Tag Archives: problems

CollegeQandA asks: Should I major in Engineering?

Should I major in Engineering?

Engineering BuildingShould I major in Engineering?  This is a specific question that I’m dealing with here, but one that I’m biased towards, and therefore, I have an opinion on.  The answer is yes.

I think engineering is a great major.  Student’s who complete this major have the capabilities to do and learn almost anything afterwards.  Getting the engineering degree, however, is a commitment that takes both significant time and effort.  In many ways, I feel like my undergraduate degree was harder than anything I have done and learned since (though improving my writing has been exceptionally hard).

What is Engineering?

This question should be asked and explored by every major where you replace engineering with your major.  In most cases, the answers are very broad since a major is a label for a vast area of human knowledge and exploration, but practitioners should be able to give you a sense of what a particular major is.

Broadly, engineering, which is sometimes called applied science, is solving problems (by designing a solution) with the use of techniques and knowledge from mathematics and science while constrained by financial and ethical realities.  The types of problems are broad coming from areas such as the health industry to the retail industry, but they have one common aspect.  These problems are our problems whether they be human desires or human challenges.

Most people living in the first world can look around the room they are in presently, and almost every item in that room has gone through stages of engineering problem solving to create the item cheaply, safely, efficiently, etc.  Look at the power outlet.  The screws, the face plate, the outlet, etc. were all designed by an engineer(s).

What do you study in an Engineering major?

Engineering is a broad category that is broken down into specializations such as mechanical, electrical, computer, and chemical engineering (to name a few).  Typically, these specializations are created when there is enough industrial and commercial demand that future engineers in those domains need a focused set of courses covering specific topics.  For example, there is not much difference between electrical and computer engineers, but because of the rise of the computer industry in the 80s and 90s we made the distinction.  However, engineers start all their majors dealing with common introductory topics such as calculus, algebra, probability, statistics, physics, chemistry, programming that apply to almost all engineering fields.

At most schools, the first two years of a major deal with these broad basics in mathematics, sciences, and communication (written and spoken).  In the second year, students will start learning about the basics of the domain they have chosen to major in and will start to see how some of the earlier learned basics are applied to some aspect of the domain.

The third and fourth years will cover more in depth topics as related to the field, but this is just a sample of what practicing engineers do, and even in a field such as electrical engineering a student will further specialize in an area such as communication, electronics, electromagnetics, photonics, power, etc.

The reality is an undergraduate engineering degree is a broad exposure to a field where that student is expected to apply science, math, and engineering design to solve problems.  This, typically, means that engineering has a doing portion where throughout their study, students will build artifacts and prototypes in the lab and in design courses.  However, there are so many careers that an engineer could take that even the senior courses are broad introductions to the specialities.

Why is it such a great major?

In my opinion, an engineering major pushes a person’s mind not only in how to design a working system that solves a problem, but solves that problem with an understanding/application of science and mathematics as tools.  In other words, the major will push your brain to grow in leaps and bounds each semester with challenging ideas that are both theoretical and practical.  At the the end of the degree, you are directly employable since you can build things to solve problems.  Still, you don’t have to be a practicing engineer since the skills learned can be applied to a vast range of problems and opportunities in all varieties of areas.  The degree is not to be taken lightly, but those of you who are committed and willing to work and learn hard will find the results very satisfying.

Credits: photo titled: engineering; by DaveBleasdale

CollegeQandA asks: What is the best way to study?

Let’s start with the assumptions and definitions


  • Test – an assessment technique to evaluate student learning and provide feedback on what has been learned – yeah I know, optimistic
  • Test dump – short term studying period, taking the test, and then forgetting everything afterwards
  • Studying – time spent towards learning ideas, concepts, and knowledge
  • Problem – a question, challenge, or need that may or may not have a solution

For the sake of this discussion I will make some assumptions that if you do not hold them, then the advice is unnecessary.


  • The goal of studying is to learn
  • The goal of assessment is to help the student understand what they have and have not learned
  • Problems encountered in undergraduate courses at the first and second year are mostly solvable

How to study

studyAs stated above, studying is a method of spending time to learn about an area.  From what we know about learning, the actor (us) needs to activate pathways within our brain to create and refine the networks associated with that area of knowledge/skill (The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning).  Also, it would be great if things learned for one thing are transferable to other areas.

This all implies that you, the actor, need to study by doing, reflecting with feedback, and repeat.  So, depending on the course this can be done in a number of ways.   For example, to write better, you need to write, edit, rewrite, edit, … maybe with a person to help you refine, rewrite …

Problem based courses – Math, Physics, etc.

For problem based courses, which are courses people tend to find most challenging, the doing is repetitive practice of problems spread out throughout the course.   This comes from a meta-study by Dunlosky et. al. (2013) in which they looked at the best ways to learn material in college as a summary of many other studies.  Throw out your highlighters.  Stop rereading passages.  Focus on practicing problems that are assigned and will be similar to those on the assessments.

Just like learning a new sport skill, learning an academic topic means practicing.  For courses where the major assessment is tests and exams, the act of practicing problems (both the mechanics and the understanding of material) is the best doing to study successfully and succeed in these types of courses.  Secondly, make sure you are doing this throughout the semester, and repeating problems that you already think you know how to solve.

Credits:  creative common photo from The Master Shake Signal; titled: Clean Study Bag