Frequently asked questions for the Department of Engineering Mathematics

We asked the Department of Engineering Mathematics some questions about what it's like to study with them. Here's what they said.

We are adapting our teaching methods and spaces in accordance with the latest COVID guidelines and therefore the information below may be subject to change.

What makes this department at the University of Bristol unique?

Our hands-on approach to problem solving using mathematics and data science.

Every year of the programme has a large project-based module where students are posed real world questions which they have to investigate how to solve. They use mathematics, data science, common sense, teamwork, computing, and investigative skills to go and find information.

By the third year these mathematics and data science projects (normally three per year) are all real problems, posed fresh by industry or other departments in the University.

Recent examples have come from Royal Mail, EDF, BMW Mini, Bloomberg, Hargreaves Landsdown, LV insurance, various social enterprises and small data science startups, renewable energy companies, various government agencies and a host of small- to medium-sized enterprises.

At the same time we teach cutting-edge courses in mathematics, computing and AI, and in engineering science. The degree, which this year celebrates the 40th anniversary of its first graduates, is unique in the UK.

How does the research at the school benefit the experience of the students at the school?

The department leads research in the UK in a number of areas.

These include:

  • nonlinear dynamics and chaos
  • industrial mathematical modelling
  • artificial intelligence and data science
  • swarm robotics and autonomous systems
  • soft robots and bio-robotics.

We also contribute to cross-faculty initiatives in bio-engineering, digital health and in mathematical modelling in the health life sciences more generally.

What does the school do to welcome students when they first start at Bristol?

Students are given an introduction into open-ended mathematical modelling, and are introduced to the vibrant student society BEMS (Bristol Engineering Maths Soc).

BEMS organises regular "pint of Eng Maths" events, where students can hear from recent graduates about what they decided to do next. There are also sports teams, socials and the memorable Annual Dinner. 

What is the first year timetable like for this course?

Students are taught from scratch how to program and do basic software engineering in Python as well as modelling skills such as the document preparation system Latex (overleaf) and computer algebra package Maple.

They are introduced to teamworking skills and, uniquely to all engineering students at Bristol, are assigned an industrial mentor.

These activities and the mathematical and data modelling run alongside traditional lecture courses in Engineering Mathematics, Engineering Physics, Discrete Mathematics, Electronics and Fluid Mechanics.

It's a full timetable, with many hours outside of lectures spent in the dedicated departmental computer lab/study space, or in other study spaces across the Faculty of Engineering, or across campus. 

Where can I find out more about the detailed structure and content of the degree programmes?

You can visit the Engineering Maths website, view the programme catalogue for more detailed course structure, or email our admissions/publicity tutor Alan Champneys on a.r.champneys@bristol.ac.uk with any queries.

What support does the school offer to new students?

Every student is given a personal tutor who you will meet in a group or individually most weeks.

We are a relatively small department and there is an excellent family atmosphere. Students and staff are well known for supporting each other.

There is also a dedicated University Wellbeing team which are linked through to your personal tutor through the department Senior Tutor. We take a proactive approach to ensuring your wellbeing.

How will the course set me up for my future career?

Compared with most mathematics degrees, our course offers unprecedented access to industry and to different possibilities of employment.

There are a growing number of students who also go on to do something entrepreneurial or work for a startup.

We have a large network of recent graduates connected through the BEMS facebook group and through LinkedIn who can offer advice and encouragement.

Are there any employers or other initiatives that the school works with for industry placements?

All students take the mandatory second-year Professional Engineering unit which teaches all kinds of professional skills from project management through to accounting. 

Each third-year Math and data Modelling project has an external client who might be a potential employer. Many fourth-year projects are also linked to an end user.

In addition, through the industrial mentor scheme you will be given access to a friendly face 'on the other side' who will encourage you to seek out different careers options. They may become your first LinkedIn contact.

The Faculty of Engineering Industrial Liaison Office run dedicated summer placements too and also taster sessions for different careers.

There is also the option to switch to the five-year Year In Industry programme in which you spend your third year on an assessed industrial placement through one of our partner companies.

What do graduates go on to do after studying this course at Bristol?

A wide variety of things. Among the most popular are:

  • General engineering, especially consultancy, renewable energy and project management
  • Software, IT and data science
  • Management constancy, finance or related
  • Education, research or higher degrees. 

What opportunities are there to study abroad as part of this course?

We offer a third year abroad for those students on the four-year MEng degree.

The most popular locations are in North America or Australia, but we have also sent students recently to Spain, Hungary, Italy and Scandanavia. Find out more at Global Opportunities.

What are the facilities like on campus that students will use to study this course?

We have a dedicated Engineering Mathematics lab where students from all years can perform group or individual project work together.

There are also lots of study spaces in the school and faculty that serve as combined computer and desk spaces.

The school has a 'hackspace' where students wishing to undertake physical projects can build stuff independently.

How many hours (on average) are required outside of lectures for additional work and study?

Typically, about 20 hours.

How do assessments work for the department?

A mixture of coursework and exams – about 50 per cent of each. 

What would you say are the main differences between studying at school and study at university?

The independence required. Also, we are looking for students who surprise us by thinking outside the box.

There is less rote learning to get really high marks (pass marks for non-master's units are only 40 per cent and 70 per cent is a first).

We are not trying to fill your head with facts, but teach you how to learn, and to apply your knowledge. 

What are examples of final year projects/dissertations that students have worked on when they study this course?

These are on all kinds of topics from quite advanced mathematics, big data and machine learning, through to practical engineering and bio-medicine.

Recent examples have included:

  • models for pedestrian motion on footbridges
  • mining Twitter data for health
  • the spread of epidemics
  • underwater vehicle modelling
  • satellite controls
  • stem cell and tissue modelling
  • robotic swarms applied to cancer biology
  • sophisticated analysis of ocean currents
  • and much much more. 

Is there anything I should check out to familiarise myself with the subject matter before I would start the course?

One textbook used a lot in first year is Modern Engineering Mathematics by G James (no need to have a version with MyMathlab). Some copies are available secondhand. The fourth or fifth edition should be fine.

The early chapters should give you a good brush up on A-level Maths. Most of the rest of the book does not go much beyond Further Maths. But there are lots of good examples you can get your teeth into to stay up to speed.

You might also like to try an online course teaching programming in Python.

Our own website has some interesting mathematical modelling problems you can try (perhaps in teams).

There are quite a lot of good websites containing popular and interesting material. For example plus.maths.org.

For more computing-oriented problems we can also recommend Project Euler.

Anything else I should know about?

If you have any more questions, feel free to contact our admissions/publicity tutor Alan Champneys on a.r.champneys@bristol.ac.uk.

Edit this page