Why am I in Engineering?! 4

Grad school applications are looming over my head and I am in an uncomfortable position.  I am just beginning to realise that this safe and secure world of “School”, of which I have been a part for 16 years, is drawing to a close.  It is the end of an era and, to be honest, it terrifies me.

Four years ago I was an above-average high school student headed for the health sciences with big dreams of getting into Pharmacy.  I began at UofT in Arts & Science and, after my first year, was accepted into both Pharmacy and Chemical Engineering.  It was a big decision at the time and, looking back, I can hardly believe that I managed to make a decision at all.  Four years down the road I find myself thinking “I could be graduating from Pharmacy in June”.  I never walk past the Faculty of Pharmacy without wondering how cool it would be to study in that big white bubble-lounge thing they have suspended in the middle of their building.

And so, I ask myself a question that I have never asked before:

Why am I in Engineering?!


And it has nothing to do with ECE, believe me!  Engineering opens up more opportunities than any other profession.  The most marketable skill of an engineer lies in our problem-solving abilities.  While a surgeon or a mathematician (or a pharmacist!) may know how to solve very specific problems, their problem-solving skills are based on knowing everything there is to know about a very small section of science.  Engineers, on the other hand, are trained to think laterally and solve problems while knowing nothing about anything,  to begin with.  But we get there, and we know how to get a good answer.  And it is those problem-solving skills that give engineers so much potential in today’s world.

Engineering Technology is Necessary

I have heard a lot of debates about which profession is more useful in today’s society:  Engineers vs. Doctors vs. Economists vs. whatever-other-profession-you-can-name…  The diplomatic answer is that they are each useful in their own way and this is true, up to a point.  But let me be un-diplomatic for a moment.  My answer to that question is a resounding “Engineers!” and my reasoning is simple.

Without all the engineering technology that has developed in healthcare over the past century, doctors would not be able to save the number of lives they do.  The reason the average lifespan is getting longer is not because we have smarter doctors now than before; it is because they have better technology (developed by engineers) with which to work.  Without advances in engineering and technology, there would be no business, no economy.  Think about the changes to the global economy after the Industrial Revolution.  Our society is built on engineering technology; it is the glue that holds everything together.  Without it, we would be in a sticky situation.

Applied Creativity

Engineering appears to be one of the most audaciously optimistic fields of study out there.  This audacity is derived from a unique application of creativity—engineering is a strange combination of understanding the laws of physics and simultaneously attempting to defy them.  Engineers developed the technology that landed us on the moon, that split the atom, and that enables the investigation of regenerative medicine.  Engineering is the one field where I can apply my stubborn creative streak to rational, logical thought processes and come up with ideas that no-one considers ridiculous.  Engineers ask “How can I get this to work?” instead of bringing up reasons why it won’t.  It is a highly optimistic, “fix-the-world” kind of profession.

I look back on the last four years of my life and think about how they could have been different.  I could still be in Arts and Science, impressing my family and friends by talking nonsense about some esoteric branch of Chemical Physics.  I could be walking in and out of that sleek glass rectangle that is the Faculty of Pharmacy, wearing a spotless white lab coat and puffed up like a self-important marshmallow.

But I am in Engineering.  I impress no one with my complaints about valves and pumps.  My friends shudder when they see my timetable, and roll their eyes when I say that I have to study on Friday nights.  My lab coat is covered with grease and goodness knows what else.  I have class in the highly unfashionable MC252, where seeing another female is like finding an extinct species.

I look back on my engineering undergrad at UofT and look back on the best four years of my life.  Because I know the only profession that can take me where I want to go is Engineering.

By:  Clara Lloyd

Editor – Science and Technology (Cannon.skule.ca)

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4 thoughts on “Why am I in Engineering?!

  • Patricia Duong

    Engineering is sounding really appealing from your (slightly biased) reflection.

    I have 2 questions:
    1) Were you still able to balance/incorporate non-engineering interests (e.g if you like arts or languages or sports or humanities)?

    2) What did you find the most challenging while going into engineering (e.g. work load, a certain subject, the crazy time table etc…)?

    • Fan

      Hey Patricia! Those were some of my questions when I was a high school student considering engineering. I’m in first year right now, and can offer some insight/ advice:

      1) YES, you can definitely have a life outside of just academics. I joined intramural Ultimate as well as Iron Dragons (Skule’s dragon boating team). Both involve some significant time commitments. In addition to that, I also volunteer with HiSkule, attend networking events, play with the LGMB and do other things that interest me. Of course, I’ve had to cut down on a lot of things I considered joining before I actually started university, but this allowed me to focus more on the things I was most interested in.

      2) The time table is actually not that bad. It’s rather irregular, compared to my high school timetable, but completely manageable. Classes end later than they did in high school (some of mine are in the evening). The work load is also manageable; once again, it’s all about being able to prioritize and manage time properly. For that, I strongly suggest having an agenda or calendar app (smartphone/ computer). What I probably found the most challenging was the freedom that was available – there was so much I wanted to do, and only so much time available. Without my parents constantly watching and reminding me to study, I didn’t focus as much on doing review questions. That aside, linear algebra and calculus are probably the most challenging for me at the moment, because there is a lot of theoretical information I need to retain, understand, and be able to apply.

      I hope this answers your question, and good luck with choosing a program!

    • Clara

      Hey Patricia!

      Just to add my two cents worth to your questions:

      1) Of course you can still be involved in humanities/sports/arts in engineering! The Department requires that we take a certain number of humanities electives in order to graduate, and I have some friends who are even getting a minor from the Faculty of Arts and Science this way (in History, or French, or whatever). And even if you can’t always make the courses work out, there are plenty of extra-curricular activities you can get involved in–not only Engineering based clubs, but also University-wide groups and so on. I personally am really involved with music and, although I didn’t expect to be able to juggle both school and extra-curricular activities, I have actually improved my musical skills more in the last few years than ever before, because there are so many opportunities here.

      2) For me, the most difficult thing was the work load (this is from a Chem Eng point of view–every discipline has its own challenge!). In second year we had almost 35 hours of classes/tutorials/labs per week, something you certainly won’t get outside of Engineering. But, although it was unpleasant at the time, it was actually a wonderful learning opportunity for me because it made me realise how much I was capable of. When you think you can’t keep going, you somehow find it in yourself to get up and push through just one more midterm, one more paper, one more final exam. And it’s an incredible sense of satisfaction to know you really (and I mean REALLY) worked hard to earn your degree.

      You might find this article from The Cannon (our Engineering newspaper) interesting, if you haven’t read it already: http://cannon.skule.ca/why-the-university-of-toronto-is-1-2/ It describes an engineering student’s perspectives on engineering (at U of T in particular, but from what I have heard it is similar at any university!)

      I hope this helps, and good luck with your decision!

  • Kevin Saludares

    I’m currently a third year chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto

    Patricia, to address your two questions, I have my own thoughts, but be wary these can vary from person to person.

    1) You have the opportunity to take up courses and/or minors that result from what you are really interested in. You can take minors from Engineering or even from Arts and Science. In addition, there are many clubs, student groups, and opportunities that you can be part to help make your university experience memorable and even valuable. It’s always good to keep intact with your hobbies while in engineering. For me, I wish I can still play the piano as good as I used to back in my high school years.

    2) The one thing I found most challenging when adjusting to university life was being able to adjust to a new learning environment where everyone around you is smart, and making adjustments to your current studying tactics to help you succeed. In high school I used to get away with decent grades without studying for final exams and tests that much, but in university it’s a whole different story. Getting an 80 I’m University takes a lot more effort to get than getting an 80 in high school, and I even look at getting a 70 as a great mark. It becomes much more difficult, but once you find the balance between your studies and extra curricular involvement, you will find that it’s not really that bad to manage university life at all. Just make sure you take every means necessary to enjoy your university life to the fullest because these are four years you will never get back.

    If you have anymore questions, feel free to comment here and I will be delighted to answer them (after I finish my final exams).