So a question I get every time I call home to update my extended family on how my very exciting (not really) last year of college is going, is: ‘But how can you do engineering online?’.
For a lot of people, the idea that engineering as a hands-on discipline could translate at all into a virtual setting is one that doesn’t quite make sense. I have to admit, I was never really worried about it. As a chemical engineer, while a lot of my classes have been hands-on in the past (examples include chemistry labs, lab-based process design classes, and lots of MATLAB projects), I’ve always thought about my classes as being focused on teaching problem-solving skills rather than specifically hands-on lab skills.
As a result, I was never too worried about taking engineering classes online, because for me, the most important takeaway from my classes (since I tend to think of myself as an engineer who doesn’t like hands-on engineering) is the analytical mindset that comes with solving long engineering problems. In terms of how my classes have logistically transitioned: my lab classes are now asynchronous, which allows me to have a more flexible class schedule, and while one of my lab classes now consists of online simulation-based and data-analytic aligned lab assignments, the other actually involved our professor shipping out small lab equipment devices to all of the students to complete assignments.
So while my classes and assignments have turned virtual pretty seamlessly, I will admit that taking said classes has been a lot harder. Whether it’s the difficulty of staying focused in class because of hours of screen-time, being unwilling to work on homework assignments online after Zoom-fatigue kicks in post 5pm, or just missing the spontaneity of dropping into my professor or TA’s office hours to say hi (signing into a Zoom link doesn’t have the same ‘Oh I was in the area and thought I’d stop by’ energy), classes this semester have felt a lot less like classes usually do. The hardest transition has definitely been in the realm of group study sessions: not being able to go to a study lounge, work out a problem on the whiteboard, and talk it through with my classmates (and now best friends) has made homework all the more difficult, and to be frank: it sucks. But I remain grateful for Zoom study sessions, the fact that we do not have to coordinate over many time zones, and being able to FaceTime them during class !(see below for prime example)