Practical advice

Your Laboratory Program

One of the graduate attributes of the engineer is: "An ability to design and conduct experiments and to analyse and interpret data from those experiments."

Your hands-on laboratory skills include safety, observation, operating experimental equipment, and recording of data.

The lab analysis skills include interpretation and summation of data, critique, commentary and report writing and referencing of reliable sources to add relevance to the experimental observations.

LAB safety is a critical component to your lab experience and a consciousness which you take with you into the workplace.

These skills are developed incrementally through your degree and culminate in your final year project/thesis.

You are advised to use the WRISE site to develop technical report-writing skills at every opportunity.

Laboratory Classes

Labs can be one of the most enjoyable parts of your degree: Lab classes will help you visualise the theory and put it into practice. The following tips will help you love the labs and benefit from them scientifically:

  • Do any required pre-work,
  • Pay attention to the results and observations during the experiment,
  • Relate the subsequent calculations and conclusions to the theory covered in class.

In many labs you will be required to complete the tasks in a team.

Lab subjects

The following subjects are where you will be developing your lab experience: whether it be hands-on practical work, demonstrations by Civil staff, or report writing skills:

  • ENGG1800: Introduction to Engineering Disciplines
  • PHYS1001: Physics 1 (Regular)
  • ENGG1803: Professional Engineering 1
  • GEOL1501: Engineering Geology I
  • CIVL2110: Materials
  • CIVL2201: Structural Mechanics
  • CIVL2810: Engineering Construction and Surveying
  • CIVL2410: Soil Mechanics *
  • CIVL3612: Fluid Mechanics *
  • CIVL4024: Engineering Project A
  • CIVL4025: Engineering Project B

* these 2 subjects have extensive lab requirements. Each lab has an on-line component which must be completed prior to the lab session.

Team Work

In a number of subjects you will be involved in working things out, solving new problems, developing solutions, and quite often in teams. The secret behind these tasks is that the outcome is not so important, it's understanding the process of problem solving and team negotiation that makes you a leading engineer.

What is teamwork? Team work involves working collaboratively with others, in order to achieve a goal. As an individual you will need to take a on a role within the team, sharing responsibility and contributing ideas.

Employers are increasingly valuing consultancy and team-work skills. Can you be confident with the following common tasks of the workplace engineer?

  • Make a phone call to a client.
  • Write a professional email.
  • Chair a group meeting.
  • Liaise with all stakeholders on a project - builders, architects, accountants, clients, residents and local council.
  • Respond in a confident and professional way when a problem or error is identified.
  • Give a presentation to management.
  • Write a technical report in language which can be understood by non-engineers.
  • Co-ordinate your efforts with the skills of other experts to create a safe and reliable engineering solution.

During your degree you will be working with other students in groups on assignments and projects. In some cases these students will be like-minded with you, in other cases they will be very different to you and you'll wish you didn't have to work with them.

However it is your responsibility to manage your team and your relationships with them with the aim of completing a successful assignment. This includes students who are not the same culture as you and who might be more or less ambitious than you, or more or less capable than you.


  • Create common goals: discuss what you are aiming for and set outcomes.
  • Secure commitment from each person to the outcomes.
  • Establish the ground rules by which the team operates: for example: take responsibility for your own learning, actions and reactions; speak for yourself; be honest and open; (add your own effective ground rules).
  • Set up a framework by which you will handle potential team problems, including possible penalties.
  • Meet early and create a project plan.
  • Do not divide the work up and leave each person to complete their section and then just paste it together at the end.
  • Clearly define and agree on the roles of each person.
  • Where each person has deliverables set times for them to submit a draft and all drafts will be discussed in a team meeting before being finalised.
  • Keep a record of meetings, deliverables, collaborations etc so that if a student does not make an adequate contribution it is well documented.
  • Practise open communication and positive feedback.
  • In team meetings everyone needs to contribute to the planning. This means shy students and international students must speak and make a contribution, and other students should avoid being dominant.

Useful external links
To give your group assignments the best chance of success make use of the information in the following links:

Computer Resources

3rd and 4th year, and postgraduate students may use the C A Hawkins Computer Laboratory in the Department of Civil Engineering.

1st and 2nd year students should use the University Computer Access Centres, such as the PNR Learning Hub or the SciTech library, or in the engineering Link Building.

The Computer Access Labs provide all students and staff of the University of Sydney with 6Mb of Free Internet access a day (42 MB per week). This translates to about 30 - 45 minutes of browsing websites outside the University every day. The amount used is calculated over a rolling 7 day period (so you can use none on one day, and then 12 MB on the next day, etc). Students have free, unlimited access to internal USYD internet sites from these computer labs.

Student Email

The University supplies all students with a free email account, called SydneyMail.

You should check this email account regularly, as this is one key way in which the university communicates with you.

Configure SydneyMail to show your name correctly
You may have noticed when you use SydneyMail that the recipient may receive the message as follows:

From: without giving your full name.
Configuring SydneyMail email to put your name in the "from" field by doing the following:

  • Login to Sydney Mail.
  • Click Options, then click Account, and in the Account Information box, click Edit.
  • When you finish adding or updating information, click Save.
  • Full instructions are on the Microsoft Outlook website.

Student Software

If you require specialist software please look at the this document.

This includes the following software:

  • Afena
  • Felpa
  • Gentop
  • Feseep
  • FLEA
  • XSlope
  • SpaceGas
  • Microstran
  • Piglet