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Hamed & Martin’s engineering HE journey through friendship, robotics & teaching
From left to right: Hamed Akbari Mirshekarlou and Martin Dufficy, university-level Engineering tutors at South & City College Birmingham

“It is the future, you know. A doctor in New York performing surgery in England via a robot. It’s amazing.”

We sat down with two of our marvellous Engineering higher education Alumni – friends from college to uni, and now both lecturers at SCCB!

Martin just finished his undergraduate with the University of Birmingham. Hamed just started his PhD in Medical Robotics, designing a robot for surgeons to perform life-saving procedures across the world. They are both inspiring SCCB success stories.

Hamed and Martin, why did you want to study Engineering?

H: I’m originally from Iran where I was an engineer, before I came to the UK in 2015. I always wanted to do my PhD and become a lecturer at a university level. It was my childhood dream.

M: I always liked engineering, and come from an engineering background. My grandfather was one of the first in the UK to study, to operate and to program a Computer Aided Design machine tool.

Which course did you both study at South & City College Birmingham?

H: We studied the Foundation Degree Electrical & Electronic Engineering in 2019. It took 2 years and it was a course that was a collaboration between the University of Birmingham, University College Birmingham and South & City College Birmingham.

M: The course had different pathways in the second year. I moved onto the path of Mechatronic & Robotic Engineering because I was more interested in that. With an eye to the future, I think Robotics has a fascinating journey during my working life. Then we both went on to a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Birmingham.

How did South & City College Birmingham prepare you for University?

M: The Foundation Degree was a really good base course. It was a bit of a jump between college and university obviously, but most of the basics that we learned were really helpful for the level up. It was 3 days a week at SCCB, which was easier in the first year to get used to. It made a huge difference that the teaching at college was very good.

H: Going via this college had many advantages. We were paying less money and we had more time to be able to have a part-time job. Also, there were fewer students in each class than at uni, which gave more contact time for students with their tutors.

M: My final year project at the University of Birmingham was constructing and designing a robotic manipulator. Even going up to that level, I was still using things I learned here at SCCB, the core modules through programming, coding, electronics and mechatronics.

H: The same for mine. I’m a bass guitar player, so my finals project was designing a unique electronic distortion effect.

What got you into Teaching?

M: I’ve always said I’ve never wanted to teach (LAUGHS). But all the people who’ve ever known me have always said “you’d be an excellent teacher, you’re really good at explaining stuff”. It is a great pleasure to see people understanding and learning.

H: On our college course, we effectively used to be tutors while we were students here.

M: We were 33 and 29 when we started the course, the other students were all about 18, so we were able to help them if they got stuck.

How was it coming back to the college?

H: It was very joyful coming back to SCCB, not as a student anymore but as a teacher. Becoming colleagues with the teachers you were studying under before.

M: It was a privilege to be stepping in for my previous lecturer, James, who taught me Mechanical in my second year. Originally the college stated that there was only one job opening, but they liked us both so much that they found a way that we could both lecture.

Why should Engineering students do Higher Education?

H: Nowadays, the science has become very specified. If you want to be an expert in one field, you need to go into detail on that. The only academic way to achieve this is to do higher education. It does depend on your preference, of course. I have been able to help some students who weren’t originally interested in moving up to a degree. I could understand them as I was in their position before as a student of the college.

And finally, tell us about your PhD, Hamed!

H: I got a scholarship from the government, an EPSRC to do my PhD studies. I started at UoB doing Medical Robotics, which I’m very interested in.

I’m working on surgery-assisted robots. Trying to design a robot to be high performance, low cost and easy to use. With many robots, surgeons need six months of training to start, so we’d rather it be user-friendly. So that any surgeon can try in a week and start doing some simple surgeries with that.

M: It is the future, you know. A doctor in New York performing surgery in England via a robot. It’s amazing.

Thank you so much Hamed and Martin! SCCB is very proud!

Want to follow in Hamed and Martin’s path? Our exciting Higher Education Engineering routes will help you change the future.