Life in Electrical & Computer Engineering

A Waterloo Engineering Student Blog

Quest for Salvation: First year mistakes and experiences

Hey Everyone! I’m Nikhil Ramburrun, a student in ECE at UW and I’m currently on co-op. I figured since most of you have heard that ECE is hard and others are taking it lightly, that I should make some kind of blog to tell you guys about my own story. For someone who never failed a single course in their lifetime, failing 3 courses and hence my 1A term was devastating if you can imagine. If you are afraid of failing, good, because fear is good. It keeps you from becoming an overconfident person and keeps you alert at all times. Read more to know my story or you can just go the TL;DR section, either way works as long as you are taking something useful from what I went through. Cheers! 🙂

Academic Destruction

Well the title is intimidating isn’t it? It sure as hell was. But as I stepped into UW, I was thinking something some people do. I got really cocky; I thought I had the world in the palm of my hands, I thought being accepted here made me a genius, and that’s because of how I felt out of place back home, maybe i could just breeze through, given that I feel comfortable where I am. Maybe I could just do assignments and be done, like in high school right? That was a terrible mistake. No, the mistake was not just doing assignments; but thinking about that it was similar to high school was/is a big mistake. I did A-levels back home, which is the British Education system, so it’s more in-depth than most high schools in Canada. However, we only do 5 courses, 3 main and 2 subsidiary. In short, I was set to pass my 1A with my high school knowledge and breeze it through because I did all of the concepts in high school right? Life was like..

no
I slacked off assignments, and when not knowing what to do, I would just watch funny videos while trying to figure it out, which GREATLY diminished my productivity and after a week or two into the term, I just stopped being productive. That ego and pride of mine got to me, and I thought i could do any question, no matter what, and I would do well in exams, like in high school. I have never been so wrong in my life.
Because of my ego, I thought exams went smoothly for me, so I was not stressed at all. That’s a bad sign right there! If you are not stressing out, then you are either a genius, or you are doing something wrong. I know for a fact that I am not a genius.

Emotional Entanglement

While all this was happening, I was forcing my relationships. Being alone in a new country with barely any friends, I forced myself to fit in. I thought it would be easy because I could not fit in back home, so a change might do me good! It eventually turned out badly because I could not fit into any group of friends, I was always switching from one place to another, and that was really bad for me. I ended up spending my spare time in my room, talking to my high school friends at very unusual times of the day/night, playing LoL and not being very active around University. I was confused, lost and I had no idea what to do. Because of my ego, I refused to ask for help and that dragged me down a long way; the University has a TON of resources, including counselling (which I was doing this term), so please, use them 🙂

Judgement Day

After grades came out on QUEST, I was pretty much in shock and denial for a few days. They call this the 5 stages of grief. I was in a such a denial state that I emailed every single one of my profs and begged for marks for remarking. Taking on my parents’ advice, I used meditation as a relaxing and focusing technique. I used it quite a bit and came up to the realization that I was being a wimp and coward. I deserve what I got because I did not study at all, and my profs do not owe me anything. I accepted my fate, and went on to complete my Co-op term and take a 4 months break before my repeat term starts. Being alone in a new country, some of you might come across this feeling too, you will tend to reject change. You might tend to think you will lose yourself and you will want to go home. Don’t! Part of life is to accept change and deal with change. We, as humans, are continuously evolving and changing. We become stronger and stronger every day.

The 8 Month Break

Generally after failing a term, the university recommends an 8 month break from school. This helps to assess what you did wrong during the term, and what you are planning to do to rectify it. I was on co-op for Winter 2013 and it wasn’t as I expected. Frankly, I joined because I was interested in some GPS tracking software, which we didn’t end up doing because the winter was so harsh (long story short, my job was related to snow). After co-op, I took some time off, living close to campus and reflecting on the things I did wrong.  I pulled myself up and changed that attitude. Do or do not, there’s no try. That brings us to “A New Hope” -insert Star Wars theme here-

Fall 2013 – A New Hope

Sounds like a new Star Wars movie, eh? Hopefully Disney doesn’t ruin it or anything. I saw a new hope as I started the school term again. I felt somehow an attachment to the people I became friends with in class. We bonded quickly but it took me time to fully trust them, but I haven’t regretted it since. I started studying since day 1, and with distractions, my workout schedule and social life somehow all worked out perfectly. I never left so at ease at the university and this further strengthened my conviction that everything happens for a reason. Being always ahead or at least caught up. I decided to apply for EngSoc (Engineering Society) class rep. With enough votes,  I managed to be one of the two class reps. This experience brought to light different things EngSoc does for engineering students and the university, as well as forcing me to become better at time management. On the academic front, my midterm average increased by 20% and final by 20%. I was not falling behind any more, I was not gaming when I was not supposed to, I squeezed in small study/review sessions throughout the day and it eventually paid off 🙂

About Co-op

For most of you 4-streams here, you will have to go through the co-op process to be matched with a job so you can work during your work term! 😀 It has been brought to my attention that recently, students have been freaking out about co-op. As an O-week 2014 Leader, I encountered students who were so scared of not getting a co-op job and here is the truth; some of you will end up with no jobs for your first co-op work term. Is it something to worry about? No. Out of the 6 co-op terms, you have to do 5 of them. Every one wants extra experience now right? So why am I saying not to worry? Because those of you who will stress out about co-op will do badly on their exams. The thing is, the interview process might get on your nerves, or you might simply be over stressing yourself about things that haven’t happened yet. In my opinion, co-op is overrated by students. They make it sound like a big deal and this freaks people out. What you have to understand, and I understand if you take time to, is that without experience, you can still get a job. What matters is how you display your skills, how you sell yourself to your employer and how you can tell them, ” Look, I may have no experience or barely any, and the guy up next will have several mobile apps. But I can tell you that I am the one you need”. So if you don’t have experience, do not worry. With some patience, hard work on your resume you will get a job. Do not let co-op take control of you, do not think about how many interviews this guy had, or how many offers, that does not matter. What matters is what you do for yourself while keeping up with school. If ever you encounter a situation where you have to choose between preparing for an interview or studying for an exam, go for the exam. Finals are much much more important than interviews. Fresh off high school,no one really wants you, and you barely do any useful stuff in 1A that will help you for the job market but after first year, it gets easier.

For those with completed resumes, go to resume critiques by EngSoc. They really help but make sure that you are getting critiqued by someone who knows what they are doing. Most volunteers there will since they are upper year students with feedback from employers. Speaking of feedback, when you end an interview, you can always ask the employers, what could you have done better on your resume/cover letter, they will always (unless they are mean) give you feedback.

I applied the techniques below in my 1B term and again, I passed with a better average and a better understanding of the courses I was taking. The following tips will hopefully help you 🙂

TL;DR

1. Always, always ALWAYS keep up with your notes. This is the key to not falling behind even if you have a reduced-load. Keeping up with your notes helps you have more time for social life, practice problems or anything else you might want to do 😉. Even if you know the concepts, please, practice and keep practising questions. After school, review the things that you did during the day, and make index (queue) cards and keep them with you. They should include important concepts.

2. Do practice questions. Especially for courses that you find hard and challenging, practice as much as you can but do not neglect your other courses.

3. GO TO CLASS! Yes I had my share of sleeping in during 8:30 classes but believe me, I regretted every second of it when I found out that I was way behind on that specific courses. Simply going to classes will you several advantages such as, your friends reminding you that an assignment is due or the prof talking about the midterm or final exam, or perhaps doing important material. You can always catch up on sleep later! And you’re an engineering student, you should not know what sleep it until co-op starts.

4. DO NOT FREAK OUT. University is hard, I will give you that. Some can’t adapt to the transition (like me :D) and give up before they even started. If you have anxiety problems, counselling is here. It’s behind closed doors, no one can know what you talked about in there and the counsellors are a great help. I personally went to counselling this past term because of some personal issues and they gave me awesome techniques to help me manage them. Also some of you might fail midterms, but its no big deal; I failed a couple this term and passed. Getting back up on that horse is the most important thing you have to do. Keep working hard, hard work pays off, sometimes in ways we fail to notice right away 🙂

5. DO NOT COMPARE. Do not compare yourself to anyone else in class. “Oh he’s so smart!” “You already done those two assignments?” “You got 10/10 on that quiz!? I must be stupid .. ” I have heard that way too many times to think that its a rare issue. Every one, at some point, will compare themselves to their friends in class. Please do not do that. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, do not disregard your strength because of someone else’s; they have a different life story than yours. Instead, build on your strength, ask for help if you want to improve. Comparing only yields to unhealthy competition or hopelessness which are not good for you as well as your mental health.

6. ASK FOR HELP! I heard that so many times during Fall 2012 and I still disregarded it. I believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness and desperation. Man, was I wrong. Perhaps if I did ask for help, I would have passed. But if I did, I wouldn’t be here telling you what to do to succeed 🙂 Everything happens for a reason my friend. Ask for help from profs, TAs, friends or advisers if you need to. The thing is, people think asking for help shows that you are weak. No. It shows that you are strong and mature enough to know that you suck at something or you don’t understand something and you are BRAVE ENOUGH to ask for help. It can only be a good thing.

7. SLEEP!! All nighters are OK a few weeks before exams, but don’t do it if you plan on gaming or talking all night. I found that I was very effective for chemistry around 2-4am but that’s just me. Before exams,please sleep. AT THE VERY LEAST 6-7 hours. The reason is because you want to be at the top of your level before the exam starts. Spend all night studying and walking into the exam will only hinder your performance because you will have so much piled up in your brain that at some point, its going to overflow and nothing will help you. So please, be consistent with your work so you won’t have to spend all night studying before exams.

As an end note, to all my friends reading this, I love you all. You have made my life so awesome, even if sometimes we got into troubles. You people are the reason that I’m not breaking down because of engineering stress and you are all amazing. Thank you <3
To my girlfriend (B),  I met you because I failed, and you are the reason why if i went back in time, I’d fail again so I could meet you. We share so much in common and it’s beautiful getting to talk and be with someone like you. You are beautiful in every aspect. I love you.

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Nikhil Ramburrun

8 Comments

  1. This is great work! I’m glad you and David have started this, this is a pure selfless shared personal experience that needs to be run by all students who are starting university!

    Appreciate the thought and I would definitely print out the seven points and stick ’em up somewhere. Like on my mirror. There are two ways to learn things, the easy way and the hard way. And as you have so relate-ably explained, that isn’t quite the ‘nice’ way to experience it.

    Keep up the good work! You’re a good human! 😀

    • Thanks Toriko! We really appreciate your views and feedback on it! 🙂
      I wouldn’t say I’m a good human 😛 But working towards it 🙂
      -Nikhil

    • Hi im in mech eng at waterloo 1a.
      I just got 40s on all my midterms. I feel like shit because I actually worked really hard to try and succeed and i still failed. I feel so hopeless. im scared that if i fail all my friends will be gone and my parents will have to spend more money on me. i feel like an idiot in a school full of crazy smart people. idk what to do cuz i try really hard but with no gains in marks.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am going into ECE at UW for Fall 2015 and this post really helped me. I have a question though. Since you said the classes you took in 1B are useful in landing a job, do you recommend stream 8 over stream 4 in terms of finding a job the first coop term?

    • Hi Lydia,

      Apologize for our late reply! We are about to gear up for finals happening this month.

      Nikhil and I are both in stream four, so it is quite bias of us to suggest a stream over another. However, in both streams, finding your first coop job will be somewhat difficult than usual, as compared to upper year students, you obviously lack the experience to do so (not significantly lower. Upper year tends to have a 90% employment rate, while first years have around 75-85% employment rate).

      In terms of picking a stream, you need to ask yourself this question: do you want to start making money as soon as possible, or do you want to stay in school a little bit longer to get used to university? There is no “good” stream that you should pick: its your personal preference!

    • Nikhil Ramburrun

      April 7, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      That greatly depends on your experience before coming to University. By that I mean your technical skills, programming or electrical or embedded systems related experience. If you don’t have much, I would say 1B can help with Java and Android Development, but keep in mind, people in 1B who already have their experience can get more experience with what the courses offer.
      That being said, this term has been weird in terms of employment rates; it was slightly lower than usual, compared to Fall. It might just be something random though. (I’m just saying based on what I see, please refer to stats for more accurate stuff).
      Terms do not really matter so much and like David said, it depends whether you want to make money first or not.
      since you DO have time, approx 5 months before university starts. I would suggest start learning something you’re interested in.

      If you like programming or web dev, then make your own website or design some cool things. Learn Java, do an Android Application, maybe make a simple game, or do Python; there’s literally everything online.
      If you like electrical and hardware stuff, you MAY want to invest in an Arduino Kit to do projects, it gives a pretty good introduction to embedded systems and hardware. Enough to do some cool projects on your own (Also helps you code in C/C++, but its not really coding and programming).

      Hope that helps 🙂 Welcome to UW

      • Thank you! I have decided to go with stream 4 so I can have a break from the heavy workload. To me, the academic pressure might be more stressful than finding a job. The four-month break might be helpful in handling stress.

        I do not have any technical skills nor do I have any programming knowledge as I never considered electrical engineering until I received my offer. I do have experience interacting with people as I am involved with some leadership activities. I tutor at my school, teach English in the community, run a youth-led organization, and lead a few clubs at school. I am wondering if these high school activities hold any weight in finding a job in the engineering field. I do realize that UW is filled with brilliant individuals so I plan to learn some programming skills in the summer to make myself somewhat comparable to others.

        Your suggestions are priceless! They saved me a great amount of time searching on the internet trying to find something useful. Your help is greatly appreciated!

  3. Thank you all for posting so many useful posts!
    I just finished 1B and started my second co-op. Although I did well on academic studying but I know I am pretty lack of social skills and time management. Most of my time I just did assignments and played games. I really want to fit in here cuz I feel you as an international student when I read those sentences. Your posts really encouraged me a lot but I still have a long road to go. If I have any problem can I just go find you guys for counselling?

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