Mid-shot of James on-campus with trees behind him, smiling at the camera

Your Stories – Meet James

Name: James

Degree: Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering

How did you end up in your degree?

I started computer science in 2019 but it just wasn’t clicking. My lack of interest in the degree lead to a decline in my grades so I had to step back, reassess and say, “why am I doing this”? I took a year off and worked during the peak of COVID around the same time uni was moving out of online study.

I now work in a customer support role selling maker electronics, items like Arduinos and Raspberry Pi. This role led me to the degree I’m currently studying. Helping people with their projects and seeing what they do with them ignited something in me and made me realise that the intersection between software and hardware is what I’m passionate about. So mechatronics seemed like an obvious choice. I think it’s a little ridiculous for people coming straight out of high school to know what they enjoy. It’s completely reasonable to give something a go and decide it’s not for you.

Where would you like to take this degree?

I’m in a customer support role which has elements of engineering like problem solving but is far from it. We are an online store which involves helping customers with their orders rather than the project side of things. I’d like to move away from that soon into more of a design-focused or engineer role. I’m passionate about embedded design like PCBs and microcontrollers or an area involving mechanical elements. I’d love to get a job in automation – fingers crossed I finish my degree before all the work is completed in that industry!

PCBs that James designed

How have you found the university experience so far?

Completing three courses per semester stretches out the length of time, so I have about four more years left of my degree. Four courses per semester is okay if you’re supported in every other aspect of your life. I’ve heard others say that the four-course structure started when universities were more exclusive, but nowadays they target a broader sector of the population. I know more people doing a three-course structure these days, like myself, to balance out living costs as well as social and work lives.

There is a push toward university and talk about defunding TAFE, which I don’t agree with. I believe there is a place for both. I especially don’t agree with the move to prioritise STEM and defund the arts – we can’t all be robotic problem solvers. The content you consume must come from somewhere, and that is people who dedicated their lives to their artform of choice. One discipline is not superior to another, you need a mix. Heading into the fourth industrial revolution there will be fewer menial jobs and more people having the time and freedom to create more content than ever before. The idea at this precipice that we are abandoning the arts is ridiculous, having a balance is crucial to ensure you understand both sides.

James enjoying his break outside Bar On The Hill

What other hobbies do you have outside of university?

I enjoy 3D printing, cycling and designing electronics. I recently made a temperature sensor network that allows us to build a thermal model of our house and control the air conditioner more efficiently. I also enjoy games and I’ve recently taken up photography. I have no desire to do it professionally, they say if you love doing it don’t do it professionally, so I made a website to share my work with those close to me.

A 3D printer James build in the middle of creating a 3D print

Do you have any advice for other students?

As you progress into adulthood you actively choose who to be around and you form your network of friends. First year, first semester there’s a course called ENG1500. It’s a project-based course where they teach you the core concepts of engineering and you complete your first major project. For a lot of people, that’s their first introduction to group work which can be very difficult to navigate. It’s the one exception to the rule ‘you choose who to be around’. I stepped into a leadership role and assigned people jobs to do, but if someone wasn’t able to get something done I took it on and found myself very quickly burning out. If there’s anything I can say regarding group projects, although you may want to prove yourself, a lot of the time it’s not worth taking the risk or added strain.

I pulled an all-nighter before demo day for a robot I created. When I put it down it just did not work at all, I was beside myself. So please look after yourself and get enough sleep, no assignment is worth it. If you stay up late, you’ll make something that’s rubbish and you’ll hate what you make, or it might not work. In hindsight, it’s not that big of a deal even if it feels like it in the moment.

If you’d like to share your student story, comment below or send an email to navigator@newcastle.edu.au

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