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Posted by Calvin T. Engineer on Nov 14, 2018 12:54 pm
He doesn’t want to change schools as all his friends are staying; it’s one of the best schools in the area and local too, so I don’t really want him to have to move either. So my question is, does he need a physics A-Level or can he get by without it?
A-Level dilemmas - Darlington
Posted by Andy Millar on Nov 14, 2018 3:53 pm
But on to the question itself: you CAN study engineering without having studying A level physics (or maths), lots do, but it will make it harder to get your head around many of the concepts. Another sideways thought about this, when you enter the world of work you have to work with, and for, many people who you won't like (or at the very least wouldn't necessarily want to go to the pub with). So at some point you have to learn to cope with this - and part of the point of teenage years is learning key steps in coping with other people.
Personally I got on brilliantly with my A level physics teacher, but most definitely did not with my A level maths teacher. I'm sure I would have got much better grades in my A levels if I had got on better with him, but equally I still got through it and would have found my degree much harder if I hadn't..
Typical contact time at A level is (very roughly) 170 hours a year, which is (roughly) the same as working alongside someone for 4.5 weeks in a day job. Not necessarily pleasant if you really don't get on, but quite survivable. And besides, often they don't turn out as expected, it's very common to find teachers behave quite differently to sixth-formers to the way the behave to Y10-11 students. (With apologies to your son, I have to say that I have sympathy with them: as a volunteer going into schools I find Y10-11 by far the hardest to deal with. Lots of hormones, and the impending threat of having to actually get a job at some point is not yet real enough to tame them Whereas with sixth-formers it's much easier to talk to them as adults.)
So I certainly advised my children to go for the subject, not the teacher. And they both had a great time in sixth form - at least as far as that point goes - and learned a lot along the way about dealing in an adult way with people and problems.
Yes, I do think a good university would question why an engineering candidate hadn't studied physics at A level (most engineering after all is the application of physics), and he would need a really good reason for why he positively chose the subjects he did choose rather than negatively not choosing physics "because I didn't like the teacher".
Posted by Roy Bowdler on Nov 15, 2018 2:26 pm
If he is of high potential academically and hoping to compete for admission to one of the most selective universities, then he should understand their admission requirements and seek to meet them. This is likely to include A level Physics and good grades, although some may be flexible. If he isn’t ready to commit to a career direction, then A levels might also be more adaptable later, rather than the more vocational Diploma. If he chose the full-time college option intending to go onwards for a degree, then he is likely to find a warmer welcome at one of the post-92 universities, but check requirements to be sure. I have picked up on news of recent changes to admission requirements, as universities compete for students. If you look up the degree courses accredited by Institutions like the IET, there are plenty of post 92 Universities.
Although some employers target their recruitment towards those graduates from the most academic courses, there are plenty of different employment options for engineers and technicians. Many employers focus on the specific skills that they need and the work relevant personal attributes that make someone more productive, rather than just academic attainment. Some engineers prefer to pursue technical specialism and other become managers as their careers progress. As with any investment decision it is difficult to predict the future, so mining engineers for example are far fewer now in the UK, than they were some decades ago, with new technologies coming on stream. Most engineers and technicians find their work satisfying and have skills that they can adapt to emerging opportunities.
Posted by Lee Nelson on Nov 15, 2018 4:54 pm
Posted by Arran Cameron on Nov 15, 2018 10:02 pm
The best advice is to check with universities beforehand to find out whether physics is required or strongly preferred for particular degree courses.
Posted by Mark Tickner on Nov 16, 2018 9:11 am
Technically you don't need A-levels at all to do an Engineering Degree (I certainly don't have any and I've got a Masters from a Russell group and a CEng!).
It makes for a more complicated (and sometimes slower) path, but it is still do-able. But finding a course you are happy with (and thus are more likely to succeed at) is more important then struggling with a subject you are unhappy with. Selection of your post-GCSE learning is important as well, the school/college has to have the right learning environment. This is the same when it comes to selecting Universities as well.
Posted by Ghibson Hudson on Nov 16, 2018 11:54 am
Posted by Arran Cameron on Nov 16, 2018 12:33 pm
Posted by Emma Blackburn on Nov 18, 2018 1:46 am
Just thought I'd add an alternative option here. I did neither physics nor maths A levels and subsequently went onto an Aerospace Engineering Degree course (20 years as an air engineer and counting...). I actually did Chemistry, Geography and English A levels. I then completed a 1 year foundation course, which covered the maths and physics elements I required. It also had the advantage of broadening my knowledge (I was on course with civil, electrical, mechanical and aircraft engineering students) and sorted the issue that was mentioned in an earlier post relating to schools' assumptions about students abilities, the teachers available and their interaction with your specific child and the occasional appearance of people like me who are neither completely scientific not completely language based people.
Good luck with working through the plan :)
Posted by Andy Millar on Nov 18, 2018 4:33 pm
I actually did Chemistry, Geography and English A levels. [...] It also had the advantage of broadening my knowledge ...
I'm honestly not sure how university admissions departments view this - I expect it very much depends on the university?
Posted by Roy Bowdler on Nov 19, 2018 2:04 pm
The easiest option is to keep “kicking the can down the road”. For example I met someone at an exhibition who was aged 23 and came along with their parent, they had a good engineering degree but no relevant work-experience, or clarity about how to turn this into a career. At the time tuition fees were only £3000 pa. In that situation today that person could have a debt of £40000+. This is not an imaginary debt, never to be paid off, because someone with a degree in engineering should enjoy a career of above average earnings. Most people over the age of 38 didn’t have to pay any fees to attend university and those older still may have been eligible for a government grant as well. I would have been eligible, but I didn’t have any role models to follow, thought that university was just for “swots” and got offered an apprenticeship by the best local employer. I don’t know the family circumstances, but if they are less than “very comfortable” the financial aspect is important.
I mentioned having a role model to follow, likely to be a major influence on a young person of that age, whether that person is a parent or someone else. Those who are most likely to attend the “best” universities, tend to have some family history of an advantaged education and social capital. It can be a great advantage in gaining access as a graduate to certain professions, to “know the right people”. This also applies to gaining an apprenticeship, although the two alternative pathways, have historically tended to attract different social classes, leading to some assumptions and prejudices. Engineering is relatively meritocratic, so it isn’t much of a barrier to come “from the wrong side of the tracks” if you succeed academically, but I have encountered people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, who despite having done well academically (e.g. MEng) find themselves at a competitive disadvantage compared to peers.
My question of the parent here is; do you potentially foresee your son studying at Teesside or Durham University? Both offer some similar degree courses (e.g. MEng), one is held to be more “prestigious” than the other and sets a higher tariff, although both charge similar fees. The social and geographic profile of students will be different. When it comes to gaining employment as a graduate engineer, I would expect that within the local market of employers in the area, someone from the Teesside programme would be at no disadvantage, some employers might have close links with the course for recruitment. Nationally and internationally the Durham graduate would potentially be at an advantage in certain situations.
Coming back to the issue of “Return on Investment”. I would suggest that; a Degree Apprenticeship or one including the option of eventually gaining a degree by studying part-time with employer support, will very probably offer a better return over a lifetime, than being a full-time student at a typical post 92 university. Assuming that the apprenticeship option is available. Study at a university that is considered prestigious (i.e. not just “good”, but “very exceptionally good”), with a highly competitive and academically selective admissions policy, has a better chance of producing a life time earnings premium, although this isn’t anywhere near as certain as some claim, relative to something like an apprenticeship, or other “more vocational” option. It may also be the case that the social capital of those attending the more prestigious universities forms a large part of any advantage. If your son has aspirations to become a professor of engineering, of otherwise pursue a research orientated career, then the answer would obvious. Such careers may offer “above average”, rather than “high” financial rewards, but can be very satisfying and held in high esteem.
The landscape is changing, with the government and some universities promoting “Degree Apprenticeships” like this https://www.herts.ac.uk/degree-apprenticeships . Such options used to be have been around for a long time, although from the 1980s on a modest scale. This “new” model was at least part built on examples like a “Student Engineer and Commercial Student Training Programme” that I used to lead. Almost without exception, graduates of this programme are now in senior industry roles, including several directors by early 30s.
Publicity was given over the last weekend to “two-year degrees”. The BEng in Manufacturing Engineering at Wolverhampton University accelerated by work-based learning, came to my attention some time ago and I wish them well. Talk at the weekend was of more intensive study , such as by longer hours and shorter holidays, for full-time undergraduates.
If your son is highly intelligent and likely to gain admission to one of the most selective universities, then I would suggest “keeping his nose the academic grindstone”. However probably the most important thing, that I would try to do for my son, is encourage him to identify and interact with different role models. Build social capital among those who might offer insight and/or be able to offer opportunities like work-experience.
Assuming that he doesn’t become frustrated or disillusioned by school, then he may have up to three years before “adult choices” come upon him. He can delay hard choices for a few more years by studying for a degree aligned to his talents , but this could be costly. You are probably familiar with university graduates in jobs that don’t need a degree, this doesn’t mean that the person or the degree course was “bad”, but simply that they weren’t able to access a “graduate level job” , where they wanted (or could afford) to live, or were outcompeted by others for the limited number of such jobs.
I appreciate that this is quite a long and complex answer to an apparently simple question. I wish that the issues were simpler, like they were in the past for some of us , with if we were lucky our parents “Making Plans for Nigel” .
Posted by Stewart Russell on Nov 23, 2018 4:19 pm
Recommend that an A level in mathematics is a must.
i didn’t do A levels at all.
Went straight from school into military were I did a NVQ level 3 Telecommuinications Installation apprenticeship.
after 7 1/2 years I left and trained as an electrician and went into industry with two trades
Posted by Arran Cameron on Nov 24, 2018 10:51 am
Students traditionally took 3 A Level subjects so it was a wise choice to ensure that the subjects were compatible with each other and relevant for the university course. A more modern practice is to take 3 A Levels and an AS Level which provides a greater opportunity for more diverse subject combinations. There are still questions about whether the fourth subject should be a potentially useful addition in terms of knowledge or very distant in terms of knowledge in relation to a university course or a career along with whether it is best to have a facilitating or non-facilitating subject.
I actually did Chemistry, Geography and English A levels. [...] It also had the advantage of broadening my knowledge ...Personally I couldn't agree more. I think at least one non-science subject is really useful for broadening the knowledge of undergraduate engineers - I wrote at length elsewhere that excellent engineering is about communicating with non-engineers to use technology to understand and then solve their problems in the context of their society. So pretty much any subject is going to come in useful here: English (or language of choice) and geography as you say, or history, art, drama, or (as in my case), music, sociology and psychology. (Ok, due to various constraints I only got half way through the first two at A level, but they were still very useful.) Probably lots of others I can't think of at the moment.
I'm honestly not sure how university admissions departments view this - I expect it very much depends on the university?
A / AS Levels in law, economics, or business studies, are potentially more useful in terms of knowledge to engineers than history, English literature, or Latin are, although the first group are non-facilitating subjects and the second group are traditional facilitating subjects. None of these subjects are particularly well understood by admissions tutors in engineering departments (as they are used to seeing STEM subjects) so the perception of a particular subject may differ. Pyschology and sociology are almost in a twilight zone as they are both non-facilitating subjects and unfamiliar to most admissions tutors.
If an applicant has an unusual combination of A Level subjects, or subjects distant in terms of knowledge in relation to a university course, then it will amost certainly be queried in an interview.
Personal enthusiasm for a subject distant in terms of knowledge in relation to a university course can impress. There was a case of an applicant for a physics degree who had an AS Level in classical civilisation (in addition to A Levels in mathematics, further mathematics, and physics) because he had a keen interest in ancient history and archaeology. However, picking a distant subject simply to broaden knowledge, or use the other side of your brain, will not always pay off.
I'm not confident myself that arts and humanities A Levels (or any A Levels for that matter) are particularly helpful and beneficial when it comes to acquiring the skills to communicate technical stuff to a non-technical audience because they were not designed for that purpose. I think that reading various business communications books are a better choice. Very few engineers have ever studied English language beyond GCSE or technical and business English. This is an area that I feel needs more attention.
Posted by Martin Letts on Jan 8, 2019 2:20 pm
i know a young man who is really fascinated with washing machines. He has about 40 and is becoming a real expert. He's just got a job in that field. Is you son interested ina particular branch of engineering? Encourage him by spending time with him, visiting museums and places he is interested in. Time itogether is what is really precious.
Posted by Chris Burden on Jan 9, 2019 5:06 pm
I read with interest the problem you have posted.
I have a bit of a different approach for you to consider, however I have engaged with quantum physics to a great depth as I need to understand, as data transfer with fidelity expands, how I can achieve the requirement of precision and confidence of analysis.
I did a real apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce 1971 following GCE's aged 16.
I attained HNC engineering, and moved on to OU to complete a BSc in technology, to include Mathematics, Computing Science, Technology and Design.
Now this is the interest option , check out Hereford University (its new and different) as they are looking at what I think the world of engineering now requires 'Technologists' who better link engineering science (all aspects and there are many) ,computer programming and most importantly encompass an 'holistic' vision.
This is what I am, a technologist and with life wisdom, an insatiable appetite to still be operational in engineering science but with a focus on the technology NOT the management of the businesses.
Hope this helps