Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Inside Scoop from an Engineering School Tour Guide

For the last two years, I have led tours of Penn Engineering, or as some of us call it “Penngineering.” Maybe you’ve seen me drag nervous high schoolers and their nervous parents through the Engineering Quad, or maybe you’ve been on one of my tours! I love guiding tours and answering questions of prospective students. I joined the Advancing Women in Engineering Board to help improve Penn Engineering by giving advice (for what its worth) to younger female students and plan useful and fun events for women in engineering.  I’ve had tours with two people and I’ve had tours with more than thirty people and I hear a lot of the same questions. I wanted to take the chance to answer some of these frequently asked questions here!

What programs are offered here?
There are six engineering departments: Bioengineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Computer Science Engineering, Electrical and Systems Engineering, Material Science Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Within these different departments, there are different majors that are either Bachelor of Science in Engineering, BSE, or Bachelor of Applied Science, BAS, degrees. Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees have more required engineering/major specific coursework and are accredited engineering programs while Bachelor of Applied Science allow you to take a more flexible engineering schedule. For a complete list check out: http://www.seas.upenn.edu/undergraduate/degrees/index.php

What’s M&T? How do I apply for M&T?
            M&T Program is the Management and Technology Program. Students enrolled in this program take coursework in Engineering and in Wharton (Penn’s undergraduate business school). Some students get out in four years, others it takes longer, but you take all the courses at the same time.  For more information: http://www.upenn.edu/fisher/index.html

Can you manage pre-med and BSE in Bioengineering?
As a Bioengineering major, many of my friends are interested in pursuing a degree in medicine. While I have decided to wait to apply to medical school, many of my senior friends have been admitted to medical schools already! The bioengineering BAS and BSE degrees both overlap significantly with pre-med coursework. You will just have to take organic chemistry I, II, laboratory, and an extra English course.

I know the job market is tough these days. Does anyone have jobs here?
Almost everyone I know in Engineering has plans for after graduation, which is quite different than my friends in the College of Arts and Sciences. Many people use On Campus Recruiting and Career Services to find summer jobs and jobs for after graduation. Penn Engineering puts on its own Career Fairs for engineering specific positions. In addition to traditional industry engineering jobs, there are plenty of opportunities such as graduate school, research, consulting, and finance that you should look into once you’re here. Check out this link to surveys about what people do after Penn: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/undergrad/reports.html

What’s the class size like?
It depends on what year you are. Freshman year, class sizes are larger as you are laying the groundwork for upper level engineering coursework with courses such as physics, chemistry, and math. These courses are often shared with students in the College of Arts and Sciences, although there are some engineering specific sections. These courses can range from fifty to over one hundred students. Each of these courses has a smaller recitation section of ten to fifteen students so that individual questions can be answered. As classes become major specific, the class size is smaller and you will get to know your professors very well.

Can you do anything else besides work as an engineer?
I get this question all the time. Everyone I know does something besides just homework. Time management is something that you will get good at as an engineer, as engineers definitely have the most amount of work and arguably the most numbers of class time per week out of the Wharton, College of Arts and Sciences, and Nursing students. I was in an a cappella group, on the AWE Board, a member of a community service organization, and in a sorority during my four years here.

Do people do research as undergrads and how do they get into that?
Tons of engineers participate in research as undergraduates. You can do research in any department at Penn whether its engineering or the medical school or the biology department.  CURF, the Center for Undergraduate Research, has lists of research teams and laboratories at Penn as well as contact information. I always encourage people to read through some of the research blurbs and see what sparks your interest. Also, if the lab you are interested in cannot pay you, then try an independent study! If you can identify a topic and come up with a research proposal, you can try to count your research as a course for a semester. Here’s the link to the CURF website if you’re interested: http://www.upenn.edu/curf/

Is there an engineering dorm?
There is no engineering specific dorm, but a lot of engineers choose to live at Hill because it’s across the street from the Engineering Quad. There is also a Science and Technology Wing (STWING) in Kings Court-English House if you are interested in living around engineers and other science nerds like me. Check out STWING here: http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/

How many hours of sleep do you get?
As a freshman, I think I got 2 hours of sleep total, but that was because I was so excited to be here! There are certain semesters when life gets very busy and you will only get about five-six hours a night on average. Early classes and late nights of work can interrupt your sleep cycle. But now that I am a senior, I am sleeping at least eight hours every night!

Penn Engineering has been a wonderful, challenging environment for me. I hope this blog post has answered a few of the questions you may have had about Penn Engineering. Hope to see you on a tour soon! 

More questions for Catherine?  Contact her at awe@seas.upenn.edu!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sexism and Computer Science

What is a “brogrammer” and why is it offensive, anyways? 

This is the question a group of computer science students tried to answer earlier this week at an Open Forum discussion.  Tess, one of the freshmen attendees gives a great summary of the event and attempts to answer the question of why anyone should care about sexist language anyway.  Read Tess' thoughts here and an article from the DP here

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writing and the Engineer

When I was in high school, I loved to read, but was never particularly concerned with developing my writing skills beyond reasonable proficiency, or what was required for the SAT subject test.  I always knew I'd be studying math or engineering, and because I was pigeonholed by some of my teachers as a "math" kid, I figured, why bother?  The fact that my undergraduate university was an engineering school that didn't even offer majors in English, History, or Literature but rather a broad and nebulous  "Humanities" department, just reinforced my apathy.  I impressed my friends by figuring out a way to work the system and fulfill my school's "humanities" major with a bunch of paper-free Economics theory courses.  Of course I opted for the non-thesis option in my major.  By midway through college, I figured I was home free.  Why waste time developing my writing skills when I could work on becoming a better coder or take another math class?     

It wasn't until I was an upperclassman in undergrad that I began to question my attitude.  At some point in junior year, I suddenly found myself suffocating under an avalanche of writing tasks.  Every opportunity I wanted to pursue -- from graduate school, to fellowships, to study abroad opportunities, to cover letters for jobs -- required thousands of words worth of essays.  As I delved more deeply into my undergraduate research project and my work became more sophisticated, I found that others expected to write up my own results for conferences, posters, and journals in complete paper form -- tasks I'd always assumed would fall to my supervisor.  I started to struggle with anxiety about applying for anything or pushing forth with various aspects of my education because I lacked confidence in my ability to express myself.  My weak foundation had become a liability.

As one of my college professors told me, "Even in engineering, what you say is often less important than how you say it."  Now that I am working towards a Ph.D., I see my professor's wisdom in action every day.  No matter how impressive your accomplishments, anyone reviewing your cover letter or essay making the case for your acceptance may be unable to look past poor syntax and grammar, or an unsophisticated vocabulary.   Similarly, incoherent writing that lacks structure, and even pretentious writing, can obscure the meaning of one's results, causing the reader to miss the essential point.  Once I realized how vitally important self-expression is, I took steps during college to strengthen my writing:
1) I started writing for various campus publications.  I wrote for a human rights publication and became an editor for my university's undergraduate research journal.  I found learning to deal with strict deadlines taught me to write in a time-efficient and focused way.  As a Penn student, you are in luck, because of the sheer number of extracurricular organizations that publish newsletters or journals offers myriad opportunities to get involved.  I believe that it really doesn't matter what you are writing, as long as your activity forces you to exercise your "writer's muscle." 
2) I took two first-rate writing seminars that greatly improved my written output.  The first was a course on reading and writing the essay, and the second was technical writing course geared towards students writing theses.  Having my writing critiqued by my classmates in an intimate setting was terribly intimidating at first, but knowing several pairs of eyes judging my work at close range motivated me to do my very best work each time.
3) I made extensive use of the resources offered by my school's writing tutors, course TAs, and writing center to review papers for classes and research write-ups before I presented them to my research advisor.  I have been told both as an undergrad and during my time here at Penn that these resources are consistently underused by engineering and science students, who either lack confidence in their work and feel going to the writing center would be an imposition, or just don't know about these sources of support.
4) I started a personal journal online in which I have kept a record of every major academic undertaking since college, which I still maintain.  Not only do I have a complete record of my important academic experiences, research progress, and life milestones to look back on, but I also have a consistent tool for improving my writing, even when I am not doing any formal writing for school.    

I have benefited immensely from these activities, not only as a student, but also during stints in the corporate world.  In my experience, good writing habits should be an essential part of any engineer’s tool chest, and we should all prioritize improving our writing.

Questions for Shaudi?  E-mail her at awe@seas.upenn.edu