School Part 2 of 2

Hey folks,

I bet some of you are really mad at me now. I was missing again this past Monday, and that’s because I was busy writing the conclusion to this post. More on that in the conclusion.

Last we left off, I was in electrical engineering (EE). I like it because it suits me very well. I’m able to think in abstract terms with imaginary numbers. It’s hard for people to conceptualize some of the concepts, and we do a lot more math than most engineers. I obviously liked the field because of the audio amplifier implications. My favourite classes were the ones in analog electronics, and I did the best in those. However, it wasn’t all roses. There were a lot of terrible things I had to learn along the way, things that I had no interest in. That’s fine to me since most programs have to be structured that way in a bachelor’s degree, but I just wish I could have made more amplifiers that were more sophisticated. We did some pretty bare bones stuff in the analog electronics lab, even though I had built more intricate systems.

Exhibit A.

Going into the program, I was definitely keeping the audio portion at the forefront of my priorities, but little did I realize that the U of A focused more on other fields. Again, that was fine because I learned to appreciate different areas of study. I was entering with a fairly narrow view, but I walked out with a rounded perspective. EE is one of the most broad discplines in engineering with applications in power systems and control systems and signal processing, oh my!

As I’ve mentioned before, I was in the co-op program in EE. I had a great experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone entering into a program with this option. There is great benefit in having work experience before graduating from school, and even though it schedules you for an extra year to finish the program, I think the year is worth it. Working in the industry gives you a good perspective of your role in school. While everyone is scurrying to finish all their last bits of homework, mountains are also made of molehills. People obsess about finishing every single assignment, getting perfect grades, and what the TA will be thinking when marking their papers at 3 AM. Lots of these concerns are legitimate and worthy of our time, but you learn in engineering that much of what you learn has no place in the office. Few people really care what Gauss’ Law is or how to take a triple integral since most of these principles are embedded in the engineering software. Generally, you don’t need to retain the material you learned in engineering school. In other fields, it’s not like this, eg. medicine, psychology, baking. Instead, what you need to retain is the skill set and work ethic. In my experience, school was more about learning and practising problem-solving techniques, self-management, discipline, collaboration, professional behaviour, and so on. Yes, in some instances, it will be important to recall how to find the time constant of a CLC network, but there are references for that type of material. Working under the co-op program opened my eyes to what I really needed to focus on in school: building relationships, working hard, and other stuff I can’t remember.

There’s a whole bunch more benefits of working while you’re in school. It’s a good reason to move out and live alone; (sometimes) you make money to buy toys and sometimes textbooks; you make a lot of professional contacts and friends; you learn about yourself by putting yourself in a different situation; you get a whole bunch of tax breaks; you get better at interviews; you eventually make marginally more money than some of your non-cop-op cohorts.

I would also caution students to manage their expectations. The co-op departments aren’t simply handing out jobs, and some jobs are tedious; I know of at least one EE who made photocopies. It’s a system that assists students in finding work, but it’s not perfect. Especially with the size of the co-op department, it’s hard to get full attention from a counsellor, especially when you already found a job.  They have to worry about other people who didn’t find work, and that number has gotten large over the past few years. I know there’s a sentiment that the co-op office doesn’t care or doesn’t bother with the students, but frankly, I take one look at other fields where students pay to work to not get paid, and then I stop complaining.

You may still be wondering why I was missing last week. I said it was because I was busy writing the conclusion to this post, and that’s true. For my post-graduation celebration, I went to visit my brother in Vancouver. Ever since my last final, I haven’t been on a single deadline, and it feels great. I’ve been floating like a ghost on the earth, and it feels amazing. There’s a special feeling you get when you walk out of your last exam, and I’m not letting this feeling go until I have to. I sleep late, I wake up late, I do what I want when I want, and I eat when I’m hungry or bored. I spent the past week in Vancouver, and all we really did was eat. We met up with a few people, went for all-you-can-eat sushi, bubble tea, walked around the malls, took a few pictures, went bowling. What is there to do but really eat food with people whose company you enjoy? We could have done stuff like the Snowshoe Grind on Grouse Mountain or go to Cypress for snowboarding, but we just wanted to relax and eat. I think I ate too much, but that’s the right amount.

That’s the great finish to this amazing series on me and school. I’ll do a better job of updating this blog and developing the whole business thing, so watch this space. Thanks for popping in.

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