Help me decide what option regarding my future is best.
May 2, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

What I should do?

To begin with I am an electrical engineering major at UT Arlington and feel that I am not as smart enough to continue. First of all I have had lots of trouble in many of my classes. Such as in the lab portion to intro to EE, which I was very excited to take, but the TA had to ruin it. I had absolutely no experience with building any circuits and the TA just left us on our own. I was frustrated because there were some students who knew what they were doing, but I on the other hand had no clue. I feel dumb many times because it takes me more time to grasp things than others. So should I make some dramatic changes this summer for school by preparing myself? If so, what can I do to achieve this? Or should I go to my back up plan, which is joining the military or using the cosmetology license I earned in high school?

What option seems like the best?
posted by kiralee to Education (16 answers total)
How about changing your major to something as difficult as electrical engineering that fits more with your interests? What do you like to study and practice?

If you want to stick with Electrical Engineering, you're going to need a leg up. I suggest spending the summer going through material like these classes from MIT, and paying a few smart, affordable students to tutor you weekly.
posted by michaelh at 6:27 PM on May 2, 2012

Well, how far along into your major are you? I think the advice anyone can give would be colored by how long you've been taking your major courses.

Have you talked to your classmates who know what they're doing? What might they suggest?
posted by inturnaround at 6:32 PM on May 2, 2012

TAs will run the gamut from being great to being shitty. You're going to have to be assertive with the shittier ones and also seek out tutoring from the School of Engineering or other campus resources like office hours with the instructor and/or TA. If you find you're not cut out for EE (I had a similar experience with ChemE and decided to change majors) look for other programs where you have an interest. However, before you graduate you'll probably find other shitty TAs along with the good ones. And again, you'll need to assert yourself to make sure you're getting the education you're paying for. The assertiveness will pay off if you fall back on the military option as well.
posted by birdherder at 6:33 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

micaelh, Thanks for the suggestion, I had actually considered the MIT OCW. So I'll definitely check it out.

inturnaround, I am currently taking the pre-reqs, but next year I should be taking one of the major courses for EE. I did ask one of my classmates many questions, if it was not for him I would have not learned anything!

birdherder, I have no other majors that I find interest either because they are boring or I don't see them worth the time. The problem is that I commute and by the end of the day I just want to go home, so I don't ask for much help..
posted by kiralee at 7:14 PM on May 2, 2012

Why are the 2 back up plans cosmetology and the military? It seems that you have 3 very different ideas about what you may like/want to do. How far along in your program are you? Have you spoken to your advisor or your Office of Career Services? The OCS should be able to assist you in taking an interest or career inventory to see what your aptitudes and interests are. I wouldn't automatically bail on EE, but it does seem that it just might not be the right fit for you. If it isn't, I wouldn't bail on college just because you aren't in the right major. It's pretty normal to switch majors, and you aren't dumb just because it takes you a bit longer to grasp the concepts in your EE classes.
posted by Sal and Richard at 7:15 PM on May 2, 2012

A lot of ostensibly introductory courses are way too slow if you've been doing it as a hobby for some time, and way too fast if you really are coming at it for the first time. I'd be careful about taking your struggle as a sign that you're not smart enough, it's quite likely to be that you're newer to this and at a disadvantage because of that.

As suggested above, you'll need to compensate by working on this stuff in your own time. But in addition to extra study:

I had absolutely no experience with building any circuits

Building circuits is a fun hobby. Take up that hobby, same as the other students! Build stuff that interests you, do it for fun, initially from kits, etc. Kits will hold you hand more than your TA did, and you can take your own time, and the practical element may enhance your learning considerably.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:17 PM on May 2, 2012

Sal and Richard, I know that they are unrelated, but I have specific reasons as to why I like each of them. Although challenging, I want to do EE because it involves many things that I find interesting.. it's just the lack of knowledge that sets me back.

-harlequin-, Yes true. the students who knew were the ones who had done circuits before. Yes, I actually got some circuit books because I was planning on doing that this summer!
posted by kiralee at 7:31 PM on May 2, 2012

How are you doing in your math classes?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:04 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you find it interesting, don't give up! As a chemical engineer, I just have to say that I found those first few years to be pretty tough too. I wasn't naturally good at it - sheer determination and persistence is what got me through. I told myself, this question has a definite answer and I'm supposed to be able to get it with what we've just learned! And I spent long long hours studying and doing homework. Eventually it got easier. The upper years are when we were into classes I found really interesting and I did much better. And they all built upon those introductory classes.

I did as much homework as I could ahead of the due date so that I had time to ask friends and profs when I didn't understand something. I didn't often stay after school, instead I would go home, do everything I could on my own, and then ask around the next day on stuff where I had problems. I'd work on homework in the breaks between classes, too. We were all united in the need to poll each other for solutions to homework. Then we ended up as friends as a byproduct:P

Get alternate texts for the classes you have a hard time with - often old editions are dirt cheap, and different texts might explain something a little better to you. Keep them on hand, don't sell them off later.

If you can enroll in a summer class, that would keep you very fresh. Otherwise I'd at least read through the texts for next year, if possible borrow notes from someone who already took it - then it won't be the first time you see it next year. For me, feeling some sense of familiarity with the material abd being able to relate to it made it easier to learn - it facilitated grasping a deeper understanding.
posted by lizbunny at 9:50 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding the circuits thing, my observation when I took that class was that about 5 of the 30 people in the class actually made the circuits and learned anything, while the rest looked over the others' shoulders. Part of that was laziness, but part of it was that the lab part of the class didn't matter much, the TA didn't give a shit, and there was nowhere near enough time alotted to teach kids how to build a circuit by reading a schematic.

Regarding not feeling smart enough, other people often seem smarter because they act confident in order to avoid looking vulnerable. Of course some people are just really smart too, but honestly, past a certain point working hard and showing up are way way more important than being smart.

I would echo the question about your math classes. When people drop out of engineering it's usually because wow, math is hard. If you're having trouble, double down now, because these skills build and compound on each other. Again: working hard and showing up.
posted by !Jim at 11:37 PM on May 2, 2012

As others have mentioned the first years of an engineering degree suck. You don't know anyone to study with, you see other people succeeding around you and think you know nothing.

My advice is to actively work on finding a study group. That was the best thing that happened to me in my undergrad. It helped all of us succeed.

Oh, and nthing that the people who look confident are struggling just as much as you are. I was told by the people that I studied with that they thought I knew everything because I seemed confident about it. I was having just as hard a time trying to figure things out, but just didn't let it show as obviously.
posted by chiefthe at 12:45 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sadly, most engineering departments use their first year classes as washouts. It's a really unfair practice because it simply separates those who have had opportunity to build circuits or write programs before going to college - it's not an enthusiasm filter like it was 30 years ago. Academia is very slow to catch up.

Concrete advice: check how your classes' scores are distributed. A lot of the people who act like hot stuff might not be. Second, I heartily second MIT's OCW lectures. They are great backup for your main classes. Third: get a few circuit elements, logic gates and a multimeter from Sparkfun. Have fun experimenting and make some electronic art outside of the stuffy lab.

MeMail me if you'd like to chat more about surmounting academic EE programs to reach a satisfying career.
posted by SakuraK at 1:12 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

These kids that know what they're doing are simply a few months ahead of you because they had a parent or someone teach them how to solder and stuff - in a no stress environment!

Does your uni have a robotics club, or an Arduino club? Or find a hackspace/makerspace... (runs to google)... there's a meeting tonight of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group and the Dallas Makerspace! Two birds one stone:

This turns up also; go check out the bulletin board outside his office for meeting notices:

The MIT OCW is a good idea, and there are lots of other good online resources, even youTube:

Khan Academy has a few videos on circuits, in the physics section. And some of the math vids might be useful to you.

Here's a vid on the-invention-of-the-battery. Pretty cool !! It's about frogs, dogs, and cats, and why you can't power the world with frogs eating frogs. You'll never eat a Reese's cup in the same way again.
posted by at at 6:07 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for summer plans, apply for some internships:

Most positions will be only for juniors and seniors, and it's late in the hiring season, but it's a worthwhile exercise to apply, learn the local companies, etc. And if you treat it as an exercise, with no expectations of getting a job, it's much less stressful, even fun!
posted by at at 6:25 AM on May 3, 2012

I was taking Cal 2, but dropped it! I'm going to take it over the summer in community college.

Anyways, thank you all so much!! :) This information is very very helpful!!
posted by kiralee at 5:22 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was taking Cal 2, but dropped it!

If you're struggling with math, it might be a good idea to reconsider engineering as a major.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:06 AM on May 4, 2012

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