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Did you have to give up everything else for engineering?

  1. Oct 4, 2012 #1
    So I've been having a bit of a... disagreement with my friend in my class.

    I'm in my second year of computer engineering, and I've been doing fine following my own personal rules (never study/work on a Friday night, relax most of the weekend, start doing some work Sunday afternoon). By fine I mean 70s/80s in everything but circuit analysis. I also try to do my work so that I don't have to do it during the days that I come home late.

    However, my friend seems to think that to get through the engineering program here, you must dedicate all your time to studying and working to be successful. He spends almost every waking hour working. He's working two jobs, on top of 19 credit hours of courses. The past two weekends I've gotten 3am facebook messages from him asking me things about the material or complaining about studying.

    Normally this wouldn't bother me, but he has started teasing me for hanging out with my boyfriend during our breaks, going to the societies that I enjoy (anime, mostly), and taking it easy most nights. I work hard during the day so that I can relax when I need it, but in a way all of this sort of makes me insecure about my work ethic. I know there will be some times where things will get busy and I will have to dedicate everything to my work temporarily, but seeing it as a permanent thing just bothers me.

    Either way, I was just curious, if anyone else who has done engineering has had to give up everything else to get through.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 4, 2012 #2
    I took a part-time degree in Civil Engineering (although I had no previous academic experience with Physics) and judged the entire course by the first year which was quite relaxed with no heavy math or other course work. We had lots of free time and my job as a draughtsman was a breeze so i partied when i should have studying blah, blah and blah.

    I spent the next 3yrs wishing I'd done more in the first year! It got quite intense. So if you're confident in your ability and your current study plan is working for you then stick with it.

    Some people find some topics harder than other people. Horses for courses and all that. :)
  4. Oct 4, 2012 #3
    I've been watching to see which new engineers get hired. Not the ones who did "fine." They are looking for engineers who have incorporated engineering into all aspects of their lives. I've had several recruiters tell me that the school records are important, but the single most important thing is the answer to the question as to what do you do for fun in your spare time? If you say you ride jet skies or a wind surfer or play video games, that is pretty much the end of the interview. If you say that you built the jet ski, or that you optimized the air foil shape of the sail, or that you designed the video game, or even that you played the beta version and helped the author optimize it for production; then you are in. If they don't have a place for you, then they may very well make one for you. They are looking for a student who is always looking for the practical application of the science, because that is what real engineers do because that is fun.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2012
  5. Oct 4, 2012 #4
    By the same token, they don't necessarily want someone who spends all their waking hours studying or building sandwiches at subway to pay for textbooks.

    To the OP, it depends on how well 70's/80's are in your program. If you are skating by with unremarkable grades, then you should probably spend more time studying. If you are doing well, as compared to your classmates, then maybe you've got it figured out.

    How well does your friend do in these classes
  6. Oct 4, 2012 #5
    70s/80s are quite good for the program in my university, 60s are considered good among the students though to the professors, not as much. My friend probably gets around the same grades as I do, we both give our all in assignments and I'm not sure about his test marks.

    I sort of look at it from a life sort of view. I feel like there has to be more than life than your engineering career. And there has to be more than life than studying and working. There has to be time for your own enjoyment. No one would want to be with someone who was constantly working. To me, making that time for yourself is important.

    I see what Pkruse is saying, technical hobbies would definitely put you ahead in a job competition. But should you have to give up those non-technical hobbies? I can't see my employer ever knowing that during my academic term, I spent my Friday nights watching anime with some friends or that I really enjoy reading on rainy days. In their own right, some non-technical hobbies have desirable skills, like writing a novel or hiking.

    I do have technical hobbies. I really enjoy working with CSS and HTML, I have my amateur radio license and hope to get the money to use it; and if I had the money, I would definitely try building things. I have an old hard drive that I'd love to make an LED clock out of.

    In the end, I'm not trying to justify how I live my life. If I'm not barely passing, then I'm not too worried about myself. I was just sort of curious of what other engineers thought about it.
  7. Oct 5, 2012 #6


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    I couldn't disagree with PKruse more, to be honest. Most employers don't really care about your hobbies. They care that you are competent at your job, that you can communicate ideas effectively and that you are not a pain to work with. They don't care whether you prefer to go trap shooting or spend your spare time coding.

    The bottom line is no, you don't have to give up your life to make it through engineering. Some people might, but in general you don't.
  8. Oct 5, 2012 #7


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    I agree with you. In fact, I'd go further to say that the "friend" in this story is on a path toward a burnout. But also, the issue of having to have a job to pay for college changes things. The friend here might just be jealous that the OP doesn't need to have a job. Their two situations are otherwise not very comparable.

    In my line of work though, there are two extracurricular activities that are absolutely critical for long term job success (advancement): Golf and social drinking (often at the same time, of course).
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2012
  9. Oct 5, 2012 #8


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    Yes indeed! If you don't have social skills, it's awfully hard to network effectively. Just this week we had a big conference and as much work got done at the hotel bar as at the conference center.
  10. Oct 6, 2012 #9
    I disagree with PKruse as well. Whilst recruiters might like to see that sort of stuff, its also important that you have social skills too - something which can be just as valuable.

    As for the OP, keep doing what your doing if its working for you! i do a similar sort of thing, and have found it works pretty much perfectly for me. I dont feel that the amount of study you do should be dependent on the course itself, but rather, how well and quickly you can understand it, and that changes between people.
  11. Oct 6, 2012 #10
    As a sophomore, you're still in the midnight zone.

    I suspect your friend busts your chops because he has to work more hours and wants some sympathy or maybe just a pat on the back. Give 'em a pat. Your routine sounds similar to mine except I studied most Friday nights til about 1 or 2am. Saturday was Miller time since Sunday was back to studying/lab reports, though I do remember occasionally studying/working out problems for big projects. I was shooting for A's.

    You get one chance to get a engineering degree. All I can say is 4 years is nothing in the scope of your entire life. Work hard and try your best for you're about to enter the abyss:wink:

    FWIW, no engineer ever regretted working too hard in Uni. It's always the opposite in that they should have tried harder. FWIW, professional life while far more challenging is still easier than school life.
  12. Oct 6, 2012 #11


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    I always say to any student lamenting the dedication they must make towards passing some engineering subjects: Let me tell you there's one thing worse than taking this subject—and that's having to take it again!
  13. Oct 8, 2012 #12
    All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
    All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
  14. Oct 10, 2012 #13


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    That is rarely the case. People don't get promoted unless they were good at their last job. Honestly, if you were an engineer, would you like it if your manager was a poor engineer? Neither would anyone else, which is why they try not to promote poor engineers to management.

    Maybe for you, 1 day/night per week would suffice. That isn't the case for everyone. There is no general answer to how much to study versus work because everyone is different and requires different quantities of each to be a productive human being. Shoot, while working on my BS, I probably had 3 full nights of leisure per week on average, with more than that my freshman and senior years and less than that during my sophomore and junior years. I turned out just fine.

    Sadly, many engineering jobs for those with just a BS are "easier" than what you do in school. The overall projects (e.g. designing a while submarine/bridge/plane/computer architecture/etc) are certainly more difficult, but the average engineer out in industry is focusing on one small part of the problem as part of a larger team. If the team is built correctly, you are doing work you are good at and that really isn't all that hard to you other than some usually limited room to innovate a bit. On top of that, most jobs don't require you to keep doing work when you go home at night, so you have all your nights free. For those reasons, working in industry is usually "easier" than your schooling.
  15. Oct 10, 2012 #14
    This is, to me, an interesting question with more things to consider than might be immediately apparent. I'm currently in my 4th year of college, so I don't have the advantage of much hindsight on my years at college yet, but this is what I've figured out from the time I have spent here:

    It is possible, at least for many people, to do "fine" with a minimum amount of work and only spending a night or two per week doing Engineering-related and school-required things. You can probably pass with a C average doing this most semesters; however, I'm not sure why you would want to take this approach. Right now, you are in the perfect environment in terms of growth and learning. You are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of your peers going into similar fields as you and you have nearly limitless access to resources and professors ready to help you with anything you need. These college years are the last years where you will be expected to make mistakes and learn from them. If you mix up two formulas now, you lose 10 points and learn which formula was correct. If you do the same thing ten years from now, you could potentially cause a failure of a system and possibly be fired. Even in your off-time, I would suggest doing Engineering-related things, especially since Engineering is one of the fields that gives you the most potential for doing anything you want with the right amount of drive and intelligence. Personally, if you cannot see yourself spending most of your free time designing and creating things, or at least solving interesting Physics problems, you might want to consider changing fields. That might sound harsh, but if you don't enjoy Engineering that much now at the beginning of your career path, imagine how you'll feel about it after 20 years of doing Engineering 40+ hours every week.

    Now, all that being said, you can successfully take advantage of your college time and maintain a social life; however, you might not want to party every weekend and dedicate 6 nights/week to hanging with friends. Engineering is a competitive field and is growing more so after every graduation ceremony. If you don't love the field, you should question your place in it. Good luck with the rest of your time at college and try to find a balance between work and fun.
  16. Oct 11, 2012 #15
    sales engineer is still an engineer. thank you.
  17. Oct 11, 2012 #16


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    Here's the thing, college is about more than academic growth. It's about personal growth. If you spend all your time working you are short-changing yourself when it comes to personal growth and you could have a hard time growing the adult person you really want to be (or in most cases, didn't know you were) unless that adult person is a study bug.

    This is really bad advice and is the fast track to burn out. This is great for some people. some people. Everyone is different and has different interests, and probably 90+% of engineers enjoy doing other things in their free time besides engineering. True, many have a hard time "turning it off" in their free time, but that's a different concept. Most of us have plenty of non-engineering hobbies and most of us are happier for it.
  18. Oct 11, 2012 #17
    True, some people can't do Engineering ALL the time. I have hobbies other than Engineering as well. What I was trying to suggest (though re-reading I see I didn't make it very clear) is that Engineering and Physics are such broad fields that you can incorporate them into your other hobbies as well. For example, I like skateboarding and baseball, so about a month ago I made an electric longboard and I've been using sabermetrics for my fantasy baseball team for a couple years now. I do still maintain that you should try to do a decent amount of Engineering-related things in your off time while you are in college because this is a field where I have heard many stories of people realizing too late that they didn't really want to be an Engineer as a career and this is one way of deciding whether or not you will be one of those stories.

    On the other hand, Boneh3ad's profile says that he's a graduate researcher, so he probably would know the effects of this better than I would, so you might want to use his advice instead. Like I said, I'm still getting my bachelor's so I can only speak from the experiences I've had for a couple of years now.
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