How to Handle the Most Difficult Engineering Classes
Imagine signing up for what you anticipate to be a difficult engineering course. You get your textbook before class starts and find that even though you recognize some of the symbols being used, you feel like you will soon be lost with this subject. There a few steps you should take to ensure you get the most out of your studies that I sum up with the phrase, “break down and build back up.”
The first step is to break down the textbook. This is where you challenge the author’s authority on the subject at hand. If you have the syllabus, go right to the assigned beginning chapter, read and go very slowly through every example given by the author.
Have your calculator nearby and check every step the author provides. Try to catch a mistake if you can! Most of the time there will be very few mistakes, but it can be fun to take on the mindset of an investigator to ensure the validity every step.
What happens when you cannot follow a step? Notate it in a journal that you keep for the course. These steps will need to be investigated further by posing questions to your instructor and/or conducting further research in the next phase of the breakdown.
Compare Your Notes
The second step is to go through the lecture and/or notes provided by the instructor. Weigh this material against what you have investigated and learned by reading the text. There may be some areas that do not line up. Note these as well in your journal.
Build Up the Material
The third step allows you to start getting closure to your questions regarding the material. This starts the process of building the material back up. After assimilating your own notes from the first two steps, pose questions to your instructor or in in-person or online discussions with your classmates. It is amazing how the feedback from a large group of people can result in someone in that group being able to shed some light on a particular question.
Look on the internet for information regarding your remaining questions. Be careful at this point. You need to ensure that you are searching for keywords that you noted in your journal so that you do not get sidetracked. Be very specific in your search criteria.
Now you should be ready to tackle the coursework. You will be prepared because you challenged the author already and he or she will simply be asking you questions similar to the examples but perhaps with slight variation. You will find that while you are working on problems that you are solidifying the concepts and getting closer to fully building the material back up.
The only way to really make something your own is to break it down and build it back up. The process can be fun if you approach it like you are an investigator that seeks to uncover all the details and then uses those details to build a case in a course journal that will guide you through even the most challenging homework or exam problems.
About the Author
James Carmichael holds both a bachelor’s and master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Louisville. He is a licensed professional engineer (PE) and a project management professional (PMP). After graduating from engineering school he worked in the areas of industrial automation and controls. He designed power and control systems for some of the chemical plants in the Louisville and surrounding areas. Along with electrical engineering, he started designing database systems to collect data for quality control purposes. He also became involved with web page design and high level programming C#.
Eventually, he began to lead engineering teams in the design of control systems and database management systems. This progression led James to pursue a project management professional (PMP) credential. He now consults with Humana, Inc. as a program manager of a data support team. This position entails establishing improvements in business and information systems processes. He applies quality control techniques such as Lean and Six Sigma, project management techniques and engineering design techniques daily in his consulting work. He is currently pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky. Professor Carmichael is from Louisville, Kentucky, the birthplace of boxing great Muhammad Ali and the home of Churchill Downs.
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