From the classroom: A BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Einstein’s alma mater

From the classroom: A BSc in Mechanical Engineering at Einstein’s alma mater
Ilyas Seckin, a student at ETH Zurich is currently getting his BSc in Mechanical Engineering. Source: Ilyas Seckin

As a child Ilyas Seckin had a knack for assembling disassembling toys, playing with LEGO and robots, so it was only natural for him to earn a BSc in Mechanical Engineering — or Bachelor Maschineningenieurwissenschaften in German —  at ETH Zurich, a leading university for science and technology recognised globally. 

“Having a curiosity of how autonomic systems, robots, cars, aircraft and rockets work, alongside an interest in maths, physics and astronomy, led me to pursue my BSc in Mechanical Engineering,” Seckin says.  

We caught up with this 18-year old student to learn more about his BSc in Mechanical Engineering, how it lets him combine all of his interests in one field and why he chose Switzerland:

Why did you choose to pursue your BSc of Mechanical Engineering at ETH Zurich?

I made up my mind to study for my BSc in Mechanical Engineering at the end of eighth grade. Research led to me finding out that ETH Zurich is one of the leading universities in the world especially in the field of engineering. 

Fun fact, Einstein studied here! ETH Zurich has a rich history, renowned faculty members and highly equipped research facilities. So naturally, it became my goal to pursue my bachelor’s degree there. 

As a child, Seckin had a passion for assembling and disassembling things, so it was only natural for him to pursue mechanical engineering. Source: Ilyas Seckin

Do you think it would have a difference if you pursued a BSc of Mechanical Engineering at a local institution? If so, why?

I made my mind up to study abroad at the beginning of highschool. As I did the International Baccalaureate programme, I would have to study for the Turkish university entrance exam if I opted to study at a Turkish university.

Turkey offers good education in engineering, however, I believe that Switzerland is the centre of several international companies and NGOs which provide a wider spectrum of opportunities in regards to research and connection with the industry. Additionally, I actively make use of my German, English, Russian and Turkish language skills to get to know people from all around the world.

What has been your most memorable class so far — and why? Is Mechanical Engineering easy to study?

I love studying to get my BSc in Mechanical Engineering and I find all of the classes interesting! If I had to pick one, I would choose “Technical Drawing and Computer-Aided Design.” Besides learning the theory behind 3D modelling and technical drawing, we also create our own models. 

The students in this class get to design their own cars which run on balloon propulsion and race them at the end of the semester. The winner gets a free 3D print of anything of their choice! 

Do you have any fond memories with your teachers at ETH Zurich? How have they supported your studies so far?

Am sure as most of the world deals with the pandemic, most students have now had to move their studies online which means in-person contact with lecturers and classmates is very limited. However, ETH Zurich has made it possible for me to have a smooth transition with their advanced online infrastructure. 

I find the lectures at my university are always willing to help the students because I have never had a question left unanswered so far. Not only have I felt supported regarding academic issues but also regarding German, which is a foreign language to me. 

Do you get to apply the theories you gained in lecture halls and classrooms to the real world? 

There is a lot of practical learning in getting my BSc in Mechanical Engineering. Firstly, there is a five-week workshop training (an internship, if you will) that must be completed before you finish your studies. Students gain practical experience in the production of components and acquire an understanding of materials as well as the process of machining and finishing. 

Secondly, there is compulsory laboratory practice where students conduct lab experiments. These help with the understanding of measuring, use of appropriate equipment and practical use in research.  

Lastly, students have the option to choose to make a “Focus Project,” where they apply the knowledge they gained on a market-based project. Here, students are responsible for everything in the project.

Here you can see a short trailer of the 2019 Focus Project Roll-out:

 Or the 2020 Focus Projects:

What are your academic goals?

I am planning to finish my BSc in Mechanical Engineering in three years with a good average. If that goes according to plan, I would like to become a teaching assistant because I enjoy sharing information.

I am also interested in quantum physics, after all I am studying in a country where CERN — the European Council for Nuclear Research — is located! I am also planning to improve my Swedish and Chinese by choosing these elective courses in the following semesters.

 In terms of academic goals, I want to gain fundamental knowledge in the field of mechanical engineering, and a better understanding of the process of solving complex problems.

What is one thing you miss from home?

I miss my family, we do talk very often thanks to technology so I am always up to date with them! It’s definitely not the same as seeing them in person, but there’s comfort in knowing they’re only a video call away.         

What are three things you like about Zurich?

Interesting fact: the former slogan of Zurich is “Little Big City.” Coming from Istanbul that has a population of around 15 million, Zurich’s 400,000 is indeed a “little” city. Nevertheless, Zurich has everything that a big city like Istanbul has. 

Switzerland has four official languages — German, French, Italian and Romansh — and is home to the headquarters of the world’s largest companies. It’s a hub for significant  international organisations which enables it to be a multicultural country. It’s safe and welcoming!

The city is nearby the Alps, so there is plenty of beautiful scenery to be enjoyed. Zurich is a very beautiful Swiss city, and the beauty can always be appreciated during study breaks.

The transportation system of Zurich works very well. It’s super easy to buy tickets and there are always student discounts available. There are no excuses for being late because all transport is very punctual. 

ETH shared this photo I took of their main building!


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What do you plan to do with your BSc in Mechanical Engineering after graduating?

My goal for now is to just finish the programme. After, I plan to continue by pursuing an MSc in the same field. At ETH Zurich, students with a bachelor’s degree are automatically admitted to at least one master’s programme in the same academic field. 

I don’t have a precise plan for what I plan to do after my MSc, but throughout my journey in education I realised that I love to teach and conduct research. A possible path for me might be to pursue a PhD and stay in academia. 

What advice do you have for international students looking to go abroad to Zurich? 

I would advise every student to carefully check if they meet all of the requirements for their chosen course. Afterwards, it is crucial to obey the deadlines. Accommodation is not very easy to find in Zurich, so I would start researching about options before coming here. 

Switzerland has many rules regarding many things and I would suggest incoming students to read about noise regulations, trash regulations, compulsory health insurance, application for a residence permit, and transportation. I find it useful to note everything on my phone too.