Where should I study? Our subject-by-subject guide

Starting with Science, Engineering and Technology our quick guide to making the right college choice shows how not all colleges are the same

Mon, Jan 6, 2014, 01:00

Science, Engineering and Technology

Once labelled nerds, Ireland’s scientists, engineers and technologists are now being heralded as the saviours of the economy and the world. More money than ever is being pumped into the sciences, which is great news for Ireland’s universities and IoTs; well for some departments at least. While many arts and humanities departments continue to wallow in dated prefabs from the 1970s, new science and engineering buildings are two a penny. This means that any prospective science student will undoubtedly enjoy great facilities at third level.


Science
The best science educators are the ones with as active a research remit as they have teaching responsibilities. Therefore, it is worth looking at the institutions with healthy levels of research output.

Trinity’s undergraduate science course is common entry – allowing students to take three to four subjects for the first two years, and choose one of 16 options to specialise in for the final two years. Trinity has a worldwide reputation for many areas of science, including immunology and nanoscience.

It also has world-class research facilities on site, such as the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funded Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET). Based in Trinity, researchers also work in partnership with University College Cork (UCC).

UCD’s common entry structure for science means that students can sample subjects in their first year before committing to a specialisation. There are a number of direct entry subjects too.

For a long time, physics was the ugly sister of biology and chemistry but the subject is back in vogue, in UCD anyway. UCD physicist Dr Ronan McNulty conducts research projects at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider as well as teaching physics to first year science students.

For marine science, your best bets are NUI Galway or UCC. The NUIG Ryan Institute is the top research centre in the country studying marine science (Dr Patrick Collins from the institute recently participated in an expedition to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to study hydrothermal vents, an adventure that was documented by the National Geographic Channel).

A budding scientist should look for mentors who are actively engaged in research as well as lecturing. And you won’t just find them in the bigger universities. Remember that many IoTs, by their very nature, are technically focused education providers: an approach that fits naturally with science, engineering and technology subjects. IoTs also frequently have strong links with local enterprises leading to direct employment opportunities upon graduation.

Galway Mayo IT (GMIT) is seeing increasing numbers of undergraduates enrolling on all their science courses. Intake for their BSc in Physics & Instrumentation doubled in the 2013/14 academic year. Likewise demand for graduates from the same degree continues to be very strong, particularly among employers in engineering and pharmaceuticals. In fact, the GMIT science department had to set up a dedicated Facebook page several years ago in response to demand from employers wishing to reach graduates to fill vacancies.

In the beautiful surrounds of Kerry, Tralee IT offers the unique BSc in Field Biology and Tourism, while Tallaght IT does one of the few BSc degrees in DNA and Forensic Analysis, two more good examples of how IoTs can offer niche courses not provided by the larger institutions.


Engineering and technology
As the economy starts to stabilise, engineering has once more regained its place as a major employment sector. There is no shortage of high-calibre institutions to hone your craft – be it mechanical, structural, biomedical or any other kind of engineering.

In terms of facilities, NUI Galway’s engineering building was voted Ireland’s favourite new building at the 2012 Public Choice RIAI Irish Architecture Awards. The building has been designed to be a teaching tool in itself, with exposed construction techniques and various ecological building methods used.

Trinity’s engineering course includes the chance to spend a term working in industry, and an optional extension which leads to a Master’s degree – which can include work placements and internships.

Courses in demand, which provide a mix of technical and business skills, include Computer science and business, and management science and information systems studies (which includes a consultancy project for a real client).

UCD engineering students enter a common first year, which allows them to gain an understanding of the many different engineering disciplines available, before being offered a choice of specialisation.

A first-year module, creativity in design, exposes first-year groups to real-world challenges for which they must research, brainstorm and design solutions based on maths and physics. In this module, students take on an Engineers Without Borders challenge. UCD is the first Irish higher education institution to participate in the challenge with EWB, an international development organisation which uses engineering skills to aid communities in developing countries.

The hugely employable combination of computer skills with a foreign language (two things Google, for example, is crying out for) are being offered through a new BSc from DIT.

Computer Science (International) is a four-year honours degree in core computing and programming skills with a key international and globalisation focus. It offers graduates IT industry skills, a foreign language (Chinese or German) and international work experience in year three.

Engineering at DIT includes the latest in electrical and electronic communication, with world-class research and innovation in areas such as sound separation and development of ingenious antennae technology to facilitate signal distribution for mobile and other communication, not only in developed countries but also in unpopulated regions of the world.

Mechanical and design engineering might sound old school but in fact they both include product design and innovation for the 21st century, in areas such as medical devices, lifestyle enhancement, and a range of consumer-related products. There is also the Formula Student project – where each year students must design and build a racing car that goes on to compete at Silverstone.

Satellite technology is now present in many areas of life, from sat nav in cars to GPS on mobile phones. All of this derives from geomatics and DIT has unique provision in this area as well as surveying, for construction, valuation, and building design.

DCU’s new BSc in Computational Problem Solving and Software Development is for students who have already demonstrated an enthusiasm for computer programming and ICT.

Athlone IT offers a BSc in Software Design where you can specialise in the burgeoning field of games development.

Tallaght IT offers a BSc in Energy and Environmental Engineering while Sligo IT offers training in advanced wood and sustainable building. It also offers degrees in game and web development.