Welcome to First Year Engineering

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.

A warm welcome to all students entering their first year of engineering studies at Waterloo. You have entered one of the finest universities in Canada and this is an exciting point of time in your life. Being at university will provide many opportunities for personal and academic growth: to make new friends, to visit new places, to develop critical analysis skills and to develop a career of your choice. The years ahead will be some of the most challenging of your life, as well as some of the best years of your life. Your undergraduate degree will take approximately five years to complete and it is important that you start this process with a little bit of care and planning. The First Year Engineering Office is here to help you plan and manage the transition from High School and home to a new environment in the university.

Starting university is also synonymous with becoming an adult. You have the freedom to do what you like and also the responsibility of taking care of yourself. It is your choice to attend classes, complete assignments or write exams; however, we highly recommend that you do all of these things as they will benefit you greatly. The decisions that you make now will have far reaching consequences later in your life. So, choose wisely!

Let me give you some tips on what to expect and on how to succeed in engineering at Waterloo.

What to Expect in Your 1A term: Each one of you will have approximately 30 hours per week of scheduled lectures, tutorials and laboratory periods during the 1A term. In addition, you will have to put in approximately 20-30 hours per week to study, review concepts and to finish assignments and reports. This adds up to 50-60 hours per week of work, it is more than a full time job! To manage this workload you may have to change your study habits and how you manage your life. Let me give you some tips on things that work, and some that do not work:

  • Attend classes. Follow along with what the instructor is teaching in class. Ask questions. During classes do not logon to Facebook, do not watch videos or play games on your computer.
  • Review your course material and complete assignments on a regular weekly basis. Do not try to cram the day before exams.
  • Understand the underlying concepts that you are studying in class, instead of memorizing formulae. Solve problems to evaluate your understanding of concepts.
  • Do not skip lectures and expect to learn everything by yourself from textbooks and notes. The internet is a wonderful creation, however, it does not contain the answers to all your assignments nor solutions to all your problems. Do not work late into the night on a regular basis.

Balance your Life: Your first thought when starting your university career maybe at one end of two extremes, either to study-study-study, or possibly, party-party-party. Neither of these extremes is the ideal choice and, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. Let me suggest that a complete human being is made up of three major parts: mind, body and soul. To be successful in life you need to nurture all of these parts because they depend on each other for survival. For your mind you need to spend time studying and developing critical analysis skills; for your body you need to eat, sleep and exercise regularly; and for your soul you need to relax with friends or take part in extra-curricular activities. Not only do you have to nurture all three parts, you need to balance the amount of time spent on each activity. And, just to make it clear, balance during your university life means studying is the major activity you are expected to do, but without ignoring other aspects of life.

You will also find that time will become an important resource that is in short supply during your undergraduate career. There will never be enough time to complete all the tasks to the degree of satisfaction that you would like. Thus, you will have to set priorities and spend an appropriate amount of time on each task. To help you with this process it is important that you make a schedule for all these activities. Not only should you make a schedule, you must follow it and make adjustments to it as you go along.

In summary, there are three major things to consider during your undergraduate studies, they are neither study-study-study, nor party-party-party. Instead, they are mind-body-soul, and the balance between them.

Ask for Help: All engineering programs are demanding and have heavy workloads. The workload may result in limited time to understand a concept, finish an assignment or project, or prepare for an exam. This is why it is important to make a time schedule and to use it everyday of your life. The lack of time may also cause stress in your life. In these situations you will need help with your studies or personal life. Keep in mind that asking for help maybe the better choice under the circumstances, as opposed to doing everything yourself or doing nothing. Also remember there is no shame in asking for help at anytime you feel the need.

There are many sources of academic help available at the university. First will be your classmates and friends studying the same or similar subjects. Help is also available from your course instructors and teaching assistants during lectures and tutorials, and outside class hours by making appointments to see them in their office. Additional help is available through special staff and tutors hired by the First Year Office to help you with your courses. The Director and Associate Director of First Year Engineering are also available to provide academic counselling of a more general nature, for example, in case your academic performance is not meeting the standards we expect of all students, or you want to take extra courses during your normal study or work terms, or courses at another university. Please make use of all these resources.

To get help with stress, personal issues, and to learn study and time management skills you can come to Counselling Services. There are Engineering Counsellors available within the First Year Office, or you can go to Needles Hall for additional university Counselling Services. For your physical health you have access to doctors and nurses on campus at Health Services. It is important that you inform the First Year Office in case you are dealing with significant personal or medical issues during your study term, specially if you are going to miss classes, exams or not complete assignments during the term.

Information and access to all these kinds of help can be obtained by coming to the First Year Office in CPH 1320, or by calling extension 84761 during normal working hours.

Be Professional: Engineering, like many other programs, such as, medicine, law and accounting, are called professional programs. The reason is that the work done by these professionals can, and does, affect the lives of many people. As a result, professionals are expected to adhere to high standards in their dealings with other people and amongst themselves. To help you develop as a professional person, we expect you to behave in a professional way with your fellow students, teaching assistants, instructors and the entire university staff in general. This includes your jobs during Co-op work terms as well. Any unprofessional behaviour during your university career can have serious consequences and, depending upon the seriousness of the misdeed, it can lead to loss of marks in a course, or all the way to expulsion from the university.

Being a professional means being ethical, courteous and considerate in all your dealings and communicating your ideas and thoughts clearly. Being professional in a classroom will mean not disturbing your fellow students or the instructor by talking in class. Being professional to your fellow students will mean treating everybody equally and without prejudice, regardless of their race, colour, creed, sex or religion. Being a professional means not to lie, cheat or copy on assignments and exams. Being professional means giving credit where it is due, without misrepresenting somebody else’s work as yours. Being a professional is all about doing the right thing at the right time. Remember that engineering is a demanding program and you maybe tempted, due to a lack of time, to cut corners. Resist this temptation. If you are ever in doubt about what is professional or not, ask an instructor or teaching assistant to help you decide.

I wish you all a successful career in engineering and a enjoyable time at University of Waterloo.

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