Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Exam time!

Exams can be pretty stressful and this year is no exception, especially since I dive right in without much of a break. My last day of classes was yesterday, and my first exam (Semiconductor Devices) is tomorrow. I have four in total this term. I have mixed feelings about exams - on the one hand, I like that I get to focus on studying and learning on my own time, without worrying about assignments due. On the other hand - they're exams! And it can be hard to settle down for a study session on a subject that I find difficult or not very interesting (Electromagnetism being a case in point. I like the cool stuff it does; I just don't like studying it).

After my exams end on the 16th (pretty early this year for my schedule), I'm staying around in Hamilton for another week to do some work on my year-long courses that don't have exams. I'm still learning how to model my engineering design project in an advanced software program, and I need to get caught up on a lot of research for my society inquiry paper. Finally, I need to prepare my report for a lab course, which is due the first week of next term. It's an engineering physics course with different modules according to your stream, and mine was the fabrication of a silicon solar cell! It was pretty exciting because my group produced the highest efficiency in the class, so I'm trying to leverage that for a summer opportunity that I'm sending an application for soon.

Speaking of applications, the next time I write I'll have some exciting news about my post-undergraduate plans! Nothing's official yet (I need to submit the application first! Happening after exams) but I'm excited to have a goal and an idea of how to get there. In the meantime, good luck with the end of classes for the year! And if you're in Southern Ontario and getting snow feel free to send some of it this way; I love the stuff and we've only had a sprinkling of it so far.

P.S. I'm a size 4 for my Kipling ring. :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where do I begin...

Okay, so final year right now feels kind of overwhelming. I'm trying to juggle a heavy courseload, domestics, spending time with friends, and keeping in touch with family - all while making plans for next year, which is a whole lot more difficult than in high school. Despite any difficulties, enjoy the OUAC process while you've got it; dealing with rolling admissions for graduate school and job applications is a lot more challenging than having an earliest date for a required response set for Ontario universities.

Anyhow, I try and keep my head up through all of it and I have to admit it's a really exciting time!...as long as I manage to get through the last wave of final projects for the term and my exams. But the highlight of the week is Iron Ring sizings at the Alumni Office; and this isn't just any ordinary school ring.

The Iron Ring is a tradition in Canadian engineering schools that takes place in a ceremony called The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer (nicknamed Kipling, for the author [Rudyard] who developed it). At these ceremonies, graduating engineers undertake an obligation to society to do their best work. The iron ring is worn on the pinky finger of the working hand, the idea being that the contact with surfaces as the engineer writes will remind them of their responsibilities. The mythology of the iron is that it comes from a bridge that collapsed twice during construction due to engineering errors, and killed over 70 workers - but today the rings are made out of stainless steel. The ceremony is private and only open to those receiving an iron ring, or who have worn one for ten years or longer.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Engineering and the arts

One of the subjects I want to write about on this blog are other engineering students, and the cool things they are doing in and out of school. So, I can think of no better person to start off with than one of my closest friends (heavy bias here, but she totally earns it too). Everyone, meet Adri:

Adri is a number of awesome things: the resident techie/mechie of my household (she fixes refrigerators and wireless internet routers), crew director for the Mac Eng Musical, part of the first graduating class of Engineering & International Studies, and a mechanical engineering student (see 'Fascination with Engine,' above).

What I find particularly cool is her final year design project, a collaboration between mechanical engineering and fine arts students to design and construct an art installation that will be located on campus. We had a mini-interview to talk about her course:

Robin: How would you describe what you do in your course?
Adri: It's a collaboration between mechanical and fine arts students on final year design project. The original idea was an "art jukebox," but after discussion we wanted to create something more permanent, dynamic, and something that you can interact with. We need to design around the spaces that we have in mind for the project, and some ideas were too big but there are two that we think could work. We also need to obtain the funding and look at contacting some companies for materials and maybe reach out to alumni.

How often do you meet to work on the project?
Adri: We meet about once or twice a week. Right now we're working on 3D models of our concepts - not working prototypes but models first to help explain how the design could work.

Where is the art going to be installed?
Adri: There are two spaces in the Engineering Technology Building that we're looking at. Our next step will be meeting with the Dean to present our detailed design - that's the report we're working on right now - and hopefully get approval and take it from there.

I really like the interdisciplinary aspect of her project, and the visibility and tangible-ness it has as a final project. To see the result of the collaboration from two years ago, have a look at the website for the Chronos Clock project (also installed in the new engineering building). Make sure to check out "What is it?" to learn how to read the somewhat different clockface.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Hey there!

Not sure really what to write today - this weekend was a nice one, and a good break after a really intense week including a final exam for a course I was taking online! Loads of music stuff coming up in the next while, as the Concert Band is performing on Sunday November 14th, and the a capella group that I'm part of is working on Halo. I cleaned up and readied my wall calendar for November this weekend, and although it feels exactly like two months of school have passed now, I know by the start of December it will still feel as though only two months have passed except it will be time for exams then!

Time management has been on my mind lately, and I have to say it's taken me all of university to get a system that I'm completely happy with and that works with the unusual hours of university schedules (more so in upper years when there are fewer hours of class but a higher independent workload). I managed a lot of extracurricular activities in high school, but once you start having to take care of all the domestics on top of that yourself - grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning (oh, the dishes) - it takes a while before you balance things out again. This year though, I've got some powerful extra motivation in the form of graduation! It's exciting stuff. :)

That's really all for now I guess; I'll see you in a week!

P.S. Yes, that's right. Liz and I carved a fireball jack-o'-lantern!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Perceptions of engineering

It always surprises me when I hear comments on my being a woman in engineering, because they always come from students outside of engineering. Inside the faculty, it's understood that I'm here because I love what I'm learning, and I work hard to do so - just like every other student, no difference. However, in the courses I've taken for my minor, I've started up many conversations with the usual chit-chat of what year, what program, etc. These are the times that I hear "Wow, that sounds really hard!" and - more baffling to me - "There aren't many women in engineering, are there?". I've never really figured out why people think that that's an appropriate response, and it usually throws me for a loop because it's not an issue in my engineering classes.

Why am I telling you this? Not to complain about non-engineers, don't get me wrong. What I'm trying to tell you is this: with university applications beginning soon (if not already), you're going to have a lot of friends, family, and classmates asking you what your program choices are. If you're reading this, there's a pretty high chance engineering is on your mind! There's also a pretty high chance you're going to hear a lot of the same comments that I've heard. Don't be scared off by what other people have to say. If you're worried about the workload: yes, engineering is challenging. If you're a potential 'femgineer', don't let irrelevant comments deter you. In both cases, if you love learning about scientific principles and how to apply them, that's what you need. The eng students work together and support each other, and for anyone else who doesn't get it - well, it's a chance for you to explain it so that they do!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Hey there,
I've done a lot volunteering with engineering outreach, and one of the things I like to share most is how beautiful is here. I have been asked many, many times, "Isn't Hamilton kind of...industrial?" from people who have whizzed by on the Skyway (the more direct bridge when driving from Toronto towards Niagara Falls or the U.S.). But if you come in along the other bridge, on the 403, you'll see a whole different view of Hamilton.

Yesterday I took a 15 minute bus ride out with my friend Liz (one of my housemates, and a biochem engineering student) to go hiking. It was good to get a bit of a break from studying, and I really love the leaves at this time of year. After about 45 minutes on the trail we got to Dundas Peak, an open area of the escarpment running through Hamilton which has a spectacular view.

Facing towards the southeast, I could see downtown Hamilton, and the McMaster campus a little closer - including the new engineering building (the green building, closest to the right). You can see how the escarpment winds its way through the city before continuing along all the way to Niagara. The steel plants are further in that direction, beyond the downtown core.

Looking directly south, there's the residential part of Dundas (a historic town now part of Hamilton), and then further away the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. It's a really nice area to cycle or walk during the summer - I haven't actually gone at other times but I'm sure it would be nice! 

The steel industry is really central to the history of Hamilton, and is very much a part of the community. I experienced this myself during a one-month internship in high school at Dofasco (Dofasco and Stelco are the two steel foundries here), and I know first hand what is like to work in an industrial area with its own docking harbour and transport trains. But that said, there is a lot more to Hamilton than can be seen from just one bridge.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Super-sizing" your degree

As promised, here's the follow-up post on the Engineering & Management/Society/International Studies programs at McMaster. These, along with co-op, are what I affectionately think of as the "Super-sizing" degrees - giving your program an extra boost. The "Engineering & ______" programs can be combined with all specializations of engineering except for Chemical & Bioengineering, Electrical & Biomedical Engineering, Software & Game Design, and Software & Embedded Systems. They still include all of the curriculum of the individual programs (i.e. engineering physics, civil, mechanical, etc.), but since it is spread over five years rather than four, there are "spaces" left in between. These "spaces" are then filled by focus electives and specialized courses.

Engineering & Management is a program that prepares students for manager responsibilities, so the focus electives form most of the content of a minor in business. The specialized courses study how engineering fits into the overall context of management - project management, presentations, client relationships and corporate communications. It's such a strong degree that many graduate schools in Canada will recognize it as equivalent to the first year of a Masters in Business Administration, allowing E&M students to finish their MBA in 8-12 months.

Engineering & Society is very close to my heart, and one of the main reasons I came to McMaster. The focus electives are chosen according to your interests; some students choose a wide variety while others (like myself) tend to concentrate and can even declare a minor (mine's in music). Although this is what originally attracted me to McMaster, with time I've grown to really appreciate the specialized courses in designing for sustainability (social and financial as well as environmental factors), and inquiry skills. The inquiry courses are really engaging, and teach students research, questioning, and communication skills for understanding all issues of topics that they are passionate about.

Engineering & International Studies is a new program in the family of Engineering & Society, and the first cohort will be graduating this year (including my housemate Adri)! These students share a lot of specialized courses with the Society students, but their focus electives are more directed for learning about different cultures and preparing a mindset for working in a global context. These include anthropology, a foreign language, political science, religious studies, and supply chain management.

That's all for now...I hope you had a great long weekend! Back to classes for both of us tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ontario Universities' Fair

Were you at the OUF last weekend? I remember when I went (I can't believe I'm writing this) five years ago - it was an exciting mix of students, representatives, questions, swag and freebies, and piles of brochures. My dad tried to find out what the chances were that I could be a Community Advisor in residence (like a don) in two years before I had even applied to McMaster...but that's not what I ended up doing, and I'm glad. I'll tell you at some point about my house off-campus. The people in it are special; I have a hard time not talking about them, because they're pretty great.

Anyway, the point here is OUF. I usually volunteer as a student rep for Mac Eng but couldn't make it this year because of other things scheduled (i.e. a lab during the spot scheduled for me). But I have several friends who volunteered, and I wanted to clear up the questions that they got asked most often - specifically, what is co-op at Mac like, and what are all these different five-year programs about?

Co-op at Mac is super-flexible. You can enrol at any point up until your final year (I signed up halfway through first year), and work terms can be completed over 3 summers (4 months per work term), or 12 months after the halfway point of your program. One summer work term plus 8 months works, too. What this means is that if you like, you can spend a lot of time at a company and really integrate over a long internship - or, like me, you can change it up every summer, try new things and your degree length doesn't have to be extended. Co-op is also really helpful for applying to certain employers who only consider co-op students. This is not to say that you can't get a job without being a co-op student, but it does open doors. At any rate, even if you're not in co-op, Engineering Co-op & Career Services still has tons of resources and help for students, including mock interviews, workshops, networking events, resume critiques, and drop-in hours. If you're curious, go take a look at their website here.

This is getting a bit long (and a bit late) to cover the Engineering & Management, Engineering & Society, and Engineering & International Studies programs - I'll come back for those later this week. See you then!

P.S. By the way, I passed my driving test and got my full license - just before it was set to expire, too! It's a relief to have that out of the way.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

First Post!

Okay, so this is pretty exciting - and yet, I don't know where to begin.

I guess, like I do with engineering tours, I'll start by telling you a little bit about myself.

I'm writing because I've been asked by Engineering Outreach to blog about what it's like being a student in McMaster Engineering - to share my experiences in a typically male-dominated field of study, as well as classes, extracurricular involvement, and life in Hamilton (I'm originally from Scarborough, but moved just before high school to Burlington). My program is Engineering Physics & Society with co-op, and I'm minoring in music - graduating in 2011! I'm specializing in Nano- and Micro-Device Engineering, and looking forward to having the most ridiculously long degree name when I graduate.

I'll also be writing about career stuff - job-hunting for after graduation, previous work experiences (researching in Ireland beats all others, hands-down) - and introducing you to some of the awesome eng students on campus here.

As a final note - I've blogged for friends and family before, but never for an unknown audience . So if you have any questions or suggestions of what you'd like me to write about, definitely let me know! Drop me a line in the comments or the little Skribit box on the left. I'd be happy to answer them - and I'm not shy about being honest.

Okay, my schedule for this week is staring me down right now, filled with reports, assignments, some early midterms and a driving test for my G license. I'll check in later this week when there's time for a bit of a breather. See you then!