By Carlos Ramírez Jiménez, PhD*
So, there I was. 24-year-old engineer, with a major in industrial robotics and two suitcases bought on discount from the supermarket. I was ushered into the dorm and into my room by a truly friendly intern surely doing that so he could keep his scholarship at Warwick University. Nonetheless, the chap was friendly and answered all my questions on the way to Claycroft. We went through building 3 down to flat 18 and ended up in room 6. That combination of numbers made me feel good, some sort of kabalistic relationship within the digits and the following 6+ years I was going to spend in the UK while doing a masters and a PhD.
Of course, at the time I had no idea it was going to be that long and not even knew what to expect from this experience. It was the very first time I was away from my home country, the first time also I lived in a place other than my parents’ home.
Once the chap made sure I was clear that was my room, he handed over my keys, show me to the welcome package prepared for new students, and explained to me the usage of coupons for the Orientation Week, he was gone.
I stood there, alone, in that room, miles away from home, still in shock for the long flight, and I cried. I cried like the first time I got my heartbroken by that lass from college, I cried like when I felt from the bicycle ten years before and I broke several teeth… I cried for a few minutes, not knowing exactly why. Perhaps it was fear, excitement, or the realization that five years of engineering degree, two years gaining working experience and one year of jumping through fire hoops for CONACyT finally paid off with a fully-funded scholarship that covered tuition fees and living expenses and at the end I was here.
I dried my eyes, unpack some basic toiletries, washed my face, change my clothes ‘cause they smelled like an airport and with determination, I took my student vouchers and headed to the marquee, where a big welcome party was being held for us international students. As I walked through the fresh (not cold yet) night of England towards the marquee, I was more relaxed and focused. I remembered the ordeal that was the application for the scholarship in Mexico, how many little bits and bobs were asked from me to have the requirements for eligibility. How I barely scrapped the average grade from the ESIME with a non-exciting 8.36 for the entire major. CONACyT at the time was asking for a minimum of 8.00 from the first degree so I was on the clear. I remember few of my friends, very clever ones in fact, who just got right below that magic figure, and how because of that their fates were sealed there and then. Few went on to pursue very successful careers in Mexico and overseas, but we will talk about them in chapters to come.
The orientation week went by fairly fast; I met few lads from Latin America and Spain, laziness was the reason why we used to get together, not wanting to talk in English and switching to Spanish every chance we had. On the first day of classes for the masters, I was surprised by the amount of Mexicans that the classroom had, there were five of us, similar than the number of Indians, then we had Chinese lads and lasses, then few Greeks and then few chaps from all over the place. All the Mexicans were there under scholarships from CONACyT, the Indians were all sponsored by their different companies, everybody else was paying by themselves apparently.
I took the Manufacturing Systems and Engineering MSc course. CONACyT had this rule that they only approved master’s degrees closely related to our first degrees. I wanted to pursue something related to artificial intelligence or pure math, but since I had a BSc on Industrial Robotics Engineering, the lads up in CONACyT only read the “industrial” part and narrowed down my choices to stuff related to manufacturing. Little I knew that manufacturing in this country was dominated by the “maquila” approach and investment from overseas. But I did not have a professor just like you have now who can tell you stories about these working experiences and if not convince you to do something other than engineering, at least provide you with an insight of what´s going on out there.
Did you know that a MSc in the UK is only one year long? Did you also know that an engineering degree in the UK is only three years long? If you study for the fourth year, they throw in the MSc degree for you. Well, I didn´t know that I could have done a direct PhD. I mean, a five years BSc in Engineering is already one year longer than what they require you to do as a prerequisite for the PhD. Here at ASUCQ, you are doing a four-year degree, so, should you consider pursuing a PhD in the UK or some other commonwealth country, maybe you can just skip ahead and don´t do the MSc at all! Anyhow, I didn´t know that, so I did a one-year MSc which eventually became my introductory course to living abroad and studying in English.
I met with a very clever professor who became my MSc and PhD supervisor in time. He convinced me to choose a research line related to composite materials applied to the wind energy industry. Before that, I did not know what a composite material was nor had any knowledge of the wind energy industry in Mexico. It would have been beneficial if I had known more about those topics, and many others for that matter! You know, back in the day, a professor from IPN hardly discussed topics other than their teaching subjects. We were lectured rather than challenged to think, which, these days is the leading approach to education, very much like the way you are being thought here at ASUCQ.
That is why I decided to come forward and tell you about my own experiences with industry and work overall. Mainly in Querétaro, but clearly representing what the overall approach to graduate engineers is across Mexico. Stay tuned and you can learn a trick or two that might eventually prove useful for your professional career.
*Dr Ramírez is a professor at ASUCQ. Learn more about our Faculty here.