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UCLse Blog


Thoughts from the staff of the UCL Centre for Systems Engineering


Archive for February, 2014

UCLse Twitter Q&A #AskUCLse

ucaklmu28 February 2014

Our social marketing droids were running dangerously hot this morning handling a raging Q&A session on twitter @UCLSe. Well, not that busy, but active enough. At the moment we don’t know how much better this is to putting out standard FAQ, so we are thinking about the next one. Here’s a summary of a couple of the more interesting questions, allowed to expand slightly over the 140 characters.

@AilsaPrise : what’s the difference between the established Systems Engineering Management MSc and the new MSc in Technology Management?

This is a good one as they are admittedly in a similar area, so it’s nice to clarify their distinctive features. The main difference in terms of content is in the research and coursework. The new MSc will include a group project in emerging technology (there’s no group project in SEM) – and it is expected that the individual dissertations will also have a different focus. Of course individual projects range quite a bit in topic in the MSc SEM already – but in the new MSc there’s not the need to remain so systems-focused, so it’ll be interesting to see how these research themes develop over time.

In terms of modules, those that are Core (i.e. must be completed during the programme) are different for both MScs, but otherwise students will initially study from the same Options menu – with the exception that there is the new Technology Strategy module in prep that is exclusive to the new MSc. In time we’ll be adding to this menu, but we expect that some modules will remain common to both programmes.

The biggest difference, however, is in terms of delivery. The MSc SEM is a modular/flexible programme and, though it can be studied in a full-time mode, it is designed to be completed part-time while working in industry. Typically students are required to have a few years industry experience in order to come on to the programme. However, MSc TM is full-time only and doesn’t require experience – it is designed to prepare students just starting their careers for employment.

@geoffpknott asked “what are you looking for in personal statements?”.

Marketing droid @whyndham_UCL, aka Matt, who supervises Admissions for our work unit, sees a lot of Personal Statements, and thinks there is a factory somewhere churning them out. So he tends to have strong views.

What he likes to see are some clear things that demonstrate that the applicant has read the prospectus and is applying to the right university (some applicants leave in the name of other institutions!), and has a career plan that looks like would benefit from the programme.

And then there’s an additional, difficult to define, perhaps ineffable factor. This certainly doesn’t come across in the boilerplate statements! It comes down to seeing a sense of commitment from the person making the application.

Systems thinking

Michael Emes19 February 2014

The term ‘system’ crops up all over the place. But what does it mean?

I like to think of it as a way of looking at something – a lens you can choose to look through when you are thinking about an object or a process in a particular way.

A bicycle is the same collection of metal parts (usually with a few bits of plastic, and if you are really lucky, carbon fibre) whether you call it a bike or a personal transportation system. But when we choose to use the term system, it implies that it’s no longer just a homogeneous object that is the same throughout; it’s an object made up of multiple parts that are connected in a way that means that the whole thing has emergent properties or behaviour that are not exhibited by the parts in isolation. For the bicycle, the parts of wheels, frame, handlebars, brakes, pedals, etc. have little value in isolation. But when put together according to a particular design, my bicycle ‘system’ has the emergent property of enabling me to propel myself in an incredibly efficient way.

In making the choice of how we see the system, we also need to specify a system boundary, which defines the scope of the system. This may seem trivial, but it’s particularly important to make sure we are clear about which parts we will develop or optimise, and what we are assuming about external interfaces. An interface challenge for the Airbus A380 ‘superjumbo’ aircraft is that it is simply too big to be accommodated in most airports.

There is no rule to say whether something is a system or not – it depends on your point of view at the time. When I’m talking to my kids about how they are going to get to school – scooter or bike – I don’t think in terms of systems. But when I am thinking about how to repair the bike or make it work better, the system lens becomes useful.

At UCL Centre for Systems Engineering, we apply systems thinking to understand how to improve the design of spacecraft instrumentation, asking questions like ‘what are the difficult interfaces’, ‘how much can we compromise on detector resolution to save a bit of mass’ and ‘how might the system fail’? But it’s not just technology that benefits from systems thinking – we also apply the systems view to soft systems in which people and processes are the major focus of attention. For example, we have recently been undertaking a study with a local hospital to understand the tensions between keeping frail elderly patients in the hospital and seeking an early discharge with support in the community.

Next time you use the term ‘system’, challenge yourself: what is happening inside the system? What are the component parts (or subsystems)? Where are the tricky interfaces? How does it change over time? What higher level ‘systems’ does it work within? When you start to think in these terms, you really are ‘systems thinking’.

IET accreditation awarded to UCLse MSc in Systems Engineering Management

Simon Jackson7 February 2014

Our MSc in Systems Engineering Management has been running for nearly 15 years with great success.  Throughout this time the course has evolved to meet the requirements of our students for a course that incorporates up to date material and is relevant to their careers.

One piece of feedback from current students, which we have recently acted on, was that if the course were accredited by the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) then it would help them achieve CEng registration.  In addition, some potential students have told us that they would be more likely to enrol if the course were accredited.

So over a year ago we embarked on a project to seek accreditation for the course.  It has been hard work, especially through the summer when we had to prepare all the evidence required and submit it to the IET.  Also, during this process we identified ways we could improve the course, which we have now implemented.

In November 2013, after reviewing our submission, a panel from the IET visited us to meet our staff and students and ask us lots of questions.  The panel “found it to be an excellent programme highly valued by the students, some of whom had senior positions in industry and found the material very relevant and useful” and “the programme is also highly valued by industry”.

We had a small number of requirements that needed to be addressed, which we responded to in an action plan, before we were told that our application had been successful.

As a course team, we are delighted to have achieved IET accreditation, as we hope will be the many past, present and future students who will benefit.