From Lego to the Lab: Building a Career in Engineering and Science

Martin Luna Juncal engineering science double degree

By Martin Luna Juncal

Studying a double degree is a fantastic way to increase your career options; you’ll graduate with two qualifications and a unique skill set that will set you apart from the rest.

If you’re considering studying science or engineering, you may have discovered it’s possible to combine the two disciplines into one degree. So what are the benefits of a double degree? One current student, Martin Luna Juncal shares why he chose to combine a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Engineering at Griffith University.

I don’t remember all too much about my childhood, but there is one thing I’ve never been able to forget; ever since I was a kid, I wanted to build things. Growing up, I was fascinated by LEGO, I’d spend hours-upon-hours playing with those tiny blocks, designing and building all sorts of crazy things. I guess you could say LEGO was a pathway to my interest in engineering. There’s a bit more to the tale, so hopefully this article will give you an insight into why deciding to study a double degree in Engineering and Science, was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Why did you decide to do a double degree in engineering and science?

I’ve touched on my interest in engineering, but haven’t really explained why I decided on doing a double degree instead of just engineering. In Year 11, I became absolutely terrified by how little I knew about chemistry compared to everyone else in my class.

After realising how out of my depth I was after just one lesson, I went to my teacher and sheepishly explained that I wanted to drop the course immediately because I was going to fall behind and fail, and my university prospects would be ruined (dramatic, I know). After we finished our conversation, there was one message she left with me that stuck: “if you put in the work, you’ll get the outcomes you want, and I’ll help you achieve them”.

So, I did. I worked hard, and over those two years with my incredibly dedicated teacher (and I mean dedicated, she stayed up until 4 am helping students with assignments. Definitely not a university study habit I recommend), I was able to not only become really good at the subject, but I also fell in love with it and decided I really wanted to keep studying it at university. So in 2016, I enrolled in a double degree; the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Civil Engineering/Bachelor of Science.

engineering science double degree
What has been a highlight of your degree so far?

The highlight of my degree so far was the scholarship I won to do a summer school program at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand. The scholarship was life-changing. I learnt so much in such a small time period about agricultural engineering, remote sensing, geographic information systems and other topics I hadn’t learnt about yet. Not only that, but I got to experience the diverse culture that Thailand has to offer. It was such an engaging experience and it was great to be able to make new friends from different countries in the South-East Asian region.

What is your biggest achievement through university so far?

My biggest achievement was becoming a finalist for the Top 100 Future Leaders Award and winning the Top 100’s Fusion First in Family Award. The Top 100 competition came at a stressful point of my degree. I was in the third year of my five-year double degree, with no engineering experience and very little job experience overall. However, as a member of the Griffith Honours College, I took the opportunity to enter the competition, which was sponsored by the Australian Financial Review and Jacobs Engineering Consulting, a globally renowned civil engineering firm.

The application process took almost six months; there were several stages to get through, all of which were designed to narrow down the selection pool. Eventually, I was a finalist for the main award and Jacobs offered me a placement, which of course I couldn’t turn down. At this point, I finally felt like my dreams were starting to come true, and I now had an opportunity to be a real engineer in a real firm. I was living out my passion, or so I thought…

engineering science griffith university

What experiences did you have with Work Integrated Learning and how have they affected your career goals?

After six months of working at Jacobs Engineering Consulting, a lack of work meant there wasn’t any room for me to continue my employment and I was put on hold. My issue was that I still needed more days to complete my Industry Affiliates Program. I met with a Griffith Work Integrated Learning officer and she pointed me in the direction of Professor Rodney Stewart and Dr Edoardo Bertone, both of whom work with Cities Research Institute (CRI). CSI’s research experts span a wide range of disciplinary fields, from transport and land use planners to civil engineers; systems modellers to environmental scientists, economic and social researchers to coastal engineers; and from geographers to architects.

After one conversation with Rodney, I was persuaded. His views on global collaboration and his mindset and ambition to perform game-changing research captivated me. On top of this, he had the perfect topic for me to be able to combine my two passions of engineering and chemistry, and after he introduced me to Edoardo, I quickly found myself on a direct path into research.

“To say that I’m living my dream is an understatement. While it took me four years of my degree to realise that the research path was right for me, I haven’t looked back and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Rodney set me up as an undergraduate Research Engineer with CRI, and before I knew it, I was working on calibrating a new nutrient measurement sensor and using this data to shape the development of a mobile water quality monitoring station. We’re now piloting this new station out in the field. To say that I’m living my dream is an understatement. To be able to collaborate with different researchers who share similar goals is such a gratifying experience. While it took me four years of my degree to realise that the research path was right for me, I haven’t looked back and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

Working with Rodney and Edoardo, as well as the rest of their team, has already shaped my career immensely. They’re teaching me, while still allowing me to have my own ideas and thoughts on research. They’ve also given me so many opportunities to develop myself by presenting at conferences, looking for grants, applying for awards, and even publishing a couple of journal papers! I’m very fortunate and could never have dreamed of doing any of this, especially as an undergraduate student. I believe they’ve both been incredibly successful as they know how to develop a strong culture for research.

What do you hope to do at the end of your degree?

Most of my friends tend to call me the perennial student. By the time I graduate I will have done 5.5 years as an undergraduate, so naturally, why would I stop there? Griffith is renowned for its research, and I’ve found my dream path, so I’ll be looking to continue studying here by beginning a PhD.

“I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to try to make connections and develop a network from both sides of your double degree.”

Do you have any advice to people considering a double degree?

I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to try to make connections and develop a network from both sides of the degree. Personally, my current work incorporates both, engineering and science in one big project, so having people who are good in both fields has been invaluable. I don’t think either half of the degree is any more important than the other, so having the mindset of trying to do the best at both is invaluable and very rewarding.

To learn more about studying a double degree in Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Bachelor of Science visit the Griffith University website.

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