Many undergraduate engineering students have to complete a senior design project as part of their coursework. As the name suggests, this is often completed during the fourth or final year of an engineering program. Such design projects tend to be collaborative, either with students in the same major or those from other design disciplines. Here are some things to think about when it comes to choosing and preparing for this major assignment.
Choosing a Project
Picking a project is the first major step. Look for one that solves a problem. The purpose here isn’t necessarily to explore technology or regurgitate facts learned in your courses. The project should leverage your team’s knowledge and skills as budding engineers. You may be tempted to aim for the moon with a design problem that is too large to solve in the time allocated. Think of your assignment like a research paper or thesis. The goal isn’t to answer every problem. Answer one solvable problem and open up other avenues of exploration for others.
Finding the Right Adviser
Your engineering school will likely have faculty or other industry professionals available to serve as advisers to senior design teams. It’s important to work with someone who has practical knowledge and experience about the problem you’re trying to solve. Much of what is taught in engineering courses are based on what should happen theoretically. Your design project has to solve a real problem, so you’ll want to work with someone who can offer practical guidance that pushes you toward your goal.
There should be some knowledge about what resources are available to students in advance. This not only includes people but also tools, facilities, equipment, and more. A project that requires the use of special tools or special environments not readily available may be beyond the scope of a senior project. That said, the school may have connections as well as financial support for external resources and suppliers such as CAD design services for 3D molding.
Planning Your Time
Your school may require you to check in regularly with an adviser on progress. Regardless of your requirements, you should create a schedule that includes major milestones or internal deadlines. A schedule also helps keep you and the rest of the team accountable for doing each person’s fair share of the work. This plan should also help you fight the procrastination monster.
A senior design project is much like a rite of passage for many undergraduate engineering students. There are many important things to consider and plan for. Careful forethought and planning increase your odds for a successful outcome.