Let’s back track to about two years ago. If you were to ask my grade 11 self,
“Why don’t you go into engineering?”
, I would have scoffed and retorted a stern “No.” In fact, something like this actually did happen when my dad suggested I pursue engineering (he himself studied engineering). I remember it clearly, we were in the living room when my dad suggested it ever so casually. My literal response was,
“You’re funny. I don’t want to work with cars, I would never go into engineering.”
Yes, the dreaded “N” word. I vividly remember being so against the idea- even though my idea of engineering was completely misconstrued. Little did I know at that time, that a little less than two years later I would be pursing a career in Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
So how did this happen? What changed my mind? Let me start off by addressing the fact that my perception and understanding of what engineering was at the time is what really turned me away from it growing up. I grew up in a highly automotive city. My parents both work in the automotive industry and there were plenty of factories and industrial-esque focal points within my city. I grew up thinking that engineering was all about cars and transportation; fixing cars, designing cars, working like a mechanic in general and working in a factory/garage setting.
All I really knew about engineering was that there happened to be a lot of flexibility in the field and that a lot of math and science is involved. I always enjoyed math and sciences so why wasn’t I inclined to be an engineer? I guess what I didn’t understand was, what truly is engineering? I didn’t think much of it until the summer before grade 12- when the pressure towards university and career paths heightened. So, as any confused student would, I Googled it.
A pretty broad definition. “I guess this doesn’t sound too bad.”, I thought to myself, and that is where my reconsideration towards engineering began.
I went to my hometown university’s open house to get a glimpse of the engineering program. Needless to say, exploring the campus did not help relieve my past insinuations of engineering. Like I said, my city is highly automotive and so a lot of the showcases for engineering were with mechanical engineers, in other words- lots of cars. Not to say that is a bad thing, it was just never my cup of tea. In fact, I gave the automotive industry a try in the summer by working in a metallurgical lab- it was really interesting and gave me great exposure, but I still knew I didn’t want to work within that realm in the future. Giving somewhat of a cold shoulder to engineering again, my dad could tell it was the automotive/mechanical focus that was offsetting my interest.
“What about chemical engineering?”
My dad knew that chemistry was my favourite subject in school at the time, and he himself bearing a chemical background, suggested I consider that. Which lead me to consider other universities due to the fact that the university in my city did not offer chemical engineering.
So I expanded my options. I toured multiple different universities in Ontario and there it was- a sudden peak of interest and a feeling of acceptance. Extending out of my naive perception of engineering, I saw it in a new light. Suddenly, everything seemed so enticing once I put my focus towards chemical engineering.
September of 2017 rolled around and I began my post-secondary journey in chemical engineering. I will admit that for the longest time in the beginning, I felt as though I didn’t belong. Everyone seemed so much smarter and I felt behind in comparison to my peers. I was living the typical story of the overly-involved high school student who suddenly went cold-turkey and dropped all extracurricular activities to focus on school. With that,
I felt almost as though chemical engineering had let me down, or maybe I let it down.
I had one course specifically tailored towards chemical engineering in first-year and to be blunt, I really disliked it in the beginning. That worried me. A lot. At this time I was starting to question whether or not I belonged in this program, but even if I were to switch I had no clue what else I’d go into.
Engineering is not easy, in fact I got a taste of failure for the first time during midterms and boy was it bitter. I guess you could call it a reality check. I realized that everyone fails at some point, and that feeling of not belonging was simply the manipulative workings of the imposter effect. I realized that the people around me couldn’t even tell I was struggling just as I couldn’t tell that some of them were. In fact, I remember there was this one day when a girl in my class came up to me, she smiled and said: “Wow, I don’t know how you do it. You’re balancing school with track and I’m struggling to balance just school.”- little did she know I was on academic probation, I was debating course load reduction, and I was only getting about 4 hours of sleep per night at the time.
If there’s one crucial piece of advice I can give, its that attitude really is everything. I struggled, I was stressed, but throughout it all, I still found ways to be happy. Now, I’m not saying act fake or that you have to “fake it till you make it” but rather, allow yourself to maintain the things that make you happy and have faith in the future.
After experiencing failure I realized I had no excuse to cut out all extracurricular activities. In my mind, if I was failing while not even doing the things I loved- what was the point? I would rather be failing while at least doing the things I loved. For me, this validated that it wasn’t sports or clubs that would cause me to fail in the first place. So, I took a huge risk and went out for track again- to my surprise I ended up making the varsity team.
This meant that more time would be taken away from my schedule and more sacrifices were to be made (such as sleep), but it was worth it. I made more friends and it helped me manage my time better despite feeling exhausted all the time. I really wanted to turn things around- so I decided to get a tutor, attend more help sessions and study groups, and I even sat down with my first-year academic advisor.
There were many times where I wanted to give up and there were many times where I had convinced myself that I was going to fail out. I pushed through it and here I am today to say: thank you.
Thank you to the ones who helped me through my failures, especially my parents, friends, and sister. Oh, and thank you engineering- for giving me one hell of a year- I’ll see you next term.