"Why do universities keep banging on about all of their Research when I’m a prospective undergraduate student? I won't be involved with any of it, so why does it matter?”
Fair point. Understandably and quite rightly, the average seventeen-year-old and their parents will be more concerned with the modules on their course, where they will have their lectures and labs and where they will sleep at night. So why do universities insist on imposing this information onto prospective students when they are already trying to make sense of an extreme information overload?
Universities are not (just) blowing their own trumpets with all of these research stories and rankings. Honest. Here are 5 reasons why it might be worth paying attention…
1. Your future lecturers.
If there are "World Leading" researchers in the department, there's a fair chance that these same researchers will be teaching you from the get go (and this is certainly something that you can and should interrogate when you attend an open day). Here in Swansea’s College of Engineering, ‘75% of our modules are delivered by research-active staff who have been ranked as top-10 in the UK based on their internationally-leading work’ (Prof. Huw Summers, Head of College). Along with TEF - a story for another day - this is a useful indicator of the quality of the lecturers in a subject area.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the reputation of your university - and department - matters. Many of the largest (and most attractive companies to work for) will be involved in collaborative research projects with the universities that lead the field in a particular area. When looking for Year in Industry placements, or graduate jobs, being associated with one of their research partners will give you an advantage. ‘We have been working with the College of Engineering at Swansea University […] It is a great way for us to tap into the knowledge and enthusiasm that exists in abundance within the University. [Swansea’s students] have brought a fresh way of thinking to our company.’ (Paul Jones, Technology and Innovation Manager, Tata Steel).
3. Summer opportunities.
Show an interest in the research that your lecturers are involved in and you may well find that it leads to a paid research support opportunity over the summer. Dr Orbaek-White, senior lecturer and research fellow in Swansea’s Energy Safety Research Institute, actively seeks out students to support his research and sees the benefits as very much mutual: ‘students learn a great deal more about their class subjects when they have the opportunity to practice the science and engineering by doing research. The theory becomes much more real for them and they learn to think of their feet, becoming far more confident in their abilities to solve challenging problems’. Gaining this experience will both help to set you apart when applying for graduate jobs, and will also give you a real taste of life as a researcher. You never know, it could change the course of your plans after graduating.
Like or loathe to consider it, being a big research player brings in the big bucks. This money contributes to the quality of lab facilities and the number of academic staff employed in a department, which will have a knock-on effect on your student experience.
5. Future research career.
If you decide that research is the life for you, being a student in a research-led university can open up the door. If you are known to your lecturers as an enthusiastic and capable student, you are at a real advantage when these same lecturers are looking for candidates for their funded PhD opportunities. ‘I wasn’t sure what to do after graduating, then one day, out of the blue, one of my lecturers approached me and suggested I apply for an EngD. I did, and I got a brilliant, well-funded project and I am loving every second!’ (Mat Burnell, Mechanical Engineering graduate and current EngD student). You will also have the opportunity to “interview” prospective supervisors – getting a good supervisor-supervisee match can and should be a two-way process!
So while research projects and rankings may never top your list of burning questions as a prospective undergraduate student, they are certainly worth paying some attention to. Research can have much more of an impact on your undergraduate experience than you might think.
Written by Fay Hutchinson, 7th November 2019
Convinced? Find out about Swansea’s Engineering research here.