I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started the Engineering Emily blog! In the first few months most of my blog posts were about my college experiences. I’ve shared how I decided to become a chemical engineer and my struggles in college. I had a scholarship that covered my full-tuition and fees, which was a great help, but I took on a full course load for four years which left me studying all the time and really struggling to pass courses in my first few years.
So, today I’m going back to the original theme of the blog and writing about what advice I would give my college self. I’ve learned a lot about life and myself in the 10 years since I graduated college, and there’s a few things I wish I knew back then.
Dear college Engineering Emily: First I want you to know that life is pretty good 10 years after graduation.
I am married to that great guy I met freshman year, I have two beautiful children, a lovely house in a big city, and I have an engineering job I really enjoy. But it wasn’t a smooth road to get here, so I’m going to give some advice to help smooth over some of the potholes along the way.
You are good enough, you are smart enough, you are kind enough, and you are pretty enough.
In college I had lots of insecurity about myself and I never quite felt good enough, smart enough, kind enough, or pretty enough. Now I realize that I always was enough.
I was good enough: I made my dreams a reality by having a great relationship with my family who support my unconditionally, and I built a network of amazing friends in college who have helped me through highs and lows in life and have helped me find jobs.
I was kind enough: I chose to get involved in a few clubs I was passionate about, including the Society of Women Engineers. This gave me the opportunity to volunteer at events to introduce young girls to engineering, which ultimately led to my desire to start this blog. I don’t have time to volunteer these days because I’m caring for two young children at home and working, so I created this blog as a way to reach out and encourage girls to pursue an engineering career path.
I was smart enough: I graduated cum laude with a BS in Chemical Engineering (yeah you better believe it college Emily, who almost failed freshman physics!) and I’ve landed some amazing jobs after college.
I was pretty enough: I married my college sweetheart who is the cutest guy I’ve ever met. Back in college I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup, but now even with some wrinkles around my eyes I feel good going out without makeup from time to time. I still love to wear makeup, but I’ve realized I look most beautiful when I am happy and no amount of makeup or genetics can change that.
Make your decisions with no regrets.
I have never been a good decision maker and still sometimes second guess my choices. There are so many stressful decisions in college: deciding on a major and sticking to it, deciding to stay home and study instead of a date with my boyfriend, deciding to go on a date with my boyfriend instead of studying, deciding which job offer to accept senior year. I always wondered if I was making a wrong decision.
The answer is make the decision that is best for you at the time. To help make those decisions seek advice from people close to you that you admire and trust (parents, mentors, professors, and friends).
What if I had chosen another major my freshman year? I wouldn’t be writing this blog today. What if I had gone on that date instead of studying? I might not have passed that last physics exam. What if I had studied instead of going on that date? I might not have married my husband. What if I hadn’t accepted that first job offer? Well, that first job I accept was a bad decision because it just wasn’t the right job for me, but so what? I quickly found another job that was a better fit and it ultimately led me to a job in Australia – one of the best experiences of my life so far. If I hadn’t accepted that first job then the chain of events that led me to Australia may have never happened. So there’s no point in wondering what could have been.
The saying goes, “Work hard, play hard,” but in college I only did the “work hard” part and completely skipped the “play hard” fun. I wanted to graduate as soon as possible to get a job and get out on my own as an adult. I said no to most of the concert, movie, bar, party, <insert any fun activity besides studying here> invitations that came my way.
Guess what? Working the job and being an adult is hard! Enjoy your carefree years living with mom and dad or in the dorm, when you don’t always have to cook meals and wash the dishes, when you don’t have mouths to feed and bosses to answer to. Take your time, reduce your course load and take an extra year to graduate. Real life can wait.
Ok, ok, I know taking an extra year to graduate is not free. You will have to apply and be chosen for more scholarships and/or take out student loans. The scholarships would be wonderful, but if that doesn’t work out and you have to take out student loans, once you’re working as an engineer and earning a great salary, you can live on less money than you make and focus on repaying your debt quickly.
One last piece of advice: don’t procrastinate so much
In college I put everything off until the last-minute: studying for tests, writing papers, reading the five chapters for homework, etc…everything was done late the night before it was due. Maybe it was because I always had too much work to get ahead. Or maybe I just didn’t plan well and put work off until it couldn’t be put off anymore. I think it was a combination of both. But I wish I had started some of those papers sooner than the night before they were due. Staying up most of the night writing a paper or studying for a test is miserable. All night study sessions seem like a right of passage in college, but it doesn’t have to be. Plan ahead and start early. Easier said than done, I know, but if the advice is out there maybe someone will listen. 🙂
To be honest, I’m in a place in my life right now where I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes when you’re happy it’s hard to look back and say I would change anything, because if I changed something I wouldn’t be where I am today. But I went through many struggles personally, professionally and as a student to get to the happy place I am today, so a little advice along the way wouldn’t have hurt.
Let me know in the comments what advice would you have given your college self. Also, I’m looking to get the Engineering Emily Interview Series started up again. If you’re a female engineer who’d like to share your story on the blog, please let me know!