What skills does a UAS degree equip you with for a career as a mechanical engineer?

The fall is upon us again, and for students that means either starting or continuing their studies. For most, the main motive for applying to study a particular field of education is the desire to be employed in that field.

The majority of mechanical designers at Optotec have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from a university of applied sciences. No doubt many mechanical engineering students dreaming of working as a mechanical designer wonder how well their education can equip them for this work. Probably the best person to assess that is someone who has gained some work experience already, but who can still clearly remember their time as a student. So, we asked our mechanical designer Matias, who graduated as a mechanical engineer a little over a year ago, how his education equipped him for his work as a mechanical designer.

When you’re excited and interested in the field, it doesn’t even feel like studying

In my case, my studies went well because I have a burning passion and interest in the technical field. My story has a typical beginning: as a child, I had to dismantle my toys to pieces, just to see how they worked. The story continues via motorbikes and cars to a heavy machinery repair shop’s grease pit, from where I took off to Oulu University of Applied Sciences to study mechanical engineering. I chose the Machine Automation track because electrical engineering and programming were an interesting new world to me, to pair with mechanical devices.

I think that the education was successful from the outset as often it didn’t even feel like studying. Some of the things I learned were so interesting that I could research the subject further on my own, or practice using the machining equipment for my own projects, for example.

The basics of engineering on a solid foundation

We started with the basics, like learning to machine parts, and how to use various equipment and machines. I find that fundamental knowledge of machining has been particularly useful to me in my current work. It allows me to consider how the parts I design can be manufactured cost-effectively, or how the parts’ shapes and materials affect its manufacturing or durability.

Another basic skill we concentrated on was using engineering software. We also practised engineering using other methods, such as calculating and drawing with pen and paper. Although this required a great deal of effort, it is one of the most important parts of studying mechanical engineering, as I believe it creates the foundation for the whole design work: you learn how to perceive and understand structures, mechanisms, individual features, and bigger pictures.

In my opinion, traditional calculation is an important skill to have, because I still use it as a means of checking in situations where I want to be absolutely certain of the success of the design work. For example, a simulation made with design software can be used to establish the strength of an anchor bolt or a steel beam, but in some cases, it may be worth checking it by calculating and drawing with pen and paper.

Education provides opportunities to do and see

Once the basics are covered, you can more easily expand your skill set in every direction. Since it’s impossible to learn everything during the studies, the next most important skill I learned after the basics was seeking information. Instead of collecting every possible tidbit of knowledge there is, it’s more important to be able to seek exactly the right information you need for your current project. With a solid foundation of knowing the basics, you know how to screen the information you come across to know which of it is correct, and how to choose reliable information from various convincing sources to further your own competence. In other words: it’s more important to know where to find the information than to remember everything by heart.

As a cherry on top, you also get to do and see many new and interesting things while at a university of applied sciences. I got to go on multiple company visits in Germany and Finland, and I placed 3rd in an innovation competition and 2nd in a business idea competition. I also gained work experience through summer jobs, a project internship, and my final year project, with new innovative techniques and equipment.

Mechanical engineering studies meet the needs of working life well

In the field of mechanical engineering, at least in the design office, the most important things coincide well with the education, because in order to perform well at work, you need solid fundamental knowledge and a deeper focus on the most important basics, on top of an open mind and interest in everything related to technology, so that learning new things and improving yourself will be easier in the future. And you must be able to learn new things since there is a lot you cannot be taught at school. For example, every workplace has a slightly distinct set of software for data processing, remote connections, data security, and so on. Especially when working remotely, managing your own work, scheduling, and assessing workloads are new things that are usually only learned through practice.

Working life demands a lot, and these days there is an enormous amount of information available. Higher education institutions train people in a myriad of different fields, and even within a profession, there can be a wide range of knowledge and skills required to do well at work. Thus, the higher education institutions have a really demanding task to bring the education to meet the needs of working life. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to say that the UAS has succeeded well.