Tips for Students (JHP Day 14)
I had an interesting thought today, reflecting on my journey in this writing series and all the progress I've made so far. I realised that, as weird as it sounds, writing is a lot like starting a fire.
To get going, you need a spark. Something that catches your attention, piques your interest. But once you've begun, it's a self sustaining process. You naturally find thoughts to branch off of, separate ways to take your point, and weave this narrative in your words - even if it's only a 5 minute read.
I've considered the kind of content I want to make on this blog really thoroughly - knowing that a lot of my audience is made up of other aerospace engineers - and a good chunk of them also have no idea what I'm talking about whenever I start on the topic. I like to cater to both sides, and I think where I'm planning on going with it will let me do that.
The thing is, even engineers don't know what engineers do sometimes. I had a conversation with a work colleague today, just going over the idea that the field is so diverse, it's actually impossible to guess what you might do day to day if you just told someone you're an 'engineer'.
So I want to focus on writing and creating material that really defines it, and helps all of us understand - not only what it is that I do in my own time, but what careers in engineering and aerospace look like for anyone.
This post is for university students in general - a few of these tips apply specifically to engineers, but all of them are great advice to students in other courses - whether you're a 2nd year english lit. major or a 3rd year in electronic engineering.
Here's what you can do before you start your first (or another) year at university - to make it the best that's ever been.
Learn to Manage Your Time
This is one skill that I think is bound to pop up on almost every single '6 tips to get better at x' list ever created. Time management is such a core skill not only in your career, but in your life - and it's one that you either learn to develop and maximise on, or pay for later on. My post on time explains more on this.
Do your best to prioritise on what matters to you. Don’t get me wrong, I think myself and a lot of my friends who are also aerospace engineers would agree we all do our fair share of doom scrolling - but it takes a bit of effort to fully lay out a schedule for yourself - and it pays off massively in the long run, especially if you start at the beginning of term.
Whether it’s on Google calendar and linked to your lecture schedule, something you write in a bullet journal, or even just a rough outline, like a daily highlight of three things you’d like to achieve by the end of the day - set it out beforehand so you can save yourself the stress later.
I won't tell you to follow an exact schedule like "don’t work after 7pm" - purely because I realise everyone works differently. I myself have massive bursts of energy sometimes - if I really feel like it I could start at 10pm and work until 3am. Not to say that it's healthy, just that it’s me. I’m a night owl.
Embrace the strategies that work for you, and put less weight on what people tell you to do.
Find Some Practical Experience.
Whether that’s through a course project, a summer internship, work experience or a placement, find a way to work on things that professionals actually do in their day jobs. For engineers - code programs, solder electronics, analyse structures - whatever it is, have something apart from your degree to put down on your CV because engineering companies absolutely lap that up. They love it.
One great thing about student projects is that they let you do a lot more than just add an extra few lines on your CV too - in some cases, they let you travel to other countries for competitions off of the university’s own money, because they're directly funded by the department. They can let you buy electronics and cool engineering related things to learn from using the university’s budget (this one's been massively helpful for me in learning to build my own drone - more on that in this post) and they let you network with a ton of people. Whether that's making friends or connecting with career experts - some of whom may even look at you and go "huh, we should really headhunt him/her for our company". The opportunities are endless.
Don’t Burn Out.
This is a hard balance to strike with the first point - If you’re an overachiever or a perfectionist then you might do what I did and sign up to way too many things too fast, overcommit your time and underdeliver on a lot of them. I can tell you first hand it really isn't fun - I dedicated a whole post to explain the trauma of it here!
Develop strategies to handle the stress by doing whatever it is that relaxes you - and know that your career isn’t everything. Your health and mental well-being goes above all.
Learn to Communicate, and Learn to Do it Well.
Such a boring one, right? Who needs to learn how to communicate? We've all been doing it for years.
Wrong. You may have been speaking to people for years - but the communication I'm talking about is a lot more than that.
Learn how to craft stories with your words. Deliver speeches that engage people. Narratives that grab at people's eyes when they read them and keep them in a firm grip - mesmerised at what it is you're going to do next. Learn to hold a room and get people's attention when you talk, so that they can't help but continue listening, and leave enthralled afterwards.
As an engineer, an even more crucial skill than technical experience is soft skills. That might sound counterintuitive - but as long as you have a decent technical background in engineering, the company you go to can train you on the rest of the specifics afterwards. It takes a lot more than that to build confidence and charisma.
Loads of people are insanely good at what they do technically, and they become specialists. But a block that a lot of them hit in their careers, is whenever it comes to delivering a presentation and explaining the work they’ve done, they stumble.
So whether it’s public speaking, writing, or even social media (which can come in pretty handy, trust me) focus on those transferable communication skills that will make you an amazing team member, and someone that will really stand out above everyone who just has the technical know-how.
Especially now, in the age of modern tech that we’re in - the way you market yourself is so impactful. I wrote a post on this which you can read to explore the topic more.
At university you get the chance to develop your communication skills through a whole host of societies - debate society, public speaking society, even poetry society - anything that gets you communicating with people is useful. Make the most of it while you have the chance!
Another bonus tip is that if you can get the soft skill to tie in with your field, like being an academic representative for your own faculty, making the course better for all of the students and helping the staff at the same time - it’s doubly better.
Build Your Leadership Skills.
Becoming a lead in engineering projects, societies or your academic community can teach you so many skills that you’d never have thought you’d need as just a project member.
You learn to manage teams, create training materials, organise the logistical sides of projects (running training sessions, keeping people engaged in the long term, getting signups etc.) and these all become your responsibility when you’re a lead, which pushes you to really put in the work even more. You learn to become the person that fills gaps in the team, whether that’s in experience or management - it makes you the glue of the team rather than just a contributing member.
One thing I would say though, is don’t take the position just to put it on your CV. Not only can companies tell when you do that, if you don’t really have anything to talk about by the end of the year - but it will end up becoming more of a time sink that anything - causing you to keep up an impression for work that you aren’t able to do. If you really want to go for it, accept the responsibility and pour your heart and soul into it.
Leadership is a responsibility more than anything, and although it comes with rewards, you also bear the burden of all of your team members combined. If the team is doing well, everyone will feel part of that success - but when something goes wrong, people will look to you to solve it. It’s not all bad though - with a good management system and leadership structure, it can be really fun.
Look for Scholarships
it’s literally free money if you qualify - many universities have their own websites - and external organisations also offer funds, bursaries and the like for aspiring engineers. Take any opportunity you can get - if it’s really not meant for you, or you aren't eligible, they’ll simply deny it - it's no skin off your back, and you can move on with your life. But if you do manage to get it, you’ve secured a decent reward - most of the time, just for doing what you would've been doing anyway - developing yourself.
Make the Most of University!
Meet people, have fun, make friends, work on cool projects, sleep in for lectures, study your ass off. Whatever you do, you’ll only have a few years before it’s over - cherish it!
On the off chance that you've read something on here and loved it, or want to read more, feel free to shoot me a message on my socials:
The feedback helps massively. Thanks!