How you plan your degree vs how it goes

When you begin your degree at this university or any university, like any first-year student, you walk in with a solid plan on how your academic development is going to go for the next four years. You will start first year strong achieve amazing grades in first year, get into your preferred program, then another three years of pure academic dedication and then walk out of this university with a smile on your face and a graduation photo on your dad’s desk of you in your graduation gown. A lot of us start our university careers with these thoughts in our heads. But ask anyone and they will all tell you the same thing: things did not go according to plan. And for the majority of them, things took a turn for the better!

Of course, the very first thing that will change your degree plans is when you receive your offers into the various engineering programs. For some students it goes exactly like planned, they get their first choice and for other students, they get put into a program they were not that excited to get into. It happens to a fair number of students, many of my friends too.

Then the second change in your four-year academic plan comes. Co-ops. Being an international student, I wasn’t aware this was something that we could do in the middle of our degrees. Work with amazing companies across Canada, gain invaluable experience, and graduate with a good understanding of engineering principles. However, it adds a year to your degree and requires you to move some courses here and there which the faculty and co-op offices help to navigate very well.

And to be honest, if you are passing all your courses, those are the only two major 2 changes you have to account for unless a major unprecedented global pandemic that will collapse the economy takes over the world.

COVID-19 was the wild card that graduates of 2020, 2021, and 2022 could not have planned for at all. Even the Canadian government couldn’t see this one coming, so you can’t expect a student running on caffeine and pizza to predict it either. I was caught in this pandemic towards the almost beginning of my final year at university.

My initial plans were to start working for a company in May 2021 which I had built a profile in through my coops. But as the pandemic unfolded, that sector went under, and people started getting fired, and hiring freezes started. A future in that sector no longer looked promising. And then within three hours, I changed my entire plan for the next two years. I decided to extend my co-op with the company I was working for that summer till December and do another eight-month co-op in a different sector the following year and finish off my degree in May 2022.

My reasoning? The industry I was working in was Oil and Gas and was all set to work full time in that sector. Once hiring freezes began, a PEng at the company advised me to not bank on the full-time opportunity anymore. He also advised me to look if I could push my degree out by another year to make sure I graduate in a better market. Because May 2021 was not a hot time for recent graduates. The market was still struggling to recover. So I decided that during that extra gap I would take, I had the prime opportunity to diversify my portfolio a bit more. So I decided to do an eight-month term in the renewable energy sector. And then in September 2021, we started in-person classes again.

What I wanted to get across from this post is this. When you start university, its good to have a plan for the next four to six years. It will help guide a lot of your decisions. But also make sure you keep the flexibility to alter those plans as situations change, opportunities arise, economies fall. Because we live in a world that changes literally every day and for an engineer of today, you need to learn to adapt to it.

Taking a Break: Extended Degrees and COVID-19

Last year was definitely a year of extenuating circumstance and I am not one to enjoy uncertainty.  I did however, take a leap and decide to extend my degree instead of graduating in 2021 as I had expected back in 2016 when I started my bachelors degree.  In this post I plan to go over my experience in taking an extra year including my reasons, my feelings, and recommendations for anyone thinking about extending their Mech degree.

My reasons for extending my degree

  1. Burnout and Mental Health – I’m sure this is a shared experience within Mech, but by the end of my 3.5 year I was very burnt out.  By this point 2 years ago, I was struggling to keep up with my studies.  My grades were declining and instead of being worried or scrambling to catch up, I felt an unnatural apathy.  During this period of time, I felt a loss of the enjoyment of studying and learning that once came natural to me, even though the topics we discussed in class were interesting, I felt detached and robotic.  Though this was the one of the main reason I extended, it was also a big reason I did not want to extend.  Part of me just wanted to push through, but today I am glad I did, I am in much higher spirits and have regained my passion for learning.
  2. Online Classes – Though the professors tried their best to accommodate and make class as engaging and useful as in-person, there are limitations to online communication.  For one, it made  comradery, group work and design projects harder. As I was going into my last year and was finally taking the technical electives and courses of interest that I had been waiting my whole degree to take, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience.  For example, courses like Orthopaedic Biomechanics (Mech 435) which normally lets students go watch surgeries or Capstone (Mech 45X) were limited in opportunities because of the pandemic.
  3. Loss of Facilities – One of the biggest advantages of being a Mech student is access to the great facilities available such as the student machine shop and student team spaces.  Spaces that I did not have access to last year and I am very excited now that I’m back in school to finish the projects I had planned for my last year.
  4. Opportunity to Try a New Industry – While deciding whether or not to extend, I did some co-op applications.  At the time I had already fulfilled all my term requirements for co-op but extra work experience never hurt anyone.  One of my goals during my schooling was to try out as many different industries while I was still a student.  Mechanical engineering is a degree which provides a great variety of industries and I wanted to take advantage of the short term internships to try new things.  I luckily got an 8 month internship at a great biomedical engineering company which broadened my portfolio.

Emotional Experience of Extending

When I started university in 2016, I worried about things like being able to finish “on-time” and graduating with all my friends.  To be honest, now I’m not sure what “on-time” means.  It turns out that half my friend group and my fellow Mech Ambassador Hamayun did the exact thing as me.  In a way, I still am graduating with a good number of my friends.  Some even decided after I did, knowing that someone else would be around for the extra year.  Considering that my career will be ~40 years long, will one more year in school matter.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I am enjoying this year a lot more.  My course load is lower, I am taking super interesting courses and my grades are much higher than before.  I am more productive, the burnout has significantly improved and even though I was very worried about whether I made a good decision initially, I have no regrets today and would encourage those who relate to any of the reasons I extended, to explore the opportunity.

Recommendations

Here are some things to consider if you are thinking of extending your degree based on my experience:

  1. Consider your financial situation – I worked co-op for 8 months of my extension and I am also a local student.  Unfortunately, scholarship or other financial limitations may limit your ability to follow in my footsteps.  If you are an international student, consider the price of staying around UBC for the extra time if you plan to stay in Vancouver during the extension.
  2. Check your course requirements when you come back to school – One of my necessary courses to graduate was Mech 429 which this year was moved to a 3rd year course and became Mech 329.  This meant that the course wasn’t in the fourth year standard time table.  The Mech Student Services Advisors are super friendly and helped me register smoothly (and easily) into the course with a simple email.  They can help you to navigate any changes in course requirements.
  3. Make friends in your classes – Group projects can run a lot smoother when you know people in your classes.  Unfortunately one of the bi-products of extending is knowing less people in your classes.  That being said, I have group projects in all but one of my classes this term and have been able to find great team mates.
  4. Have some fun – Burnout won’t go away without some real relaxation – SO RELAX.  I spent a lot of time playing video games, hanging out with friends (pandemic permitting) and exercising.

 

5 Unconventional Tips to Help You Master Online School in 2021

1. Use google docs during break-out rooms.

A guy in my breakout room suggested this, and honestly, it’s genius. You can keep track of what you’ve covered, giving yourself an excellent reference to cover points you might have missed or share with the class later. Using shared documents also means that people without hardware or people who might be uncomfortable speaking can still contribute their ideas. It’s a brilliant reference for future studying- I would seriously recommend trying this.

2. If you’re using your camera in your zoom lectures, hide yourself from view.

I can’t say I love turning on my cam at 8 am after pulling a hoodie over my pyjamas and rushing to make a coffee at 7:52 am, but using your camera in online lectures definitely has its pros. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that your camera could be hurting your performance.

This article from the Harvard Business Review suggests that seeing yourself on-screen (and watching others) can be a massive distraction and exhausting. When you have several different videos on screen, you can overwhelm yourself with visual stimuli. It may be worth setting the camera window to show only the speaker, or hide it altogether in some situations.

Researchers from Emory University and the University of Copenhagen found that images of yourself from a mirror (or in our case, a webcam) can induce feelings of anxiety, social-awkwardness, shame or embarrassment. Consider hiding yourself from view when using your webcam; you may notice a subtle difference in your confidence when interacting with your class.

3. Connect with nature.

Research suggests that connecting with nature can make us feel calmer, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can improve motivation, focus and performance.

If you can, set up a workspace next to a window, or maybe try and find a safe spot outside to get some reading done. If that’s not available to you, research claims that even just looking at images of nature have a similar effect. Perhaps you can change up your desktop background, print some cool pictures or invest in some lovely houseplants.

4. Bolster your social support network.

Online school can feel pretty isolating, especially if you are not living with family or roommates at the moment. When the workload gets tough, it’s important to have friends to turn to for support! Obviously, it’s a bit tough right now to meet new people and do things together in person. Still, the internet is a brilliant resource for finding new friends or cultivating existing friendships.

In 2020, I joined a Pokemon Shiny Hunters discord, reconnected with some old LoL friends, and formed an online D&D party. My online friends undoubtedly helped me get through the worst parts of 2020.  Online communities are a goldmine of like-minded people that you can de-stress and have a good time with, and thanks to the anonymity of the internet, it’s easier than ever to put yourself out there and make new friends.

If making friends in purely online communities isn’t for you, you can still reconnect online with some of your old IRL friends! Why not make a discord server with your friends from the first-year res, and play some games together?

Here are my recommendations for cheap and simple but fun party games:

  • Among us ($5.69 on PC, Free on mobile)
  • Jackbox Party Pack (~$34 on Steam/Most Consoles but you only need one purchase, and you can play it with up to 8 people using mobile phones as controllers
  • Scribbl.io (Free browser game!)
  • Other online classic board games such as Catan or  Chess (Free, but possibly costs some friendships). This website has a ton of interesting board games to try.

5. Be kind to yourself

It’s ok if online school isn’t your thing, grad school admissions officers or future employers understand that we are dealing with a global pandemic. One year of slightly lower grades is not going to ruin anything.

The most valuable skill I’ve learned in my three years at UBC is to be kind, patient and honest with myself, and to do my best. Put your mental and physical health first, and the rest will fall into place. Hang in there; you’ll get through this- I believe in you!!

Project Ideas for Curious Students (2020)

I get it. Since COVID hit, many of us have been trapped at home, wondering how to make the best of the excess time not available for socializing, travelling or just generally going outside.Or, maybe you are reading this post-pandemic, still wondering if there is more to engineering than equations and datasheets. Well, my dear reader, I empathize with you and would like to propose some of my own suggestions! 

First, a bit of background. I am a student in the Mechanical Engineering department here at UBC. The program itself is excellent; subjects are often well-integrated, and the faculty is aware of the need to tie theory with practice. Nonetheless, the allure of personal projects remains if you want to venture beyond the fundamentals taught in class, or to have total freedom regarding what you choose to create. 

There is one big challenge with mechanical projects: you may find yourself grappling with the financial burden of doing so or worried about the safety implications of your projectI say this because outside of my design team, I am often constrained by these limitationsThe goal of this blog series will be to highlight some of the resources available to students within the mechanical engineering department, and hopefully to give inspiration to those who are perhaps unsure of exactly what they want to create. 

See below for a list of all the blog posts in this series: 

Passion Projects 

Engineering Design Teams 

CAD and Simulation 

Software 

Project Ideas for Curious Students: Passion Projects

I have no shame in admitting that most of the ideas for my projects come into mind while I am bored of assignments. If I see value in a project and can afford to pursue it, I probably will. I do know people who take this to the extreme: a close friend of mine built a PID-controlled oven which can be pressurized or vacated of air, and thus used for manufacturing small, high-quality carbon fibre components.  

Depicted: my hydroponics system, for which I never hesitate to tell everybody about.

I actually think that there is value in pursuing projects in this manner. Ideas that get you excited are the ones that you should pay the most attention to; they are the most likely to keep you engaged, and will typically put you in a position where you learn much faster than if you were forced to do the work. When I started my hydroponics project, I did not expect to learn much more than I already knew about plants. Instead, I found myself learning about the mechanisms of nutrient uptake, and getting started with Arduino. As summarized by Marc Anthony, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think that in some cases where there is a market for your idea or if it is applicable to what you want to do, you may end up opening new opportunities for yourself in the future. Perhaps you found a passion that you never realized you had, or maybe you will find that it was not as exciting as you originally thought.  

Still in need of inspiration? Here is a list of ideas that might help to get your brain moving:  

  • Remote-controlled vehicles  
  • Robotic arms  
  • Drones  
  • CNC machines  
  • Car modifications  
  • Anything that uses a 3D printer

Many of these suggestions are relatively expensive, however the resources necessary to complete them are generally quite accessible. While COVID-19 restrictions confine many of us to our rooms, projects related to robotics, as well as drones often have a plethora of components that “just work” once you assemble them, massively simplifying the design and assembly process.   

Whatever you decide to pursue, be sure to check local regulations, your tenancy agreement and to never skimp on safety research! I remember how one of my projects made use of LiPo batteries, which my friend and I found can carry an explosion risk if overcharged, excessively discharged or punctured. Safe to say that the additional safety equipment, including an explosion-proof case were worth the investment. We also learned that there are licensing regulations around flying drones above a threshold size (250 grams in our case). Similarly, making my own hydroponic nutrient solution meant that I had to be familiar with any of the safety risks related to the chemicals that I had in use. With any project, the importance safety and compliance with restrictions cannot be understated.  

Project Ideas for Curious Students: Engineering Design Teams

This year marks my fourth year on Formula UBC, one of many engineering design teams at UBC. I can unequivocally say that it has been the highlight of my university experience so far. When I joined, I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I wanted to learn more about aerodynamics and CFD, but I never expected that 2 years later, I would be leading the aerodynamics sub-team. Even more so, I never anticipated learning anything about machining, composites or even race cars (shocking, I know). I never imagined myself running track tests or figuring out how to manage people. And I certainly never saw myself driving the car.  

You will often hear that the value of engineering design teams is that they are an opportunity to apply concepts learned in class to a real project. In my experience, there is a stark difference between knowing something, and understanding it well enough to apply the concept to a real system. Moreover, you get to see the result of your design decisions on a working (or failing) system.  

Depicted: formula UBC front wing during test day. Test days are used to verify that the final product behaves as intended in its design.

It also gives you the opportunity to explore far beyond what is taught in class: for example, composites manufacture and fluid dynamics simulation, to the best of my knowledge, are only taught in a very limited capacity. Outside of the Mech 2 curriculum, design teams are also a great way to link concepts from seemingly disparate subjects. On Formula, large projects cannot be completed successfully without adequate communication with members from other subteams, since these systems will have to be able to work together on the car. In some cases, such as with the pneumatics, different subsystems will be competing for the same resources.  

Beyond technical skills, the one experience I feel is often overlooked is interpersonal skills. Learning to manage others, to deal with an occasionally political environment and how to work with sponsors can prove to be a very humbling experience. Interpersonal skills come with experience, and learning them in a fast-paced environment is excellent practice for the “real world.” Your sponsors are real stakeholders, who often want to see a return on their investment of potentially thousands of dollars into your project through representation and promotion of their brand. Over the past year, I have truly begun to appreciate the significance of the proverb “if you want to go fast, go alone…if you want to go far, go together.” What my team has been able to accomplish by creating a healthy, collaborative team environment has been nothing short of amazing.  

If you are considering whether not you should join a design team, my answer to you is an emphatic YES! 

Project Ideas for Curious Students: CAD and Simulation

Fortunately, engineering coursework typically requires a fair amount of CAE (computer-aided engineering) software, which can double as a creative tool whenever you have an idea that you would like to experiment with. I have found that a good combination of CAD, simulation software and some programming is sufficient for a significant portion of the design of low-risk projects.

To those who are not yet aware, UBC Engineering students have free access to several software licenses specific to the engineering department:

MATLAB 

Matlab is a programming language built specifically for technical work. Many scripting languages require the addition of libraries for tasks such as data visualization for example, which Matlab excels at. Well-integrated with this is Simulink, which allows you to model relatively complex systems in a more intuitive manner than explicitly writing code.

Your coursework will do a good job at teaching you the basics of Matlab, which you can choose to take further on your own. For all engineering-focussed math courses including linear algebra, ordinary and partial differential equations, vector calculus and multivariable calculus, my coursework has included a heavy Matlab component.

If you are in an engineering design team or have a project that warrants large amounts of computation on a problem for which you cannot find ready-made software, this is always a good option. Matlab is also used commonly in industry. If you have graduated and are looking for a free alternative, Octave is a good potential solution; with that said, depending on the task you may also feel that languages such as R could be of use. My personal pick would be Python. With an explosion of open-sourced libraries, I have found that Python – along with SciPy libraries – is just as capable as Matlab for most tasks. It is also free, very well-documented and extremely popular. Being a general-purpose language makes it a useful transferrable skill to have, and gives you tools to expand your projects far beyond what dedicated tools might allow.

SOLIDWORKS 

If you are in or entering the Mech department, SolidWorks will need no introduction. CAD (Computer-Aided Design) in general can be an invaluable tool when you want to get a good idea of how components will look when assembled, and to spot problems (such as interference) in the design before it becomes a problem. With inorganic geometry, it can also speed up the process of making technical drawings, if you were to communicate your design to a third party.

ANSYS 

I will admit, I am somewhat less familiar with the practical uses for Ansys. If you do have access to a full Ansys license, you will be able to simulate anything ranging from computational fluid dynamics and thermal simulations to load simulations. Ansys has a great graphical workflow for coupled simulations, if you are interested in simulating multiple physical phenomena concurrently.

From personal experience, I would encourage anybody pursuing technical projects to be wary of the computational cost and learning curve associated with simulations. Having used the UBC Star-CCM+ license for fluid simulations (computational fluid dynamics or “CFD”), I can confirm that it is worthwhile to consider the cost vs. benefit of complicated simulations. For simple simulations where rough estimates are acceptable (e.g. “how likely is it that this non-critical component fails?”), SolidWorks often has a perfectly acceptable solution for you.

Finally, I would recommend looking into a free SimScale community license, providing access to 3000 core-hours of cloud compute time (calculated as the product of the number of cores used and the amount of time using them) with up to 16 cores at a time. Their documentation is nothing short of excellent, and they have a great user interface. To the best of my knowledge, SimScale is built using open-source technologies such as OpenFOAM, which provides open-sourced CFD and simulation code.

So…why do I recommend CAD and simulation if it doesn’t involve creating something real? Just as I mentioned previously, mechanical design projects often become prohibitively expensive once manufacture begins. Software allows you to pursue a design project with minimal upfront cost, and pursue its manufacture at a later date when it is more feasible. This is exactly what I have been planning to do for one of my more ambitious projects, which is a small-scale axial flow turbojet engine. Chances are that it will fail miserably when I am done, and I’m looking forward to it.

Project Ideas for Curious Students: Software

If you have ever been in a position where you were thinking “I wish my computer could do this task for me” or “why isn’t there a calculator for this,” well, it probably can, and there is probably a library for it. With a bit of programming knowledge and some coffee, you might just have a solution to your problem. Maybe. 

Make no mistake: I am by no means a programming guru, but I still have a few suggestions for you to be able to pursue applicable projects with software. For those of us in mechanical engineering, software is typically a tool rather than the product itself. One suggestion that I like making to people who are mechanically inclined with an interest in software is simulation development. Simulations require interdisciplinary knowledge to implement, since they are nothing more than a mathematical model of some real-world phenomenon. As a tool, I have seen this used on numerous occasions: my engineering design team, for example, uses a student-builtMatlab vehicle dynamics simulator to estimate lap times for our car. If we change different aspects of our vehicle’s performance (for example, downforce), we can get an estimate for how our competition score will change. As I have mentioned, these can also be a product, meant to be used as a tool by engineers. These tools (products such as Star-CCM+) typically take a huge amount of resources and developers to create, although if making a contribution to open-sourced software is more your speed, there are always packages such as OpenFOAM.  

Don’t forget that there is always room for passion projects! Yet another one of my perpetually incomplete, overly ambitious projects has been to make a simple computational fluid dynamics (fluid dynamics simulation software, known as “CFD”) program from scratch using Python. I admit that it has no true practical application other than to help me to better understand the inner workings of CFD code. 

Although I acknowledge that I may not be the best person to speak about software development, a question that I often get is “how do I start”? My personal recommendation is to choose an application, then to just dive in. I promise you that there is no shortage of information on almost anything when it comes to programming. Just as with mechanical projects, you typically learn exactly what you need in the most efficient manner possible when you have something to apply your knowledge to. Failure will occur and iteration is a necessity, but this is all part of the learning process. Fairly recently I started to make a personal website and a web app, and I can safely say that I knew basically zero HTML when I started, let alone JavaScript or some of the common development libraries.   

Student Team Competitions: ISR 15 Part 2

Hello again,

In this post I will be continuing to talk about my trip to the International Submarine Races(ISR) this past June.  If you are interested to hear about the run up to competition and the journey over there, you are welcome to check out my previous post here.  To recap, I am part of SUBC, UBC’s submarine design team and we road tripped across the country to Maryland to race other collegiate teams at ISR.

The Base

Because submarines need to be underwater, and salt water is very corrosive, submarine races take place in ocean basins.  These are indoor large freshwater bodies that are maintained in military bases, often used for naval experiments or testing.  In essence, I would describe the ocean basin at ISR as an airstrip underwater.  However, because of the military nature of location there are some security measures that you have to be careful of such as staying in the area of the competition and not wandering elsewhere.  As well, you need to submit paperwork ahead of the time for security clearance to enter the base, especially if you are not a Canadian or American citizen.

Checks

In order to be qualified to race, we had to pass the dry and wet check.  The dry check consists of the entire submarine being assembled and demonstrated above water to ensure that all safety regulations are met.  The wet check demonstrates in the water that safety systems are working.  It’s not uncommon for issues to arise in assembly or between checks.  Some issues that came up for us included misalignment of the hatch locking mechanism as well as the gearbox.  These problems require quick fixes with limited tools and materials.  You learn a lot trying to fix systems that you did not originally make under pressure with the small group of people available.  It also tests and strengthens your communication and team working abilities, as they are needed constantly.

Racing

Racing consisted of the divers suiting up in full scuba gear and bringing the submarine to the lift which lowered into the basin.  The divers brought the submarine to the basin floor in order to make buoyancy adjustments.  These adjustments were done by attaching small weights and pieces of foam to the inside of the submarine.  Once we were confident our submarine was neutrally buoyant, we entered the race queue to wait for our turn.  The race coordinator warned us when we were next and the support divers moved our submarine to the start line, while the secondary diver brought the pilot underwater to meet the submarine and load the pilot inside.  Once the pilot was loaded, the divers signaled for the race to start. After a count down over the underwater speakers, the pilot took off down the course towards the finish line!

Conclusion

Submarine racing is a complicated business to an outsider but its a very rewarding one for an engineering student.  Through my time competing at submarine races the last couple of years I have gained serious team-working, communication as well as technical and interpersonal skills that have been honestly very useful in finding co-op jobs and my confidence in my abilities.  I would encourage anyone given the opportunity to go to a student team competition to make the most of it and dive in head first!

Later,

Allysia

 

Student Team Competitions: Takeways from SUBC’s Trip to the International Submarine Races

Introduction

Engineering Student Design Teams can be a big part of student life here within Mechanical Engineering, including my own.  Since joining in my second year, SUBC has become a big part of my life and my identity within Mech so I thought it would be an interesting read to see what its like to go to a student team competition.

The goal of most student team projects is to eventually compete in a intercollegiate competition.  For UBC Thunderbots, they compete at Robocup (the world cup of soccer for robots), or UBC Baja competes at the Baja SAE competition annually with their off-road vehicle.  My team, SUBC builds a human powered submarine to compete at two separate biannual competitions.  In effect, we compete annually but each competition runs biannually.  At the end of June, I had the awesome opportunity to road trip across the US to Bethesda, Maryland to compete in the International Submarine Races with our sub, Skookumchuck Mk. V.

Pre-Competition Madness

The run up to competition is always very turbulent.  There are administrative and technical deadlines that need to be met in order to compete.  Of course, we want our submarine to be fully functional and as optimized as possible but there is a fine balance between working until the deadline and stopping to pack away our tools to take with us as well as surfacing and painting the submarine.  In addition, we had a technical design report on our submarine due a month before we left and a technical presentation a week before we left.

It seems to be common that students leave their design teams for summer once classes and finals end for the term.  However, many design teams including SUBC have competitions are around the end of June and beginning of July, and I have found that the best way to learn and get the most out of the student team experience is to work during the pre-competition rush starting in May.  Those who are not on co-op have the opportunity to spend hours in the machine shop gaining practical skills with almost constant projects available for them to work on.  And those who are on co-op can come in after work or on the weekends to lend a hand.  The most happens during this time in terms of problem solving, machining and systems integration which provides an optimal opportunity for someone working on one area of the project to expand and get a good grip on other systems.  I would encourage anyone who craves more knowledge and technical skills to take advantage of amount of work available during the run up to competition.

The Journey – The Eye of the Storm

One of the best parts of getting to go on one of these trips is the travel there.  Those who could get the time off work road tripped with the sub across the US and those who could only get time for the competition itself flew in.  We drove around 12 hours a day between the three drivers and two pick-up trucks, staying at motels, AirBNBs and camping along the way.

I was worried the first time I went to a competition about whether I would get along with the people I traveled with especially because it seemed like everybody knew each other better than I did.  I can only speak about my own experience, but I found that everybody was very welcoming and interested to bring me into the fold.  Similarly, during the trip to Maryland I was excited to become better friends with the newer members who were joining us.  I would encourage anybody on the fence about going to competition about making friends and knowing other people on the trip to just go anyways.  The more the merrier!

Being on the road trip is a great way to bond anyways.  You learn everybody’s music preferences, what food they like and have lots of time to talk and get to know each other.  Plus there is the additional bonding experience of dealing with road trip troubles such as getting lost or having small car troubles.  During our trip a couple of notable ones included when the key fob for one of the cars stopped working spontaneously, or when we thought we were in a ghost town while finding an AirBnB in Indiana in the very early hours of the morning. We traveled with two pickup trucks with a walkie talkie in each to help keep our caravan together.   A personal highlight for my trip was playing 20 questions across cars in the middle of Wisconsin.

That’s how I ended up across the country in Rockville, Maryland.  I’ll be posting another post shortly related to my experiances during the actual competition itself.  Check back soon to read up on that! Or check out my co-blogger’s post about his student team competition experiences heading to California to race his team’s E-Bike.

Later,

Allysia