Friday, November 2, 2012

So, You Want to be an Engineer

     So, you want to be an engineer. You enjoy building with legos, or Arduinos, or just like taking stuff apart to see how it works. Maybe you like technology or large sums of cash. Maybe you just like the large number of [insert desired partner's gender here] that this field attracts. Then I submit to you this article, that covers what you should do to prepare for going into engineering, or at least a college of engineering.

     The first thing that you should do is get your core engineering classes down pat. Math, math, math, math, math. Everything, no matter what kind of engineering you go into, you're going to be doing math. I'm not saying you have to be an A student, but make sure you understand what you're learning. In college there is going to be a major change, especially in the first year of math, from the concrete to more abstract concepts. You should have taken at least a pre-calculus course, if not an actual calculus course. AP is always a plus. Having that level, puts you in a good place when going off to college. If you do take calculus, move on to a level 2 course,  and have the ability to move on to a level 3 class in college, I suggest you go back and retake the level 2. I took level 2 as a senior in high school, and felt more comfortable, taking it again before moving onto a much harder level 3 class. And there are always other math classes besides calculus that pertain to engineering. I also took a statistics class in high school, and found it to be an extremely useful math, certainly more so than calculus. If you have already taken a calculus course, definitely look to other math classes. Don't stop taking math classes. It's good to keep going until the end of high school, to keep those mental circuits fresh for the adjustment to college classes.

    Next of course is the science. This depends more on what sort of engineering you want to go into. The basics is definitely physics. Just like math, make sure you have an excellent grasp on what is being taught, rather than just learning for the test, and then forgetting everything for the next chapter. Anything beyond a level 1 physics class should be looked at by someone interested in mechanical or civil engineering. If those advanced physics classes go into such things as electricity and magnetism, then an electrical or computer engineer should probably be enrolled in such classes. Chemistry is more of a science that is suited towards chemical and biomedical engineers. Again, with science, it depends more on the field you're interested in. However, if you want to go into mechanical but still want to take a chemistry class, don't let that stop you. Take classes that you have an interest in, not only are you more likely to do better in those classes, but you might find yourself a future major.

     Testing applies on two fronts. One, you should strive to be a good student. Yes, you should go for all A's but, don't fall into the mindset of anything short of that is failure. An F, is failure; never forget that. People who fall into that mindset become stressed out beyond belief and are generally unhappy people. Enjoy taking these classes, and actually learn something. Just because you didn't do well on a test, doesn't necessarily mean that you don't understand what is being taught. There is a difference between a good student, and a bright student. I wasn't a good student, I was a bright student. Homework and studying takes time that could be spent working on a project that is infinitely more interesting, and you're applying things that you've learned. Don't let that be an excuse to just stop caring about your classes, and their work. The goal is to gain an understanding, and from that, do well on tests.
     The second front is standardized testing. This was something I absolutely loathed doing, and I had to do it multiples. It's not fun having to get up in the wee hours, on the weekend, to take a test. No matter how much is sucks to do it, it is required by colleges. The SAT is the standard, the test all colleges accept. Studying for the SAT does do a world of good; getting a tutor is even better. The trick to the SAT is learning its tricks and beating the test. I know that doesn't sound like a half-decent measure of what colleges put stock in, and it isn't. Trying to quantify what it is colleges look for is why the SAT was originally made, and while it isn't perfect, it's one of the only ways we have, besides GPA. However, there is another standardized test that is becoming more and more popular. The ACT, the one I recommend, is definitely more suited towards the engineer's mind set. There is an equal balance of math and writing, there's a science section that tests your ability to read data and make conclusions, but most importantly, it's about an hour and a half shorter than the SAT.

     Choosing a college should come down to 3 things. Number 1, can I afford to go here? If you can't afford it don't go. Having to take out numerous loans that are going to pile up is not something you should be contemplating during your next 4-5 years in college. Number 2, does this offer my major, and have decent facilities in which I may learn? When I applied to college, there were only two colleges on my list that offered my major, and both had the facilities I wanted. Determine your major, which we will discuss shortly, then research the needs that are required by such a major, i.e. equipment, space, and professors. I know it might seem like if the college offers the major, then it must therefore have the requirements. And that's true, however, you might be looking for something a little more. I wanted to do electrical and computer engineering. There are facilities that are required by each, but what I also wanted, was a microfabrication lab, a place where integrated circuits are constructed. Professors are another big thing. Yes, they're qualified to teach the field, but have they spent time working in it? How much experience do they have, and can offer to you? The final thing you should look for, number 3, is what exactly, besides an education, do you want from your college? Do you want a close community? What about a place to party? Or are you looking for some great food? College should be a place of education and higher learning, but it is also an experience. You're spending a lot of money to attend, make sure you get all of what your college has to offer.

     Finally, choose your major. I know that when you enter college you have time to figure out what kind of engineering you're interested in, but it's not always easy as a freshman engineer. You're stuck in a lot of very broad classes, that are there to get you ready for your future in engineering. The problem is that it doesn't expose you to what various majors offer. Now, your college may offer classes that do introduce you to the different forms of engineering that it has to offer, but even that can be a little shallow. Thus you have a couple choices. One thing you can do is actively seek out professors of engineering. See if you can sit in on a few classes, talk to the professor and see what work they're currently doing. Another option you have is, while you're still in high school, talk to some of your teachers. They've probably had other jobs outside of teaching, maybe in research or employed in their field of study. Maybe some of your friend's parents are engineers and can talk to you, show you some of what is they do. But, probably the best way to choose is look at what you're doing now. What interests do you have and would like to explore further? Remember that you're going to have to study in your field of choice for several years in college, so make it something you can enjoy;  because, that which you enjoy, is never work.