Civil Engineering – Shirley

Passionate about innovation, keen to make a difference, and eager to be different. Join Shirley as she embarks on a career in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

First Impressions

They told us ‘congratulations, you’ve made it into one of the most highly respected faculties within a reputable university and that the big decision has finally been made’. Yet a year later, there we were, puzzling and pondering over what specialisation to be a part of. A million questions flying around our heads, some of them still unanswered.

I took a step, half blind into the unknown, trusting and believing that joining a field that creates and shapes the world around us couldn’t be the wrong decision to make. There were doubts: Could a young woman like me someday have a hand in designing and creating extraordinary things? It’s scary and daunting, because it’s a stretch to even imagine how I could be good enough to do all of this in just a couple of years’ time. But the possibility of it all made me excited; being able to break out of the mould that constantly tells us that what we can do to change the world is limited. I welcomed the prospect of being challenged, having the opportunity to work with amazing like-minded people and one day having that sense of satisfaction that comes from reshaping the world around us.

When I stepped back onto campus at the start of this year, I could tell that something had changed. I felt so much more confident now that my ‘path’ had been set, because no longer was I lost without a sense of direction. A tiny smile widened within me knowing I was one step closer to my goals of becoming a professional engineer and it seemed so much closer with words like ‘structural design’ and ‘hydromechanics’ being thrown around. If there is such a thing called an air of an engineer, I embraced it. It was a proud moment to have the hard work from last year pay off, and while I had so much further to go, here I was taking on the challenge and feeling as if there was nothing else I would rather do.

And of course, there were obvious changes that needed some adjusting to. When it all comes down to it:

  •    The leap in academic demand,
  •    The extra paper per semester,
  •    The change from a class of 800 students down to about 240,
  •    The consideration of not just study, but networking.

To be honest, it’s all quite a shock to the system.

I won’t lie, the anxious part of me still appears every so often, but less and less as the days roll by. That lingering sense of uncertainty is easy to forget when you start analysing real life structures, or when you have a day or two out of university to work on the field with a team. So while the difficulty certainly ramped up a few notches from the year before, the unrivalled support and collaboration that exists within this specialisation makes me more and more certain that civil engineering is indeed the one for me.

If anything, it is even more perfect that my first impression isn’t all flawless and positive. It is almost an embodiment of what engineering is all about. Encountering new situations will no doubt make your heart race faster, but facing it with the right kind of attitude with the right team makes the end result ultimately worthwhile.

Or so I hope.



Inch by Inch

After enduring and surviving my first semester in C&E, there are a couple of things that I feel like I really need to mention. I think I am at the stage where I can try my best to give a genuinely honest description of what it is like to have chosen this specialisation and embarked on the very first leg of a rather long journey. Some “insider information” if you will, and some truthful thoughts about each of the four civil courses that you will be expected to do if you choose this path too.

CIVIL201 – Land Information Systems

When you find yourself doing a billion bearing and angle calculations, trying to work out the corrections for field measurements or trying to remember the advantages and limitations of certain geographical models, I’ll be the first to say it does take some effort to really concentrate. It might not be the most interesting, but as soon the focus is there, this course makes you appreciate the detail and the work that goes behind every single civil engineering project, big or small. And the fact that you get to go out in the field for assessments and get that hands-on experience? Nobody with any interest in C&E can pass up that opportunity.

CIVIL210 – Introduction to Structures

This course focuses on the analysis not just of various structures, but their internal components too – namely aspects like stresses and moments within suspension bridges, arches and beams. The older brother of statics in ENGGEN121, it is calculation intensive, and it hinges on your ability to also understand the theories and derivations behind it.

I don’t want to scare anybody, but if anyone has ever thought that civil courses might just be easier than other specialisations, this could have them thinking twice. The usual calm and collected me hid away while this paper had me half hyperventilating and in constant mild panic. I guess it happens when you can’t even do a practice paper in six hours just days before the exam, much less the three you’re allowed. So yes it was very difficult, but I have to say it was rewarding. Well, rewarding enough to get my crazy mind thinking that I might just have really liked it at the very end.
CIVIL220 – Introductory Engineering Geology

This one is for the people who excel in remembering a lot of information and have an interest in the study of rocks and the processes involving them. It is extremely content-based, covering a broad range from minerals and different rock types to landslides and volcanoes and earthquakes… The endless number of topics, as well as the fact that it ends with a wordier type of exam is what sets it apart from the others.

So the enjoyment of this course is honestly dependent on the type of study that you enjoy. There are many people who have strengths in note taking, memorising and processing large amounts of information, in which case this course is a nice refresher from the others. And by the end of the course, be prepared to be that person who will randomly blurt out strange and weird facts to anybody who will listen.
CIVIL230 – Fluid Mechanics 1

When flicking through the course book, which is full of concepts of density and pressure and energy and momentum relating to fluids, my eyes widened ever so slightly when I realised just how much this topic effects our everyday lives. But because of that practical application, I found this course to be very intuitive, which I think most students will enjoy. Together with labs which put ideas like how friction influences flow and static forces into visible applications, it’s not difficult to tie in what we were learning with what this knowledge could be used for in reality. And maybe that’s the reason it was one of my favourite courses and one that I got a lot out of.

In addition to the above, there is an MM2 course which all engineering students need to complete.

So my top three thoughts at this point after experiencing semester one for myself?

1.       Expect an endless array of tests.

2.       Never underestimate the content and workload of 10 point courses.

3.       Make the most out of practical experiences which C&E students are lucky to get.

Will semester two be similar or an entirely different beast? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

– Shirley


Building On

A new semester brings a bunch of new courses – just more examples that prove the versatility of the C&E specialisation. With each passing day, the broad spectrum of things you learn seem endless. Some courses build on knowledge from last semester, others bring a completely new perspective on what C&E engineers can do. And while it isn’t over just yet, I feel like I can’t hold out on the nice little details that I’ve discovered from each of these courses along the way.

CIVIL211 – Structures and Design 1

When people tell you to really understand and take in what you learn, to never learn for just the sake of handling one or two exams here and there, it’s good advice to take. Because this course takes CIVIL210 knowledge and turns that into the new ‘basic skills’ and advances it even more.

Personally, I love the calculation and design elements which makes structures a particular area of interest to me. But the ideas in this course are perhaps even more useful because they take the theories and the numbers and turn it into something practical and relatable to real life. The structures day that we had for this course showed just that; We had the chance to design, build and test structures which was a real highlight for me. Say what you will about group work, but when you come up with something that just works? Nothing more satisfying.

CIVIL221 – Geomechanics 1

This course really surprised me if I’m being very honest. After doing geology last semester and dealing with content that I struggled to really relate to C&E engineering, I expected episode two of the same thing. And yes there are some overlapping ideas and concepts, but geomechanics is definitely a distinct field of its own.

We often get caught up in what is visible: it’s easy to say that C&E engineers are responsible for the buildings and tunnels and bridges above the ground. But what happens in the soil, the foundation under all these large scale structures is even more important, and the science of it all keeps everything standing. I don’t know if it’s the thought of falling buildings everywhere that scares me into liking this course, but do know that you didn’t have to like CIVIL220 to appreciate this one.

CIVIL250 – Civil Engineering Materials and Design

For those of you who really enjoyed CHEMMAT121 in first year, this is one that utilises those ideas in an interesting and applicable way. Split into three modules of wood, steel and concrete which form the basic materials likely to be faced, it is again a course that I feel imparts good foundational knowledge for any future engineer hoping to work with infrastructure.

This is going to sound so weird and crazy because it is, but let me tell you how shocked I was at how much I loved learning about wood. I can’t speak yet for the other two, but you know you’re halfway to being a C&E lover if the thought of telling someone about wood makes you kind of excited. You laugh now but wait until you try it, just know that about 235 other students will, for the most part, understand how you’re feeling.

ENVENG244 – Environmental Engineering 1

I always thought that physics and maths were the most important subjects in preparation for engineering, but that does not mean that those who love chemistry and biology have no place here. Being the first introduction to the environmental side of C&E, the focus is now placed on water quality and treatment, wastewater processes and even air pollution.

I’ll be the first to say it’s not the most appealing areas to learn about but at one point or another, it really hits you how important it is for us to engineer solutions for a sustainable and healthy environment. I would imagine it is quite useful to help you make that decision in third year of whether or not you want to head down more of an environmental path or a structural one.


And don’t forget about the managing design and communication course that everyone has to complete. And so the classic top three thoughts at this point?

  1. Know that previous material needs to be known well, because the hard questions in one course become the basic skills of the next.
  2. Keep an open mind, more often than not certain areas will catch you by surprise.
  3. Get used to uncertainty and learn to roll with it, as nobody expects you to have a complete idea of which direction you are heading at this point.

It’s been a long ride and I’m most definitely looking forward to that photo finish for the year.



Final Thoughts

It is honestly unbelievable how the year goes by so quickly. No matter the struggles, the challenges or the laughs in between, Part II has passed by at an incredible speed. As much as I wanted to keep it more C&E specific, the several things I’ve picked up along the way could easily be applied to anybody ready to take on a new year of engineering. Some I brought with me into second year, some I’ve learnt from others as we battled our way through together. But all of them have helped me enough that it’s worth sharing.

  • When you get a grade you’re not happy with, don’t spend the rest of your year brooding over it. Use it for motivation for the next one, because as long as there was hard work put in, it does pay off in the end. You’ll find that second year is quite the jump, and everyone gets a dud every now and then, it’s probably more strange not to.
  • Remember that excelling in academics isn’t the only important thing, but also having the passion to do sports and music and the courage to put yourself out there to make new friends and meet new people. It’s really easy to become obsessed with the idea that good grades is the ultimate goal, but it is only an aspect of what you should be aiming for.
  • Uni is a place where you absolutely can meet people to joke with to get through some stressful times. Our classic ‘You’re not getting any dinner if you don’t get top marks’ joke and putting dibs on who’s carrying the paper for the rest of us has definitely saved my sanity a couple of times. Those are the type of friends who will help you through during tough situations and the ones who will drag you from that inevitable mindset that you’re not suited to engineering to thinking there is nothing you would rather do. That is how big of a difference it makes.
  • Be active when looking for opportunities. There is the extra element of looking for work hours in second year, and that means getting yourself prepared for meeting professionals through events and interviews or polishing up that CV. I won’t lie, it can be very daunting. There is a bit of a learning curve but the effort that you put into this aspect of engineering is important, so at least be aware that it’s there.

The full experience of second year C&E has hit me like no other. This blogging opportunity has been amazing; hopefully beneficial for those of you on the fence and almost slightly therapeutic for me. But beyond the frustrations during difficult times, I’ve never doubted my choice in specialisation, not even once. So my final advice would be to just trust your decisions: Any one would still mean you are doing an absolutely smashing degree.

And hopefully we will see some of you join our C&E crew next year.



Hello everyone! I’m Shirley, a Part II Civil and Environmental engineering student.

One thing you should know: I’m someone who likes being different.

Because the surprise people have on their faces when they discover who I am always makes me smile. I’m a reader with a warm cup of tea in my hand on a rainy day and a tennis player on a sunny one. I enjoy some quiet moments lost in my own imagination, yet that doesn’t stop me from getting excited going out out to social events.

It wasn’t until the last year of high school that it presented a slight issue. I was someone in love with so many things, it stopped me from seeing who I wanted to be. Yet it became more clear to me that what I was passionate about was creating something unique. Engineering suddenly became a brighter, more appealing option that eventually I couldn’t resist.

Here I am now, studying to become part of a specialisation that endlessly shapes the world around us. There is nothing stopping me from pushing any limits of innovation in the civil and environmental field, and the impact of what I could potentially do makes the decision even more thrilling and exciting.

I’m glad I can share with you all my thoughts and experiences through these postings, which I hope you will find helpful as we find out together the real inside workings of studying civil and environmental engineering.

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