First Year Survival Guide

Your First year in Civil engineering has two aims:

  • To consolidate and extend your High School maths and science to lay the foundation for particular engineering skills,
  • To introduce you to generic engineering concepts and abilities as practised in the modern context.

The Vision

If you've never worked in a commercial environment or been part of a construction project or had to negotiate with other people to develop a common outcome you may find the role of the professional engineer to be quite surprising. Yes you'll be building the third harbour crossing and laying railway lines to Antarctica, but you'll be doing it in teams and with incredibly complex restraints of cost and profit, time demands, aesthetic design, community concerns and government regulation. The professional engineer has to be part of a diverse team which draws all these concerns together to create a safe and successful structure.

It is hoped that in your first year you'll begin to develop your own understanding of your importance and place as a Civil Engineer. It is expected that you will see yourself as proactive, a leader, and of high ethical character. You will need to take responsibility for developing these and other attributes of the modern engineer.

You will also need to develop study skills which successfully get you through the degree. Your attitude should be that you are hungry for knowledge: those who think "Just tell me what I have to do to pass the exam" will find increasing levels of difficulty all the way through their degree.

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.

Read more about "Our engineering Degrees" in the Faculty information pages.

Subject Selection

We can address your enrolment and subject selection questions in person when you enrol. There are standard enrolment menus that most new students will take in their first year. (See Enrolment)

Combined degree students in Science and Arts should be considering their majors, as you will be enrolling in a Science or Arts unit in place of one of the engineering units each semester. While it is good to know this on enrolment day, you will be able to change this before lectures start on day 1.

If you wish to learn more about degree and course plans, and descriptions of all units of study, please visit CUSP, the Course and Unit of Study Portal

Faculty policy on subject selection

Socially Surviving

You should take opportunities to make friends straight away in the 1st year because everyone else is alone just like you and open to new friendships: this may not be the case later on. My tips on making friendships are:

  • Go to any event where you might meet people, especially people just like you, with your interests. Smile while you're there and introduce yourself to people. This might be an orientation lecture, a SUCE BBQ, a School event, language exchange, careers event, anything.
  • Don't wait for a second opportunity.
  • Realise that you are just as interesting, just as smart and just as likeable as everyone else you are observing.
  • Make use of the University clubs and societies, especially SUCE and the other engineering clubs.
  • To get a friend you must be a friend: keep secrets, keep appointments, keep promises, be there when needed. In the long term good character is more endearing than beauty or fun.

What's your interest? bushwalking, bowling, anime, language, crosswords, singing, tea, caving, canoeing, unimates, and hundreds more: Check all of the great University interests, hobbies and clubs list. I recommend that you get an access card - it usually pays for itself in no time and allows you great benefits and convenience.

What if you are not sure (about this degree)?

Not all students know that engineering is their "dream vocation". There are still quite a few who are unsure. Doubts arise, especially when the work becomes difficult. Some students cannot manage to maintain a focus or ambition which propels them through the degree.

If you are unsure:

  • The correct response is to still get the best results you can in your current enrolment. Good results will be a bridge to your future, and bad results will be a barrier: whatever that future is.
  • Keep moving forward: opportunities and insight will arise as you move ahead. Eventually this will lead you to the right decision.
  • A Civil Engineering degree is one of the most valuable degrees to have in general employment. It is always highly regarded and the skills learned will benefit you for life.

Ten rules for effective study (and ten habits of bad study)

"Eat your frogs first" may sound like weird advice, but it makes sense if you read this list of good study habits from Barbara Oakley:

 Barbara Oakley 2014, excerpted from A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), Penguin, July, 2014

When Problems Arise

We expect most students will thrive in the university environment: nevertheless quite a few students experience difficulties in one way or another: common problems are:

  • adjusting to independent study (that's right, no one will be checking on you)
  • loneliness and being far away from home and friends,
  • getting too involved in social activities or work, and neglecting studies
  • falling behind and failing subjects
  • financial difficulties
  • illness or misadventure affecting studies.

Occasionally more serious issues arise such as serious ill-health, anxiety or depression, family tragedy, crime, etc.

As much as possible we expect you to do what needs to be done to solve these problems or minimise their impact on your study. The University provides quite a few support services to help you do this. Visit Student Services for more help.

Put your hand up if you are still struggling with personal issues and don't know what to do to get through. How do you put your hand up? By talking with the Director of Undergraduate studies or an academic advisor , or make a visit to counselling services.

International Students

Additional welcome and advice for International Students can be found here: Advice for International Students

Faculty Policies and Procedures

For more information on student policies, please visit

Your degree is governed and controlled by policies and procedures. You will need to know the correct policy and procedures which apply to your enrolment. These are outlined in the above link. They include:

  • How to choose the right subjects.
  • Academic honesty and cheating.
  • How to apply for Special Consideration (for circumstances which affect an assessment)
  • Changing your degree, deferring your studies, withdrawing, readmission.
  • Academic decisions and appealing them.
  • Your academic progression: What is a "Student at risk" and how to respond.
  • Student Code of Conduct
  • Various on-line forms, including special approval to change your units of study.

The Civil Rough Guide is a brief outline of the straight Civil Engineering degree

Academic Progression and Staying on Track

We have a program called "Staying on Track" which aims to flag unsatisfactory progress in the early stages. The aim is to help you decide what to do: "How can I continue this degree without any more failures?" or "Should I quit now and stop wasting my time and money?"

There are minimum standards of progression and if a student does not address problems in the early stages continued poor progress will result in exclusion from the University. Full Information on Academic Progression can now be found in the Student Policies section of the Faculty of Engineering website.