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Student story

Tim Williams

20 July 2023

Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Natural Resources Engineering

PhD student, University of Michigan, USA

Although it didn't start out that way, Tim's Natural Resources Engineering degree gave him a chance to make the most of the subjects he was most interested in.

“I was originally doing a Science degree, but halfway through the first year I saw the light and realised that Engineering was the perfect match for me, combining my interests in maths and physics and applying these principles to real-world problems. In the future I'd like to do something that is helping the world in some way,” he says.

“Natural Resources Engineering is particularly good to study as it is a much smaller class than Civil, so you are able to form closer relationships with classmates and lecturers. There is also a field trip in the Second Professional Year that only the Nat Res people get to go on – a road trip around the South Island to look at interesting environmental engineering projects. It was really fun and got me excited about the wide range of opportunities that exist for us after university.”

Another opportunity Tim seized was to do a study exchange at Berkeley in California.

“Exchanges are great – you don't have to pay extra fees and there is a huge range of places that you can go to. It's been a great way to get to know a different country and have fun travelling while studying – I’ve been to Yosemite, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and the Grand Canyon. I've met people from all over the world who will be good to keep in touch with for the rest of my life. It's allowed me to study new areas such as climate change mitigation and air pollution.”

Having taken part in UC's Emerging Leaders programme in his first year, Tim went on to serve on the committee of Engineers Without Borders and help organise its national conference.

“This was another great way to meet some cool people and it helped give me useful experience in organising events, and made me feel like I was contributing to the culture at Canterbury.”

Tim says that this culture is a highlight of studying at UC. “There is an amazing community here and if you get involved I can guarantee that you won't regret it. The UCSA puts on some great events and has so many clubs to join, which cater for any interest – I know my friends at other universities are jealous.

“I’ve also been the president of UC Meditation for two years, which was a great leadership experience for me, and a lot of fun.”

Tim is from Auckland and was keen to move away from home to study. With UC already a top choice, visiting for a campus tour sealed the decision for him.

“The wide open grassy areas and all the huge trees were amazing, and something you don”t get at other campuses in the centre of a city. I'm also a huge fan of the outdoors and I love skiing and tramping. Christchurch is the perfect place for this. I think this attracts a lot of people to UC, so it brings all these like-minded people together, and it's really easy to make friends.

“I'd definitely recommend moving away from home for university. Although it may seem daunting, university is the next stage in your life after high school and moving away from home helps to make the experience richer and much more memorable.”

Living up to the challenge, Tim decided on going even further by taking on PhD study at the University of Michigan. Having worked with Beca as an engineering consultant after finishing his undergrad degree, he found that he preferred the idea of asking the questions rather than solving them.

“What enticed me about research was asking questions that nobody in the entire world knows the answers to. I’ve always wanted to create a positive impact on the world, and I believe that by advancing our understanding of the way that humans interact with their environment (and vice versa), we can dream up ways to modify these systems for the benefit of humans and the environment alike.”

Tim’s PhD in Industrial and Operations Engineering investigates the impact of climate change on household essentials, such as water, food and energy, in Ethiopia. He is also researching how policy changes could better resource availability.

“I’m particularly interested in the food system,” he says. “How can we alter the system in a way that leads to improved health and wellbeing, while also increasing its long-term sustainability? To answer this, we first need to understand the system. This is what I hope to achieve.”

Building on his knowledge from UC has been invaluable towards this research.

“I think that an undergraduate engineering degree from UC competes with the leading US universities. It offers a solid grounding in mathematics and other skills such as computer programming that will only become more important in the future.

“Natural Resources Engineering in particular has been very useful for me in my research here in Michigan. It gives a holistic understanding of the natural systems in our world, and an appreciation for how humans can influence these systems for the better through engineering.”

He hopes to also get a similar experience to UC within the student community at Michigan Uni.

“The 'Clubs culture' at Canterbury is very unique – nowhere have I seen such strong student engagement and so many events being organised! I really do miss that, and am trying to bring my own little flavour of New Zealand to America.”

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