One of the nice things about the Cambridge Engineering course is that most of it is completely general - there are no real choices in what you study the first two years, which means you will get a taste of all the options before decide what to specialise in.
Even if you already know what you want to do, this is a good chance to see what other engineers will get up to - and if (like many people) you aren't sure, it will probably be very helpful in making up your mind.
The first year of the course is referred to as Part IA, and is broken down into four areas, which will be the four exams sat at the end of the year. These four larger topics are:
Each of these four papers is broken down into several topics for lectures:
All of these topics are examined at the end of the first year. In addition to these written papers, there are bits of coursework to be done through the year. The most time-consuming of these will be labs, computing sessions, and drawing. Labs are split into two types - long and short. All of those in the first term will be short - two hours in the laboratory, at the end of which, you will get your marks. Long labs also involve a two hour session, but also a longer write-up afterwards. For coursework marks, long are worth two short sessions. Computing sessions are lessons in C++ programming, which take place every two weeks. These are split over a day, into two, two-hour sessions, one before, and one after lunch. In the second term, there is a computing project, which requires using the lessons of the first term to write a lengthy program. Drawing is split in much the same way as computing - every other week, with two, two-hour session again. In the first term, drawing means pencil-and-paper, whereas in the second, you start with Pro/Engineer CAD software. There are also shorter courses which count for coursework - including the exposition - an introduction to presentation and writing style - and the Engineer in Society lectures - for which you will need to write a short piece in the Easter holiday.
All the coursework in the Engineering Department is based on the standard credit system - designed to keep people from putting excessive effort into coursework. In effect, it means that you will be fully credited for submitting satisfactory work.
If you find you are stuck with something, there are several places you can look to for help. Probably the easiest of these will be to wait for a supervision, and raise the point there. The next best place to go is probably a library, of which there are several choices. The library at the department is a good starting point, and books can be borrowed and renewed from there for a considerable amount of time, if they prove to be useful. Due to the location of Peterhouse, the College library will probably prove less useful for books - the larger, more specialised departmental library is as close as - or closer to - than the college. A third library is the University Library, which can be useful to find a particular book that is proving elusive. A final option would be to ask a friendly 2nd year!
Each subject has its own examples papers, with questions of increasing difficulty on them, each trying to cover the topics lectured that week. You should do as much of these as you can, although it's unlikely that you'll always be able to do all of them without any problems. These examples papers are then taken to supervisions, where the supervisor will go through any problems you had.
The first, and biggest source of information, are the lectures. These will usually take place in the main lecture theatre of the Department, LT0. This is straight through the front door of the Department, to the right of the doors taking you out into the courtyard. Most lectures take place here, as the whole year can gather there at the same time. There may also be some lectures in smaller groups, in LT1 and LT2. These are across the courtyard from LT1. You will usually be provided with notes by the lecturers, with gaps to be filled in as they go along.
Supervisions are the hour-long sessions which make the Oxbridge education unique. These are hour long sessions where two students will go through any problems with the course material with a Peterhouse Fellow. These sessions are incredibly useful and are a great time to iron out any difficulties you might behaving with the course. There can be several each week, with one for each subject. If there are no specific problems, you can go on and do some more advanced questions to further your understanding of that particular topic.
Peterhouse is famously close to the Engineering department, particularly first year accommodation. St. Peter's Terrace - where most of you will be living - is in fact next door to the department. The William Stone Building is about twice as far away, maybe an extra minute's walk. This is useful in all kinds of ways - anything you've forgotten, you can go back and grab between lectures, or get food and drink. You're also closer for any supervisions in the department, and lab mark-ups aren't such a chore.
At some point early next term I'll be organising an Engineering Tea Party, which will hopefully be a nice way to meet and get to know your fellow engineers and some of the 2nd years too! (I am hoping to hold this on a punt, weather permitting…). There is also likely to be at least one 'Engineers' Curry' next term.
Finally, congratulations on choosing Engineering, particularly doing it at Peterhouse. Enjoy the rest of your holidays, and I'll see you in October, in the meantime, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob Watson Updated Michael Wheeldon (2011)