University in France is very different to university in England... As an electronics student, I went to "Polytech' Grenoble" which is called "une ecole d'ingenieur". It is a sub branch of the university "Joseph Fourier". There was 600 students in total (3 different years with 7 different streams). In this kind of establishment, there are more hours of lectures than at university (I had around 30 a week), closer monitoring of progress with quite a few reports, smaller classes (between 10 to 30 depending on the year of study).
The way it is organised also means that the modules are normally not worth many ECTS (European equivalent to CATS, 1 ECTS = 2 CATS). The average is around 4 ECTS meaning that you have to do quite a few modules. As they are more hours, the day starts earlier and finishes later! Lectures start at 8h00. Each one lasts 2 hours to then have a 1h30 break for lunch and finish at about 18h00. Two hours in a row of the same subject is long but at least it gives you the time to get into the topic... Having such long day implies that you have less work to do at home although you still have a little bit.
Information about modules, exam times, etc is available on notice boards. There are no pigeon holes or real use of the Internet as a mean to inform you. They sometimes send out emails but many things are still done on paper in France; even some reports are hand written. This therefore explains why the Internet facilities are not that great. At Polytech' Grenoble, there was a computer room with Windows 2000 but no Word or Excel package, they didn't accept USB keys, you had a bring your own paper for the printers...
There is a buddy scheme in place between the 1st years and the 2nd years to welcome and involve the new students. I asked to be part of it and it was no problem. You are said to have a god-mother/ father. It is very useful when you want to meet French people, need help with a specific module, finding you way round in the area...
As an exchange student, the other good source of information about anything is the "Relations Internationales" people. They will always give you the information or point you in the right direction. They are really friendly and helpful.
When coming to "une ecole d'ingenieur", the students have already studied either maths or applied sciences for two years and therefore have strong baggage in one or the other.
Having already done electronics for two years at Warwick I decided to take modules from different years.
- I followed maths modules from the first year and still found them quite tough. The approach was completely different: understand, derive, explain, demonstrate from first principles in order to understand the basis. I found that very hard having said that I didn't have the prerequisite maths. I got a French student to help me every week for 2 hours which is the only reason I managed!
ANALYSE COMPLEXE - ANALYSE NUMERIQUE - PROBABILITIES - CALCUL SCIENTIFIQUE
- I then did general electronics with the second years. The main module was about electronics functions: going through simple filters to more complex ones, phase lock loops, modulation, amplifications types, etc... The approach there was very modular, working with block diagrams. Very well defined. I tried to do a programming module but it was slightly out of my capabilities and clashed with other things so I dropped it.
FONCTIONS ELECTRONIQUES - INFORMATIQUE INDUSTRIELLE - CONCEPTION ELECTRONIQUE
- I then followed more specialised courses with the third years. In these classes, we were only 10 so the link with the lecturer was strong but a large background knowledge was assumed. I followed a very good VHDL course, a telecommunication course with a completely different approach from what is being taught at Warwick, a lot of laboratory session regarding VLSI tools, programs and design rules. I do not believe that such in depth look would not have been possible at Warwick.
VHDL - FPGA - VLSI - ELECTRONIQUE HAUTE FREQUENCE- CONCEPTION ANALOGIQUE - CONCEPTION LOGIQUE - ELECTRONIQUE RAPIDE -
- France does not put a strong emphasis on business skills and therefore didn't find any matching course.
Doing all of my modules from different years meant that my timetable was a hectic and that I had some clashes even though I did my learning agreement beforehand. If I was to do it again, I would still pick the same courses as they were interesting and that the people or lecturers were mostly readily available for help.
Following modules mostly from the third year meant that, I was almost finished by the end of March. I was missing some ECTS and therefore enrolled myself into doing a work placement. The second year placement is 3 months long whereas the third year one is 5 and a half. Having said that university doesn't start in Warwick before late September, I decided to get the most experience possible and therefore went for the longest one.
I was working for a company called Digigram, based near Grenoble.
The main objective of the work placement was the conception of a very high quality electronic card dealing with the acquisition and restitution of professional audio data.
Digigram is a medium size company, leader in providing audio-numerical solutions to professionals (mixing audio with computer science and networks). Its main customers are radio stations, public spaces with sound distribution, telecoms and also production studios. The requirements for conversion (analog to digital or digital to analog) among any of its systems are high in order to enhance, distribute… the sound. Good quality is expected meaning low noise and low distortion.
I started by investigating the basics concepts of professional audio structures, the required components in a conversion card, the converters technologies, etc. The requirements for the analog circuitry found before and after the converters were the next point I concentrated on. These parts are paramount as they prepare the signal for conversion and enhance it after, but they are also the ones bring the most noise in. Finding their purposes and functionalities allowed me to create some schematics with different solution and five converters.
Evaluation was possible after the follow up of the implantation and PCB making. This has started quite late into my work placement and not much testing was done in the end.
The conclusions that can be made are that the correct voltages are found on the card, the clocks getting to the converters are synchronised and two of the digital to analog converters are working correctly along with one analog to digital one. They give some promising results and would require some more in depth testing that I didn't have the time to do.
This experience was very rewarding both in terms of technical knowledge and personal skills. I applied theories from my lectures as well as learnt new ones. Coming from a different background as the other students meant that I had not done as much practical work as they were expecting. This created a real challenge for me. I also discovered the real world of business: its products, organisation, procedures, methodologies...
Clubs and Societies
The way the French system works means that sport is a compulsory module (2hrs a week during one term). I didn't do as I wouldn't get any credits for it but there was skiing, climbing or handball... There are also university clubs to do sport but it is not as popular and as well run as in Warwick. To subscribe you have to go to the sport fair during the first weeks of the term. I didn't join any because I had health issues but there is a wide range of possibilities
As far as societies are concerned, there isn't any organised by the university. You have to go through the local organisations. I went to a few salsa lesson in a bar in town... Polytech, as an association for its student organised "Rock'n'Roll classes" which was good fun once we get to know people!