Academic Confessions: Learning not to make mistakes

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On my very first day at UVic, Dr. Brad Buckham described engineering as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation”. That is what engineering is: a calling. The five-year journey is not for the faint of heart.

From my experience so far, engineering is one the most rewarding and intensive programs the university offers. During your first week (heck even during high-school recruitment), we are warned far in advance about the program’s demands. We are told that coffee will be our constant companion, that we’ll thrive even with a constant lack of sleep, and that we’ll manage crazy schedules, insane workloads, and, maybe along the way, have some of the best times of our lives.

The engineering program is meant to chew us up and spit us back out, barely alive and breathing. Five years later, we’ll have the experience (hello required co-op!), the necessary basic knowledge, and, most importantly, the mindset, skills, and attitude for engineering in our world. It prepares and moulds us to fit the conventions and strict requirements of the profession.

Because, face it, engineering is a dangerous job: we are responsible for the lives of so many people. Consider the civil engineer who designs a bridge that collapses, or the software engineer who designs a banking website with poor security, or a mechanical engineer who designs a motorized wheelchair that flips over when the user is going up a hill. The nitpicking we do, the math we study, and every late night hour counts. Because it’s the tiny details, the ones that can make us pass or fail a course, on which the lives of people hang in the balance. As someone going into an engineering career, I have the opportunity to affect people’s lives for better or for worse.

Being in UVic Engineering involves a unique brand of patriotism. It’s almost like a club: a loud, obnoxious group of people who think they’re the best (emphasis on “think”). We joke about ourselves, our geekiness (if you like to call it that), our drunkenness (though I’ve been careful to avoid it), and our lack of sleep. We laugh at ourselves to no end, and we generally like to think of ourselves as the smartest kids on campus. We like to jokingly mock and demean the other departments (since we think we’re the best), while recognizing the stereotypes that ironically apply to us (pick up a copy of Fishwrap or Tubes and Wire, the ESS newsletters, and you’ll see). We think that once someone’s lived through first year, you’re either meant for this program or you’re half-insane.

Only students motivated enough, who enjoy what they’re learning, or someone really crazy gifted can go through the program. We sometimes joke that we’re married to math, and we probably are; we at least have a very serious relationship going. The gist is: we love what we do. There’s a reason the department makes the program that tough: we’re supposed to be great engineers. Cheers to that far-off, yet reachable goal.

Angel Manguerra is a second-year engineering student at UVic. If you’d like to contribute to Academic Confessions, email volunteer@martlet.ca for more information.

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