Studying Engineering – A Survivor’s Guide (Part 1)

Having just completed my BEng (Computer Systems), I thought I would post what I feel are some helpful tips that I wish I had known earlier in my education. Over the years I had a few ah-ha moments in class. The earliest, and probably the most profound, occurred in our very first class in our introduction to engineering course. The professor found about ten different ways to tell us that engineering was incredibly difficult. His thesis seemed to be that we would struggle to get grades in the 60s. Of course there will be some students who will give it their all and just make it to the 60s but something didn’t sit right with me about that talk. As I went through my degree and talked to students in my year and in the years below I have come to the belief that there are four groups that walked out of that lecture.

1) The ones that listened, believed him and went on to never try to get past the 60s since the professor said that was enough.
2) The ones that listened, believed and gave up.
3) The ones that listened, believed and tried really hard and made it past the professor’s expectations. This group was often interesting because I found that they didn’t generally get the top marks. Some students get so convinced that engineering is so difficult that they dig too deep into the details. This is probably going to serve them very well in the future but tests are generally broad and conceptual so it didn’t yield as high of marks as someone who knew medium depth on everything.
4) Those who didn’t believe the professor and just did how they wanted to do.

What I hope you will take away from this post is that while engineering may be difficult, it is certainly not the hardest thing in the world but there are a lot of people who might try to convince you that it is nearly impossible. I feel that these people normally have your best interests at heart and think that if you hear engineering is difficult that it might make you work harder. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to be discouraged, stagnated or stressed out by these comments. I started my University career in a degree on public policy. Comparing it to engineering, I found the difficulty to be fairly similar between programs. The degrees are different, but the difficulty and effort required were about the same. Surviving engineering begins, in my opinion, with having a positive attitude towards your chosen discipline. Do not get trapped under an artificial ceiling by people who are trying to get you to work hard by highlighting the difficulty ahead. Do your best not because you are told the program is hard but because it is what you want to do.

One thought on “Studying Engineering – A Survivor’s Guide (Part 1)

  1. Steve

    I completely agree with that post. I’ve noticed the exact same thing but I would push the moral to a broader scope of life.

    When in grade school, people tell you that you will need to work hard in high school. Then once in high school, they tell you that high school is easy, that you haven’t seen anything yet, college is worse.
    near the end of my B.Eng, people told me “oh, studying is easy, wait ’till you start working. Life will be hard.”
    I don’t understand… Engineering was supposed to be hard, but now it’s easy because the next step is harder? Then once you work, they tell you “wait ’till you have a baby”. Now I’m at the point where people tell me “one baby is easy, wait ’till you have 2!!”. and I just keep thinking: Well I don’t think it will be impossible since everyone told me that the previous steps were impossible and I made it. And anyway, when I get the 2nd baby, people will tell me that it is easy because there will be something else more difficult after.

    Moral of the story is: nobody knows your limits. Don’t listen to any advices, just go where you think you wanna go. And if you fail, then you fail. But chances are that you will succeed.


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