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.