Author Archives: Emily

Surviving winter

Vancouver winters. They may not be full of snow and ice storms like the rest of Canada, but they do involve a severe lack of sun and no shortage of rain. Coming from Ontario, I honestly thought winters on the west coast would be a joke. And although temperatures don’t dip far below 0℃, dealing with the constant rain and zero sunshine can really get to you. Especially when the winter is also packed with assignments, midterms, exams… It can be difficult to adjust to after growing up outside of Vancouver, so I thought I’d share some things I find helpful when dealing with rainy season.

For reference, this is the kind of winter I’m used to

Proper Rain Gear
This cannot be stressed enough. A good pair of waterproof boots or shoes and a rain jacket go a long way. An umbrella might be nice, however, it can get pretty windy on campus. I have struggled with too many umbrellas and after their ultimate destruction, I decided to stick with the rain coat. If you can find a waterproof / water resistant backpack, that can be quite helpful as well. Otherwise, some people buy waterproof backpack covers to keep their stuff dry.

Warm Drinks
In the hot summers, it can be uncomfortable to try to enjoy warm beverages. Personally, I’m a hot drink person. Coffee, tee, hot chocolate, apple cider… I just love to curl up in some blankets and enjoy something toasty. This is something the winter is awesome for! Appreciate that you have the time to aesthetically sit with your tee and stare out the rain-streaked window.

Explore Indoor Attractions
In the summer, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. So, use the time in the winter to enjoy some of the indoor ones! From museums both on and off campus, galleries and more, I think some of Vancouver’s attractions are often overlooked.

Still Dress Warm…
Don’t be fooled. Even though temperatures may read above 0℃, I find it feels colder. I’m used to feeling some -30℃ temperatures (poor high school Emily waiting for the bus in her school uniform kilt), so I tend to dress pretty relaxed (long sleeve, light coat). But man, it really feels so much colder. I learned pretty quickly to ditch my “Vancouver isn’t cold” pride and start dressing warmer than I thought was necessary.

Appreciate the Rain
Isn’t it kinda cool that water just like… falls from the sky? Spend time enjoying the rain. It’s still important to get outside and get some fresh air, so gear up, step outside, and have fun splashing through the puddles.

Give yourself breaks!
When the weather isn’t nice, it’s easy to just spend all day inside studying. Going for a walk to give yourself a break doesn’t sound like a nice option anymore, so some people find themselves stuck studying all day. Don’t get stuck. Even if you don’t want to go for a walk in the rain (although I think rain walks are underrated), you can still take breaks by watching an episode of a show, eating a snack while not staring at your laptop, or something else indoors.

So, there you have it. An Ontarian’s take and tips on Vancouver winters. Again, I advise you to not underestimate the rainy season, and the impact it can have on your mental health. But for now, enjoy the summer while it’s here!

Feeling lost in your degree?

In the first few years of my degree, I felt a little lost. It seemed that all of my peers had their whole engineering careers planned out – what company they wanted to work for, what research area they were interested in for grad school… and I’m just here because I like problem solving and things that move.

That’s totally okay! Some people come into engineering with a specific path, and others come to explore what engineering has to offer. You’re not alone if you don’t know exactly what you want to do after your degree. Know that people’s plans change too. In first year, I had friends who were very interested in a specific field, but after second year they were interested in something completely different.

I find there’s a lot of people who even question their decision to go into MECH or engineering in general. It can be easy to get this idea in your head of “this is what a Mechanical Engineer should do” and “this is what a Mechanical Engineer should be,” but that doesn’t exist. Mechanical engineering especially is very broad, and involves so many industries. You develop strong skills throughout your degree, including problem solving and determination. These are highly transferable skills, meaning its also possible to branch out after your degree.

If you’re looking to find a more specific direction in your degree, here’s what I can recommend:

  • Co-op: gaining work experience in industries you might be interested in is very valuable whether you end up liking the industry or not. If you’re really not sure where to go, it can be beneficial to do shorter co-op terms, and try out as many different career paths as possible.
  • Electives: take a good look at the elective courses offered at UBC, and take ones you think might be of interest to you. This will help you develop skills in an area of interest, and can also give you a better idea of specific fields you can pursue with that knowledge.
  • Talk to profs: ask any of your profs if they have a few minutes to talk about their field. They can give you insight into research prospects and often industry as well.
  • Informational interviews: I haven’t done this myself, but I’ve had friends who perform informational interviews with people in industry. If you’re on co-op, that is a good opportunity to ask to speak with other people in the company in different positions. I recommend looking for connections through family and friends as well, and potentially and industry partners you have through design teams and extracurriculars.

In general, I think taking the time to explore different fields in mechanical engineering can help you make the most of your time at UBC. If you don’t know what you want to do after school, don’t panic! There are many people who don’t know as well, and many people have come before you and figured it out πŸ™‚

Exchange and extending your degree

So. I’m planning on taking a 6 year undergrad. That’s a lot. Basically, with this post, I’m going to talk about why I’m extending my degree, a bit about my exchange, and… yeah. Maybe you’ll find some of this useful and relevant to you, or maybe not.

Essentially, I’m planning my degree outline to look like this:

Term 1 Term 2 Summer
Year 1 Study Study Off
Year 2 Study Study Co-op
Year 3 Co-op Study Work Learn
Year 4 Exchange Exchange Co-op
Year 5 Study Study Co-op
Year 6 Study Study Graduate!

which you can compare to what your MECH degree is supposed to look like here.

The main reason for changing my degree to six years, is because of my exchange. I’ll be going on exchange in Germany, where their term is October-March. Because of the timing, I have to take both winter terms off to do the exchange. At least I can knock off some upper year courses though, right? Hahaha… since I don’t speak German (at least very well), I have to take Masters courses, as most of their undergraduate courses are in German. I couldn’t find any Masters courses that fulfilled my UBC course requirements, so I will be counting all of my exchange courses as technical electives. In Mechatronics, we get something like one technical elective. So essentially, I’m taking an entire year of my degree to get a single elective course.

Why am I doing this then? Mainly, to explore my interests. I’m currently interested in medical applications of robotics, which as you can imagine, you don’t get much exposure to in an undergraduate Mechatronics degree. Through my exchange, I’ll get to take specialized Masters courses in that field. The hope is that when I return to UBC, I’ll have a better idea of exactly what I want to do with my degree (unless of course, I end up hating medical robotics), and can potentially get involved with research, and find co-ops in that field.

In addition, I’m planning to drop a Jan-Apr co-op term, and replace it with a study term. This will allow me to take a reduced course load, which I want to do for multiple reasons. Mainly, I want more free time. MECH is a demanding program, and it can be difficult to pursue hobbies and passions while taking a full course load. In addition, you are able to focus on the courses you have a lot more. Even taking one less course this previous term, I found that I understood the content in my other courses much more, and my grades improved. If you’re thinking about pursuing grad school, it can be beneficial to take time to focus on classes, in addition to extra curriculars.

So, there you have it. A little bit about my degree outline, and my reasons for changing it up. Many people come into MECH with the idea that they’ll have a straight forward degree that they can plan from day 1. However, there are a large amount of people who diverge from the standard time table, for many different reasons. Whether it’s for personal or academic reasons, extending your degree says nothing about your abilities. Don’t be discouraged if you find that your degree is progressing differently than planned, you’re not alone!

Summer on campus

So, you’re spending your summer on campus. What goes on here? What can I do to keep myself busy? Well, I might have a few ideas.

Work Learn

If you don’t know what a Work Learn position is, they’re part-time paid positions offered through UBC in both the winter and summer terms. For the summer, Work Learn positions are typically posted around March. Depending on the position, they can be pretty competitive, so it’s best to apply early! You can work a maximum of 20 hours/week in a Work Learn during the summer, which puts you to a total of 300 hours. There are many different positions available, from research, to office and library work, to working with MECH Student Services (yay!).

Undergraduate Research

If you’re interested in a specific field, or think you might be interested in research, then why not reach out to a prof and try to snag a research position? Undergraduate research positions can come in many different forms. There are full-time, paid positions that are sometimes posted through co-op, but full-time opportunities can also be accessed through grants like NSERC. In my case, I’m doing some part-time unpaid casual work for a prof, which will hopefully lead to a publication. If you’re interested, I recommend reaching out to a professor whose research focus appeals to you, and simply ask if they are interested in taking on a student over the summer. You can also take a look here, for more undergrad research opportunities.

Personal Projects

Who doesn’t love making things? During the winter terms, students are typically much too busy to take on extra projects. Over the summer though, you have lots of time to explore your passions and build your resume. There is a wonderful previous post that includes some ideas for personal projects. If you already have some past projects, I can also recommend creating a projects portfolio. Building and coding your own website showcasing past work you’ve done is a useful thing to have to send to employers, and can also be put on your resume!

Design Teams

Joining a design teamΒ for the summer only might be difficult (although it doesn’t hurt to ask), however, if you’re already on a design team, there are often opportunities to get more involved. Most design team competitions happen over the summer, which means they are usually even more busy than during the school year. I know people who have spent full days in the shop with their team, and you typically gain a lot of hands-on experience. Often, you also get a chance to go to the competition, which can involve fun road trips and hotel stays.


Have you spent the summer in Vancouver before? If not, this is your chance! Since the winter term is unfortunately dominated by cold and rain, the summer term is really the best chance to get outside and see what Vancouver has to offer. Go hiking on the north shore, climb and mountain bike in Squamish, or simply enjoy the UBC campus. With the roses coming out and flowers in bloom, the summer is a beautiful time to take relaxing walks and explore the campus and city itself.

Tulip fields and mountains in the background View of mountains

This list just contains a few things that come to mind when thinking about the summer, but there really are endless possibilities! Even if you’re on co-op or not staying in Vancouver over the summer, some of my suggestions are still applicable, and I strongly encourage you to make the most out of your free time. That being said, I think it is also important to recognize that the summer is your primary time to relax and destress from the previous term. For some people, doing projects and research are their way to relax and destress. Others may benefit more from simply taking a break, and that’s okay too! In a demanding program like engineering, we need to know how to take a step back and prepare for the next year, in order to avoid burnout. While some people (including me) want to constantly be productive and push themselves, knowing what works best for you and following that is important.

Life on a non-competition design team

At UBC, we have a lot of design teams to choose from. I think people often hear about the big competition teams – Formula, Rocket, AeroDesign, etc, but not as much about the teams that don’t go to competitions. My design team, Sustaingineering, is one of the non-competition teams. So, what’s it like being on a team that doesn’t build things for competitions? What do we do instead? Let me tell you!

On Sustaingineering, there are many different sub-teams that all have their own project. These projects involve real-world problems centered around sustainability. On my team, the Wind Turbine team, we are tasked with designing a small-scale and low-cost wind turbine for a community in Nicaragua. We have a stakeholder, who is our main point of contact between us at UBC and the community in Nicaragua.

These projects are fun, because they have their own unique challenges. When looking at designing a sustainable turbine, we aren’t just looking to make a super-efficient turbine made of new cutting-edge materials. A big aspect of sustainability involves working with the community, and making a product that is mindful of their practices and knowledge. Sure, we could use super sustainable materials that we ship to Nicaragua from Canada. But what if it breaks? Just ship more? That’s not very sustainable. Instead, we want to look at materials we can source from the area, ones that locals are familiar with and can repair themselves. In the community we’re working with, they often use bamboo to build different structures, including houses. Bamboo itself is an environmentally sustainable material, so incorporating it into our turbine is a good option.

What are some of the benefits of a non-competition team?

On a non-competition team, we get to make our own deadlines, and therefore avoid the stress and pressure associated with competition dates. We can plan for less work occurring during exam season, so members don’t get overly stressed. This lack of hard deadlines also allows the team to be a bit more flexible, and explore other options. Say we start working on one design, but a member comes up with a different design that might work better. If we had a hard deadline, switching designs after starting with one might not be possible.

What are some of the drawbacks?

In this case, the benefits can also be drawbacks. With no set dates to finish a project, some non-competition teams face slow progress, and “analysis paralysis.” This is when you get stuck analyzing one or multiple designs, trying to optimize them as much as possible. My sub-team faced this during a semester, and solved it by getting in the workshop and starting to prototype whatever design we had. On non-competition teams, it’s really up to leaders within the team to motivate and drive them forward to produce results.

Overall, I am very happy with my experience on the design team. As someone who is interested in sustainability, it was great to gain experience solving real-world problems. Beyond that, I made many friends and connections, as we all bonded over our common passion for sustainability.

My co-op experience with the Vancouver Airport

For my second co-op position, I was offered a job at YVR. Now, I’m not one of those people who knows every type of plane, but come on, who doesn’t think planes are cool?

My role was in the Engineering Services department, which mainly deals with building and alteration permits. The department often gets involved with little side projects as well, which always kept things interesting! My primary task was reviewing HVAC and plumbing drawings, as well as doing site visits to ensure the construction was consistent with submitted drawings. Before working at YVR, I had zero experience with HVAC and plumbing. Because of this, I was a bit nervous to start. However, I quickly realized that the point of co-op is to learn, you’re not expected to be a professional in your field.

At YVR, I really appreciated that the staff wanted you to get as much out of your experience as possible. Even though I was mostly reviewing drawings, almost every week I would get a chance to be in the terminal building, airside, or in other cool places. Some of the highlights include:

  • A tour of the baggage system
  • Sitting airside and watching planes take off
  • Many visits to the secure side of the airport
  • Getting a tour of the Air Canada hangar (which included lots of pictures with the planes)
  • Going on a big construction site for a pump station replacement
  • A tour of the Ground Run-Up Enclosure
Many wires, tubes, small tanks, and more inside the compartment.

Underneath and inside of the plane… so much to look at!

I would love to say that through this co-op I discovered my passion for HVAC and plumbing, and ever since have been excited to learn more, but I’d be lying. I’ve since realized that my interests are more geared towards robotics and applications in the medical field, which is quite different than the work I was doing at the airport. So am I sad about spending my four months learning about systems that are not directly relevant to my future goals? No way! Any co-op and work experience you get is worth it, even if you end up hating that industry. Maybe I would’ve spent my entire degree thinking I wanted to work with HVAC systems, but that four month co-op saved me time by telling me no, HVAC is not my calling. No co-op term is a waste of time. In addition, I gained many transferable skills that are very beneficial when applying to future jobs. Scanning these plumbing drawings for small flaws requires being very detail oriented, and having to pick up so many new skills and programs in such a short time forced me to become a fast learner.

A plane and some equipment sits on the apron.

All in all, remember that no experience is bad experience. Despite not finding my passion in HVAC and plumbing, I very much enjoyed my co-op at YVR, and gained so many useful skills. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not enjoying the technical aspect of a work term as much as you thought you would. We are all just students trying to figure out what we want to do after our degrees, and sometimes that involves some trial and error.

My MECH experience

Hello! Emily here. I’m a third year MECH student, specializing in Mechatronics. I’m originally from a small town in South-western Ontario, which is actually where I did my first year of University, during the Covid-driven online year. You might be wondering, what was it like doing your entire first year online? Well, I actually found it alright. I was worried about making friends and finding a community within engineering while being alone in my bedroom, but apparently everyone else had that worry as well, which lead to countless group chats, zoom calls, and friends I am still close with in person.

With the transition to in-person classes in second year, it sort of felt like starting completely new again. This was my first time living on campus, first time living alone… but again, everyone was in the same boat. The MECH 2 group became quite close, and we all managed the transition together.

Well, at least the transition to third year must’ve been easy then, right? Not exactly. After spending all day everyday with my friends in MECH 2, I wasn’t used to not having the same classes as everyone. I was the only one in my friend group taking the Mechatronics stream, which meant we only had a few overlapping classes. In addition, third year is when people’s schedules start changing due to co-op. Some people will take a 12 or 16 month co-op right after second year, so they will be a year behind, until they catch up in forth year. However, these changes also gave me the opportunity to connect with people I didn’t get to know as well in MECH 2, and people with similar interests as myself.

Laptop, graham crackers, chocolate, and other miscellaneous materials.

Our capstone experiment in third year (part of Mech 305/6). Yes, we’re making s’mores.

I have done 2 four-month co-op terms so far. The first one I did back in Ontario, for a small company that designed and manufactured storage racks for car parts on the assembly line. Before working there, I honestly didn’t know that car part storage racks was an industry. My second co-op term was with Engineering Services at the Vancouver Airport, which was a really cool experience. Although my role was primarily reviewing HVAC and plumbing drawings, everyone there wanted you to make the most of your time there, which resulted in airside visits, tours of the secure side of the airport including the baggage system, and most excitingly, a hangar visit to get up close to some impressive planes.

Up-close airplane in a hangar, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

During my third summer in University, I decided not to do a co-op term, but rather to develop other skills and gain different kinds of experience. In addition to my Work Learn with MECH Student Services, I am doing some statistics work with a professor I reached out to last term, and am also taking time to work on some personal projects. Since this is my first summer in Vancouver, I’m trying to take every opportunity to spend time climbing in Squamish, and will also need to take some time as I prepare to head out for my exchange next term in Germany.