In January 2019, I was able to experience taking part in the ‘Global Engineering Challenge’, a week of collaboration between all the engineering departments at my university to develop solutions to real-world problems and gain experience with working in a professional environment.
My team worked to design a public space whose elements could be replicated in rural Tamil Nadu.
EFFECTIVE PERSONAL AND SOCIAL SKILLS
Though we learnt a lot about the design process and how to approach such projects, another prime takeaway from this experience was the various soft skills we all seemed to develop.
Since each person in our team had a different area of study, we learnt how to adapt to our different roles and integrate our specialised skills to work cohesively.
I was able to see the effectiveness that collaboration can bring, both in terms of new outlooks/ideas and efficiency of working if done right.
Being in a team is a collective responsibility, not something one member should shoulder. Though I did have to take individual initiative to get things going a few times, I also learnt to trust my teammates and let go a bit- each of us would manage to do our parts in time. There was a larger sense of responsibility as part of a team, and we seemed to benefit from being answerable to other people.
The slightly more relaxed atmosphere of the week let us experience presenting our ideas in a comfortable and supportive environment.
Talking to our hub mentor and university alumni made me realise that it isn’t necessarily a daunting experience to interact with someone senior to you. Their feedback on our ideas was very useful to us- the slight nudges in the right direction along with the positive affirmation we received really helped us build confidence. They also gave us advice on how to use our time at university more effectively, which was greatly appreciated.
Aside from social skills, the week helped me develop my personal skills as well.
Being given the opportunity to manage our own time during the group sessions helped us develop responsibility.
Since the week was between our 2 exams, many of us were worried about what to focus on, but we eventually got better at prioritising our tasks such that we weren’t taking our work home with us.
The structured environment of working hours from 9 to 5 gave me a glimpse into how it might be post-university, and helped me realise that though a career is challenging it can also feel exceptionally rewarding.
MANAGE THE PLANNING AND ORGANISATION OF TASKS, PEOPLE AND RESOURCES
Each of us also had the opportunity to be the team leader for a day. This really helped me understand team dynamics more.
As the leader, it was more about understanding how to delegate tasks and ensure everyone was able to participate. In turn, we also learnt how to communicate with the leader on the other days, and diplomatically put forward our opinions instead of just being passive regarding decisions.
MANAGE DIVERSITY ISSUES
Having lived in Tamil Nadu before, my views were influenced differently than my teammates. I could see how it is difficult to get a clear picture looking at things through a screen.
Simply reading articles and online research did not suffice to give us an idea about the buildability and actual implementation of our proposed solution. Putting forward my thoughts on whether our ideas were feasible while also working not to completely shut down flawed ideas but instead propose ways to integrate useful elements into our solution was a very useful skill I gained.
I also noticed how my perspective differed from my teammates with regards to form and function. I tend to lean towards a more functional and cost-effective approach, and I am glad my teammates’ opinions made me realise that aesthetics can add a lot to a project as well.
Being tasked with a real-world problem helped explore how I could apply my academics outside of the classroom.
The task being slightly more focused on civil engineering, my teammates would sometimes think that I’d be much more knowledgeable and capable of handling the task than them, but seeing their perspective in respect to my actual skills made me realise that theoretical knowledge doesn’t translate as directly into real life as you would imagine. Often your skillset is more subtly defined than you think. As first year students, we’re all a bit unsure of our abilities at this point, and I shall take comfort in the realisation that there are still many ways one can be useful even if they don’t specialise in a task.