Student Team Competitions: Takeways from SUBC’s Trip to the International Submarine Races

Introduction

Engineering Student Design Teams can be a big part of student life here within Mechanical Engineering, including my own.  Since joining in my second year, SUBC has become a big part of my life and my identity within Mech so I thought it would be an interesting read to see what its like to go to a student team competition.

The goal of most student team projects is to eventually compete in a intercollegiate competition.  For UBC Thunderbots, they compete at Robocup (the world cup of soccer for robots), or UBC Baja competes at the Baja SAE competition annually with their off-road vehicle.  My team, SUBC builds a human powered submarine to compete at two separate biannual competitions.  In effect, we compete annually but each competition runs biannually.  At the end of June, I had the awesome opportunity to road trip across the US to Bethesda, Maryland to compete in the International Submarine Races with our sub, Skookumchuck Mk. V.

Pre-Competition Madness

The run up to competition is always very turbulent.  There are administrative and technical deadlines that need to be met in order to compete.  Of course, we want our submarine to be fully functional and as optimized as possible but there is a fine balance between working until the deadline and stopping to pack away our tools to take with us as well as surfacing and painting the submarine.  In addition, we had a technical design report on our submarine due a month before we left and a technical presentation a week before we left.

It seems to be common that students leave their design teams for summer once classes and finals end for the term.  However, many design teams including SUBC have competitions are around the end of June and beginning of July, and I have found that the best way to learn and get the most out of the student team experience is to work during the pre-competition rush starting in May.  Those who are not on co-op have the opportunity to spend hours in the machine shop gaining practical skills with almost constant projects available for them to work on.  And those who are on co-op can come in after work or on the weekends to lend a hand.  The most happens during this time in terms of problem solving, machining and systems integration which provides an optimal opportunity for someone working on one area of the project to expand and get a good grip on other systems.  I would encourage anyone who craves more knowledge and technical skills to take advantage of amount of work available during the run up to competition.

The Journey – The Eye of the Storm

One of the best parts of getting to go on one of these trips is the travel there.  Those who could get the time off work road tripped with the sub across the US and those who could only get time for the competition itself flew in.  We drove around 12 hours a day between the three drivers and two pick-up trucks, staying at motels, AirBNBs and camping along the way.

I was worried the first time I went to a competition about whether I would get along with the people I traveled with especially because it seemed like everybody knew each other better than I did.  I can only speak about my own experience, but I found that everybody was very welcoming and interested to bring me into the fold.  Similarly, during the trip to Maryland I was excited to become better friends with the newer members who were joining us.  I would encourage anybody on the fence about going to competition about making friends and knowing other people on the trip to just go anyways.  The more the merrier!

Being on the road trip is a great way to bond anyways.  You learn everybody’s music preferences, what food they like and have lots of time to talk and get to know each other.  Plus there is the additional bonding experience of dealing with road trip troubles such as getting lost or having small car troubles.  During our trip a couple of notable ones included when the key fob for one of the cars stopped working spontaneously, or when we thought we were in a ghost town while finding an AirBnB in Indiana in the very early hours of the morning. We traveled with two pickup trucks with a walkie talkie in each to help keep our caravan together.   A personal highlight for my trip was playing 20 questions across cars in the middle of Wisconsin.

That’s how I ended up across the country in Rockville, Maryland.  I’ll be posting another post shortly related to my experiances during the actual competition itself.  Check back soon to read up on that! Or check out my co-blogger’s post about his student team competition experiences heading to California to race his team’s E-Bike.

Later,

Allysia

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