/ Imperial College London

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BnB - on 09 Jan 2014
Has anyone attended Imperial College recently (or teaches there)? Maybe other London establishments, who can offer similar insight?

I'm trying to give my son some guidance as to university choices and wondered whether the science bias at Imperial together with the unique character of London living makes for a less rounded university experience.

Any thoughts?

Please don't recommend alternative universities. He already has a number of offers. He's just trying to establish his first choice.
ClimberEd - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I did a masters there 6 years ago.

I wouldn't be too concerned about the science bias (I am assuming he wants to read something science related) but I would think carefully about being a student in London - that is certainly a very different experience from being a student at a campus university or in a small town. (pros and cons reasonably obvious I hope)
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I did my four year MEng there. If your son gets an offer from Imperial then my only advice is TAKE IT! For engineering and some sciences there is no better university in Europe.

However, it is not one of those places where you'll get a lot of help or your hand held throughout the course. For the most part the learning is left down to yourself and you have to be very self motivated. But despite this, a degree from Imperial will set you up for life.
BIgYeti86 - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I got offered a place for physics at imperial that I turned down in the end.

As mentioned above, it is one of the best unis worldwide for science/engineering BUT there are a lot of blokes and many foreign students which according to my colleague who studied there (physics, first) does affect the social aspect.

Supposedly the girls in the science areas have a saying along the lines of 'the odds are good, but the goods are odd'!
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BIgYeti86:

> As mentioned above, it is one of the best unis worldwide for science/engineering BUT there are a lot of blokes and many foreign students which according to my colleague who studied there (physics, first) does affect the social aspect.

I found that to be no issue... after all you are in London and there are plenty of girl-heavy (not heavy-girl!) unis next door such as the RSM and RCA.
Blue Straggler - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

20ish years ago presumably not recent enough for you so I won't comment :-)
BnB - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BIgYeti86:


> Supposedly the girls in the science areas have a saying along the lines of 'the odds are good, but the goods are odd'!

Like!
BnB - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BIgYeti86:

> I got offered a place for physics at imperial that I turned down in the end.

Interesting. There are few establishments with a better reputation. Where did you end up?
James Jackson on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

> Interesting. There are few establishments with a better reputation. Where did you end up?

I turned down an offer at Oxford for Bristol.
BnB - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to James Jackson:
You're a brave man. To study which subject?
Post edited at 13:07
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to James Jackson:

> I turned down an offer at Oxford for Bristol.

Nice :) I turned down Cambridge, but it was for Imperial so not nearly as brave.
Gary in Germany - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:

I have a mate who turned down Anthropolgy at Oxford to do Forestry at a polly!

I turned down nothing to do Civ Eng at Aston, it was my only offer!!
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Gary in Germany:

Wow that's amazing. Has he regretted it at all?

I used to date a woman who's nephew (or some other distant relative) turned down a SCHOLARSHIP to MIT (for physics) to go to Canterbury uni because his girlfriend was going there. Even extremely clever people can be f*cking stupid sometimes.
Gary in Germany - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:

No he just loves Forrestry and has made a really good career in it.
Dave Garnett - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to James Jackson:
> (In reply to BnB)
>
> [...]
>
> I turned down an offer at Oxford for Bristol.

And this is relevant because...
Blue Straggler - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Dave Garnett:

Harsh to attack James like that. He was addressing comments from BIgYeti at 11.29 and the OP at 12.47
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Gary in Germany:

Well then he made a good decision! Job enjoyment has got to be paramount. A good career too is a nice bonus.
Coel Hellier - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

Is he the sort who would really relish London, with all its museums and art galleries and theatres, the 24-hr buzz, all of the stuff in London other than the university? If so, great.

If not, why would one opt for the much higher accommodation costs and the likelihood of long commutes on the tube?
armus on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Gary in Germany:

> No he just loves Forrestry and has made a really good career in it.

And he goes into the countryside and onto the hills and gets paid for it.
The UKC photo contributor USBRIT started in forestry but moved to climbing as a living. Perhaps your mate may fall for the same allure.
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Coel Hellier:

> If not, why would one opt for the much higher accommodation costs and the likelihood of long commutes on the tube?

Because for some subjects its the best in Europe. In many others its second best.

While I have had a f*cking amazing 8.5 years of crazy partying at uni, I would never pick a university for the nightlife or anything other than how it can set you up in life to do what you want to do.

And remember... when applying for a job its often some HR guy with little knowledge of the job who short lists you based on well known unis he's heard (amongst other things), not the ins and outs of your skill set and experience.
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Coel Hellier - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:

> Because for some subjects its the best in Europe.

Sorry, I don't think that's a sensible comment. First, I don't think there's a sensible way of comparing and ranking teaching across many different universities. How does one do this? Second, the actual teaching one gets will depend on who is assigned particular lecture courses and tutorials, and this inevitably varies from year to year. Thus I think it's sensible to regard a university as giving first-rate teaching, but saying it is better than another dozen universities that will give equally good teaching is not that sensible.
climbwhenready - on 09 Jan 2014
I did my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, but I currently work for a London University (not Imperial). I wouldn't think the science bias would make much of a difference; London (as any town large enough to have a university) gives plenty of opportunities to meet all kinds of people socially, and anyway not all scientists are oddballs ;-)

However, you're right in saying that London has a unique character. Plus points are excellent universities (like Imperial!), an unrivalled culture scene, the nightlife, etc. Minus points are it is expensive (I would not like to live here on a student budget) - the knock-on effects of that are that most students live in very dodgy areas, and also it limits your opportunities to take advantage of many cultural opportunities (although there are free/cheap things to keep an eye out for). Some people can also find the busyness a bit claustrophobic.

It's also a long way from the hills ;-)
Offwidth - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:

Most people would think anyone risking the loss of love for education or career prospects is the stupid one.

As for Universities I'd advise going to the one you like the feel of most, over league tables, any day.
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Coel Hellier:
> Sorry, I don't think that's a sensible comment. First, I don't think there's a sensible way of comparing and ranking teaching across many different universities. How does one do this? Second, the actual teaching one gets will depend on who is assigned particular lecture courses and tutorials, and this inevitably varies from year to year. Thus I think it's sensible to regard a university as giving first-rate teaching, but saying it is better than another dozen universities that will give equally good teaching is not that sensible.

I totally disagree. It's not about the quality of the teaching (unfortunately) but how well the university is regarded based on a huge number of factors. Ask anyone in the physics world and 9/10 will tell you MIT is the best in the world for physics for example. The classics you simply can't beat oxford and for mechanical engineering (in Europe) Imperial is regarded as the best.

Remember, there are official rankings for these things. Sometimes a top uni looses its spot for a year but they usually regain the next year. For many subjects there are 'best' unis.
Post edited at 17:22
Coel Hellier - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:

> It's not about the quality of the teaching (unfortunately) but how well the university is regarded based on a huge number of factors.

To some extent, yes, but the minor differences between being, say, 3rd or 5th or whatever on a league table don't matter much.

> Ask anyone in the physics world and 9/10 will tell you MIT is the best in the world for physics for example.

Well no they won't, they'll say it's in the top ten, and then opinion will be spread.

> ... mechanical engineering (in Europe) Imperial is regarded as the best.

Such reputations go mostly on research, and don't have that much to do with the quality of the undergraduate degree, nor that much about how the degree will be regarded by employers. Having a degree from a leading university does matter, yes, but minor differences in league ordering don't. No-one is going to say: "you only went to CalTech or Harvard, not MIT, so I'm going to pick the guy from MIT".

> Remember, there are official rankings for these things.

No there aren't, there are only unofficial ones.

> For many subjects there are 'best' unis.

You place way, way, way too much faith in these league tables! Just for example, this one puts 3 European universities ahead of Imperial for engineering:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/subject-ranking/subject/engi...
Offwidth - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:
What official rankings? Any ranking I've seen link dissimilar statistics and as such will be scientifically bunkum. I've also known enough Physicists who would disagree with your MIT point to know you are talking complete bollocks. Are you someone pretending to be a clichéd Imperial graduate?
Post edited at 17:46
The New NickB - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to crayefish:
Do you work in higher education? I know that Coel and Ofwidth do and have done for a long time. I suspect they understand the rankings pretty well. Sure ranking in a subject can be important, but I agree with them that it would be unwise to only judge a university choice, especially at 18, on those rankings.
Post edited at 17:50
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to Coel Hellier:

You'd be surprised how much importance people place on these things. I am not saying that university X will teach you much better than university Y (as I have said earlier, despite its reputation, the teaching at Imperial mostly relied on you doing your own work rather than being 'taught'). What I am saying is how these degrees set you up in life. Most of the stuff I learnt as an undergrad will never be used. The purpose of the degree (other than to improve your learning ability) is to get you a job.

Ok... so 'official' rankings was a bad word to use! lol. There is no one definitive ranking but there certainly are a few that are taken reasonably seriously.

I know enough HR staff and recruiters in engineering and computing (was engaged to one of them! lol) to know that out of a number of candidates for an engineering position for example, they'd take all of the Imperial and Cambridge ones for further review straight away. And the importance of where my degree came from could not have been emphasised enough by the recruiters at Shell.

And Offwidth... I'll reiterate my comment that these unis sometimes drop a little but soon regain. For example Imperial has been on top of Mech Eng more than any other in the tables I have seen but this year overtaken Bath (I think!) because of a sudden influx of cash and contracts from Dyson to the uni. I very much doubt Bath will be at the top next year though.
Gordon Stainforth - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I'd say go for it. As someone who attended the RCA from 1972-75, I got to know quite a lot of people at Imperial College, partic. in their climbing club. It's nothing like a campus university, but a very exciting part of the world to be, with a huge proportion of v intelligent and creative people living and working closely together. A huge intermix of musicians, artists and scientists (and lots of girls at the RCA and RCM). Campus universities have the problem of being detached from the cities they are in - rather twee, safe and dull.
crayefish - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to The New NickB:

Until the end of March, technically yes (part time engineering lecturer), though not in careers or anything like that.

Yeah I'd agree with your last statement if it was between say the top two and they were very close, but any noticeable difference between the two choices (in the eyes of those giving you a job) then it would be silly not to go for the best. A few years of not enjoying the city you are in is nothing compared to a lifetime of opportunity. BTW I hate London and always have done. But at no point have I ever regretted the last 8 years studying here.
Greenbanks - on 09 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

Turned down Oxford...for Aberystwyth (no regrets at all, great climbing access, sea & social life & my subject area scored highly there too)
BnB - on 10 Jan 2014
Thanks everyone. Very helpful.
Trevers - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to Coel Hellier:

> Is he the sort who would really relish London, with all its museums and art galleries and theatres, the 24-hr buzz, all of the stuff in London other than the university? If so, great.

> If not, why would one opt for the much higher accommodation costs and the likelihood of long commutes on the tube?

This.

Student life in London would have ruined me, both emotionally and financially. He should go with whichever uni he feels is right. For some people it's perfect, for others London can be the most misery inducing, lonely place in the world.

Science departments of many of the top Russell Group Universities often have precious little to differentiate between, especially when discussing the undergrad experience. A university's research reputation may actually be detrimental to the quality of the tuition.

It's also probably worth ignoring Imperial's stats about their graduates picking up the highest initial salary, since they're London based anyway.
BIgYeti86 - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

> Interesting. There are few establishments with a better reputation. Where did you end up?

I ended up at Oxford. I accept that it may not be the best for pure physics (but still Ok), but I had a wicked time there, met loads of cool people some of who are still my closest friends. I also felt when applying for jobs having Oxford on my CV has benefited me more than any potential gains from going to a better physics department.

But like Coel said, if he is the type of guy who would make the most of social situations and goes out looking for fun, then I'm sure he will be fine.
BnB - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to BIgYeti86:

That's where I ended up many years ago (crikey, before you were even born judging by your profile!) I agree Oxford gives you (almost) free entry to any job interview, although it can be embarrassing admitting one has been there so we'll keep that quiet, eh?

Imperial is at least as well regarded in the sciences so I'd be happy with his choice on those grounds. It's the life attached we are wondering about. You know, the usual parental concerns: will he be able to afford to drink regularly? Will he get laid often enough?

Oh, and will he get his grades? The offer is quite challenging. Haha, I swear I worry more about my children's exams than I ever did about my own.
Ramblin dave - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

Most of the people I know who did undergrad degrees in London seem to have done alright by it. It's obviously different from student life in (say) Oxford or Nottingham or wherever - the students are more dispersed, there's a lot more non-uni stuff to do - but they didn't all seem to spend the whole time saving up to be able to afford a half pint after they've paid for rent and travel. And I think a lot of the London unis have halls somewhere relatively central for first years at least.
Bruce Hooker - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to climbwhenready:
> It's also a long way from the hills ;-)

But it has active climbing clubs and an exploration board that that is second to none... when I was there we climbed every fortnight somewhere, not good for studies on Monday morning!

Concerning the reputation of IC, this worldwide and usually it comes up as the first outside the USA, often giving it third place. The criteria may not be 100% objective but it is something to go by.

To BnB:

I was there from 68 to 71 so my experience is not up to date and anyway I wasn't a brilliant scholar, just scraping through with a Pass degree - I was more interested in climbing than studying, something that the university didn't discourage at the time. I have an old friend from back then who was a bit more serious and has had a very successful career in Electrical Engineering and has given a few lectures there over the last few years and he tells me the place has changed a lot. There are a lot of foreign students, especially China and the East, universities rely on them for finance these days, and they are very very serious - some of them filmed his lectures rather than listening which irritated him a bit - so the social life may have changed a bit. On this subject there are very few women, that's true.

There are some posts on a thread running at present about expedition food from someone at IC who just went to Greenland on and IC expedition which shows they keep the traditions up. All in all I doubt that your son will regret going there, the only choice that trumps IC even today is Oxford or Cambridge but they are very hard to get into... just start saving up to pay London rents. My daughter went to university in London just a few years ago and the cost is a little different to what I paid 40 years ago.
Post edited at 18:50
jpm102 - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I addition to the points above, also worth pointing out that a lot of IC graduates seem to be successful at getting jobs in the city, which may be relevant if that is something that interests your son.

If he is going to study medicine the student experience is different to the rest of IC as they have a separate union and in part, a separate campus. It is more 'balanced' than the rest of IC.
Offwidth - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
More bad advice.

If you go to an elitist establishment that doesn't suit you, you could end up in trouble. Several very bright friends of mine never liked anything about their institutions other than the reputation and quality of the course and commited suicide partly due to work induced stress. Many students fail because they can't cope and need more help than the University normally provides (IC was infamous for this cf Oxbridge for decades but they have cut the gap a bit these days). Potential students need to ensure the University enviroment and location looks like something they might enjoy and if it turns out they made a mistake they should move elsewhere.

Your view on world recognition is nonsense. Most science and engineering recruitment is of people who already have experience and your University is only a slight bonus compared to what you have done since then. Maybe top universities look good on employment because they attract people who are likely to do well as much as down to the quality of the education.
Post edited at 12:52
Bruce Hooker - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to Offwidth:

> More bad advice.

You are a sweetie, aren't you? As you have never been to the place I can't see how you can give any advice at all. It's not as if students are free to choose where they go, to get into, Oxbridge or IC or any other university that attracts students you need to already have a certain aptitude to study, unless you are Price Charles of course. There is a selection procedure after all. This may not apply to people paying the colossal fees that foreign students pay, I couldn't say on that, but it certainly is for home grown students.

Having said that IC is as stressful or laid back as you make it, you have to get through the exams at the end of each year and do the practical work but that's all. There's no role call for lectures... on the other hand you have two tutors, an academic one and a personal one of you need advice but it's up to you to provide motivation, you are treated as adults.

Concerning stress, that comes more from parents than the university administration IMO. I had a friend who committed suicide, he came climbing, seemed very relaxed then one day he jumped out of South Side residence window, while his friend was reading the note he'd just handed him... I was told he was under pressure from home. His name was Bill Bailly of all names, but he was one of the average of three per year at the time, three out of a couple of thousand undergraduates but I don't think the university could be blamed, suicide is one of the highest causes of death at that age, apparently, but then so is mountain climbing - are you going to blame the university for that too? Four mates died in one year, 1972, is IC to blame for having a climbing club and helping expeditions?

Anyway, BnB asked for experiences, not advice, and probably he wanted it from people who had actually been to IC. What you get there is lecturers who are often leading lights in their field, laboratories that put any I've seen in France to shame, and a location that puts you in one of the most active cities in the world, from then on it's down to personal choice, not everyone likes big cities, it's true.
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crayefish - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

More good advice.
Offwidth - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
I've worked in engineering/science academia for nealy 30 years. Good mates went to Imperial, colleagues went to imperial their kids went to Imperial. I think Imperial is a great place if it suits you. I was at Cambridge partly as I didnt like the look of Imperial or the narrownes of the subject or the hot house intensity. I've worked with and visited a very large number of big named English's Unis and companies working in my area. I read the professional and academic information on recruitment and admissions. Some of the best and most suceessful Engineers and Scientists Ive met didnt have a standard 3/4 year degree let alone at a prestigious institution. Ill let others choose who is more trustworthy.

I didnt blame any University for suicide or failure but that doesnt mean its not a waste or possibly preventable at times. Parents and potential students need to think more about what will suit them and less about reputation in my opinion. If they are really good and clearly open to new experience I dont think it matters where they go. If they scraped grades by working really hard and struggle with new environments a more supportive institution is very wise.
Post edited at 13:51
trouserburp - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to BnB:

I'm just finishing a MSc at Imperial and did undergrad at another London uni. The quality of the students is more important than the quality of the tuition, which is probably why employers value uni reputation. Most Imperial students are not just clever but very driven (competitively so). If he's both then he will flourish pushed by similarly minded peers. If he's a complete introvert about his studies and doesn't care how he compares he'll also do fine, in which case you're not actually obliged to aim for a 1st. However if neither then he'll probably feel disheartened at dropping from top of the class to bottom, not receiving much motivation from the teachers there (who expect you to be extremely self-motivated) and maybe not have the best student experience he can.
Social life in London is brilliant at that age (expect the odd loan)
In reply to Offwidth:

I think your point is a general one, that the student, at whatever age, goes to institutions/takes courses that don't stress them to the point of breaking.


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