Computer Engineering at Queen's University
Hi, my name is Jordan, and I am a Computer Engineering student at Queen's University
going into my third year. In this article, I will be discussing my journey in Engineering at Queens over the past three years, also amidst a pandemic.
What inspired you to pursue computer engineering? How did this decision change things for you in high school?
In grade 10, I took a computer science course that I really enjoyed a lot. The final project was to create a game using a programming language called Turing. The game I programmed was a recreation of the mobile game Geometry Dash, a video game that I loved playing at that time. It was a difficult program to work with and I put a lot of effort and time into it. However, I really enjoyed the process and was proud of the work I did. I believe that if you truly enjoy what you do, it’s much less stressful.
In grade 11 and 12, I had the same teacher for more programming courses. My teacher also went to Queens University for the same program, so I was also able to get some more insight about Queen's.
Through these courses, I learned that I like programming, found it relatively easy, and did well in it. This is why I wanted to continue that into my university degree.
I specifically chose computer engineering as opposed to computer sciences because engineering is more practical math, not theoretical math. For example, I liked the perspective of learning about the mathematics behind trusses and buildings.
Why did you choose Queens for computer engineering specifically? What makes it unique?
I wanted to go to Queens for engineering because I liked the program structure; it’s a 4 year program; 5 years with an internship. The professors that teach the engineering courses are reputable and Queens was well known for its engineering program. When doing tours, I found that Queens had a nice campus environment. I also wanted the experience of moving out and gaining independence, which Queens provided.
One unique course that’s part of the engineering program is the ABSC course. It gives first year students a taste of a realistic engineering experience and prepares you for the engineering world by giving you the opportunity to work with actual teams on projects. You’re assigned an external client and along with a fourth year student, you design a solution to their problem. In your fourth year, it comes back full circle and you take on the leadership to design this program for incoming first year students and mentor them.
What is the program structure? What was your favourite course so far?
In the first year, it’s a general engineering stream, so you are taking many introductory prerequisite courses to every engineering specialization that’s available. This includes courses pertaining to geology, mining, civil, computer, electrical, etc.
Going into your second year, you choose your specialization in engineering depending on the prerequisites you liked and your career goals. In third year, you can further specialize within your stream. For example, computer engineering can be broken down into hardware, software, megatronics (robotics), AI, etc. More than it being a honed down specialization in third year, it’s a framework for you to go off of for your career after graduation. In fourth year, along with the courses in your specialization, you take on the leadership of organizing the ABSC course for incoming first year students.
In terms of my favorite course, I can tell you it’s not physics. I liked a lot of the math courses, especially first year calculus. There are also programming courses for Java and C that I enjoyed because it aligned with my interest the most and wasn’t difficult.
How was the on-campus life at Queens, especially in terms of social health?
I found residence life to be amazing, particularly because I was placed in a good residence! There are three really good residence buildings in Queens, but they are a bit expensive. I also found that the food in residence wasn’t the greatest, but Queens has several external restaurants that offer student discounts and has much better food. Some residences also have a small kitchen for you to cook on your own.
All single room residence buildings are west of the main campus. This is a 15 minute walk and is somewhat secluded, which isn’t the best in terms of social health.
How is the support system at Queens for engineering?
Like most programs, engineering classes have teaching assistants (TAs), who host weekly tutorials to ask for help. You can also reach out to the TAs individually for help.
The university also provides some tutors who hold review sessions for a small fee. This could be the Engineering Student Council (EngSOC), who handle various engineering services, such as FROSH week and academic help. Make sure to also ask your professors for help outside of class during office hours, or during the lecture itself.
The engineering community at Queens is a tight-knit community. During FROSH week, upper year students called FRECs (FROSH Regulation Enforcement Committee) welcome incoming first years with fun initiations. FRECs will also help out first year students throughout the entire year. They will answer questions, hold review sessions, and make you feel like you have a community to fall back on.
How did COVID change things for you?
The most important thing that the pandemic taught me is to be more disciplined, especially because you need to work hard to get good grades in engineering. When I was living back at home, there were many distractions and I found it harder to get my work done.
Also, the pandemic hit when I was in my second year. My first semester was lighter in terms of the workload in comparison to my second semester (4 vs 7 courses), which made second semester much more difficult.
Being attentive is very important because it’s especially easy to get disengaged when you’re studying online, causing you to fall behind. Make sure you also find help if needed.
How were your extracurricular experiences?
One of the activities I hope to participate in this year is intramurals, usually held for frisbee, basketball, hockey, etc. There are also engineering design teams that I was a part of. One such club is called Merlin Neurotech, which is a club that specializes in developing technology with brain waves.
A friend of mine started a club called Queens Water Action Committee (QWAC). It’s focused on trying to help indigenous communities get access to clean water, which is an issue that has been neglected for a long time. I’ve been a part of his team, and so far our main goal is to try and get the club ratified under the university student council. It’s a club made entirely from scratch, so a lot of planning goes into its initialization. We’ve also organized fundraisers and held seminars with indigenous speakers in attendance to build good relations with their community and learn more about their cultures and traditions.
What is your advice for incoming first year students interested in Engineering and Queens?
The biggest piece of advice I would give students is to actually do your work. It’s difficult to be on top of everything, because the work piles up quickly. One habit that I have is I would put too much time and effort into one specific subject/project, and this would cause me to fall back on everything else. I also tend to leave harder assignments/concepts for later and get the easier things done first. In retrospect, this is awful, because when something is hard and you leave it to the last minute, you are really scrambling to get it done.
This leads into my next piece of advice, which is if you need help, get help as soon as possible. Ask your TAs, professors, friends, upper year students, etc. but make sure you always assess if you need help. I’ve learnt that especially in engineering, understanding the concept is a lot different than actually applying the concept so distinguishing between these is very important.
It’s also important to get involved with extracurricular activities because those experiences allow you to build many skills that are transferable when you are applying for internships and jobs. Learn to network and talk to your professors and upper year students. Try to form good relationships with them because they are your support system and can help you throughout undergrad and even after you graduate with your career goals.