10 Ways An Engineering Degree Gave Me A Crash Course In Life

by Rubina Singh

The saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" never seemed as apt as it does when I think back to my old school days.

The past six years of engineering were filled with hard work, sleepless nights, excessive caffeine intake and occasional naps in the library.

But it paid off, and here I am loving every moment of my life as a "working professional."

I have realized that the real world is remarkably different to school, yet trying to graduate felt awfully similar to trying to make it on your own in the real world.

Though Bernoulli’s principle or the laws of thermodynamics might not be very useful after school is finished, engineering taught me some valuable lessons that have helped me navigate through life after school, and occasionally rock at it.

Whether it's meeting deadlines at work, getting along with your colleagues or partying hard over the weekend, engineering school taught me how to have it all (almost).

So all of you out there who are still in school, hang in there because you might not know it yet, but you’re basically getting a crash course in surviving life.

Here are 10 life lessons I learned from engineering school.

1. The first year is the hardest.

In our freshman year, we were required to cover the fundamentals of algebra, calculus, physics, materials sciences and basic computing.

It was a struggle trying to ingest all this knowledge in two semesters.

Moreover, settling into university, making friends and finding a place for yourself all made it a tumultuous and overwhelming roller coaster ride.

It wasn't for the weak, and we witnessed our class size drop to half. However, those who had buckled their seat belts and held on tight emerged on the other side.

We survived our first year and things would only get better. Life works in a similar way, whether it be the first year in a new city, new job, or a new relationship.

First year is full of unexpected events and surprises. It can be challenging and overwhelming, and despite the urge to give up, we need to hold on.

Because when the year ends, you'll be glad you did. You would have a new perspective, new knowledge and a sense of how things work. From then on, the ride will become easier.

2. It gets bad before it gets better.

If you thought first year was hard, wait for the second, third or your final year thesis. All of a sudden, those four years are over and you'd do anything to get them back.

Were they painful? Most certainly yes, but they taught us everything we needed to know.

We made some friends for life while trying to figure out that equation we still can't solve, but with every passing year it got better.

Definitely not easier, but we got better and learned that welcoming challenges instead of dreading them makes the journey more enjoyable.

In the past (not too many) years of adulthood, I've realized that sometimes things just don't seem to be going your way, and the world seems unfair, but it usually gets a little bad before it gets better.

3. If it's broken, fix it.

In electronics lab, the LED on the printed circuit board just refused to light up and in the design class, my simulations wouldn’t work.

But, in engineering school, you can't give up and move on to the next assignment because it won't be any easier.

When something wasn’t working, we’d have to keep going at it until we got to the root cause and fixed it.

That was pretty much every semester, but the sense of accomplishment that rushes through you when that simulation finally runs is unparalleled.

It was frustrating and time-consuming, but engineering taught me that taking the time to fix the problem instead of replacing/discarding it is worth the work.

This applies to life, as well, particularly in relationships. Giving up and finding new friends might seem like a good idea at the time, but it’ll come with its own set of issues.

It's never too late to fix something that worked perfectly once upon a time, and probably totally worth it.

4. Hard work is overrated; smart work is the key.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to dispute the old adage that hard work bears fruit. It definitely does, and it totally pays off.

But engineering school taught me that smart work pays off faster. Spending time thoroughly understanding a concept was always more useful than dedicating hours to solving every possible problem in the book.

Sometimes a few moments of inspiration are worth more than hours of tedious work.

Engineering school taught me that there’s always a simpler and more efficient way of doing things.

We just need to look for it instead of laboriously trudging on with a problem without stopping to think about it.

It’s the same with life; while some people slog, some others seem to cruise along effortlessly because they work smart not hard.

5. It's a struggle, but it'll be worth it.

The endless cups of coffee, sleepless nights, tears, hysterical laughter and pangs of despair will all be worth it in the end.

The harder the challenge, the greater the sense of accomplishment will be. After every semester ended, I felt I’d forgotten what I learned, but engineering teaches you in surprising ways.

You’ll know much more than you thought at that time. Moreover, it isn’t just the struggle, but also the people you’ll meet.

Some will help you and facilitate the formation of lifelong bonds, while others will challenge you, and each will shape you as a person.

6. It might not make sense, but it'll work out in the end.

Life doesn't make sense. They say everything happens for a reason, but who knows? Sometimes we're lucky to figure it out in retrospect, and sometimes we've yet to see the reason.

But, if there's one thing engineering has taught me, it's that it might not make sense until the end.

It's never as bad as it seems during the struggle, so keep the faith.

7. Productive procrastination might get you the job.

University is a place that inspires you. It’s also a place where you can find a plethora of distractions to help you procrastinate when the next assignment is due.

Wasting hours watching TV, getting drunk every night or doing nothing instead of working on assignments didn’t get me anywhere.

However, mentoring a new student, getting a part-time job, conducting research and applying to random jobs online opened doors I didn’t even know existed.

I filled out an application for a summer program scholarship in Japan on a topic I didn't know much about, and that scholarship might have been one of the best things that happened to me.

It led me to realize my passion, meet amazingly smart people who opened me up to many new opportunities and helped me land my dream job in renewable energy.

Maybe if I hadn’t procrastinated before that assignment I would’ve been working elsewhere, still trying to find what I want to do in life.

I feel life works the same way. There are opportunities floating all around us, waiting to be discovered. Maybe using your time to procrastinate constructively will open up unforeseen doors to new opportunities.

8. Teamwork makes the dream work.

We're all geniuses in our own way, but sometimes, it takes more than one head to come up with a solution.

Engineering school presented us with complicated problems and equations that seemed impossible to solve, but together we figured it out.

Life can be handled on its own, but it's easier with some help, whether it be collaborating with colleagues at work or spending time with friends. Having a team by your side is always a good idea.

9. Stay optimistic.

There were times during junior and senior year when the pile of work loomed above our heads like a towering mountain; when the nights seemed sleepless and the future seemed bleak; when commencement, the light at the end of the tunnel, was a tiny flicker in the distance.

Would I be able to keep my part-time job to pay for school, continue dancing, make the most of my last year with friends and still graduate with first-class honors?

It was hard to stay optimistic, and the emphasis on being practical didn’t help. But if there’s one thing engineering school taught me, it is to stay optimistic.

It might not seem doable, and it won’t seem practical either, but stay optimistic and persevere. You might be surprised by the results. I know I was.

Looking at the world, you can see there are a lot of incredible achievements, and people who are larger than life.

They didn’t get there by being pessimistic about their actions or even practical with their expectations; they got there by believing in themselves and being optimistic about the future even when the odds were against them.

Staying optimistic is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. You need to believe in your dreams for the universe to make them come true.

10. It takes pressure to turn coal into a diamond.

I absolutely needed my beauty sleep until engineering school happened. All-nighters and getting an average of three hours of sleep at times became common before finals week, but soon I realized the pressure just made me stronger.

Loud, obnoxious roommates? I learned to sleep through that. Last-minute meeting prep? Nothing an all-nighter can't help get done. A sudden deadline? Bring it on.

Engineering school, as stressful as it can be sometimes, might also be the best thing that happens to you because for a minute there at graduation, you feel you're invincible.

You went in a caterpillar and emerged a butterfly ready to take on the world. You never thought you'd make it, but you did.

Once you’re in the real world, you’ll be able to deal with unpleasant situations, difficult people, pressure to perform and last-minute deadlines without the stress getting to you. Four years in engineering school prepared you for just that, and so much more.