“By doing Mechatronics, I find I have a better high-level understanding of complex systems and I am better suited to communicate this to potential clients and investors.”
Chris Dutkiewicz is a 4th year student studying a double degree in Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechatronic) and Bachelor of Science (Physics) at UNSW. We spoke to Chris who recently won a Dean’s award for 2021 from the Faculty of Engineering. He told us about his interests in mechatronic engineering and physics, his role with RehabENG in creating a prototype for an uninterruptible surgical lamp, his advice for students to make the most of their university experience and his current role at Aurecon.
I feel grateful to have won this award. It is nice to be acknowledged for the work I have put into my studies, and it also serves as encouragement to keep it up.
I study Mechatronic Engineering and Physics as a double degree. I chose UNSW because it has always had a reputation as one of the best universities for engineering. I can confirm that this is correct, and I am also happy to have experienced the high-calibre learning offered by the School of Physics. I have always been interested in the two fields, particularly throughout high school where I was introduced to the more complex areas in the subjects. It is always interesting to learn how things work, from something simple like an induction cooktop to the inner workings of a nuclear reactor.
This learning has of course continued at university where I have admired the detail to which content is taught. While sometimes a bit tricky to understand at first, it is always very satisfying when things click into place. You can go from fundamental concepts to deriving complex formulae which really gives you a greater appreciation of the concepts you are applying.
Growing up, my parents were my biggest supporters and created an environment that encouraged my love for learning and inquisitive mind. They are always happy to hear when I have done well, and it’s a nice feeling considering the work they have put into raising myself and my siblings.
The thing I enjoy about mechatronic engineering is that it’s one of the broader engineering majors. I’ve always struggled to choose a specific area of study and found that the variety offered during the flexible first year was something I enjoyed. I see mechatronic engineering as a combination of mechanical, electrical, and software engineering, and picked it so I could study across all three areas in a single degree.
My favourite course to date has been MTRN3020 – Control Systems. This was a really interesting course as it took the concepts we’d learned in first and second year and showed us how they could be applied to control real-world systems. That is, effectively maintaining a desired output for a range of varying inputs. I remember our first lab where we programmed a cart and motor to swing a pendulum and maintain it in an upright position. I’ve still got the video on my phone, and this is one of my favourite moments in my degree.
I currently hold a Scientia Scholarship, which I was fortunate enough to receive based on my high school results. Whilst serving as an acknowledgement of my achievements, the scholarship also gave me the confidence to choose a five-year degree over something shorter. This meant I could feel comfortable choosing to study two of my passions instead of just one.
I reckon one of the best ways to enrich your university experience is to take part in extra-curricular projects. UNSW already has well-known projects like Sunswift and Redback Racing, though there are also many others to get involved with. Last year I joined the Rehabilitation Engineering Society (RehabENG) Uninterruptible Surgical Lamp Project, which I’ve found to be a really great way to learn hands-on engineering skills and apply them in a project with real positive impacts for disadvantaged communities. Recently, I became one of the project Co-Leads, and we’re now making exciting progress towards a working prototype that we hope to see in use in The Solomon Islands later this year.
There are also plenty of opportunities for professional development. Last year I took part in UNSW Engineering Society Applied Consulting for Engineers (ACE) program, which was a really rewarding experience. The program involved three case competitions over the course of six weeks, where we had the opportunity to learn important skills such as critical problem solving, financial analysis, and presenting. It’s rare that these skills are covered in an engineering degree, and so it’s even more important to get a head start as you look towards going for interviews and starting your professional career.
I think the relevance of mechatronic engineering lies in its ability to cover so many disciplines within engineering. As modern technology and infrastructure becomes more complex, it’s easy to become focused on minor details as opposed to the bigger picture. While fine details will always be important, you also need engineers capable of understanding how the entire system fits into its context. By doing Mechatronics, I find I have a better high-level understanding of complex systems and am better suited to communicate this to potential clients and investors.
I plan to graduate at the end of 2023 and, like many, am still not entirely sure where I will end up. After really enjoying the case competitions I’ve taken part in, I think I’d like to explore consulting as a future career. I’m currently an undergraduate consultant at Aurecon which has given me a valuable insight into the world of engineering consulting. I’ve worked on some pretty interesting projects to date and am excited to see what else I’ll be able to contribute to.
With regards to UNSW, I’ve found that a large part of my degree has been making complex things simple. I’ve definitely had to learn how take a step back and break down confusing concepts into manageable chunks, which is a really important part of critical problem solving.
This is a skill I’m keen to further develop and I hope to secure a career where I can continue to challenge myself.
Everyone learns differently, and so my best piece of advice is to figure out what works best for you. For me, it’s a pretty standard combination of annotating lecture slides during lectures, making concise study notes, and then completing as many quizzes and past papers as I can manage. Note-taking should also be an iterative process, so make sure to address your weak areas while you complete problems. This means that when it comes to the exam, you’ll feel confident that you’ve prepared as much as you can.
Finding friends in your courses is also beneficial. It makes going to class a lot more enjoyable, and a bit of friendly competition always seems to make people work harder. Plus, they’re in the same boat as you, so you can know that at least you won’t be struggling alone!