Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A new tron blogger

Hello all, my name is Yuki, and I'm a Mechatronics '10 girl, entering 4th year. There are already quite a few mechatronics girls blogging so I think I can spare the details about our class, but what I hope to share is my experience going on exchange.

I have gone on exchange to Japan for five months in 2008, and planning to go on a second exchange to Taiwan in the fall 2009. I'll be blogging about my past experience abroad as well as the application procedures... and if I go to Taiwan, I'll hopefully be blogging while being abroad.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my 2-week vacation here in Montreal (where I grew up), and I'm trying to stay away from my computer as much as possible, so blogging will come later. I must say that life without a computer is... hard!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The View from Computer Engineering

I’m a student in Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo, starting 4th year this summer. There are only 4 girls in my class (out of about 100) so I want to share my rather unique experiences with the women in engineering blog. I want to give an inside view of computer engineering for students who are considering this or electrical engineering.

So what is computer engineering (CE)? At Waterloo, it is part of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department, which means there’s quite a bit of overlap with electrical engineering. Courses in the 1st year cover a wide range of topics, including introduction to calculus, discrete math, physics, computer programming, circuits, and even chemistry. Once thing that surprised me was that the stuff you learn in these foundation courses are actually used in upper year courses. The core CE courses start in 2nd and 3rd year and include digital circuit design, operating systems, and compilers. Because of this, it would be difficult to switch between electrical and computer engineering after 2nd year. In 4th year, there is a design project course and 9 electives.

I know some of these subjects might seem daunting to high school students, but if you have a good background in math, science, and preferably computer programming, you can learn the rest of it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring has Sprung

Coming from Toronto, I find Waterloo to be a perfect sized city. Despite what some people claim about Waterloo, it's a fair sized city. I spent a workterm in Goderich, Ontario, and I did not take well to the lack of everything. I expect there to be sushi places, and yarn stores within the city, even if not in walking distance. So living somewhere with public transit, and wide selection in restaurants and stores is a lot more comfortable for me.

I do, however, also enjoy the fact that Waterloo is actually smaller than Toronto. It's possible to WALK out of the city, from campus, out to where there's cornfields on either side of the road. I've done it once, when I needed to go to market and wasn't able to bike. Actually there's also at least one cornfield in the city itself, which is another thing I like. There's also more wildlife. Not that I didn't have geese and ducks and groundhogs and rabbits around in Toronto, but I'm used to seeing them mostly in parks. Well... parks and in traps that the annoyed gardeners leave out. (Just as an aside for anyone from the country reading this: in the city you don't kill the critters that attack the garden, you trap them and take them to a park).

The other day, for example, I watched a duck fly across a major road, and then come in for a landing on the green strip next to the parking lot at a local business. To me, that's really cool. If I wanted to see ducks back home I had to pack up and go out to the park. Here, I walk to the uptown business park and they're just there on the way.

Even around campus there's some places that are more like parks. Around engineering it isn't bad - I've run halfway across in about two minues (we had a project due), but if you walk around other parts of campus - say over the creek by the church colleges, or around the Physical Activites Complex - you're pretty likely to scare a groundhog which is trying to tell if it's safe to come out. Or get stopped by a goose while the goslings cross the pathway.

All in all, it's quite a nice change. I'm going to be sticking around Waterloo for a while longer and get my Master's degree, but I'm going to miss this place when I leave.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Man and the Banana Peel

An interesting thing happened on the bus ride to work today...

In the downtown area of Waterloo, A man ran to catch up to the bus, and the driver stopped for him. As the doors were opening, the man took one last bite of his banana and dropped the peel on the grass beside the bus. If he had taken the time to look, he would have known that there was a garbage can about 6 feet behind him. When he climbed inside, the bus driver made a comment about picking up the banana peel, and they got into a bit of an argument. He refused to pick it up and took his seat in the back.

He claimed that the banana peel was not garbage. His arguments were that the peel was biodegradable, and that back in history, people did that every day.

She claimed that it was indeed garbage, and that we have littering laws and garbage cans at bus stops for a reason.

This whole thing got me thinking about our morals and priorities as a society. That banana was completely organic, and it's true that it will decompose, but it would take weeks to completely disappear back into the earth as soil. I imagine that a city worker will probably pick it up off the ground as 'garbage' before that time comes anyway. So did he do the right thing? His argument that people did it all the time back in history may be true, but I don't feel that it's a valid argument for his case. There are dozens of things that people did hundreds of years ago, but we would never do those things today. Examples: living in caves, never shaving or bathing or cutting our hair, accusing gifted women of being "witches" and burning them at the stake..

Sure, those examples are a bit extreme, but I got my point across. In the middle of a forest it may be different, but it's generally unacceptable to throw a banana peel on the grass in the middle of the city. Would you be happy if someone dumped some banana peels on your front lawn?

So then I take the other side of the story. If he had dismissed that peel as garbage, and thrown it in the garbage can, then it would have gone off to a landfill. Rather than being put into a compost container and left to decompose in a "proper" place, it would just be another piece of garbage clogging up the landfill, forcing the city to eventually increase the size of its landfill and smother many more natural greenspaces with piles of garbage. Having only a garbage can with no recycling bin or compost at that bus stop forces any passersby to classify their waste as garbage, unless they want to hold onto the waste until they reach a better spot down the street. Perhaps it's the city's fault for not providing the options.

The whole ordeal reminded me of SE 101, a course that I took in first term. ("SE" stands for Software Engineering). We looked at a few case studies of example situations where the person involved had to make a tough choice, and their ethics were what helped them through.

Engineering is all about designing and planning and building to improve the world we live in. As engineers, it's our job to make the right decisions and know where we stand. So who was truly "right"? This kind of reminds me of a possible PDEng assignment topic, eh? :)

So my train of thought got stuck on its tracks. I don't feel that there really was a "right" thing to do in that situation. What do you think?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Co-op Term on Campus

I am currently on a co-op work term, working on campus with a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Working on campus is great. I did not have to suffer the trauma of traveling somewhere unheard of and I already know the bus route.

My boss has a contract with the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) that involves predicting rainfall patterns throughout the province. The MTO is concerned with rainfall information because it would help them to design highways to handle the rainfall at a given location. Highways span the entire province, not just in cities areas where weather stations provide local data. Finding a suitable method of predicting rainfall patterns between stations is the objective of the contract. The challenge is that weather stations are so inconsistantly distributed. The stations are almost exclusively located in southern Ontario. This makes it difficult to predict rainfall in the northern parts of the province. The project involved an interim report, which will be my work report after a few tune-ups. It has also encouraged me to develop my computer skills emmensly. I did not know there was so much that I did not know.

Working in the faculty is a great experience. I have hands on experience with cutting edge research! Seeing the faculty from the inside changed my entire preception of universities. There is so much more that goes on than I knew about. Class is clearly not the highest priority, but it is all that a first year student sees. There is so much more after an undergraduate degree, so much fullfillment and so many applications. There is so much passion in the faculty. Everyone loves what they do, they would not have a PhD in it if they didn't. It is inspiring; it makes me want to learn!

My boss was teaching a graduate class this past term. It was very interesting to see such advanced applications of Civil Engineering, but also to see classes from the instructors perspective. He also manages all of the work reports for the faculty, actually his co-op (me) does this. It was nice to get so many tips on report writing from the guy who controls them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Studying Help

It's exam time here at Waterloo. High stakes! Big Pressure! Huge Stress!

Not really, though. In engineering everybody takes the exact same courses as everybody else in their class, so it's easy for a pretty good exam schedule to be arranged. Unless you're taking an elective, you never have more than one exam per day. That's kind of nice.

Also, most profs give pretty fair exams. If you've done all the homework, you can usually get a good mid-70.

I've found that most of the TAs are incredibly helpful. If you email them a question during the day, you can get answer back within a few hours. A lot of TAs are really accommodating in their office hours, especially around exam time. One of our TAs just gave a 3 hour tutorial today. I don't think giving up 3 hours on a day when the university if closed is within her job description- she just really wanted to see us do well. Earlier in the week another TA did the same for another course.

Sometimes TAs are unhelpful and sometimes exams are unfair and cover strange topics that you can't remember talking about in class. Those times are frustrating. Oh well, I guess.

Back to the books!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts on Admissions and Applications...

It is that time of year when grade 12 students are anxiously waiting to hear if they have been admitted or not. This has made me reflect on when I was in grade 12 and what I've learned since then.

I remember when I was in grade 12, everyone told me that UW Engineering was so hard to get accepted into and that once you were there it was an extremely difficult program. I was worried that even if I was accepted, it would be too difficult and that I wouldn't be successful. I was so worried about this, that for a while I almost chose to go into science instead. Looking back, I am so glad that I faced my fears and accepted my offer!

That was a few years ago now. So I have a much different perspective on UW Engineering than I did when I was in grade 12 and there are a few things that I wish I could have heard.

1. Engineering is challenging but it is not impossible and you can still have other interests!
The people who study Engineering are regular people. We all have lives and interests outside of engineering (as you can see from all the awesome things that people are posting about on this blog!) Engineering will make you work hard but it will also help you to learn so much about the world around you. Most importantly, if you are struggling there are so many people watching out for you who are willing to help if you need it.

2. Extracurricular Activities really do matter!
UW really does read every admissions information form that they receive. Engineering is so broad that all different skill sets and abilities bring different assets to one's experiences as an Engineer.

3. The guys who apply for engineering don't actually know any more than you do!
I remember for the first couple of months in Engineering I was so worried! All of the guys in my class could go on and on about engineering things that I had never heard of - so I figured that they all knew so much more than I did. I was so shocked when midterms came and I did just as well as them. Eventually, I came to realize that most of those guys didn't know anything more than me - they were just better at pretending. If you speak with confidence it is amazing how many people you can convince! So don't be scared off by people who are good at pretending to know more than you.

4. You won't be just a number!
I remember in high school all of my teachers and guidance counselors tried to prepare all of us for becoming 'just a number' in university. In engineering this is not the case! At UW, you will have almost all of your classes with the same group of about 50-100 people. That may seem like a lot of people, but you will be surprised by how quickly you learn everyone's name. Everyone in my class knows each other - which is really helpful whenever you have a question with homework or a project! Also, professors really care about their students. Whenever I pass by a professor in the hall, she or he always recognizes me and says hi.

5. Engineering is full of group work!
This was a huge surprise to me. In high school, I always thought that engineering would be such a solitary degree and that I would always be working by myself. I couldn't have been more wrong! Every term we have tonnes of group projects (probably more group projects than individual projects). This is really important to being an Engineer because at work I am always working as a part of a team!

Some final thoughts...
As a Women in Engineering Director, I participate in meetings with the Women in Engineering Committee. One of the past members of this committee was the UW Engineering Admissions Director. One of the things that she would frequently talk about was that girls in high school tend to "self-select" themselves. Meaning that if a program required an average of 80%, girls would generally only apply if they had an average of 82% but lots of guys with an average of 78% would end up getting accepted. These guys will then go on to be completely successful in the program. So my final piece of encouragement is that "you can do it!"

So.. if you're in grade 11 - apply next year! If you're in grade 12 - accept your offer!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Engineering Society Directorships

A great way to get involved in university life is through the Engineering Society (EngSoc). After being a part of many different clubs in high school, I felt the need to do something out of the classroom once I got to university. This is when I found out about EngSoc; basically the engineering student council.

Ranging from the engineering play director, Canada day director, to wheelchair basketball, there are various directorships that one can take on. I have really enjoyed holding directorships like Women in Engineering, Academic Rep Advisor, Charities, and Student Life 101. It is a great way to meet new people, plan lots of fun events, and take a short break from the school work!

This term, one of my directorships was charities. Every other Thursday morning, we sold pancakes to raise funds for Hope Spring Cancer Centre. Even though it was hard getting up early in the morning, by the time we were making the pancakes, my fellow directors and I, had a big smile on our faces! What better way to spend your morning than making pancakes,and raising a $1000 for a great cause?!

I really encourage anyone who likes to get involved in university life to look into the awesome directorships EngSoc has and apply for them. It really makes your time at university much more fun!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A day in the life of an EngSoc President

I get a pretty unique experience as President of the Engineering Society. At Waterloo we alternate between Society A and Society B every four months since everyone is in the coop program. This means I’m elected for a 16 month term and I will spend 8 months of that in school and the other 8 months on coop while another executive takes over. I’m also a full time student, so I take the same course load as everyone else in Engineering. That keeps me pretty busy!

My favourite part about being President is the incredible group of people I get to work with. The executive consists of the President and four VP’s (that’s us below, along with our endowment fund director). I also get to work with Mary, our fabulous corporate manager, and a lot of really fun and dedicated directors.

A big chunk of my job is being the student representative at meetings – this term I’ve had anywhere from 4 to 17 meetings per week! I sit on a lot of academic committees (like the faculty council and examinations and promotions committee), as well as meetings with Presidents from all the other societies on campus, and the committee that reviews the structure of orientation week.

There are also a ton of events that EngSoc puts on every term. We run everything from pub nights, to pulling a bus for charity, to spa nights, to a 24 hour scavenger hunt! You can see a picture of some of us below during Frost Week when we dyed ourselves purple, the official engineering colour. At the right is our acting-Dean Rothenburg, showing off his purple hand.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We Women Can Be...

I though this Sesame Street video might bring back some great memories:

I want to be a roller skating alligator hunting mechanical engineer. Don't you?

Engineering Jazz Band

If you've been following this blog, you've probably noticed that we all keep up a ton of hobbies that are not engineering related at all.  For me, one of my favourite hobbies is playing jazz music.  I started playing trombone in highschool and I expected to stop when I came to university.   At the end of my 1B term, I was walking through the student life centre when I heard a band practicing.  I was curious, so I barged into the practice and was met with an entire band.  It blew me away and I ended up joining a term later. Four terms later, I'm still a part of the band and still loving it.  I have met some really good friends and have had tons of fun.  The band is completely student run.  We are funded by the student run Engineering Society, our conductor is a student, our website was made by a member of the band and everyone that plays is a student (and not just undergrad, we sometimes have grad students too!).  Tonight, we are performing at our termly End of Term Charity Show.  We're playing with another student run choir (Accent Choir) and all our proceeds are going to Habitat for Humanity.  Wish us luck! 

Here is a video of the band in action:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Girl Guides Outreach

Last fall, my younger sister (also an Engineer) and I ran a girl guides workshop at a local Girl Guides camp where we had approximately 150 girls participate in our activity. The event was a great success and we had a ton of fun!

My sister with all of our supplies before the girls arrived

We gave the girls a small introduction about what engineering is and what engineers do and then we let them loose on all of the materials we had available. The task we gave them was to build a bridge. We didn't show them any examples or give them any tips. So the designs were completely left to the girls' imaginations. The results were incredible!

Some of the groups were a bit hesitant to start but once they got building they were full of ideas! Each bridge was completely unique and nothing was overlooked. Some bridges even included street lights and miniature cars. It was amazing to see the confidence, creativity and team work that they displayed.

One of the designs

The most rewarding part of the day for me was being able to tell the girls that my sister and I are in engineering - to which the girls would look at me with wide eyes and ask "really?!" I think by meeting current women in engineering they were really able to see that engineering is something that girls can be amazing at! I even had one girl tell me, very enthusiastically, that she'd never considered engineering before but she would now!

All in all, it was a great day and I hope that it left as lasting an impression on the girl guides as it did on myself.