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Trapped - 3rd year ME student & not enjoying school

  1. Nov 21, 2013 #1
    Trapped -- 3rd year ME student & not enjoying school...

    I am stuck in a rather angering situation and need some advice.

    I am a 3rd year mechanical engineering student at an ivy league school, my grades are well above average but i have no interest in the classes. What helps a bit is i skip the majority of class and just come to the exams after studying from the text book, but this isnt enough. The way the entire education system is put together is too frustrating, the majority of my classes teach either how to solve isolated formulas and situations or obscure pieces of information that most people just forget the moment the semester ends. The professors dont seem to give any regards to why we use these formulas or where they are from we are just expected to accept them for what they are. There is no understanding required to graduate, only the ability to regurgitate irrelevant and scattered chunks of physics.
    I am trapped because even though i study these subjects on my own to much success and enjoyment, the time spent at university takes up too much of my time. i dont know why society puts so much emphasis on university being the paragon of learning when so little learning actually gets done. I cannot drop out because without the credibility of the degree it is unlikely my ideas will be taken seriously, but i cant shake the overwhelming feeling that i am wasting my time. I have started a start-up company to make enough money to leave but that will likely take a while.
    I am not sure what i should do in the mean time to stop this feeling.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to PF.

    This is a common issue with many undergrads. The course work is taught so fast that we lose its meaning.

    If you are doing well that's great. Consider it like a job, boring but easy to do. Also I would attend class and see if I can help other students understand the material. Next find something that interests you more and pursue it in your spare time.

    When I had this experience, my grades weren't as good. I was working part-time and getting frustrated that I couldn't complete my homework in a timely manner. It was always late but the prof said the work was good but that I just needed to keep up.

    In classical mechanics class, the prof would assign a week's worth of problems on Monday to be due the following Monday but then on Friday he'd assign a couple more problems also due on Monday. It just overwhelmed me as I delayed doing the homework until the weekend and then had even more to get done.

    My solution was to learn martial arts. It was a good workout for stress and complemented my physics as I thought about how the power was generated in the moves. It was also good meditation.

    So attend your class, help your classmates and get your degree then move forward on your startup. In other words, accomplish what you paid for and what you set out to do then go on to new adventures.

    Don't blame the profs for teaching stuff you already know or is really boring to you instead teach yourself why these things are important. Once you graduate, you'll have all the time in the world and will feel happy with your degree being completed.
  4. Nov 21, 2013 #3
    At some point, school is what you make of it. If you are finding the material easy enough that you still get good grades while skipping class, you are in a much better position than many. In other words, you aren't having any trouble keeping up, so you should have extra time to devote to 'making more of it'. Dig into the material yourself and find the deeper meaning.

    Do research on the side, change majors to something more stimulating, focus on your company, find a hobby, volunteer, etc.

    Though I wonder why you are majoring in mechanical engineering if you find it boring...

    I will caution you though. While I'm not saying you fit into this category, many of the people I have encountered post-college who claim very little gets learned in college were the exact people who learned shockingly little in college. They viewed it as arbitrary hoops to jump through and did nothing more than jump through said hoops and failed to make the most of it. I wouldn't want to be that person. You won't get this opportunity again, and most people never get the opportunity at all to go to an Ivy league.
  5. Nov 21, 2013 #4


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    Hey Egavnov, this got a bit long. Sorry. I hope it's of some use to you.

    This is not all that uncommon. What does your advisor say about it? What do your professors say about it? You are talking to them, right?

    Yes, lots of classes are bad or useless for good students. One would hope that would be the case less often at prestigious universities, but sometimes it isn't. Have you been making an effort to avoid bad classes or bad teachers? You do know that being proactive (finding and taking the best classes) helps more than being reactive (skipping lectures and other annoying bits), right?

    In any case, you should understand is that one thing your degree will mean to others is: this person can put up with arbitrary crap and jump through lots of hoops to achieve a goal. This is an important life skill. Adversity comes in many forms and you have to learn to push through it.

    Look, the physicists will tell you the engineers don't understand physics and just use bits of it, often wrongly. The applied mathematicians will tell you the physicists don't understand math and just use bits of it, often wrongly. The pure mathematicians will tell you the applied mathematicians don't understand the proofs of the theorems and use them out of context, often wrongly. So, um, yeah, if you're taking engineering courses don't expect to learn physics like a physicist or math like a mathematician. And realize that none of them talk about the underlying philosophy of scientific inquiry and whether any of it can be believed at all. Classes are designed for their audience.

    Maybe you need a break? Maybe you need to take an internship somewhere and see what your field is like in the real world? Maybe you're at the wrong school, one more devoted to being prestigious than providing a good education? Maybe you went there for the wrong reasons? It's pretty much on you at this point to ask for help and work through the problem. Coming here to ask is a good start, but you'll have to act for yourself.

    There's got to be a usual path to ensure minimal competence. This is it. Get your degree and people will believe that you might be useful for something. Don't get your degree and you'll have to do something much harder to get people to believe.

    Sure you can drop out if you start up a company. It's unlikely you'll succeed but not impossible. And you'll learn a lot. Do you really think that people who have successfully started companies have trouble getting their ideas taken seriously? Think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg as examples. And if it doesn't work out you can go back to school with a better idea of what you want and how to get it.

    If you really think you're ready to do something now, apply for a Thiel Fellowship if you are young enough.

    Be more realistic about what you're learning. Getting a degree is partly about paying your dues, partly about learning about yourself and especially how you react under pressure. Only some of it is about learning the course content. So figure out what it is you're getting that's valuable and try to get more of it.
  6. Nov 21, 2013 #5
    Are you referring just to undergraduate degrees, or to graduate degrees as well? I expect the culture of a university is similar, in this, between undergraduate and graduate degrees. I've been told things about graduate degrees which seem to contradict what you say.

    Specifically, I've been told that in Europe, PhD candidates are treated as employees rather than students. They are expected to take care of themselves, and do things outside of their PhD (i.e. go hiking, go to the theatre, etc.). This would seem to indicate a lower-pressure degree than the culture which I have heard of in the USA. In the USA, I have been told that graduate students get little sleep and are expected to work hard and party rarely. The degree has been referred to as a "pressure cooker", in which students are pushed in their coursework and research until they either break or get thoroughly addicted to coffee. In your experience, are these cultures which I have been told of inaccurate, or would you say they simply do not apply to undergraduate degrees?
  7. Nov 21, 2013 #6


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    I was thinking about undergraduate degrees. I don't know much about the specifics of graduate degrees. I've observed graduate students but never been one.

    In the US undergraduate and graduate experiences are not particularly similar. There's no reason to think that things said about one apply to the other.

    The undergraduate experience in the US varies greatly. You get something entirely different at Caltech as compared to Ohio State. It's hard to generalize.
  8. Nov 21, 2013 #7
    While I worked hard and knew some people who worked ALL the time, I can't say it was a pressure cooker. I had a blast in graduate school. Did a lot of things, went a lot of places, and socialized a lot. And learned a lot.
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