One of the major differences or changes I experienced in my third year of studies in ECS was the lack of mandatory lab sessions like we had in the first and second years. Unlike years 1 and 2, no third year module (apart from one) involved compulsory lab sessions. This in effect meant I only had to come into the labs mainly for my third year project work especially as mine involved both hardware and software components. Over the course of the year, I came to find a home in the third year project lab not only for the third year project work but also for other academic work.
The third year project lab is located on level 2 of the Zepler building; the same level which houses the main electronic laboratory, the electromechanical laboratory, the fourth year project laboratory, the MSc laboratory and the Zepler stores which supplies electronic components and tools to students. In essence, it is the centre of all electronic laboratory work.
First and second year Electronic engineering students do have their timetabled laboratory sessions within the general electronic lab. On the other hand, third year students who apply for it are granted access to the third year lab for the purpose of their third year project. This access is granted for the entire academic year as the third year project is yearlong. Also, fourth year students have access to the fourth year lab for their Group Design Project (GDP) but this is only for semester 1 as the GDP is a semester long project.
Not all third year students end up using the third year lab as it depends on the nature of one’s project. Students with hardware intensive projects like in my case would most likely find themselves needing to use this lab. However, students with projects bordering on areas such as solid state electronics, nano electronics, optoelectronics or software engineering might actually find it better working in other laboratories where they could find more appropriate resources supporting their work. Before access is granted to the third year lab, a student must complete a risk assessment form which must be signed off by the student’s project supervisor and the lab technician.
Students can use any bench space within the lab and each student is also granted a locker space to keep tools overnight. As I was one of the first students to gain access to the lab at the beginning of the year, I had my pick of a preferred location for my work; a space I ended up using quite a lot. Over the course of the academic year and as the demands of the third year project and other course modules increased, I found myself spending more time at my bench. A variety of standard electronic bench equipment including oscilloscopes (a wide range), function generators, LCR meters and soldering iron are available for student use. Furthermore, students could borrow additional tools from the Zepler stores, a provision which proved to be an invaluable resource for many students.
During the most intense periods of the third year project, a standard day for a number of us started from 9 am and lasted till 11 pm when we got kicked out from the labs by the University security guards. At times we even came in earlier at 8 am and on many occasions did end up having all three meals for the day on campus, only returning home to continue work and sleep briefly before returning the following morning to labs. There was no distinction between weekends and weekdays; the only difference being that there were no lectures on weekends!
It was also a period of great bonding for some as we shared the same lab for most of the year; we made new friends and got closer with those we already knew. We shared a common dream – defeat of the third year project – and this bonded us, just like comrades-at-arms!
The third year lab for me was undoubtedly the place I spent most of my time on campus during the academic year. There were some weeks I think I must have even spent more time in the labs than at my home. In fact, for some of my colleagues and I, it became a home of some sort. It made my work easier knowing I could leave my kits on my bench overnight and come back the following day to find them just the way I had left them. It really did help my project delivery and it would be greatly missed. I can only hope the fourth year labs would be as cool and convenient to use!
You are welcome to post a comment below if you have any questions about the ECS labs or the cool kits we get to play with. Shalom.