The Stream Shuffle – Switching Streams

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Having changed the sequence of my work terms and study terms two times during my as of yet uncompleted post-secondary education, I’m in a reasonably experienced and appropriate position to tell you that not only is it not difficult, but it is often a rewarding experience. A sequence change is any change to the order of your work terms and or study terms, be it doing a double work-term, eliminating a work term from your schedule, or even taking time off from your studies. If a student is looking to go through with any of these actions, they must submit an application for Course and Work Term Sequence Change.

Despite the seemingly confusing paper work, and the sometimes-less-than-effective University bureaucracy, switching streams is, as John Westlake put it, “…pretty straight forward process”, and there are “…very rarely any problems.” Socially, though, it can be both very rewarding and very difficult.

Having first switched from ASoc to BSoc by doing a double work term, then switching back by taking a year off school, I’ve been given the opportunity to experience many of both the pluses and the minuses of stream switching. While some students are required to switch streams because of difficulties in their studies, the majority of Engineering students who go through the process do so voluntarily.

According to John Westlake, the CECS (Cooperative Education and Career Services) Program Administrator for the Engineering Department, of the 25 to 30 students who apply for a sequence change every term, the most common reason is to work with an employer for a second official work term. Additionally, it seems that these requests are very rarely refused. Possible reasons for refusal include the change would result in a student having fewer than 5 work terms, which is insufficient to graduate.

The first step is to check with your Undergraduate Associate Chair to ensure that the sequence change is academically ok. Next, download and print the application form from http://www.cecs.uwaterloo.ca/students/pdf/stream_switch.pdf or pick one up from your program’s office. Once the form is filled out and submitted to the program chair, it is reviewed and passed on to CECS for review. The entire review and approval process takes approximately one week, so because the administration will not contact you, it is suggested you check in with CECS or the registrar’s office to confirm the change after a week has passed.

Once the process has been completed, all that is left is for you to adjust socially. It is somewhat ironic that many of the drawbacks of this process are also the strong points.

The first, and most obvious, drawback is that you will be leaving your classmates and many of your friends behind in the other stream. You’ve spent a lot of effort getting to know the social ins and outs of your class – and by now you know who is good to work with, and who you should avoid come group project time. While it is difficult to go through this process again with a new group of students – it is easier the second time around, and you are guaranteed to meet a number of people who approach problems differently than your old classmates – increasing not only your sphere of friends, but also enriching your problem-solving abilities. Similarly, for those involved in the Engineering Students Society, while the switch from ASoc to BSoc may cause some stress, it’s quite rewarding to see exactly how the two societies differ, and to learn from the strengths of each.

The second most obvious drawback is returning to school if your sequence change involves an 8-month work term. While it is difficult to switch from the “working and have money” mode to “studying and having none” mode, it is not as difficult as one may think. Eight months is a long time when your life is normally based on a four-month cycle, and after the double work term, studying is a welcome break from the drudgery of nine-to-five work hours.

A problem, or benefit, that many people often over look or underestimate is subletting. If you plan to sublet – fine. Finding an apartment is rarely a problem. Subletting, however, is. While the stream switch could, at first, make the sublet easy (you now know many, many off-stream people), it could also makes subsequent sublets that much more difficult, as you don’t know the one-stream people nearly as well as you are used to. If you are planning on switching your course sequence, be sure to plan to spend a lot of effort finding a sub letter (this should become somewhat easier in the future, considering the double-cohort set to enter the University this fall). By similar rules, the sequence change can make it easier, or more difficult, for you to sell and buy used books. Remember to plan in advance.

The final, and possibly the most difficult, social change is the possibility of delaying your graduation. To many people the year of their graduation is a mark of achievement (these people refuse to buy their leather jackets till their 4B term to be sure); to others it is a matter of little consequence (these people can ignore this advice). It is important that before you make a sequence change, you know which type of person you are, and you investigate whether the change will result in you graduating a year later than originally planned. Keep in mind, however, that it is not the end of the world if you graduate in 2005 when your jacket says 04. The purpose of our program is not just to fill our heads with math, physics and chemistry, but to make us into Engineers –conscious and socially aware people. It is important that one realize a course sequence change is most likely going to help you get more from your University career – you are tailoring your education to suit your interests – so your actual year of graduation is irrelevant. Students, and students’ parents, often place too much significance on the digits following the phrase “class of…”

While it’s a simple matter administratively, there is always the possibility of problems. While it’s a simply matter socially, there is always the possibility of problems. In short – one should always plan for the sequence change – don’t let it just happen. Don’t try to force it through at the last moment. Take the time to make sure it is processed correctly not just by administration – but also by your own mind.

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