Current and former students share their experiences of studying Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University. 

BEng Electrical & Electronic Engineering
Thomas Sutherland

Ryan studied both his Undergraduate and Masters at Edinburgh Napier. Read here about his experiences practicing with industry-relevant technology and assisting with teaching new students about the wonders of problem-solving.

I wanted to study at Edinburgh Napier after attending one of the Open Days.

At the Open Day I saw a lot of relevant equipment, lots of industry-spec robotics, program controllers, machinery, etc. All the equipment had a lot of industry standard names on them, key players that are in the industry. I really wanted to get involved with using some of these. There was also equipment on show for demonstration, and that really inspired me to come along and apply to the course so I could get the chance to operate this equipment someday. Seeing a lot of industry relevant tags was reassuring, knowing that the skill set used on them was going to be highly relevant after my course going into the industry.

I arrived here with a very low skill set for programming or for using any of the electrical equipment.

It was quite daunting to see all the electrical equipment that you have to programme and use for coursework, but you’re reassured by all the tuition you receive in lessons and practical sessions. During first and second year, all the skills you develop are building blocks for what you require in later years. It really helps you to build the necessary skills to go out into the industry.

It was exciting to get involved with the equipment, challenging as well.

I really enjoyed the task of evaluating what a machine needs to do at a certain time and using the equipment that’s available on the machine at that point. Sometimes you would get stuck on a certain problem and because the programme or the equipment is operating the way you built it, not one answer would suit all. You would go along to the lecturer with your problem and the answer would not be given directly to you, but you would be enticed with some information that may help to solve the problem. After that you are really motivated to go back down to the lab and use that advice.

What I really enjoyed about the course is being taught the theory in the classroom and then getting stuck into that practically in the lab.

The lecturer would provide good teaching material and advice that would make you want to go down to the lab and apply that in a practical sense. I also really enjoyed the access that was available to the equipment. Once you had been taught a new theory and you wanted to apply that practically to the equipment – you would find that there’s not enough time in the day, but often the labs were open in the evening so you could come along. All the labs are safely equipped, and all the safety precautions are in place, so the doors are open for you to come and experiment with the equipment. After getting to use the PLCs in the lab, that really cemented the idea that I wanted to get involved further, which inspired me to go on and do my Masters in Automation & Control.

I was honoured to be given the opportunity to help with some teaching here at Edinburgh Napier University.

Getting to see the students use the equipment that I had used was fantastic! I loved seeing the spark that they would have while solving a problem that was sitting in front of them. Seeing that solved problem come to life was incredible.

Thomas Sutherland graduated from Edinburgh Napier in 2022, and now works at Leonardo as an Engineer. Find out more about his journey through University and his advice for building a career in Engineering.

Can you please tell us about your background and your journey towards Edinburgh Napier University?

ENU alumni Thomas SutherlandAs a student, my primary focus was on STEM subjects as I had a deep interest in pursuing a degree in motorsport engineering. During the time when most students start considering university, I attended an open day for a motorsport engineering course. Unfortunately, the insights I gained during the open day did not align with my future goals. As a result, I pursued an HNC in mechanical engineering, to gain hands-on experience in my desired field. Next, I successfully secured a technical apprenticeship at Leonardo after lots of struggles. During this time, I also completed an HND in engineering systems, which provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the industry.

Over the course of the 4-year programme, I gained invaluable hands-on experience in different branches of the engineering sector which significantly changed my outlook towards my academic studies. I realised the benefits of combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience and decided to pursue further studies at university level. Fortunately, I had the backing and sponsorship of Leonardo, who supported me throughout my part-time BEng (Hons) Electronics Engineering degree, which I successfully completed in 2022.

How did your time as an engineering student at Edinburgh Napier University prepare you for your career at Leonardo?

Several modules significantly deepened my understanding of the theory behind many of my daily tasks. A great example of this would be Digital Signal Processing (DSP) which helped me to build futuristic radar systems. Additionally, it allowed me to learn more about digital sampling and filtering, which is a common technique used in modern radar systems.

Also, I believe the group projects support the development of professional engineering skills that are deployable in an engineering workplace. For example: learning how to work with others, communicating technical information to people who have a different way of thinking, solving problems or disputes in the group or even just share responsibility for a common piece of work.

Can you speak about your involvement with the Institute of Engineering and Technology?

I had been involved with the IET through volunteering for the local Young Professional (YP) network, however much of my involvement with the IET was after I won the IET’s Apprentice of the Year award in 2019. Following this, I was appointed as the representative for apprentices in the IET’s governing Young Professional Committee (YPC). As part of this role, we were directly influencing the decisions made by the IET that would affect their YP members across the globe.

I believe that volunteering with an engineering institution like the IET can aid in gaining accreditation faster, by providing opportunities to gain experience not readily available in early career roles.

How do you maintain your professional development and continue to stay current in your field?

As an engineer, I firmly believe in challenging myself by taking up roles that expose me to new ideas, concepts, and processes. An ideal situation for a developing engineer is being the least experienced person in a meeting, surrounded by people with decades of experience. It accelerates your growth, as you have the chance to learn from seasoned professionals who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. You should never be too proud to admit that you do not understand something. Staying silent may cause you to fall behind. You should keep in mind that if you are struggling in your engineering career, it doesn't mean that you are a bad engineer.

What is the typical day like in the life of someone in your profession?

Day to day my work is extremely varied, as I am involved with multiple projects. To accomplish these, I often collaborate with multi-disciplinary design teams, consolidating information for design reviews and providing guidance on external inquiries. At other times, I may be focused on the integration of radar subsystems and test protocols, to ensure that our products meet the highest possible standards. Although I cannot be an expert in all areas, I have developed a robust network of colleagues who can provide me with expert advice when necessary.

How do you see the engineering industry evolving in the future and how the engineering students can position themselves to stay ahead of the curve?

I believe we will begin to see younger engineering professionals move away from the mindset of ‘wanting to climb the corporate ladder’. Instead, they will be looking for a more flexible career path, towards a skill based somewhat ‘gig’ economy. Being a qualified and experienced engineer opens up a world of possibilities, allowing individuals to work in any industry, anywhere in the world, and in a wide range of roles, all while earning an excellent salary. If you are an engineer, the world truly is your oyster.

I believe that engineers should possess sales skills as part of their professional toolkit. For instance, your project manager or budget manager may not be interested in the technical details of a design that you developed, but rather in its benefits and how it can help them save money or enhance efficiency. Also, you should get involved in the engineering industry as soon as possible. Start building your network through professional engineering institutions and seek out engineering summer placements or part-time jobs. Building a professional profile on LinkedIn and connecting with people from the same industry will give you an extra push in terms of taking your career forward. Consider getting involved in your school's engineering society or any related projects they may be running. Finally, I would advise you to have a mentor in the early stages of your career. A mentor can help you set achievable goals, provide guidance on professional development opportunities, and offer you invaluable advice and support.

Want to discover more?

Check out our student story page for the Engineering study area, featuring multiple alumni from a range of disciplines.