Monday, May 7, 2012

Electrical Engineering

Before I move on to talk about my internship experiences, I wanted to talk a little more about what college was like my third semester.

I had finished the project that the Band had needed a work-study student to do, so I had to find a different job.  Brian had done well enough in school the last year, that he also needed to get a job. So we both started working at the cafeteria in his dorm.

My schedule was too full for me to work much during the week.  Every day, I had classes starting around 7:30 or 8:30, something mid-day that interfered with working a lunch shift, and band until 5:30 pm.  Also, Band took up most of my Saturdays.  I might have had a breakfast shift, but mostly I worked the Sunday brunches.

It took a little bit of getting used to, but I turned out to have a talent for what they called "bussing," keeping the lines stocked with food, plates, trays, glasses, silverware & napkins.  Everybody seemed to come through the line for Sunday brunch, whether they had slept through church, or were coming back from it, so we were hopping from the moment the doors opened until we closed down the cafeteria afterwards.  It was actually kinda fun.

When we met, Brian was the shutterbug.  (This seemed to reverse when we graduated from college.  The digital camera was more "mine."  But now we usually use our phones, so it's evening out.)  I didn't usually spend money to purchase film, and then it cost more money to develop it and see the results.  So I don't think I have a lot of pictures of him from college, but here's one:

His dorm room.  I didn't have a TV, or game console.

This is me, in front of the Bell Tower construction:

One of my aunts gave me the t-shirt.

Throughout elementary and high school, I had been an A-B student, accustomed to getting good grades.  But as I came up against other top engineering students in linear circuit analysis and optics, I struggled.

Last year, the New York Times published an article entitled, "Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)." One sentence stands out for me:
Ben Ost, a doctoral student at Cornell, found in a similar study that STEM students are both “pulled away” by high grades in their courses in other fields and “pushed out” by lower grades in their majors.
This was definitely true for me.  All of a sudden, I was earning C's in the classes for my major.  While continuing to earn better grades outside my major, in the humanities.  I stuck with it because I wanted to be an engineer, but if I hadn't had my heart set on working for the space program, it would have been easy to give up.

One piece of advice I will give about GPA is this: Know what the school requires to graduate.
At Purdue's engineering schools, there was a saying: "D is for diploma," meaning that you won't be good at *everything* in your major.  Each of the schools of engineering have a variety of classes, some of which will be interesting and others will be a struggle.  If the class is a struggle, the first important thing is to pass.

I'm not saying that grades don't matter, because they do.  However, in "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell discusses the concept that there's a threshold, above which a higher score does not predict better success.  He first describes this in terms of IQ, that there is some score that is "Good Enough," and whether a scientist's IQ is 135 or 185, their likelihood of earning a Nobel Prize depends on other factors.

I seem to recall Gladwell extending that analogy to college degrees.  That any two students with the same degree, it wasn't their GPA that predicted success.  A GPA good enough to graduate was the threshold.

Grades do matter... to an extent.  To maintain my cooperative education status, I had to maintain a certain GPA.  But it wasn't as high as my high school GPA had been.  This was frustrating, upsetting.  I was not one to blow off classes and homework to go party.  I worked hard for the grades that I got, and was frequently disappointed to have "so little" to show for that work.