Advice to the New Engineering Student

A picture is worth 1000 words.

A picture is worth 1000 words.

  1. During your first few semesters, you will be taking calculus. You must study this subject intensively, several hours a day. Do all the problems in the book. Learn all theorems. Understand their proofs. Make flash cards if you have to. You MUST be able to differentiate, integrate, and understand the rules for altering integrals. You must understand vector calculus. While in my field of engineering (chemical), I have little use for vector calculus (outside of transport phenomena), that is an exception. In fields like electrical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, and aerospace engineering, vectors and vector calculus are essential for understanding the technical language of the field.
  2. After calculus, you will take differential equations. You MUST be able to solve differential equations. ALL METHODS MUST BE UNDERSTOOD. Differential equations is the “machinery under the hood” of all serious engineering work. You must understand how to write them and how to solve them.
  3. Did I say “study”? Get used to studying for several hours every day, and even more on the weekends. An extremely important part of your engineering education is finding out out for yourself how to study. What distracts you? Nix it. What motivates you? Exploit it. Quantitative proof that your methods are working is your grades will be higher. As a lower bound, I would say 3 hours of study each day outside of school will be necessary to have a fighting chance in engineering school. Aggressive studying pays off into higher grades and a higher GPA.
  4. Never take a “semester break” from school. You probably won’t come back. Every person I’ve ever heard of “taking a break” ended up getting a shitty job and not coming back.
  5. High school probably has not prepared you for a rigorous engineering course of study. You probably were able to breeze through high school without studying. You will fail out of engineering school (quite miserably so) without intensive studying. The faculty at your school designed the courses to get rid of people that don’t study.
  6. Study every single day (except perhaps the day of rest). You don’t do JUST the homework – you do as much additional “self-homework” as is required to understand the material. An amateur practices until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.
  7. Start viewing school as your job, and work diligently at becoming a professional at it. Aim to be the best in your class – even if you fail, you will still be better off.
  8. Cheaters are smoked out eventually. Avoid people that cheat. They don’t succeed in the work place, and just wind up getting fired for incompetence. Such people are easy to spot – they change jobs like they change socks.
  9. Strongly consider getting into an honors dormitory or sobriety dormitory. Most people at college shouldn’t be there – they are only there to drink alcohol, smoke pot, fornicate, and get some Charmin degree. You are there to STUDY ENGINEERING. Temptation is everywhere to stop you from getting what you came for. School MUST COME FIRST.
  10. Always remember there is no prize for second place – you either get your degree, or you don’t. Unless you are prepared to go all the way for 4 or 5 years, don’t even bother.
  11. Around your 2nd or 3rd year, strongly consider doing an internship for a summer. This is the easiest way to secure yourself a job after engineering school is done.
  12. I have never consumed an energy drink in my life. They are dreadfully unhealthy for you. In fact, when I had my hospital trip last year, the doctors specifically asked me if I had been consuming energy drinks. Set a schedule for your studying. Eat properly. You do not want to get in the habit of cramming for exams the night before. You might pass the exam, but you will not retain the information beyond a couple of weeks. This is going to hurt you in the workplace after graduation (assuming you get that far).
  13. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Stoners and alcoholics aren’t the kind of people you want as friends. You want to have friends that study and work hard. Those are who your future colleagues and professional connections are going to be. People that spend their days smoking weed, fornicating, and stumbling about in a drunken haze aren’t going to be “professionally connected” to anything except a dead-end job, a gaggle of illegitimate children, or a jail cell.
  14. When you have succeeded at a goal, such as getting an A on a difficult exam, THEN it is time to reward yourself. I remember back when I was in undergrad back in Tampa, if I succeeded on an exam, I would catch the bus to mall and reward myself with some Chinese food and maybe a video game from GameStop.
  15. Forget about the opposite sex. Forget about having sex. You don’t have time for girls. Your books are your harem.
  16. Before venturing off into the engineering wilderness, consider paying for a legitimate IQ test (not something off the internet). If your IQ is not at least 110, I would seriously reconsider engineering school. Engineers, on average, have higher IQs than average. If you’re not part of that club, you will find the going very tough.
  17. Lose your stage fright. If you want to get the most out of your (very expensive) education, you MUST ask questions in class. Your professors are very intelligent people, and you MUST tap into that wellspring of knowledge. If you ask a dumb question – big deal! I’ve had people laugh at my questions – one guy in particular scolded me in front of the whole class for asking a question the professor had (unbeknownst to me) just answered. I ended up acing thermodynamics – but that guy later had to drop the course and I never saw him again.
  18. Make friends with the smart kids in your class. These are people that are going places in life. They can potentially hook you up with jobs when you are down on your luck. All it takes sometimes from inside a company is one of your friends saying, “Oh, I knew this guy from undergrad. He’s very smart.” And bam, you’ve got an interview.
  19. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE. People that graduate from engineering school end up making serious ‘effin money. Don’t believe me? See below:
    Engineering salaries from ASME report

    Engineering salaries from ASME report

    My job is nearly six figures, right out of school, and I had the freedom to leave work at 2:30 PM today. And I’m right out of school! I have no idea how much money my boss makes, but with his education level, management skills, and years of experience, it must be over $150,000. Some guys have been at my workplace for over 20 years. They live an upper-middle class lifestyle, in nice houses out in the suburbs. I live in the downtown area of my city, within walking distance of everything I need. My job comes with full health benefits – I have good health insurance. I can live off my first paycheck each month, and use the second to pay down debt. This is all while investing 25% of my income into my retirement account.

  20. Be extremely verbose with your homework. Write out everything in complete sentences. Explain your logic behind doing something in complete sentences. Draw clear diagrams, with all important aspects labeled. At the top of every page, write your name, the date, the course name, and maybe the professor’s name. THIS IS SO YOU CAN EFFECTIVELY REFER TO YOUR HOMEWORK LATER WHEN YOU GET A JOB.
  21. UNITS! You must be able to convert engineering units! If you cannot convert units, you will flunk out of engineering school and fail in the workplace.
  22. Engineering school has nothing to do with memorizing equations. Memorizing the equations is the easy part – learning how to apply them correctly is another matter entirely. You won’t be tested based on memorization.
  23. ALWAYS GO TO CLASS. Skipping class is a recipe for disaster. You will miss important information that might be on the exam!
  24. Be prepared for tests that come in waves. You see, the professors all think relatively alike – they all chop the semester into quarters, and schedule their examinations accordingly. This means you will face multiple exams in the same week. Waiting to the last minute is a losing strategy for passing these exams; you need to study consistently every day to survive. I recall several times during undergrad where I would have 5 exams within the span of 5 days.
  25. The teaching assistants are your friend! Come to their office hours and get the help you need. Write their schedule down, and find the rooms where they hold office hours. Probe them for questions – but don’t ask them to do your homework for you.
  26. I strongly recommend you not use your laptop or tablet for note-taking. Nothing beats paper-and-pencil for taking notes rapidly. One thing I found very useful was to use one of those pens that contain multiple colors of ink.
  27. Get to know your professors. Come to their office hours when you need help. Go to their study sessions. Aggressively ask questions, and probe for the details. Just don’t expect the professor to do your homework for you.
  28. Regardless of engineering major, coming into the program with prior computer programming experience is a huge advantage. I had a rough time learning MATLAB on my own, but I was able to do it. I wish I had learned more about programming back when I was in high school.
  29. This needs money, but I might considering getting a DropBox account to store all of my files I ever generate in engineering school. Consider scanning all of your homeworks and notes into the computer, and loading them onto your DropBox. After four years of engineering school, your DropBox will contain the entirety of your education, stored in perpetuity, on the cloud, for easy future reference for when you get to the workplace or graduate school. Just make a folder for each semester, and each course you took, and drop all the files into the correct folders. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. We didn’t have DropBox when I went to school, so I have to rely on my paper notes.
  30. NEVER LET ANYONE BORROW YOUR NOTES. Guess what! You’ll never see them again!
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One thought on “Advice to the New Engineering Student

  1. Pingback: Review of Aaron Clarey’s “Worthless” | unpropaganda

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