What a bittersweet thing it is to leave your last ever academic exam. I can safely say that I’ve never left an exam hall with such a wide grin on my face!
Look how far I’ve come!
In many ways, this is analogous to the completion of a life’s work. Western society decrees that this is what young people must do in order to be accepted into a professional work environment, and so sets up the institutions and the pathways to ensure that children start working towards this point before they even understand what it is that they are going to school for. So, I come to a point after some 18 years of continuous full time education where I (assuming I passed all my exams) am now qualified to be a part of a team designing the next generation of aircraft.
Somehow, even after 4 years of working towards the goal of becoming a professional engineer, I feel completely unqualified to do that job! I feel very comfortable doing some maths, and solving some design problems… but it seems to me that a degree misses out on the oily, messy, sharp end of engineering. This is something I’m really keen on getting involved in as part of my professional development. I think that once I’ve been doing the maths alongside building bits and seeing them fly I’ll feel comfortable calling myself an Engineer, with a capital E!
I’m certainly not saying that the last 4 years were a waste; far from it! Just that, it seems to me that University is better geared towards producing University professors, than Engineering professionals. If nothing else, I now have a very good idea of just how much I have yet to learn.
What University has given me…
The thing is, though, that besides trying to prepare you for a job, University does give you certain other skills that you wouldn’t necessarily get otherwise. I’ve been fundamentally changed by my experiences at University, I’ve learned how to conduct myself in an academic environment, I’ve gained lifelong friends, I’ve learned how to interact with people who are world experts in their field and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from these experts.
I’ve gained skills in language through my Erasmus exchange, and I’ve gained management and teamwork skills from my time in the University Royal Naval Unit. I’ve dealt with disappointment and failure in both an academic and social context, all where I’m sort of protected from the real world by the student loan, my parents’ generosity and support and my course mates’ friendship.
In a “ready for the world” sense, I feel exceptionally well equipped in a way that my 18 year old self couldn’t have imagined he needed to be.
For me, the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned at University are not quantifiable using partial differential equations, they aren’t examinable in a closed book exam, and cannot be found in the lecture hall. They are the opportunities and experiences that come from surrounding yourself with intelligent, committed young people who are also applying themselves at University, both in Southampton and Linköping. I had to work hard to get those opportunities and have those experiences, but it was absolutely worth it.
I have absolutely no idea! I’m yet to get accepted onto a graduate engineering scheme or internship. God knows, I’m working on getting employment. Unfortunately, I’m looking for position that is internationally focussed and they are somewhat in short supply!
This is the problem with University: it opens your eyes to how big the world is. More than that, it shows you how accessible it is to you! We live in a time when I can use a computer in my pocket to buy tickets to fly me to the other side of the world, and as of last Tuesday I had the freedom and the impetus to do just that for the sake of a good adventure! Which brings us to the other problem with University: it leaves you broke. Just think how much more open minded and educated young people would be if they had disposable income to go travelling…
As I take my first tentative steps into the big wide world, I look back at an amazing 4 years at University that had a number of ups and downs which I will probably consider, in the years to come, as some of my best times. Though my relationship with University has been somewhat love-hate, I owe the University of Southampton an awful lot. Not only have I had the opportunity to gain a lifelong academic qualification, I’ve been allowed to make the time I spent here my own.
University, like everything in life, is what you make of it. I certainly could have gotten more out of my time, but I only know that with hindsight.
Here’s to the next chapter in my life. Wish me luck!