Daria: How I engineered a great work experience opportunity
Daria is studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) Mechanical Engineering. In the past, she was a technical Russian/English translator, working in the mining engineering industry. After 10+ years of translating engineers’ reports, she decided that doing maths and tinkering with great big clunking machines is much more interesting than just writing about them.
After a crazy-busy first year of studying my Mechanical Engineering degree full-time, a long, lazy summer break seemed wonderful. I could catch up on all those TV shows, movies, reading, socialise… Of course, within a month, I was bored stiff.
So I thought – why not try finding a work experience placement? As part of my degree’s requirements, I have to do 60 days of professional placement anyway and there is no rule that says this placement has to be completed in one attempt, at the end of one’s last year.
I’ve worked in offices my whole adult life, in ‘white collar’ jobs. I was first introduced to steel metallurgy and manufacturing during my Introduction to Materials course, which was good, but quite theoretical.
I had a sense that learning about how steel is actually worked could be interesting and useful. I am a curious person, and if I don’t know something, I ask about a million questions.
So I dropped by a local engineering workshop and asked them about doing a work experience placement for a week or two. They were reluctant at first, as they usually only took high school students looking for a possible apprenticeship placement. However, my enthusiasm for wanting to actually learn new things and my honesty explaining why I wanted this placement won them over.
My prize was spending a week in +37C weather in a hot, open, oil-permeated warehouse, full of clunking, noisy and utterly fascinating machines. USQ’s Student Success and Wellbeing helped me to organise insurance cover for my placement as part of the Industry Experience Program, and the Engineering department kindly allowed me to use this week towards my future professional placement requirement.
That week was awesome. In those five days, I learned so much about steel grades and metalworking and gained a huge amount of respect for the skills and mastery of fitters and turners. The machines these guys used were completely manual, dating back to 1950s – but they could make absolutely anything on them, without the use of computers.
I watched them do little tricks with oxy torches to make steel pieces do what they wanted – completely intuitively, going by the colour of the heated steel. I learned firsthand (haha!) that specifying radii on a drawing may be an annoyance, but in reality they serve to protect the hands of the workers handling them, and the expensive equipment. I've learned the pain of pulling apart a badly designed gearbox for a service.
Mainly, and most importantly, I've learned that engineers who ignore the importance of practical knowledge such as this will be laughed at by the ‘tradies’. I also realised that I really don’t want to become One of Those Engineers and get laughed at.
It turned out that I was their first work experience student who actually understood a little about steel (just the basics from my Materials textbooks) and their first female student. Most important, to the workshop guys, I was someone who was enthusiastic and interested in their work. In the end, everyone had a great time.
Overall, I learned that a really good engineering design must take into consideration how everything gets put together and serviced, and not just be pretty. To do that, the engineer needs to know the basics of whatever it is they are designing.
There are people out there who are keen to share this knowledge with interested students. So it's definitely worth reaching out and finding out about the opportunities that may be available to you.