I sat in Lecture Theatre 7 (LT7) for the first time surrounded by students from all over the world. We were eager to find out what the future held for us as the Dean of Electrical and Computer Engineering tried to inspire us and sow the seeds of excellence into us. I turned left and smiled at my new friend from Hanoi. I could see the nervous excitement in her eyes. A sense of mystery and anticipation that stems from new beginnings.
A quick scan across the entire row revealed my batchmates to be in the same state. The ceremony ended with the descent of a cloud of balloons with the NUS colours. It was 2011.
I stuffed my computer into my bag and picked up my sunglasses from my bedside table. I was almost late formy last lecture in university. I ran out and managed to get onto the shuttle bus. In a few minutes, I was in the lecture theatre. The lecturer was droning on about information security and authorization tokens. My mind drifted off as I started taking stock of my time as a computer engineer at NUS
1. Most of the learning happens outside the classroom.
Lectures and tutorials might be a good place to get some exposure to the course matter and gain a rudimentary understanding. However, in my experience, most of the learning occurs when I’m mulling around a difficult problem in my head or discussing problems with my friends.
Not only is this a good way to solve problems and gain insight into different ways of approaching problems, it’s a great way to get to know your batch mates and learn from them. Not only will it allow you to make friends, expand your social circle and explore novel solutions to problems – you’ll end up building a network of trust and resourcefulness you can always count. Real learning isn’t just about managing good grades, it involves managing your life and inculcating the ability to pick up new things and make connections into your daily life.
2. Give freely and help openly.
Be generous with helping your batch – mates. They are your life – line to surviving university. Spend an hour helping someone with a submission or an assignment instead of watching the latest Big Bang Theory episode. Relationships last much longer than university.
3. Spend some time exploring the real – world.
Assignments may help you understand subject matter but have a contrived purpose. Spend some of your breaks interning with companies or working on research projects for a well – rounded skillset. The IA programmes at NUS and NTU are good opportunities to get this experience. This real – world industrial experience goes a long way in preparing you for the workplace and what to expect in a corporate environment.
4. Self learning and the art of ABC.
Despite having multiple lectures, tutorials, lab sessions and consultations – university is really about figuring things out on your own whether it’s with regard to academics or even life. One of the things (specific to computer engineering) I learned was ABC – always be coding. It’s great to always have a project to work on that will allow you to sharpen your skills and gain industry experience. ABC has also allowed me to learn things for myself and gain a perspective I wouldn’t have been able to by merely following coursework.
5. Be the worst member of the band.
Legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny once said, “Always be the worst member in the band”. You be part of several project teams during your time in university. Although it’s not feasible to always have teammates who have a better understanding or more experience, it’s always good to work with team mates who can teach you things.
Working in a team with more experienced students will not only push you to perform to actually perform better than you think you can but also learn from their experience. This combination actually leads to rapid growth and learning that surpasses traditional textbook learning.
6. Follow your own learning curve.
The emphasis on academic excellence and competition is fairly high during university life. It’s quite easy to get caught up in a race where learning takes a back seat and the focus is on academic performance. This may have short – term benefits but it’s important to realise that true grasp of the subject and academic performance don’t always go hand in hand. It’s important to take some time off academics and work on real – world projects or invest time in acquiring new skills inside your field of study. Real Learning transcends university and goes on till the end of your career. Therefore, making time to learn industry relevant tools and theory is crucial.
To conclude, university life as an engineer is a great time to learn, grow, make friends and avail opportunities generously provided by university. Make the most of your undergraduate life!