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Depressed college student? How original!
September 14, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Depressed and don't know where my future is headed in college.

I'm a 19 year old male college student majoring in EE. This is my second year here at LSU, and I'm having [more] doubts about whether what I'm doing is even right for me. I haven't made any dedicated/frequent friendships at my college thus far. Whenever I'm not in class, studying, or doing homework, I'm browsing the internet or something of that nature. I'm finding even the pre-req courses of my major such as physics to be extremely draining on myself. The lack of outlets (as in, hanging out with friends) is making my academic experience unbearable. My schedule has been the same every day: Get up, go to classes, get back to dorm, study, do homework, go to tutoring if needed, study for the upcoming test(s), then shoot the shit on the internet by myself for a few hours / lift weights (I only lift 4 days a week). The only thing that exists for me right now is my schoolwork, and because of that very fact, it's making it unbearable and draining. The worst part about all of this is (despite my seemingly dedicated work ethic) I'm doing okay in terms of grades.

I believe EE is a really cool major and all that jazz, but I have more experience dealing with networks and computer problems in general, rather than the actual circuitry involved in creating the components. Because of this, I've thought about changing my major to CS with a subdiscipline in networks. The problem with that is if I switch my major to CS, I have this feeling that I'm a failure because I took the easier route (and I apologize to any possible CS majors who believe CS is no less challenging than EE). I've heard from many people that it's easier to go from an EE degree to learning CS material as opposed to the other way around, but I just don't know if I'm willing to put in the massive amounts of work and deal with the emotional/mental draining it puts on my psyche. I've even had thoughts of college not being "right" for me, but I tend to dismiss this as me being lazy. On a re-read of what I've just written, it sounds all over the place - so I guess I would like some anecdotes or just general advice based on your experiences with what I'm dealing with here. I'm just so god damn tired of feeling this way. Any additional info that is asked for will be provided, given it will help in some way.
posted by Evernix to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, major at college usually is not all that important.. the real problem seems to be your lack of taking advantage of the social aspect of living away from home.

As an introvert myself, it can become a fairly easy self-fueled cycle to just stay to yourself. But you really should look into the extra-curricular things the school offers, which at a university, typically spans most anything you can think of.

Join a sport, or a subject-matter focused club. Join the newspaper, or the radio, the computer club, the drama club for non-drama majors. There is a host of things out there, and getting out with people doing something fun will greatly increase your mental health, as well as your enjoyment of school.

As for your major - do soemthing you like. I know history majors that are leading major technology projects in financial services today, and engineers that are teachers, Mech E's that are in pharma sales. Take what interests you, but put more focus on your social life.
posted by rich at 11:20 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding joining some activity based club. And you're not a failure just because you want to switch to something that's less draining - that's a perfectly acceptable and smart reason to switch majors.
posted by smokingmonkey at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2011

The nice thing about college is that there are tons of free counseling services. Call yours up.
posted by k8t at 11:26 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The guy who came in last in the Tour de France still did the TdF. The guy who graduates from med school with the lowest GPA is still called "doctor".

Don't sweat your grades. The second (and third, to an extent) years of engineering suck hairy donkey balls. You don't know enough to do anything cool yet, and the fundamentals you're learning are hard and numerous and boring as hell. Stick with it. It gets way better when you can finally start putting what you know to work. And an engineering degree carries a bit of weight for a reason.

You're suffering a bit of ennui. I'd recommend joining a club - definately the IEEE - the should have a student group on your campus or near it. There may be other groups, too. I did this in college - it was really fun and I learned a ton.

Failing that, you should see about finding a job on campus doing IT stuff. Research labs are always in need of some IT expertise and programming help. It would be great experience and look awesome on a resume. Your campus should have a job center, or talk to your professors.

Before you graduate, you'll do yourself a huge favor to get a Co-op or internship somewhere.

Electrical engineering is a broad enough field that it turns into computer science if you focus on the electronics and programming side of it. I would stick with engineering and focus on the Computer engineering side of it - semiconductors, assembly, FPGA programming, etc. if that is where your interest lies.

In any event, keep your chin up. You can do it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:32 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tried to be a heads-down studier in college, and it didn't work for me. I eventually left, haven't looked back, and haven't regretted that decision.

However, I don't recommend that course for anyone else. What I do recommend is: Get into the best school you possibly can, do the minimum necessary to pass, and party your ass off.


Lemme explain: I've worked at the top of my technical field, in the office next to "the guy who wrote the paper on...". Lots of those people, actually. What has hurt me in my career isn't the lack of a diploma, it's that when I go to a conference, all the UNC people know each other, all the Media Lab people know each other, all the U Dub folks, etc. I've had to build some small portion of that network by myself.

The reason you're at college isn't to learn the classwork. Lectures are a lousy-ass way to learn. The reason you're at college is to meet people, to get together and build some wacky creation in the lab late at night, find the other people with whom you'll conspire to do that startup, find the professor you admire who will serve on the board of that startup, make the connections so that in ten or fifteen years when you have that great idea you can call up your buddy from "remember that time when..." and ask "hey, do you know anyone who can put together this part of my grand plan?"

So: Unplug from the Internet. Dial back the studying. Go find the office hours of the professor with the interesting cartoons on their door or who's working on some project you find interesting and start a conversation. Go find a lab somewhere with a few people in it, knock on the door and say "hey, tell me about what you're building!". See if there are student research grants you can either take advantage of, or talk to the recipients of to see what fires them up.

Make those personal connections: That's why you're at college. Know people. Build a holiday card list, and get in the habit of sending those cards now so you keep doing it. Any fool can pass classes (and many of them do), the smart people are playing the meta game.
posted by straw at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

A couple of things:

1. You want to ask yourself, what is the goal of the rigorous engineering/CS training that you're going to get? Is there another program/major that can get you to where you want to go (career/life-wise) in 5, 10 years? You should take some time and pursue some research or internship opportunities to figure that out. As someone mentioned upthread--joining the IEEE can be a good way to find opportunities at companies/network/talk to more senior students.

2. Work life balance is pretty challenging for me as well (someone 4 years post college). I would recommend talking to someone in counseling services to help you come up with a strategy that would allow you to get your work done and have a semblance of college life outside of your major.

Don't get me wrong, though. EE/CS is not easy but if you think it's central to what you would like to do in the future, by all means pursue it. Sometimes you'll watch your peers go out on a friday night while you're stuck in lab getting your circuit to work or working on a programming project with your teammates.
posted by scalespace at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2011

I haven't made any dedicated/frequent friendships at my college thus far. Whenever I'm not in class, studying, or doing homework, I'm browsing the internet or something of that nature.


Do you hate people? Do you become paralyzed with shyness? Do you feel inferior or superior to people you meet? Are you just too lazy to go out and do stuff?

Address those questions. I went to a top-tier school and had a bunch of friends who were engines majors (I was a history major). They weren't all party animals or endlessly outgoing, but they played sports (club or varsity), they sang in the glee club (this is how I knew some of them), they left their dorm doors open as a signal that they were open to visitors (this is how I knew others). They all did *something* besides study - something that involved interacting with other people.

This, no less than learning what you need to know academically, is an important part of your college education, because in your working life you're going to have to interact with other people. You're going to have to pretend to be friendly with people you don't like that much but still have to cooperate with, and you're going to have to - you're going to *want* to - actually be friendly with people you do like. It's much, much easier to practice this stuff in college.

Figure out why you're not doing this, and change it. It will help you, and you'll have more fun. Even if you're an introvert the way I am - the kind that likes hanging out but still needs time to recharge alone - you'll find that having friends and doing stuff with them is really good for your mental and physical health.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2011

Here is the link for the IEEE student chapter at LSU.

They're hosting an industry talk today, and Lan party coming soon. I'd go to the talk - there's usually free food and swag there.

Here is the website for jobs on LSU. Unfortunately, not all campus workstudy and student jobs are listed. You'll have to do some legwork - but it will be some extra cash and good experience.

As Straw says, this is your chance to meet people and learn new things. Don't be afraid to bust out of your shell a bit. You're easily smart enough to do EE or CS coursework if you want to, but the key - no matter what you do with your major - is to use this time to meet new people and have some fun, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:55 AM on September 14, 2011

I agree with the suggestions for a chat wiith a counselor, and pushing yourself to find extracurricular activities/clubs to join. My college boasted of ~800 organized clubs, and I'm sure there are more at your college than you'd imagine. Find a list of organizations and try a new one (or more) each week until you find one (or more) you like.

"Partying" doesn't have to mean a lot of drinking. My friends, collected from random classes, clubs, and friends-of-friends hoste dinner and games nights. We drank some but didn't get wasted, ate good food, and talked. Cheaper and quieter than the bar scene.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:01 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Academia of any sort is dreadful (for most people) until you meet a few like-minded folks with whom you can de-stress, complain about academia, and occasionally do un-school-related things with.

Some things I found helpful in college and grad school:

-I'm not sure of the classroom set-up in EE classes, but lectures and computer labs both allow for chatting with classmates before class and during breaks. If you're outgoing, strike up a conversation with your neighbor. This could be something academic-related since you have that in common, but can quickly veer into the non-academic. Taking a look at the news, a favorite blog, Twitter, or something of that sort can help you start conversations if that's something you have trouble with.

If you're less outgoing, bring a book or open a webpage that you'd like to talk to someone about. Someone more outgoing may well strike up a conversation with you, and they may even be interested in something that you like. YMMV, but I've met a few good friends this way (thanks & RIP Punk Planet magazine).

-Nthing the suggestion to try to get a job, maybe in IT - You'll probably meet a few people doing this, either coworkers or folks you help (if it's a service-type job). I met my current partner when working the reference desk at the uni library - YMMV of course. Even the transactional relationships you build with customers can help you seem more 'familiar' to people at your school, which can help pave the way for actual friendship.

-Also nthing the suggestion to join a club or organization of some kind. Most of these were terribly unproductive when I was in college (in terms of organizing events or whatnot), but they provided a way to meet people and an excuse to get together in the evenings.

-If you're considering switching majors, keep an eye out for info sessions/informal meetings with the professors and students in the department. I did political science which attracts a lot of extroverts, so my department did 2-3 of these per semester. Based on stereotypes alone, you may have to look harder to find such get-togethers in CS or EE. But if they happen, they'll offer a social situation with a clear common interest and the understanding that people will come and go (so if you're uncomfortable or bored you have an easy exit).

-You could attend/start a MeFi IRL to meet some folks you might already know from around here. Connecting to people beyond your immediate college community might help reduce the monotony of school. (This also applies to volunteering in the community or getting a job off-campus.)

- If making friends in general is something you struggle with, you might want to break down the process a little more and rethink your approach. As much as I dislike the self-help nature of the following site, I have found her list of "essential friendship skills" to be useful: Friendship Skills.

College is a difficult adjustment for many people and you're certainly not alone in trying to find your stride. But you will - hang in there!
posted by brackish.line at 12:10 PM on September 14, 2011

Even though I'm the one who introduced the word into this thread, I did want to reinforce filthy light thief's statement that ""Partying" doesn't have to mean a lot of drinking."

However, "socialize your ass off" or "get passionate about an interest and find other people who share it" doesn't have the same "scandalize the parents of the kid to whom I'm giving advice" effect.
posted by straw at 12:32 PM on September 14, 2011

Get up, go to classes,
get back to dorm,
do homework,
go to tutoring if needed,
study for the upcoming test(s),

Welcome to college. It is like this for everyone.

then shoot the shit on the internet by myself for a few hours / lift weights (I only lift 4 days a week)


I went to school for engineering. I went to Karate 3 nights a week. It is the combination of carrying the heavy engineering books, walking on campus, and Karate which kept me from gaining the "freshman 20".

I agree with the comments that you must make friends. Here is what I did socially in college:

Study Groups (Oh how I miss those sessions at the library working on our homework)
"Socializing" at the local bar on Friday or Saturday night
Made out with Mr. BuffaloChickenWing

You seem concerned that despite your strong work ethic - you don't find your grades matching what you believe you should be earning. Therefore - you want to switch majors to an area you may do better? In your mind if you take this route you are taking the easy route? Only you can answer this.

I'm afraid professors can do a good job at taking something fun (like engineering) and turning it into something not so fun with stupid homework, tests, and boring lab reports. Perhaps you can team up with other classmates and work together on an engineering competition put on by one of the engineering societies that may re spark your interest.

Regarding changing to CS - google Dr. Norman Matoff at UC Davis and read his writings on job opportunities in this area.

Best of luck to you!
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 2:36 PM on September 14, 2011

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