Engineering Chemistry at Queen's University
Tiffany (Year 3)
What made you choose this institution over all others? Did the university exceed your expectations?
To give some back story, I only applied to engineering programs in Grade 12, in order from Undeclared, Chemical, Electrical and Industrial as my choice of disciplines.
On OUAC, UofT was my first choice, and I believe that I had ranked my disciplines as TrackOne (Undeclared), Chemical, then Industrial in their internal application portal but didn’t get into any. I put UofT as my first option since it would allow me to live at home and because my dad is a UofT Skule alum. The thing is, I also heard from upper-year friends of how difficult they structure their program and rumours that they cut the bottom 10% of the class each year. So, in all honesty, I wasn't considering UofT too much since I was afraid that I'd fail out had I got into and chose their program.
Western was listed as my second choice as I was interested in doing their Engineering and Ivey dual-degree. I got in for Chemical Engineering but not for their Ivey Advanced Entry Opportunity (AEO). I wasn't sure if I wanted to take the risk of waiting until the end of second year to reapply for Ivey since I can't predict whether I would meet the criteria - 78% average from the first two years of engineering + maintaining 3 extracurriculars + probably another essay application.
Waterloo was listed as my third choice since I heard a rumour that if you don't put them in your top three, they won't look at your application (I know, I listened too closely to all of these rumours). I ranked Chemical then Management Engineering in their internal application portal but didn’t get into either. I wasn’t too keen about their co-op structure since it seemed like you would be spending most of your time trying to look for jobs instead of studying. I found this to be true since my friends who are at Waterloo say this is exactly what happens.
Queen’s was listed as my fourth choice but was ultimately my first choice of program. They offer a general first year and you pretty much get a guaranteed choice of discipline. They also have this “fallback” program called Extended Section that allows you to retake your core first-year, fall term courses (physics, chemistry and calculus) in the first 8 weeks of the winter term if you didn’t pass or do so well in them. You would then start the winter term and finish in mid-June; it saves you from having to redo your entire first year, which means you would graduate in 5 years instead of 4 years. I found that these options really set Queen’s apart from other engineering programs as they understand that the transition from high school to university is difficult, where not everyone is coming into the program with the same level of high school education. For example, BC students learn how to do integrals in high school, but not vectors; and vice versa for ON students. They give you a second chance and really try to help you succeed since they know that life throws curveballs at you and that not everything is structured so you only have one go at it. You also get some exposure to what each discipline focuses on throughout your first-year courses. That way, you don’t have to blindly choose a discipline in Grade 12 because you think that’s what you’re interested in.
Do you have any lingering thoughts or regrets in your year as a whole (ex; application process, mistakes going into first year). If so, describe them.
Going into second year, I was with a new group of people since this is when we split off into our own disciplines. I didn’t really know anyone going into Engineering Chemistry/Chemical Engineering, so it was basically like going into first year all over again. I think my biggest mistake was that I didn’t really go to any of the socials. Our Chemical Engineering Student Council hosted a few parties early in the year for students in all years to socialize and meet people, but I didn’t go to them since I had no one to show up with. I knew like 3 people going into my discipline but none of them wanted to go to the parties, so because of that I didn’t attend. It kinda defeats the purpose since you would think to go so you can meet others, but I just felt too anxious to go by myself. Eventually I met other people during lectures and labs, but I regret not meeting them sooner.
Briefly describe the academic rigour of your program (in terms of competitiveness, courses, professors, etc.)
My program is pretty demanding – I have about 30 hours of lectures/tutorials/labs and probably around 20 hours of homework/readings per week. My program is a bit interesting – I’m in Engineering Chemistry, which is a multidisciplinary program accredited under the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board as an engineering program, and the Canadian Society for Chemistry as a chemistry program. That means that I can pursue a professional career in both disciplines; as an engineer or as a chemist. That also means that I have meet a minimum number of lab hours (on the chemistry side) and a minimum number of credits (on the engineering side) to qualify for accreditation, so you could say that my schedule is pretty hefty. I’d say that half of my professors have been pretty good when it comes to teaching the course material and getting help during office hours, but the other half needs some improvement. The evaluations are fair for the most part, except for this one professor I have. I would say that the evaluations run quite a bit longer than the time allotted. The grading is a hit or miss, depending on the TA. Some will give you lots of part marks and others is basically a “right or wrong” scenario.
Describe the social life at your campus based on your own experiences (making friends, clubs + extracurriculars, party culture etc.)
You won’t go wrong with finding a party or just going to a club on any weekend at Queen’s. Especially at the beginning of the term or around a holiday, the streets are pretty much endless with house parties – even in the middle of the week! Most students at Queen’s are from out of town and end up living in residence. That’s pretty much how I met my closest friends during my first year. You’ll meet others in your lectures or labs, but it’s a bit harder since you’re in a section of around 300 students. I found that in lecture, I would meet someone one day, but can’t find them in the class the next day. What I ended up doing during the second term was I informally switched half of my schedule and went to the lectures in another section with my friends from residence. (They also had better professors than my section too, so it was like a win-win). You also meet quite a few people if you study in the engineering building (we call it the ILC for short). I wasn’t part of any extracurriculars or clubs in my first or second year since I was too overwhelmed with the workload that we had and felt that I wouldn’t be able to manage my time properly.
What are some of the best and worst parts of your university experience so far?
I think some of my best experiences so far would be finding my friend group, going to Ritual (I’ll explain in a sec), and actually creating something in my design courses/labs. You get this sort of satisfaction when you meet the right group of friends who all help each other to grind out our assignments and labs for class but also want to go do dumb, stupid things while we can when we’re young. Surely your high school friend group could be the same way but to me it seems a bit different.
Ritual is an event that happens every Friday at Clark Hall Pub, which is basically home to the engineers. You go day drinking, get to catch up with your friends (especially if they’re in a different discipline), and just a way to relax after a long week of class. Oh, a lot of people also skip class and wait in hour long lines to get in, but that just adds to the joy of it all. Personally, my favourite part of the Queen’s culture.
In my chemistry labs and design courses, my favourite feeling is when I get the right yield or build something that can actually work and perform since it shows that I’m actually improving my skills and showing progress in my education.
By far my worst experience was failing courses. I failed linear algebra in first year and then processes in second year. Luckily, I was able to rewrite my first-year exam and I’m currently waiting to hear back about a supplemental exam for my second-year course. Either way, it still sucks knowing that you failed a course.
List three effective study techniques and/or habits:
Noise cancelling headphones
Splitting up problem sets with your friends
Stating assumptions so you can get as many part marks as you can instead of trying to perfect a question
List pieces of advice for first-year students:
It's okay to fail
Create a budget...alcohol is expensive
Don't become dependent on caffeine
Hide your phone when you're doing homework/studying for exams
Call your parents every now and then
If you're living away from home, it's okay to feel homesick - you'll get over it
Time really flies by, so enjoy post-secondary while you can