There are various ways of starting in an Engineering program in Ontario universities. Some have a common first year, where everyone takes the same courses and then specializes in a discipline in second year. Others specialize right from the start, or some variant of that. Let’s look at a few examples: Continue reading
Around this time of year, some first year students (and others too) start to realize that they actually don’t know how to effectively study, learn material, and prepare for tests. The memorization and rote learning strategies that may have been OK for high school usually don’t work well at the university level. It’s not too late to change however, and there are various resources available to help, including at our Student Success Office. There are some that are more engineering-specific, such as the following one I found a few years ago. Continue reading
Students in new program challenged to work in groups to brainstorm, design and build furniture using cardboard, plaster and their collective creativity
Here’s an update on a popular old post, with some new data and comments.
I’m never quite sure why people ask about failure rates, or what they are expecting. Do they want to hear that the failure rate is high, so they are convinced it’s a tough (and therefore good) program? Or maybe they don’t want the failure rate to be high, because they are concerned that they won’t be successful? I’m not sure what the motivation for the question is, but anyways let’s examine failure rates. Continue reading
Engineering 101 is a type of orientation event held in July for new admitted students. It’s an opportunity to come to campus and look around, meet some fellow students, get some tips for success, and get some errands done before the rush starts in September. There is an online guide summarizing everything, which is good for those who can’t make the trip or who want to review some of the advice.
I was asked to make some opening remarks, so following is a version of what I said. Continue reading
It’s the start of a new academic year and lots of new students are beginning their transition from secondary school to university. That transition can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including being away from home, new community, different teaching styles, etc. For some students, a big source of stress comes about half-way into the term when they start to see their grades and realize that they are quite different from what they were used to in high school. I think that our instructors are generally quite up-front about what to expect, i.e. that grades will typically drop about 15 to 20 percentage points from high school, but I suspect that a lot of students assume that will happen to someone else and not them. So let’s look at some data from a past year that compares high school grades (admission averages) with averages at the end of first year engineering, for the same group of students. Continue reading
For some new university students, one of the most shocking and troublesome problems they encounter is the realization that they don’t actually know how to learn. The strategies they used in high school no longer work well enough to succeed in a fast-paced and challenging university program. Rote learning and memorizing solution methods for problems will generally not work any more, and a deeper level of understanding is required. In some cases students can’t adapt fast enough and end up having to repeat courses or a term, or perhaps leave the university entirely.
That’s why I like and recommend this Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn”. It’s from the University of California, San Diego and taught by an engineering professor, Barbara Oakley (and others). I haven’t taken the course, but have seen quite a few parts of it a while ago. For anyone starting university in September, this would be a worthwhile investment of your time, and will help identify good learning and study habits to use. It’s probably good for high school students too, who are looking to do better. (I think it’s free, or at least it used to be.)
The concepts the course covers are not revolutionary or unusual. Most of our faculty would recommend the same things to first year students: get enough sleep and keep a normal schedule; go to class; don’t procrastinate; set up a study schedule; engage all your senses in the material (seeing, hearing, doing/practicing, articulating); don’t get bogged down too long on one problem, etc. But the course is nice because it presents the science and neurology behind these recommendations, and why they are important for learning and actually understanding the concepts more deeply. Also, I thought is was nicely presented, interesting, and not difficult to follow.
I like these student blogs that give an example of what university life can be like in one of our programs.
With application deadlines approaching, some people will be struggling with the decision of which engineering program to apply to. I had a post on this topic last year, and here are some additional thoughts. As a reminder, Waterloo engineering has direct entry to a specific engineering discipline, so you have to pick one of our 13 programs for your application choice. For those who don’t know where to start, last year I recommended our Quiz for some initial choices, and I still recommend it. However, it doesn’t currently include our new Biomedical Engineering program, so you have to keep that in mind.
With our quiz results or other ideas in mind, you should do some serious research to see which program catches your interest the best. There are plenty of online things to look at, and Google or Bing will help you find it. One that I recently remembered is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site. It has some interesting information on the nature of various engineering jobs. Be careful on putting too much faith in their projections and forecasts however.
Some other ideas:
- Students at Waterloo will be more engaged with their program and classmates if they are relatively sure and committed to their program. If after doing some serious research and thought about different programs you still can’t decide at all, then certainly consider a university with a general engineering entrance program. Then you can postpone deciding for a little while. There are lots around Ontario, including Queen’s, McMaster, and Western, for example. Other universities offer direct entry as well as an undecided/undeclared option, including Ryerson, Guelph, Windsor and York, for example. Toronto has the “TrackOne” program which is a general first year. Toronto’s Engineering Science is sort of a general first year too, since it looks like about 33% of the students move into other disciplines in 2nd year.
- In spite of what I say in the above point, you don’t have to be 100% sure about your choice. It’s normal to be somewhat uncertain. But you should have some level of comfort and knowledge about the program you’ve picked, and why you are picking it.
- There are potentially bad reasons to pick a program, including: 1) it’s the most competitive for admission; 2) family/friends say it’s the “best”; 3) some website says it’s the best paid, or has the best career prospects. These are bad reasons, especially if your interests and aptitude don’t align with the choice. Imagine sitting in classes where everyone else is keen on the material and projects, and you’re not. It’s probably not going to go well. Every year we get a few of these cases. Sometimes we can help them switch programs, but sometimes it goes so badly that they have to leave the university. We would prefer to avoid this problem as much as possible.
- Always remember that career paths can be very flexible, and choosing a specific discipline does not lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life. Many engineering graduates eventually go into management careers, where the discipline-specific technical knowledge is less important anyways.
- There is a lot of overlap between various disciplines, so it is not critical that you pick the “right” one. If you pick one that you feel some affinity for, you’ll probably be fine no matter how your interests may shift over the coming years. You should expect (and want) to continue learning new things throughout your career.
- There is no such thing as the “best” program.
During first year engineering, a number of students will come to realize that they are struggling in one or more courses. This will be shocking and confusing to them, because they have probably never experienced it before. They have probably never had to ask for help before either. It is never our intention to “weed out” a bunch of students (that would be a waste of our time and resources), so we try to provide a lot of avenues for student support, especially in that crucial first year. Students just need to take the initiative and seek out the help that is available (since we often can’t tell who is struggling until it’s too late). Here is a brief overview of various ways to access help. Continue reading