Mechanical Engineering at University of Toronto (St. George)
Daniel (Year 2)
What did you wish you knew before going to your university? What made you choose this institution over all others? What are advantages and disadvantages of your institution or campus? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your university.
UofT is a really big school, and it can feel intimidating to choose it because of its size and reputation, but with its size you also get a TON of clubs, sports teams, and even startups that run within the university. It really is a matter of putting yourself out there and trying things out. If you are an athlete that wants to play in a competitive league but does not have time to invest in a Varsity team, there is a Tri-Campus league which offers a full season worth of games with playoffs at the end, with nowhere near the amount of practices and training of a Varsity athlete. If you are instead someone who prefers to work in Formula 1 some day, the school's Formula SAE of Formula Baja teams will show you the ropes. UofT really allows its students to take away so much more from their 4 years of study than just their diplomas.
What did you wish you knew before choosing your specific program? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your program? List any advice for incoming first-year students about your program of study.
Before coming to UofT engineering, I spoke to a lot of people that either graduated from the school or knew friends that did, and all the stories were pretty much the same: it's a super competitive program where your profs don't care about you and purposely make you fail. The program is competitive by nature, since all students are selected individually by the university. This means that there are 1000+ new students around you that were Presidents of Student Council, 95+ averages, and probably did something really cool at their high-school. But I quickly realized that everyone is in the same boat as you, and from my experience NO ONE is looking for you to fail, it is actually the opposite. Your peers will more than happily lend you notes if you happen to miss something (or "miss" a lecture or two). They will explain problems or concepts you cannot understand, and when no one seems to know what's going on (it happens a fair amount), the profs are equally encouraging and helpful. They are super approachable and patient, especially during their office hours, and countless times have proven they really want you to succeed in the program. Be an active participant in lectures, ask questions, answer questions, approach profs after lectures and ask them to clear any uncertainties up because that question to you might seems dumb, but in reality it's probably on A LOT of other students' minds.
What was your favourite university experience?
My best experience at university has to have been joining the Tri-Campus Men's Volleyball Team. It was so much fun getting to play with other really talented players and it was my first taste of playing in a serious competitive season. It also was a great break from school, having practices once a week and games every other weekend. If you are a sporty person I would highly recommend joining the Tri-Campus league and meeting great people outside of your major!
What was your least favourite university experience?
I do not really have a "horror" story to share (luckily), but something that really caught me off guard was midterms. You do not realize how fast they sneak up on you until it is the night before and you realize you may not get much sleep... I was told by upper year students that it was tough, but I did not fully internalize it until I actually lived through it. They are basically non-stop after week 2 or 3 of classes. You will have one every week, possibly two in the same week, and they will be worth quite a bit more than a high-school test.
What is the hardest part about your program and what were the steps that you took to overcome any difficulties?
There is a course in first semester called Engineering Strategies and Practice 1 (APS112), which is essentially a course dedicated to teaching students the process of how engineers in the real world go from receiving a job, to fulfilling it in its entirety. You learn the proper format for documentation and how to effectively identify an issue from a problem statement. This is also a team project based course. You will be assigned a team of up to 6 members, and tasked to present a solution to your given problem at the end of the semester. The hardest part about this was managing the document writing (this is essentially your only "essay-writing" class all semester) aspect of the course with studying for all the more technical classes like calculus and linear algebra. Often times there would be a document due at the end of the week, after having Calculus and Statics midterms two days before. I found in engineering especially, time management is vital. Making planners and updating agendas (I used Excel) to keep track of deadlines is super important to ensure you allow yourself enough time to complete everything you have to. It will take some trial and error to find what works for you, but eventually you will find your rhythm and you will get to the end of your first term all in one piece!
If you were able to take electives, what was your favourite elective? If you were not able to take electives, what was your favourite course and why?
My favourite course was APS110, also known as Material Science. This course is taken in semester 1 of first year and it teaches students all about material properties, things like why polymers like grocery bags stretch out and then magically stop and don't rip, and that the Bohr model of an atom is almost completely a lie. The way the course is taught is really REALLY amazing, filled with awesome demonstrations from the professor that sometimes catch the students off guard. It was really application based, and that in itself is what stuck with me the most, as there were many times where a lightbulb would go off in my head like "Ohhhhhh so that's why that happens!!" This is a course to look forward to for all first year engineering students regardless of the discipline.
UofT is PACKED with awesome clubs and sports teams. Do not underestimate how much 1 hour a week of free time to have fun can change your mentality on your school work. There were many times where work would feel overwhelming, but having the mental break from it to reset and go back with a fresh mind made a really big difference.