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Mastering your Craft
  • Read news that is directly related to the industry that you plan to work in.
    For example: If you are an electrical engineering student, read Electrical Engineering Times.
    If you are a chemical engineering student, read Chemical and Engineering news.
  • Read popular science magazines like, Discover, New Scientist, Popular Science, Scientific American, Wired and Popular Mechanics
  • Turn your major into a hobby. Be a bit of an inventor. Try to build things related to your major.
    Clubs like a student chapter of ACM may do exciting projects that you can get involved with.
  • Get summer internships or do research. Most students waste the summer after their freshman year. There are companies out there that will hire freshmen as interns. Get on the web and hunt them down! If you can't find a place to work in industry, try to work for a professor. There are lots of organized summer research programs for undergrads too.
  • Read Science News, skim Science or Nature for papers related to your field.
  • Attend your department's research seminar. Almost everyone there will be a graduate student or a professor, and what the presenter says will probably sound like Swahili to you for the first few months, but if you go home and look up the big words that they used, eventually you will understand everything and you will be light years ahead of your classmates.
  • Read fun books related to your major.
  • Learn how to operate machining tools. Develop a sense of how to build things through experience. Be an inventor.
  • Bite the bullet and get really good at math its one of the most important tools you have.
  • Learn how to use computers well. Experiment with them. Try writing some programs. Get a For Dummies book if you need to or look for web tutorials. Try installing linux on your computer and learning how to use it.
Getting Good Grades
  • Many science and engineering textbooks are poorly written and filled with an excess of hard to sort through equations.
    Don't hesitate to use books made by Barrons, Cliffs, Bar Charts, Schaums, etc...
  • If you have enough self-discipline to study or do homework instead of going to your lectures, consider doing that if your professor is a bad teacher.
  • Learn to guess what will be on exams and then get good at determining what things you still don't know or fully understand.Try to get copies of old exams that were written by the same teacher. Don't stop studying until you have answered all of your own questions.
  • Know how to use every feature of your graphing calculator. Some of them can deal with complex numbers, matrices, and lots of other tedious stuff.
  • Memorize equations that keep coming up. In Materials Science and Engineering clasess, Bragg's Law and Fick's Laws pop up over and over again.
Staying Happy
  • Don't trust everything that your counselor says. Ask several different upperclassmen for advice.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew.
  • Don't major in something that you don't like.
  • Take proficiency exams. If your school will let you attempt to "test out" of a class. Do it! If you are thinking about repeating a class, don't take it for credit, sit in on it.The common counter-argument for this is, "If I re-take the class it will be an easy A." Having extra time to do well in your new, unfamiliar classes is probably more important.
Getting Into Grad School
  • Study HARD for the GRE. Your GRE score may have almost as much as a bearing on your admission to grad school as your GPA that it took you ~four years to accumulate. Its worth taking some time to prepare for it. Get some prep books and work through as many practice exams as possible. Memorize the meanings of words found on a GRE word list.
  • Do research. Try to get your name on at least one paper.
  • Keep your GPA at or above 3.2. The cutoff for most graduate programs is between 3.0 and 3.2. The really good ones may not touch you unless it is significantly higher. You may want to take some easy classes to pad your grades.
A few more things:

Math and calculation:
  • Become good at mental arithmetic - Being able to quickly estimate the value of an expression is very handy. While others are running through the calculator again, you can check your work in your head. Even if you can only get within an order of mangnitude, you'll be ahead of the rest. Read a book on "number sense" - there are lots of tips and tricks.
  • Learn your units well - English or metric, be able to convert and apply dimensional analysis quickly and effortlessly. Don't leave out the silly measures, either, such as slugs and BTUs.
  • Learn the common constants - Know the values for pi and e and the square root of 2 and such; know that a day is 86,400 seconds long or 1440 minutes; know that feet per second are about one and a half times miles per hour; know that one horsepower is about 750 watts; know that an acre is about 208 feet on a side; know that the earth is 40,000 kilometers in circumference. All of these come up all the time and things will go faster if you don't have to look them up to estimate a quick result.

Work the system:
  • Research your profs - If you have trouble with a prof or have one that is hard to follow, check them out on the web and in the library. They'll be pretty flattered if you happen to know some theory they espouse or some research they've done. Sometimes you can see where they're coming from if you can see where they've been.
  • Talk to your advisor and dean - Most of the time, they'll be flattered that you've come to them with something important (make appointments, be on time and be polite), rather than annoyed. I've seen a "concerned group of students" cause a tenured professor to be called on the carpet and forced to improve his substandard teaching habits.
  • Save your homework and tests - These should be passed on to future generations of students. Sometimes dorms or student associations or clubs have files. If so, contribute as much as you take.
  • Work in groups - Find some other students to work with. In courses like thermogoddamics or kinetics, where you mostly learn by doing zillions of problems, you will save countless hours by going to a room with a whiteboard and working them out together. Make sure everyone "gets it" and everyone participates and everyone actually works the problems out for themselves, of course, but use the group to figure out the approach and method for the solution. If you can keep this group together for your whole four years, you'll probably add at least a half a point to your GPA.


Above all, have fun and don't sweat the small stuff. If engineering isn't fun to you, by all means change majors. And, don't worry, after your first job, no one will ever care what your GPA was again.

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