots move in relation to each other (Dynamics). If any of this sounds too abstract to you, it’s basically a lot of calculus and a lot of mechanical equations to apply to different situations.
General modules are usually not as “math-intensive” or stressful as those mentioned above. They usually have little to do with engineering and are just there for holistic learning purposes. These could be things like ethics or sustainability and I usually take it as a nice break from all the calculating done in the above-mentioned modules.
What is the teaching style like in MAE?
Unfortunately, I went through my first year in the context of Covid-19, so things may be different depending on when you are reading this.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) adopts a Lecture-Tutorial teaching style. Due to Covid-19, all of my lectures were online. The lectures usually have a large number of people attending at the same time. As such, don’t expect too much interaction as it is mostly like a presentation where you just sit and listen. As for the tutorials, about half of them were conducted online and the rest in person. The tutorials mainly were for going through any questions you had about the content covered in the lectures, attendance for the most part was not that important, and honestly, it’s not surprising to find people who don’t turn up at all.
Grading is also typically done in a Continuous Assignment (CA) style, where most mods would have 1-2 CAs which typically weighted around (40%) and a final which weighted around (60%). There are rarely any take-home assignments and they are mostly individual.
One thing I found to be a shock when I came into the course was how hands-off the teaching style was in MAE. Students are usually expected to be independent for their learning and take initiative in approaching the professors. It is also largely individual with little group work/projects. This can be good or bad, depending on your learning style. If you are someone that learns and works better at your own pace, this teaching style will suit you. In contrast, if you need constant guidance, structure and interaction to learn, you might find yourself struggling with this teaching style.
I hope that the above perspective will aid you in your decision. Many graduates or working adults will stress that picking a major will be one of the most important choices of your life. While that is true to a certain extent, my take is that you shouldn’t view your major as something set in stone. And to me, it’s nothing more than a best guess at what your future self might enjoy. Opinions change and people grow, and as long as you base your decision on your best understanding of yourself, it should be just fine.
Feel free to ask me any questions about MAE that you may have, I’ll do my best to answer!