Passing on the Baton

Andy Robson Talks about passing on his knowledge and why it matters


It is safe to say that I would not be where I am today but for the generosity of spirit of all those who have passed on their knowledge to me since the fledgling days of my engineering career.

As engineers, we are the present-day custodians of the skillset that allows us to do our jobs. Instilled in us, a sense of duty that it would one day be our role to pass on the knowledge baton to the next generation.

Not long after the launch of A Squared, a friend of mine who was Visiting Professor of Naval Architecture at UCL, persuaded me to come to London to present a lecture on structural design.  She wanted me to impart some real-world practical knowledge to her students. The prospect of delivering a 3-hour lecture on the practicalities of my trade was something of an intimidating prospect.  However, if my professional values were worth anything, this was one of the best opportunities I would have to put my money where my mouth is.  This was a chance to give something back to the profession that has given so much to me.

I’m a big believer that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I was determined that the students should gain something genuinely useful from giving of their time to listen to me.  My hazy recollections of university lecturing are mostly of being subjected to hours of engineering theory.  I recall there was little in the way of practical guidance on how and when to apply it.  So I had my brief – don’t present something that’ll have the students asleep within the first 5 mins.

Anyone who has undergone a university education knows that real learning starts after you graduate. I wanted to give the students some practical knowledge that would help prepare them for the real world. One where we don’t just engineer structures, but we also transport, install or figure out if it is possible to get a person in there safely to weld or do up the bolts.

The lecture had two main themes, ‘structural design, practical considerations’ and ‘the importance of paying attention to detail’.

Finally, the day arrived but on walking into the lecture theatre, standing before a sea of strangers waiting expectantly to hear what I had to say, two things hit me.  First – the imposter syndrome was real, and second – my mouth was dry…very dry! I steadied myself, took a sip of water, and made my introductions. It wasn’t long before I found my voice and actually began to enjoy the experience, much to my surprise!

Three hours seemed on the face of it to be a sizeable chunk of time to fill, but when trying to impart a career’s worth of wisdom I realised I could have filled the same slot every week for an entire semester at least.  For three hours I presented my material, backed up with the many stories that I have gathered along the way. It felt amazing to receive an ovation from the students at the end, which suggested that I’d hit the mark.

It was an enormous privilege to be invited by UCL, and an equally huge privilege to have a small input into the development of the next generation of young engineers. After a forced 2 year forced hiatus (thanks to the small matter of a global pandemic), UCL have been kind enough to invite me back again to lecture this year.  This is a prospect that I am looking forward to greatly.

Might even treat myself to a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches for the occasion…



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