Final Words as a Chemical Engineering Student
It may not seem like it when you are writing your Cobalt Lab or working through a Thermodynamics problem set, but it will all be over faster than you think. Eventually, that fourth or fifth year will come and all of us will have to move on with our lives, in some way or another.
Over the past four years, I have learned a lot, both inside and outside of the classroom. In this post, I will include everything that I wished I had known as a Freshman, from the best way to get industry experience to the fasted way to sign in to your Illinois email. I hope that this information is helpful and that it makes your lives easier.
I will start with all of the advice that you have already heard. USE YOUR PROFESSORS AND TA’S! I am sure that your academic advisors, parents, and upperclassmen role models have all told you this, so it is a statement of how important this is that I would mention it again. Use office hours to ask clarifying questions to your professors and TA’s about class topics. Can’t think of a question? Here is a tip: just ask them to explain a concept they talked about in class. Or ask them for industry or real-world examples of these concepts being used. Asking questions will show that you are invested in the class and doing so will result in a stronger understanding of the subjects, valuable connections with leaders in academia, and in some cases a grade bump if you are just under a grade threshold.
It is very important for chemical engineering and chemistry students to get research or industry experience, but it can be difficult to get these initial opportunities. Here are my recommendations for overcoming this:
Look for research after your freshman year. At the beginning of the spring semester of your freshman year, begin looking for a research lab that you would like to join. Information on research labs for chemical engineering (https://chbe.illinois.edu/research/) and chemistry (https://chemistry.illinois.edu/research/undergraduate-research) can easily be found online. The goal here is to work during your sophomore year (and perhaps the summer before) gaining hard skills that you will be able to market to companies or perhaps different labs if you are interested in research.
Be sure to both email and drop in on professors. They are busy people and may not respond to your first email. If you are having difficulty getting into a larger lab, try pursuing a position in an associate professor’s lab. These are smaller and will not necessarily pay, but they are more likely to accept you.
During your sophomore year, make sure to begin looking for internship and co-op opportunities. Strongly consider pursuing co-op opportunities. They are less convenient than internships but provide you with more experience and are usually easier to get. Also, make sure to enlist the help of the SCS career services (http://careers.scs.illinois.edu), they will help you fine-tune your portfolio and give you insider information on opportunities and companies that you are interested in.
Need to get to your Illinois email fast? There is a shortcut to the login page if you type “g.illinois.edu” into the URL bar in your web browser.
Annoyed with having to jump through hoops to achieve the proper numbering for equations on your lab report? Here is a shortcut to immediately get the correct formatting. Consider Beer’s law, as seen below:
To get your number to automatically appear in the correct spot, type “#(1)” immediately at the end of the equation. For example, the above equation was typed as “A = ε x l x C#(1)”. You’re welcome.
It is important to get involved in RSO’s on campus. Some good groups for chemistry and chemical engineering students are American Institute for Chemical Engineers, American Chemical Society, OXE, and Illinois Biodiesel Initiative. I would also recommend that you get involved in at least one RSO that is not associated with your major. It is beneficial to widen your perspective and meet people who are not in your major.
Finally, make sure to put yourself out there. A lot of college is about making mistakes and learning from them, both inside and outside the classroom. Take time to put yourself in uncomfortable situations so that you can grow and learn. Expose yourself to different viewpoints and challenge yourself to gain a global perspective. You will only be in college for a limited time, so make the best of it.
In closing, you will learn a lot while you are here, and I hope that you can build on to this list as you learn easier ways to do things on campus. Please pass these tips and any more you find on to other students to help everyone have a better time on campus.