5 Ways to Win at your Engineering Degree

UNCHARTED ENGINEERING

This is a guest post written by Ken Palamara, a recent engineering graduate. He shares his experiences as an engineering student to help current students make the most of their time in college. Read more of his writings and advice at his website, Uncharted Engineering.

When I graduated from Penn State University with an engineering degree in August of 2014, I was deep into the job search and thought, “I did not expect it to be this difficult”. This made me remember how there were actually many things in the last 4 years that I was unprepared for. Whether it was about exams, time management, or even knowing about what opportunities were out there for engineering students, I felt a huge lack of direction.

Sure, there are always experienced professors and guidance counselors (decent ones if you’re lucky), but if I had someone to look up to who was close to my age and had followed the same path as I was currently on, I know I would have had much more success without the discouraging stress.

Being a recent engineering graduate, I want to share my failures and successes with engineering students and give them perspective from someone who has hit all of the roadblocks of an engineering degree and came out the other side in one piece. That is why I created Uncharted Engineering. The Uncharted Engineering website is a resource for engineering students that contains:

  • Lifestyle and study habits tips that are proven to help you do well in your courses as well as reduce the amount of stress that is holding you back from success.
  • Tools and programs that will support your engineering assignments and keep you organized for maximum efficiency.
  • Inspirational content that will connect you to the world of engineering and motivate you to get ahead.

In my experience as an engineering student, the most important trait that I have picked up and want to pass onto current students is self-awareness. It is easy to get buried by the coursework of an engineering degree that it is difficult to develop other important skills that top engineering companies are looking for.

Uncharted Engineering is not just about tackling your current obstacles, but also having foresight into how you can become a world class engineer. You’re probably wondering, “Ken, don’t I just have to study as hard as I can and get good grades?” Well, understanding your coursework will get so far.

To get through an engineering degree, there are many things you can do that will help you get the grades you need as well as minimize stress and become an incredibly marketable graduate. Here are some of the most important tips that give engineering students a huge advantage.

1. Plan Ahead

There are some assignments in engineering that juuuust…taaaaake…forrrrrever. Take five minutes to plan out a way to incrementally complete those long research papers or presentations.

You are going to KICK YOURSELF when you are at the library at 3am because you decided to wait until the last day you had to finish something. By doing your work bit by bit, it will be easier to complete and you will turn in an all around better product.

2. Get Sleep and Exercise

Let me tell you something that many people don’t believe. Smart people DO NOT pull all-nighters. People who are successful have enough foresight to get there work done and get the rest they need and deserve.

You should not sacrifice sleep for grades because it results in a negative feedback loop. If you don’t sleep, you don’t do well in class (if you don’t skip it to nap), which will make you anxious and force you to work late and skip sleep. This is just another thing that you have to trust me on or else you will be forced to experience it yourself. It’s not worth it.

One thing that I noticed about the other engineering students I met in college was that those who exercised had a lot in common. They did well in their studies, they were more relaxed, and they had time to be social. It may seem counterintuitive to solve your busy schedule with more things to do but its important to be active.

Getting exercise improves your overall mood and gives you confidence to tackle all of your work. It can get really tough to fit it in and some of your semesters are going to be busier than others. Just find a way to go for a run, do some push-ups, or play a pickup game of whatever every once in a while.

3. Clubs and Organizations

Get involved in something other than your courses. It is not a good feeling to have someone ask you what you do most of the time and you have to choose which is a worse reply; videogames or TV.

Whether its a design competition, a volunteer group, or even an engineering society that only meets once a month. Getting decent grades will honestly only get you so far and you will learn so much just by being in the same room as other students outside of your classes.

4. Internship

Junior and senior year is when you really get down to business and start working towards that specific degree. This is also the time where you want to start thinking about getting work experience before you graduate.

Look online or use the career resources at your school to get an internship or co-op in your last two summers of your undergraduate degree. The benefits to getting this experience before you graduate is practically endless but to list off a few, internships have potential to give you:

  1. something incredibly valuable to put on your resume and speak to potential employers about
  2. a good chance of getting hired full time by that company right out of school
  3. a very good idea if what you are studying is what you really want to do down the road
  4. cha-ching (money)

Doesn’t that sound like a no-brainer? Well you would be surprised of how many engineering students don’t do it. Yet another great way to stand out and get ahead.

5. Have Fun

You’re in college after all. There is probably not going to be a time in your life where you are around as many like-minded people as when you are earning your degree.

It is a lot of hard work but you should be excited about what you are working towards. Life is all about balance and if you take your schoolwork seriously then you deserve to let loose every once in a while and enjoy your experience as a student.

This road map that I am actively sharing and building upon was (and still is) extremely useful and made my college experience a hundred times more enjoyable. If you don’t want to take this advice from your teachers or counselors, please, I’m begging you, take it from someone who WAS JUST THERE.

Just remember that you have total control over your success in engineering and your experience in college. Now get out there and KILL IT!

About the Guest Blogger

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Ken Palamara is a recent graduate from Penn State University with a degree in Energy Engineering. Currently, Ken works as an instrumentation engineer improving industrial processes to be up to date and efficient.  He is active in the engineering development community and seeks to help student engineers maximize their potential before entering their industry. To get engineering news, tips, and motivations, visit unchartedengineering.com or folllow Ken on Twitter @UnchartedEng.