From Bachelor of Design to working in engineering

With an interest in both architecture and engineering, Dale was able to gain a diverse skillset before moving into the engineering industry and a Master of Engineering.

Pavilion model at MSDx
Image: Dale's Digital Design subject pavilion model (centre) displayed at the MSDx Winter exhibition

How would you describe your overall experience in the Bachelor of Design?

I’m very proud of my achievements over the past three years doing the Bachelor of Design, I honestly wouldn’t have traded it for any other course.

I started the Bachelor of Design in the very first cohort. Whilst we were the ‘guinea pigs’ for many subjects, the pros have definitely outweighed the cons. The course has given me a variety of experiences, but the best part has been meeting new people from a variety of different disciplines and making lifelong friends. I learnt a lot in my subjects too, but it’s everything around and outside of my course that made my time at university unforgettable.

When did you decide what you wanted to major in?

I was convinced I was going to do architecture as I always had a fascination for drawing and designing buildings. During high school I realised I wasn’t too bad at maths and I only really discovered engineering near the end of school. So I decided to keep civil engineering as my back up option going into university.

In first year Uni, I found myself enjoying my engineering subjects more than my architecture subjects. I learnt that engineering was a lot more about design than I had previously thought. I also learnt more about myself and my own strengths, such as how I am more of a practical thinker. However, at the end of my first year I picked to continue with architecture, since I landed a role with a small building sustainability firm.

The great thing about the Bachelor of Design is the flexibility in your degree, so I was still able to keep engineering as a backup option. Eventually, I decided that architecture was not for me and made my decision to swap to engineering half way through my degree. I never looked back after that and have enjoyed every moment of civil engineering since.

What was your most memorable subject or experience from the Bachelor of Design?

My favourite subject by far was Digital Design. This subject is an introductory course in taking design to the next level using digital tools. We used technologies such as 3D printing and Virtual Reality to bring complex designs to life, and I was proud to have the pavilion I designed feature in the winter exhibition of MSDx.

I also really enjoyed an engineering subject called Statics. It’s a first year Bachelor of Design exclusive subject, which means you won’t do it if you are studying Science. You learn about the basic principles of engineering mechanics, whilst applying your knowledge by designing a wooden truss bridge. We got to build and test our bridge in the MSD FabLab to see whose bridge was the strongest, and our bridge won!

In my final year I did a specialisation called Transport Design. I learnt about the urban design, planning and engineering required to create sustainable transportation systems. Over two subjects, we applied what we learnt to a project in each subject, including analysing a good transport centric suburb and proposing a solution for congestion-riddled outer Melbourne suburbs.

In my final year I began volunteering with Engineers Without Borders. Being a part of this club really helped enrich my university experience. A highlight was a program called ‘Regioneering’, where we went on a road trip to Regional Victoria to run STEM workshops with a focus on humanitarian engineering. I am currently the manager of one of the programs at the university called ‘Maths Without Limits’, which provides free maths tutoring for rural VCE students by Melbourne University students. The best part would have been the social events, meeting so many like-minded people and making those lifelong friends and connections.

Engineered bridge prototype
Image: a wooden truss bridge component designed and built in MSD's FabLab.

What’s the most useful skill you learned that carried over from your studies to your work?

The biggest thing I have been able to take across to work from university are the soft skills, from learning how to work with people in teams and managing my time with deadlines. I have applied some of my knowledge from engineering subjects to the workplace, such as my knowledge of soil characteristics and assessing risks on a construction site.

One of the breadth subjects I did called Project Management has been the most transferrable to the workplace. Particularly software skills such as Microsoft Excel and Project, as well as a basic understanding of project structure, planning and operation, and being able to apply these to real projects.

You are currently working as a civil engineer at Cossill & Webley Consulting Engineers, how did you hear about this employment opportunity?

This opportunity actually turned up on the university’s careers website. I had been searching for an opportunity in the industry to get my foot in the door all year when an advertisement to work with them appeared late last year.

Cossill & Webley Consulting Engineers specialise in land development, with a focus on building new communities in Melbourne’s growth suburbs. The main office is based in Perth, but they started up a Melbourne office 3 years ago. Whilst still a relatively small company, given I had never heard of them when I first stumbled across their advertisement, they are growing bigger every year.

After a submitting an application and a chat on the phone, I was invited for an interview at their office. I thought the interview went very well, and my gut feel afterwards was that I would really enjoy working with them.

Not long after I had another offer from a local government, however I was convinced that I would rather be at Cossill & Webley. Following another call explaining my situation and asking what the progress was on my application, I was offered the job the next day!

How did you find the transition from the Bachelor of Design to working in industry?

For me, there was a fair period of transition from studying to working. The biggest shock was getting up at 6am every day to get to work on time! A far cry from the days of waking up after 10am, and dragging myself to class.

The biggest learning curve for me has been learning about the administrative side of work, such as tenders and contracts. A large portion of my work has been working with and assessing tenders for projects. I have learnt about all the different materials that go into construction and standards that designers need to follow to make sure all of the engineering is safe and works effectively.

2020 has been a very difficult year with Covid-19 impacting lives profoundly – are you still working throughout the pandemic?

Before Covid-19 hit, I was really enjoying my time in the workplace. The best thing about working for a smaller company is that you get to know everyone in the office really quickly. I also enjoy the strong culture within the office, it really suits my hard-working attitude to help complete tasks and projects, with some laughs over table tennis at the end of the day.

One of the key things I was looking for when searching for a job was a place where I could take on responsibility and feel like I am really contributing to the business. So far that has been a real highlight for me, from participating in tender interviews, to performing site visits, and even making important decisions on active projects.

Once Covid-19 hit, we very quickly moved to working from home. While I don’t miss the morning commute, I do miss being around the workplace and going on site visits. Otherwise working from home was mostly the same as working in the office.

Currently, work has taken a hit due to the current market conditions, so unfortunately there isn’t much to do at the moment. However, I have been assured when things go back to normal, there will be an abundance of work for me to get involved with again.

Why did you decide to go straight into your Master of Engineering after the Bachelor of Design?

To become an engineer, you need to complete the accredited Master of Engineering after you complete the Bachelor of Design. Since I am working on a part-time basis, I decided that I may as well complete my masters while concurrently gaining valuable industry experience.

Another perk of completing my masters is that I will also be accredited to work as an engineer in a wide range of countries, once we are allowed to travel again. Moreover, the fact that many of the friends I made in undergraduate studies also went straight into a masters program made the decision much easier.

VR pavilion render
Image: a VR version of Dale's pavilion created for the Digital Design subject.

What are your career plans or next steps thinking towards the future? 

At the moment I am very happy at Cossill & Webley, and I believe I still have much more to learn from them. Over the next few years, I hope to get more project-based experience, as well as some time learning about how the process of design works for new developments, with the potential to move into project management.

In the long term, I would love to contribute something to further the field of engineering or society as a whole. It could be through creating new technological innovations and making research breakthroughs. Or designing and managing major projects, such as a high-speed rail between Melbourne and Sydney, or a new planned city in another country. Or even humanitarian work, such as improving the quality of life in struggling communities by using my knowledge of engineering. These all may sound very ambitious, but it doesn’t hurt to dream big!

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about studying the Bachelor of Design or going into a Masters degree?

You don’t need to be good at art or drawing to do Design. If you have a passion for the built environment, from the scale of a small house to the largest cities, then this is the course for you. If you know that is the direction you want to take but want to test your options, then I highly recommend studying Design.

The best advice I can give for those currently studying BDes is to get involved in activities outside of your usual subjects. Be actively involved in a club, volunteer for university events, or find an extracurricular passion. Not only will you enjoy your experience at university more, but it looks great on your resumé.

For some students, a masters after studying the Bachelor of Design is necessary to become accredited. However, you don’t need to start your masters straight away, industry experience is also very important. I recommend to at least have some industry experience under your belt before starting your Masters. There are also options to study part-time, so you can balance work commitments and your Masters degree.

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