Third Year.

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I left second year thinking that the levels of stress could not possibly get worse. After all, I had fewer lectures, the freedom to dictate the course of my work, and of course, no group projects. I think I may have forgotten that I am Yusra Hussain; stress always finds me. I think it aids my productivity, though!

Year 3 brought with it many, many things. Being the President of the largest student society in ECS meant that I was suddenly in the thick of it all, people knew who I was (and some even thought my presidency was indicative of superior, obscure, programming skills!) and I was very busy. Of course, I was also keeping up with my Third Year Project. The great 3YP. But we’ll get to that later! February came around far too quickly, exams had come and gone, I had been put through the torture that is Management (as someone who greatly enjoys a wide variety of knowledge, I was disappointed by the debacle that was the management course. Prospective students, don’t be afraid, though – because of our feedback, the entire course is going through a Major Overhaul!), and I suddenly had little to do (I’ll explain why later).

In true Yusra fashion, then, I decided it was opportune time for me to start up another society/group/outreach activity- Robogals. I thought I’d sit in the background, for once. And so naturally, I found myself as the Sponsorship and Partnership Manager; running a society that holds something very dear to my heart. Encouraging little girls to do engineering. Or STEM subjects in general. The gender-divide is no secret (and no statistics claiming ‘it’s better now’ are fooling me!), in a class of 84, the girls number 12. It’s not because girls aren’t capable of engineering, it’s because they’re not interested. Which is fair enough, I’m not interested in drawing. But they’re not interested, largely, because of the lack of information, lack of encouragement, lack of ‘cool’-factor. Robogals takes the LEGO Mindstorm NXTs, a handful of super-enthusiastic volunteers and changes that. Hopefully, in 10 years’ times, more girls will be innovating in science as well as the arts (and maybe our arts counterparts can encourage the boys, you know in the name of gender equality!)

Now, the 3YP. It’s no easy task, taking on a project that lasts a year all by yourself; but at the ripe old age of [insert age at which you are in year 3 here] you are ready to take it on. My project involved the build and design of a handheld instrument to measure human impedance in a quick and painless manner. The first semester was very much about simulation after simulation, ordering components only to find out the discrete components worked better than the little tiny ICs available, more simulation, MATLAB and learning about skin. By the end of the semester, I had pretty much everything about what the instrument would do and what it would look like. Of course, I’d also sent in an application to the Ethics committee, so that I could actually test the instrument itself. The latter turned out to be my downfall. The reason why?  After exams, I had to nearly overhaul the direction of my project. It would still be the same, but I wouldn’t have needed PCB design, but I would have needed to improve my model of human skin. 75 days after my initial submission, ethics approval came through. This of course meant that I had to forgo my Easter vacation and concentrate on my project. After days on end of work and very little else, a grey hair and PCB later, my project was ready for testing. After testing on the participants, a report was written, a viva given and my project complete.

The 3YP taught me many, many things about electronics – how fun embedded programming actually is, how unreliable electronic circuits are (nothing on the market has any reason for working), factor in an extra 10 hours for each hour of work – just in case; it also taught me countless things about projects in general – work hard, but not too hard (or as some people say, work smart), factor in a million extra hours just in case, don’t rely on factors very much outside your control. Always have a contingency plan. Always.

It was fun also, I promise. In retrospect.

With all the project and the extra-cirriculars, it’s hard to remember the modules and exams that are also inevitably existent to tip the iceberg. I enjoyed my 3rd year modules greatly, mainly because they helped shape my focus, I thought I would enjoy photonic devices, but, while I did enjoy some of the material; I realised nano-electronics is not in my interests. Good thing I did not change to Electronics with nano last year! Analogue is forever a mystery – I enjoyed the lectures and the applications of such, but I will always need my notes to be able to do anything useful!

It’s been such a long year, but it’s gone by too quick. So much has happened that I’ve probably missed out everything; maybe I should add ‘write blog’ to my mental list of weekly things to do. Maybe that way I actually will more often!


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