posted by on Life, Uncategorized


I love new beginnings, because there is so much opportunity for growth and exploration.   This is a fundamental part of my personality. I love to pick try new things, develop new hobbies, and explore new ideas and new places. Sometiems it can be pretty uncomfortable,  but I think Mark Twain had a handle on it when he wrote:

We are chameleons, and our partialities and prejudices change place with an easy and blessed facility, and we are soon wonted to the change and happy in it.

Mark Twain

This year I decided to explore the urban lifestyle. Of course, I believe that full immersion is the most effective way to learn, so I made the move. Living in Seattle is pretty exciting :) But I have been struggling a little with the change. My new goal is to make the best of my new home and enjoy my new life. This experience has only reinforced my love for trying new things:)

Back to School!


posted by on Life, School


So, it’s that time of year again….(isn’t that how all back to school articles start?) Anyway, I know it’s a little earlier than we’d like to start thinking about heading back to class, but getting started early is the way to get everything you need. In this post I will discuss some of the things I do to prepare for a new semester of classes. Whether you’re a new freshman or a super senior, I think you’ll find some helpful pointers to prepare yourself for hitting those books.

Meet with your adviser

I know it’s kinda scary to think about visiting a professor’s office, but maintaining a good relationship with your adviser will help you reach graduation. Visit your adviser at least once every semester. If you don’t already have one, work on a graduation plan and follow it. A graduation plan will help you create a detailed path toward graduation. Planning ahead will help you avoid taking unnecessary classes, and have a general idea of which classes you will be taking each semester.  My department is pretty small, so many of my civil engineering courses are offered only once a year, so a rough schedule helped me take those classes in a reasonable time frame.

Register for classes

Meeting with my adviser is a prerequisite for registration. I like to register online, so I need to get a registration pin from my adviser ahead of time. Usually this is easy because we have already agreed on a graduation plan. Since I already know which classes I need to take, I just have to work out a schedule. I’m a morning person, so I try to get into classes before noon. This is also convenient for my work schedule; ideally, I can attend class in the morning, work in the afternoon, and do homework or study in the evening and on weekends.

Find books

Textbooks are expensive. I remember my first semester of college when my parents bought all of my books from the campus bookstore a few days before classes began. We spent about $700 on books for my first semester! Well, after that I started finding ways to save on books especially now that I pay for my own books :) Since I’m on a budget, I try to minimize the amount I spend on books as much as possible. I’ve developed a system to help me do this.

1. Ask friends and colleagues

Start looking for books as soon as you register for classes. If  you know someone who is taking the class, or who has taken the class before, ask them first. If your friend has already taken the class, they may give you their book, or at least sell it to you for cheap. Another alternative is sharing a book with someone who will be in the same class. I must warn you though, sharing a book means that you will most likely be study partners so do this only with close friends. Last fall I took structural steel design and structural concrete design. The books were around $150 each, so I worked out an arrangement with one of my regular study partners: I bought the Design of Reinforced Concrete book and he bought the Steel Structures book. We were both happy to save, and we knew it would work out great because we often studied together.

2. Search for used books online

If you can’t get the books you need from a friend, try searching online. To get the best price and selection, start shopping as early as possible. You should start by getting the ISBN of the book(s) you need. This will ensure that you will get the correct edition of the book you will be using. I like to use the Google shopping tool to begin my search, because ti compares the prices of multiple sites. My favorite sites to buy used books are and I try to avoid books with highlighter marks or other writing in them.

3. If you can’t avoid it, buy new

This is always my last resort, but you can still save on new books by shopping online. This usually only happens when a new edition is published. You can usually find new books online for cheaper than in your college bookstore. I like because of their awesome shipping (pretty cheap and reliable). If I have to buy a new book, I try to keep it in good condition so that I can sell it back at the end of the semester.

Work on your time management

After I’m registered for classes I like to work on a plan for my time management. My favorite tool for this job is the Google Calendar because it synchronized with my Samsung Intercept . It doesn’t really matter what tool you use. The most important thing is that it works for you, that way you’ll actually use it. Using a planner can help you know where you’re supposed to be what you should be doing.

Use it to keep track of classes, homework assignments, club meetings, or work time. It’s easy to commit lots of time to classes, work and sports, but don’t forget to take a break. If you’re always busy like me, it might be a good idea to schedule time to relax or hang out with friends. I like to keep my Saturdays homework free. Having one day a week to myself helps me recharge and avoid burnout.

Practicing good time management can help you submit your homework on time, avoid cramming for exams, and get things done.

Here’s how I do it:

I begin by entering in all of my classes. Google makes this easy because I can create an event for my class, and set it to repeat on Monday-Wednesday-Friday (or Tuesday-Thursday), I can also make it repeat every week until the end of the semester :) next, I plan time for work. I usually work 20 hours each week during the semester. My boss is really flexible about my schedule, as long as I work it out ahead of time and show up when I say I’ll be there. After I insert my work time, I schedule study time. As a rule of thumb I work until about 5pm. Then I plan 30 minutes to an hour for personal time; I can have dinner, send emails, check my facebook or just lazy around for a bit. After I get that out of the way I can focus on studying or homework. I can use my scheduled study time for doing homework, preparing for an exam, or working on a class project. It usually works best for me if I schedule two hour blocks of study time; that way I have enough time to do more than one homework problem or make a reasonable amount of progress on a project or paper.

I hope my experience will save you some time or money. If you have any tips of your own, I love to hear from you! Good luck with your next semester :)

**Quick note on books: Consider shopping for books on Better World Books which announced an initiative this week to donate a book to the company’s non-profit literacy partners–Feed the Children and Books for Africa–every time a book is purchased on their website. Books for Africa will receive used textbooks, while Feed the Children will (obviously) get children’s books.**

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I’ve been reminiscing about the days when I was so young and eager to begin my college career. I felt so ready to get out of my parents house and explore the world. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know exactly what I was going to study; only that I was going to be free to expand my horizons.

Community College is Undervalued

My father suggested once that I take a few classes at the local community college before I went away to a four year institution. Of course I didn’t even consider the merit of this strategy. Later on as I struggled to find humanities and social sciences that might fit into my schedule along side my other engineering classes I realized my folly. Over the summer I enrolled in two online classes (offered by that same community college) that transferred toward my humanities and social science requirements. The classes were not offered at my school, but were pre-approved for transfer credit by the registrar at my school. Bonus: Two online classes were cheaper than taking a single class at my university :)

The Most Important Lessons May Not be Learned in a Classroom

Studying with a partner or group can be a better way to learn. I’ve found that explaining concepts to a friend can help me internalize the lesson better. Also, having a study buddy, who could help me understand the theory that I didn’t quite get, saved me many hours of agony. That said, I have to emphasize that copying homework is not acceptable and many schools have a zero tolerance policy.

Attending College is NOT the Only Option

Young people often feel pressured to attend college by parents and peers. I remember feeling like getting a college degree was the only path to success, when in fact there are many other alternatives. For those less inclined to extend their academic resume, vocational schools and certificate programs are a nice alternative to a four year degree. Entrepreneurial types might consider turning their skills or hobbies into a career.

For those of you planning to attend, or already attending college, this post from the Chegg blog has some really useful tips for success :)

Share your own experience and advice by commenting below. I look forward to reading your response!

posted by on Engineering, Job Hunting, News

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Continuing the faculty lecture series, I attended the second candidate presentation on Thursday. Dr. Two gave a PowerPoint presentation which contained the same basic components as the first candidate: current research and future funding opportunities, teaching experience, and professional structural design experience.

Dr. Two began his presentation with a discussion of his research. Instead of skimming over the surface like Dr. One, Dr. Two presented more of the details about his research. He briefly covered his research topics during his pursuit of Masters and Doctorate degrees. Dr. Two provided more detail than Dr. One, in his discussion of research interests.The review panel seemed to be familiar with these topics and asked questions after the presentation.

To demonstrate his teaching experience, Dr. Two gave a sample lesson on calculating the rectangular stress block of a reinforced concrete beam. Having taken a concrete design class previously, I recognized the concept as one of the fundamentals of Design of Reinforced Concrete. Dr. Two gave a clear presentation and included the appropriate equations in his PowerPoint slides. Dr. Two emphasized his commitment to dedicate time for preparing classes. I believe that good preparation really improves the quality of a class and makes a great difference in the quality of teaching, and my ability to learn.

The candidate followed his example lesson with a peek into his design portfolio.  I thought that Dr. Twos’ designs were visually appealing illustrated his professional experience nicely. Although his designs were not high rises as Dr. Two’s examples, their complexity was evident. One of Dr. One’s examples showed two different views of the building. One view showed the basic steel skeleton of the structure, and the other was an illustration of the finished structure showing a decorative façade overhanging an atrium.

Dr. Two closed his presentation by discussing the direction of his future research, and funding opportunities. Dr. Two also pointed out the possibility of collaboration with other departments at the school. I think this was a great move, because it made me actually picture Dr. Two in the position, working with other professors. Another thing that grabbed my attention during this portion of the presentation was that Dr. Two referred to his advisor several times. He said things like, “My adviser said that this agency might have funding in a few years.”This made me feel like Dr. Two was not confident in his ability to look for funding for his research. It also gave me the impression that Dr. Two was not as experienced as Dr. One.

Although the presentation contained the same basic components, each of the candidates’ presentation style was very different. Overall, I think that both candidates were sufficiently qualified for the position. Unfortunately, neither of the candidates really shined in my opinion. There was a third candidate interview held on Friday, however I was unable to attend.

Here’s what I took from the second interview:

First, preparation is key; Dr. One presented all of his material in just over 30 minutes. I felt that he could have slowed down a bit. Because of the short presentation I felt that Dr. One was better prepared for the interview. It seemed like Dr. Two probably practiced his presentation several times. As a job hunter, I want to be the best prepared candidate for the job I am interviewing for.

As I stated in Inside the Interview Part I, in an interview, you are given a specific amount of time to sell yourself, USE IT! Be prepared to utilize this opportunity to your benefit; play up your strengths, skills, and experiences. Demonstrate your skills by using examples or short narratives. Check out the STAR Method for information on how to design short stories that showcase your abilities.

Once again, I will reiterate the importance of practice. Rehearse answers to some of the most Common Interview Questions. This will also help you to inventory your skills and abilities and prepare to answer new questions on the spot. Don’t be discouraged if your first interview doesn’t go as well as you’d hope. Try to create a list of things that you can improve and work on those aspects for the next interview.

Good Luck!


posted by on Engineering, Job Hunting


The Civil and Environmental Engineering department at my school is interviewing several faculty candidates this week. Each of the three candidates is scheduled to present their research, prospective funding opportunities, and teaching experience. Students were invited to attend candidate lectures throughout the week.

I decided to attend the lectures for two reasons. First, as a student in the CEE department, I am interested in learning about prospective faculty joining the department. Second, as a prospective employee, I am interested in learning about job interviews.

**Note** Because I did not ask permission of the candidates to write about their presentations I will not use their names to protect their privacy.

I attended the first lecture today. The candidate, Dr. One breezed through the presentation of his research. He spoke confidently about his current research topic, and made a point of discussing the potential for future research and funding opportunities. I think this demonstrates that Dr. One did his homework before the interview, since NMT is a research university. A faculty position would encompass research, advising, and teaching. Dr. One designed his lecture to address these three areas of his experience.

Next, Dr. One discussed his experience as a professional engineer. He included drawings and pictures of projects in which he was involved in the design and/or analysis. I really enjoyed this part of the presentation; it made me think about what my future portfolio might look like. The selection of projects that Dr. One chose to share with us illustrated his understanding of structural design, and his ability to present his projects in an organized and professional manner.

Dr. One closed his presentation with a discussion of his teaching ability, and some examples of his students senior design projects. I was really impressed with the senior design projects because they focused on sustainable design and LEED certification. Dr. One also helped his students to model their design and create an animation of the model.

Here’s what I took from this first interview:

Preparation is essential for a great interview. Be sure to research the company and position for which you will be interviewing. Also, practice answering interview questions. Think about how your previous experience relates to the position you are pursuing.

In an interview, typically you are given one hour to convince someone to hire you. What strengths or experiences would you like to highlight? How would you present yourself? If you already have professional experience, consider creating a portfolio of your previous work.

I was most impressed with Dr. One’s professional design experience. It is beneficial to students in engineering design classes to learn about the practical applications of the material they are learning. Dr. One mentioned taking his students on tours of construction sites; I think this could be a great experience for students.

I was least impressed with Dr. Ones’ ability to answer questions after his lecture. I think that he sort of lost composure, and it makes me wonder how well he could answer questions from students.

It will be interesting to compare and contrast Dr. One with the candidate Lecturing Thursday.