Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Typical Day: Year 1, Term 1

Hello Readers!

Last Friday was the last day of classes for the term!  I can’t believe how fast it went by.  When I first started, I didn’t really know what to except, and in some cases, even what I was supposed to be doing, so I thought it might be useful to go through what a typical day this term was like for me.

First off, a little bit of background on how my program works, and the UBC schedule in general.  I am in the Master of Applied Science program (MASc), which is a 24 month thesis based program.  The program can take more or less time depending on the progress of your project and when you are able to defend your thesis, etc.  I started this past September, so I hope to graduate by September 2012.

In addition to the thesis project, you also have to take 18 credits of grad level courses which you pick with your supervisor.  We have a seminar class, where everyone takes a turn presenting their progress on their projects each year, that is worth 2 credits which leaves 16 credits.  Since most courses are 3 credits each, many students end up taking 6 courses (for a total of 20 credits).

So this term has been mostly course work with some thesis project work.

Course Work

I am taking two courses this term, and three or four next term depending on how busy that turns out to be.  I only will need 3 in the second term as one of my classes is 4 credits, but the extra one I always wanted to take in my undergrad, but it never fit/worked out.

This term I was really lucky since my classes were right after the other (9-11am) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, leaving my Tuesday’s and Thursday’s open.

How I decided to schedule my days this term was to try and maintain “normal working hours” instead of just going home when my classes were done.  My boyfriend works really close to campus so we drive in and leave together which has worked out really well (and lets me avoid the crowded morning buses!).   I get to campus by 7:30 which gives me about an hour to work on whatever I need to before going to class.  I then spend the rest of the morning in classes, and have the afternoon to work on assignments, labs, projects, thesis work, TA-ing, and whatever else I need to do.

As a graduate student, you are given a desk and computer, so you always have a place to go to get work done and leave your stuff which is a lot nicer than dragging everything around with you and having to go to the library.

Thesis Work

A lot of the first 8 months of the program is dedicated to course work.  I have been doing background reading on areas related to my project, and designing a setup to test what will eventually be my project.  I meet with my supervisors every two weeks, where we discuss the progress I’ve made, and they give advice and answer questions I have.

My project is to design a device to aid in the diagnosis of lower urinary tract conditions in men, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia which affects 50% of men by the age of 50.  One way to do this is to look at changes in urine flow.  Many of the devices on the market that do this today are very expensive, making them only available in large facilities and specialists offices.  My goal is to design a much more affordable device so it can be available anywhere.

A schematic of the setup I have designed to test my eventual design is below.  I have ordered all of the components, and I’m hoping to receive them soon to assemble it before the January term.


I TA-ed for the first time this term!  It was a lot of fun, but took a lot of time.  Marking was definitely the weirdest part – being on “that side” and having to take off marks, but the students were fun and it was a good experience.  Be prepared to give up the good part of at least a weekend marking each “activity” (ie. lab, quiz, etc).

For Fun

I think this is one of the most important parts of grad school.  Since not many of the people I know went back for grad school, it can be hard to find people to talk to who understand what you’re going through.  You also spend a lot of time on your own working on stuff for your courses or research, and its easy to start feeling kind of disconnected.

Mech has a graduate association called MEGA which I’ve really enjoyed becoming a part of.  It is made up of other mechanical graduate students that meet once per week and organize a variety of events such as Friday afternoon coffee’s , BBQ’s, and parties.  It is a great way to meet people who are going through the same things you are, and who want to have fun along the way.


There are always lots of events happening of campus looking for volunteers, and helping them out can be a great way to find out about things happening in your field, networking, or just an excuse to get out of the lab for a few hours.  Some examples of places I’ve volunteered this term include the ASME Congress (which AJung made a great post about!), and the Mechanical Engineering Open House.

Well this post ended up being a little longer than I planned.  Thanks for sticking it out, and I hope it gives you an idea of what, at least in my experience, the first term is like as a Mech Master’s student.

Happy Monday!


Feminine Geeks and the Industry Night

A couple of Fridays ago, I woke up earlier than usual for my 8am class and took the time to decide what to wear.

Now, with this sentence, you may accuse me of being ‘such a girl‘ – stereotyped in the engineering world as someone who gets excited about pretty shoes and dresses, rather than fixing the code that suddenly stopped working properly last night. The truth is, I am a girl  and proud to be one in engineering that doesn’t quite fit the stereotypical character in people’s mind as an engineer. Indeed, I do love pretty shoes and dresses, but I also do occasionally wake up in the morning thinking about the MATLAB simulink model that didn’t quite work right the night before. Many people in North America seem to have a hard time putting the words ‘feminine’ and ‘geek’ together into the description of one person.

So, why the sudden talk about women in engineering?
Well, on that Friday, MEGA(Mech Eng Grad Association) and graduate student groups from ECE and CS jointly held anIndustry Night event (UBC 2010 Industry/Student Networking Night) where students and local engineering company representatives were given the opportunity to mingle / network over hors d’œuvres and drinks. This highly successful event, like many other occasions, was not an exception to my encounter of surprised looks in people’s faces when I say that I am in Engineering.

Jeswin, AJung(myself), Navid, and Eric (from left to right) at the Industry Night event

Why are people be so surprised? Why can’t people accept the idea that an engineer can be feminine, socially apt, nerdy and geeky at the same time? It’s actually interesting how I can impress people more easily than my guy friends when talking about simple engineering concepts to people. I think it’s all just the results of false stereotyping. I mean, I am a feminist, and hence, probably highly biased. But it’s a fact that some of the brightest classmates from my undergrad (Mechatronics) at the University of Waterloo were girls – I think my former classmates can definitely agree with that. In addition, the chair of the Department was, and still is, a highly respected female engineer (Dr. Pearl Sullivan – a proud alumni of UBC Mech by the way).

Female presence at UBC Mech isn’t very different either. There’s Dr. Elizabeth Croft (my supervisor) who is an NSERC Chair, and even better, there’s the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science, Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr, both of whom are mother of three children and obviously highly established engineers. And feminine side of female engineers tend to work as strengths rather than weaknesses. I mean, my interests in cute shoes pay off as ‘being presentable’ at networking-esque events, and taking on charity initiatives to support a child abroad (supposedly the caring/motherly?? side of me) helped me develop leadership skills. And hey, my undergrad classmate, Erin Antcliffe, is currently working in Ghana for the Engineers Without Borders and using her own combination of “feminine & engineering” to make a difference in the world (check out some of her initiatives on her blog, or support her work here). I really don’t see why female and engineering are seen as oil and water to people to this day, while the same people consider male and engineering as some hydrophilic substance and water.

The above-mentioned and many other female engineers  form a strong argument as to why people shouldn’t be so surprised anymore to come across engineers who are girls. It’s just sad to see that the surprised looks haven’t quite faded away yet.

So I am a support of initiatives that build a fresher and more flexible picture of what an engineer really looks like in today’s world. You can totally accuse me of being a feminist, but I think Mattel Inc., the company that makes Barbie dolls, is doing the right thing in the newest Barbie dolls, such as the Computer Engineer Barbie (see picture). The Barbie in an office cubicle apparently has a dual monitor setup, a pink netbook, and a laptop with Linux on it. They even have an online puzzle game on their Barbie website called ‘I can be a computer engineer’. I think this is totally awesome, and I shall remain patient until they get around to making a Roboticist Barbie.

Computer Engineer Barbie