• The Mentorship Spot

What About Nanotech Engineering Won Me Over?

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Rachel Tao


“I found the Nanotechnology Engineering Program at the University of Waterloo incredibly fascinating because I had not heard of it before…Being a non-conventional engineering path, it is starting to get recognized as a possible pathway to revolutionize the future.”


Rachel is a part of the Class of 2022 at Waterloo University for Nanotechnology Engineering.


1. What drew you to UWaterloo Engineering?


Even at a young age when I would be solving complex chess puzzles, I knew there was nothing as thrilling and fulfilling as solving something you thought was impossible. I decided that I wanted to make a career out of what I find “fun”. Now that engineering was decided, I needed to find a post-secondary school that will give me the knowledge and opportunity in the real world. Studying without co-op can be tiresome, expensive, and one may end up being inexperienced in the workforce. What sold me at UWaterloo Engineering was the co-op program here. I know this is also the reason for many, and thus, my answer is not as unique as one may think, but it is true — by the time I finish my bachelors I would have an impressive resume that presents myself as mature and experienced. Yes, many students get a job during university to lighten the amount of student loan, but at UWaterloo Engineering, you get to do just that and work in the field that you are currently studying in. That way, the concepts that you learn in class are used in real applications where your hands-on experience will allow you to further your understanding. Just like any career in the world, it takes time and effort to become an expert in your field, and the co-op program at UWaterloo gives you a head start.


2. When you were choosing engineering streams, why nanotechnology?


I always liked math, physics, biology, and chemistry and did well in all of them. I could not see myself giving up any of the subjects, and so I found the engineering discipline that combines all into one. I found the Nanotechnology Engineering Program at the University of Waterloo incredibly fascinating because I had not heard of it before, and so I did a bit of research. Being a non-conventional engineering path, it is starting to get recognized as a possible pathway to revolutionize the future. Being curious, I started to google more on nanotechnology papers and became increasingly more interested in the field. I went to one conference where a UWaterloo nano startup was creating contacts that can measure glucose levels. That’s what sealed the deal. I would be joining a wave of engineers to be one of the first to push the boundaries of nanotechnology and explore the potential that it gives us.


3. Any rumours you think you should address about your school (e.g., hell week)?


Hell week is definitely not a rumor. For most of the engineering programs, you will probably have at least one hell week in your studying experience. It is a week dedicated to midterm examinations. Other programs may have multiple midterm examinations over the course of the semester, but it is something that is integrated among projects and assignments. Honestly, I’m not sure which is better, having it all in one go where that would probably cause sleep to be classified as a luxury, or juggling midterms, assignments and projects. Either way, you will have to dedicate time and effort into your studies or else falling behind will have pretty serious consequences.


4. How have your co-op experiences been?


I had one co-op experience as a Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo and I am currently on co-op as a Bioinformatics Technician at Western University. For my position as a Research Assistant, at first I was assisting on a water filtration project, but then my employer involved us in an entrepreneur group to compete in Aquahacking (entrepreneurship-inspired hackathon to solve water issues). Of the multiple issues that were listed at the competition, we chose how we can treat endocrine-disrupting chemicals that negatively impacts our aquatic systems today. Our team worked incredibly hard each day and it paid off when we won second place and where we now have an incubator and funding for our company. It was truly a remarkable experience that solidified that hard work will give you what you expect and more achievements than you can imagine. My current co-op is as a bioinformatic technician at the Robarts Research Centre. Although I am only a month in, I’m already loving it. There is a huge learning curve attached to this job and I have several complex projects that I need to finish, but who doesn’t like a little challenge? This job is already teaching me the formalities of a professional setting. Co-op experiences gives a brief insight of your future — what to expect so you can make a decision suited for you.


5. What are you involved in on campus, and how did that benefit you?


I was on the Waterloo Satellite Team, WATonomous, and WiSTEM in first year and in my first semester of my second year. I was doing a work-study term where I was working on my last co-op’s project since our competition was during my study term. All of these extracurriculars required a lot of hard work, and so it forced me to time manage and have the ability to distinguish priorities. Individually, Waterloo Satellite Team gave me an introduction to bash and C++, WATonomous helped fine-tune my photoshop skills, WiSTEM taught me the importance of communication and how it affects the team, and WaterPuris gave me the opportunity to expand on my entrepreneurship side (building a foundation for our company).


6. How have you gotten involved on campus, and how do you balance school and student life?


I knew I wanted to get involved on campus, so before school started, I went to a list of extracurriculars that UWaterloo offered and took down the names of clubs I wanted to join. I was fortunate enough to know quite a few of the upper years who gave me some insight on those particular extracurriculars, while I also did my own research about them. From there, I either applied to the club or went to the introductory session to learn more about them. I balance school and student life by writing a to-do list for the week and every day. That way, it gave me a layout of what I needed to do to make sure I was not falling behind. There is nothing more satisfying than looking back and seeing all the things you’ve completed on your to-do list. I also number the importance of each thing on my to-do list to make sure that the important things get finished first. Make sure you know when it is too much to handle because if you do not realize that you are spiraling and it will become catastrophic. Balancing academics with student life in university is probably one of the toughest things you will have to encounter, but balancing it correctly will give you memories you will never forget.


7. What would you change about your school/program if you could?


What I would change from my school is to give an actual reading week and dedicate this time to studying. They are trying to make it into a week, so hopefully it happens soon. Currently, it is either three days including Thanksgiving, or my reading week is after my midterm examinations. I know it is hard to select a week for reading week, but I feel time is needed for students to understand the concepts learned — to do the best they can do rather than see what they can do right after learning the concept.


8. What is your advice for high school students looking to attend this program?


In general, for any program in university, take high school as an opportunity to refine how you study. Of course, you won’t know what university is like unless you actually experience it, but make sure you keep up your hard work and the grades you need to get into university. Once you have that, university will still be hard, but at least you have a stable foundation for studying going in. Once you get in, grades may or may not drop, but just remember that they are only grades. Being just book-smart will not get you too far, nowadays you need drive, dedication, communication, and teamwork. If you are weaker in one category, that’s okay — balance it out with the others. Have something in your back pocket that makes you stand out — what makes people take another turn around to put your name to your face. We are in a world that needs unique individuals to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small.


Interviewed by Lucille Xiong


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