Saturday, November 19, 2011

Get your hands dirty- Student Projects

Student projects are a great way to learn how to work with others on an engineering projects.  Those open ended problems will always exist.  However, one of things I have learned from a student design project is it's all about money. If you aren't able to market yourself, you won't be able to get funding for your project.  It doesn't matter how revolutionary it is- it probably isn't anyway- but if you aren't able to obtain funding, you don't succeed.

Student projects also give you the capability to truly understand the resources that you have at your disposal.  At my school for instance, we have a student machine shop where students can fabricate pretty much anything they design- as long as you know how. Now, this gives you the ability to view design from the view of a manufacturer, but it also gives you the capability to greatly reduce your overhead. 

Finally, you create a lot of good friendships and networking skills along the way.  You understand who your friends are (and aren't), as well as being able to create and maintain company contacts (these are the people you are asking for money).

Just get involved in something related to this, because it is VERY worthwhile to see what the "real world" is like before you actually experience it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

To Wear or Not to Wear?

Being a girl in a male-dominated field makes me very nervous to wear anything flattering to school.  This could be heels (but who would wear heels to school), boots, skirts, shorts, or even dresses.  When I walk into the computer lab for engineers, I often feel like I'm being looked at.  When I walk into other computer labs or classrooms on campus, though, I feel as if it's the norm.

This often comes as a dilemma.  I know many of us girls wear flattering clothing because it's cute, it's fashionable, or we just feel like wear a dress! However, every time I want to wear something along these lines, I think about the perceptions from teachers or other classmates.  I often feel like they would think I'm dressing up to impress either another guy or teacher, whether or not it's my actual intention.  

There are often instances where I will choose not to wear something flattering if I have an appointment with a professor to simply insure that I'm not being a potential flirt. (I'm not talking about when I work in the lab and need to be wearing long pants and tennis shoes for safety reasons.) 

Do other people feel this way? Should I monitor the way I dress to make sure I don't "come off wrong" to male peers or professors? Or am I being too-self conscious?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Study Habits 101

One of the hardest things to do in engineering is getting an A.  Sure, it could easier because you enjoy learning about it.  And some would argue that getting A’s in engineering is overrated (there are some reasons for this, but many of them don’t make sense).  However, there are just those classes that you don’t get.  So below are Serena’s Ways to Getting A’s, based on her own strategy.  Someone told me I should write a book about my strategy; I guess this is close enough.  Disclaimer: I’m not promising this to anyone.  But your grades will rise if you are disciplined enough.

Work a 40 hour week.  I adopted this when I actually had 20 units, aka 20 hours of school per week.  Say, on average, you have school (class and office hours) for 4 hours per day, you would only need to study about 4 hours per day.  To be honest, this isn’t a lot of time.  If you do this, you’ll find out how much time you waste now.

Write down your study hours.  Be honest with yourself!  If you actually didn’t study, don’t write down those hours.  At the end of the week, you will either say, “Wow, I should/could have done more!”

Devote study time for studying.  I know this sounds stupid.  However, anytime you look around the library, I guarantee that about ¼ of the people are on facebook.  Just study now, and get it over with!

Set a time goal.  Instead of saying, “I’ll get my paper/homework/project done today,” say, “In two hours, I will have XYZ done.” Treat it is as real deadline.  Although you probably won’t get it all done, you still devoted those two hours to work, instead of meddling around on facebook.

Create a large To-Do list.  This only works for people that really like to see everything they have to do.  I love seeing how many things I can cross off my list.  I leave school at 5 and say, “Wow, I did a lot today.”

Separate school from home.  Many people study at home.  I understand this.  But psychology says that we can separate the mindsets.  Do all of your work in the library/lab/classroom/office.  Then go home at the end of the day, and leave your school-mind at school.  This really helped me with my school-anxiety, and I probably will never study at home again (unless I absolutely have to pull an all-nighter).

Do all of your homework…by the time it’s “due.”  I know that a lot of classes don’t have homework that’s “due.”  However, make your “due date” the day/time of the professor’s/TA’s office hours.  This keeps you accountable with the weekly stuff, and you’ll only have to review it when it comes time for the midterm.

Go to office hours.  Don’t just go to office hours; be prepared for office hours!  Ask lots of questions- annoying questions. (Well don’t actually be annoying, but if you don’t “get it,” say so!!!)   Have your questions ready!  Understand every component of the problem/solution before you ask your question.  Then if the TA says, “well I would do ____,” you can counter it with, “I already did that.”

If you don’t understand something, find the question in the book and complete similar questions.  Another thing people don’t do.  This is why you paid $150 for that textbook!  You didn’t spend the money to do 10 problems.  Instead of just giving up, ask your TA/professor about those similar questions; it may just ring a bell on that previous question.

Make office-hour friends.  Usually the people at office hours (like the ones that go religiously, like you should be doing) are working just as hard, if not harder, than YOU.  I have a couple of these friends (they are rare).  But once, an office-hour friend and I figured out the solution to a problem with the TA there.  The TA literally had no clue.  It was a great moment. 

Make friends with your professor.  Now this is helpful for people of any caliber.  I don’t mean for you to smooze with your professor.  I strongly dislike these people.  However, think about it from a professor’s perspective.  If she’s never seen you before, she probably won’t feel bad when she gives you a D or F…or even that B+.  If you show your face and look excited about the subject, the professor is going to relate to you.  They may say, “Well, she probably had a bad testing day.”  INSTANT GRADE BOOST!  I’m not saying all professors are like this, but they are less likely to be cruel if they at least recognize you.

I hope this helps.  If you would like me to elaborate or if you have critiques, let me know.:-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Intro to me :)

Hello everyone,

Remember in elementary school when they had all the little kids paint by numbers, with every part a designated color and a warning not to go outside the lines? Conformity at its simplest? I was never very good at that.

I am currently a Sophomore of Senior status (due to number of credits) at UC Davis completing my Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering double major and I’m probably going to be tacking on a minor onto that sometime in the near future. I’ve always been the one who constantly had her nose buried in some sci-fi novel and when it came time for me to start thinking what I wanted to do with my life there was only one thing I could think of; reading about inventions beyond my time and heroines whose willpower and imagination had been the driving force behind the change they set in motion.   I wanted to be that change, I wanted to be the one making the technological transition forward and making a difference in the world.

Once I made my choice the rest was simply a means of reaching my goal. I have been taking college courses throughout my high school years, but my senior year I took a full load of college courses on top of my high school classes and job and therefore completed most of my prerequisites needed for the majority of the lower division engineering courses. I graduated at 16 and came to UC Davis a little bit younger and less experienced than my peers but with twice the drive and motivation. I started getting involved with various engineering clubs where I met Serena who became my mentor through the Society of Women Engineers and who has been like a true sister to me this past year. I started Aggie Micro Aeronautics team and got to help build and compete an airplane last year.

Just a little background on me as a person before I delve further into what I’m doing now: I’m vegan, love to cook, and have dance experience in bboying/hip hop/popping/Iranian/Bollywood/salsa. I’m a gym junkie and a Bodyrocker (for any other fans out there). I love drawing; I like to think of my sketchbook as just another body part that needs to be lugged around. I practically live in the sci fi/fantasy section at Barnes and Noble. I love Korean and Japanese dramas and am constantly getting addicted to various mangas. I’ve cycled through a zillion different hobbies and have the attention span of a squirrel.  I love building things; I’d like to think that I’ve improved from my Lego creations (sound effects included) to being on the design team Aerobrick today (although I still play with Legos. Fact). Oh and I am constantly losing things (my mind. Ha).


Last summer I got a position at Autodesk as a Student Expert. I received training with them over the summer in various programs and now work on campus helping other students learn design and modeling software. Me and two others I work with then created a club called 3DMD (3D Modeling and Design) for which I am the president. We host workshops on campus and provide online tutorials weekly (which have yet to be uploaded as we have been prioritizing workshops but which will be available soon) on We also provide Office Hours and online help and basically act as a resource for students like ourselves who also want to take the initiative and learn the software to help with their engineering careers.

A month or two ago I submitted a project for, and got the role of, leading the new Autodesk Marketing Campaign (not sure how specific I’m allowed to be about this) and got to have a photoshoot! (Kinda sad how excited I was about that but what can I say, it’s a little girl’s dream). I worked weeks on my project and got to incorporate all the crazy things I read about and dreamt up in my spare time. I think it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to incorporate my own personality and inspirations into a piece and it turned out to be the most fun I’d ever had designing it. I loved that once I was approved, they gave my full reign to be as creative as I pleased and that for once I wasn’t worried about “painting by numbers.” It’s really been an eye opening experience and probably the reason I’m adding a minor in something related. I’ll post a pic of the final rendering once I get the go ahead ^_^.

So that’s me. I’m trying to balance classes, 2 jobs, officer positions, the new club, dance, the Autodesk position, Aerobrick (airplane design team) and the rest of my crazy life. I’m not exactly sure if I’m succeeding but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I finally found something I think is right for me and I’m not going to let it slip from my grasp.


Nassim R.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Hi everyone!

I'm Nicole and even though I may not be an engineer (actually a Mathematical Physics major from a school in New Hampshire probably nobody has heard of), I have some similar experiences.

I've wanted to work for NASA doing research since I was in the 5th grade. My teacher (Hi Mr. Lemoine!) restored the observatory behind my elementary school and every week the astronomy club would go out there and look at all the awesome objects out in the universe. Also, he signed up my entire class to have our names put on two dvds. One would go on Spirit, and the other would go on Opportunity. MY NAME IS IN SPACE? HOW FREAKING COOL IS THAT?!?! But let's get back to Earth and talk about my research :)

Just like Serena, I am working as an undergraduate intern at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. My project is The Balloon Experiment Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometry (BETTII) project. Basically it's a telescope attached to a giant high-altitude balloon that will test wide-field double Fourier interferometry (which has been demonstrated in a laboratory testbed, but never in a flight-like environment).

If you don't understand a word that I just said, don't worry! I didn't understand most of it when I first got to NASA. I've actually worked here last fall semester so I was familiar with some Infrared Interferometry, but didn't really know the details of it. But that's the greatest thing about science, in particular research. You can take something that you may not understand or comprehend at the beginning, and by the end you're an expert at your project! It's something I love, the feeling of slow discovery... it's kind of addicting to a nerd like me.

Just felt the need to introduce myself before I started posting things. Nice to meet everyone!


Monday, November 14, 2011

The best job is one that didn't exist before- Undergraduate Research

My previous post talked about how awesome  undergraduate research is.  Now, here are a few ways to obtain a research position.  It's tough work, but if you are motivated and excited, you'll definitely learn a ton!

1. Figure out what you like, or at least, what you think you like. If you like materials, go with materials.  If you think you like systems, go with systems.  Pick a general area.

2. Study your department's website.  There will be a listing of faculty and their research interests.  Their interests are likely to be very broad (or specific).  If you are unsure about what it means, look it up! There's a reason Google was invented.

3. Identify which professor's research interests sound cool/interesting to you. Do this by looking at faculty members' websites.  Look at their papers/ publications (many of them are out there on the web!).  Usually, you should be able to get a gist from the abstract.  If it's super interesting, go ahead-read the paper!

4. Read the Bio of the professor.  Sure, it sounds kinda creepy, but that's why it's posted! It's just like when someone posts something on Facebook; they expect you to read it! Get to know their Alma Maters, potential graduation dates (give an estimate to their age when they graduated with their Phd- it'll give you an idea if to ask "Did you work before graduate school?").  Some professors are very impressed. Like I read about a professor being a Student Adviser during his undergraduate and related it to a summer job of mine.  He knew I did my research and was not taking research lightly.

5.  Email 2 or 3 professors.  Dr. Louie at UC Davis has written up a blog post about it.  Make sure you take a look at her helpful hints.  Serena's Helpful Tip #1: Don't email all professors on the same day; they may want you to meet at conflicting times.  And you may find you like one lab more than another.  Serena's Helpful Tip #2: Say, "Below is my availability for an appointment."  Then, list all available times for the next week. Be flexible.  I usually post times between 8am-5pm.  I know you're a college student, but a successful college student doesn't sleep in until 11 or noon.

6. Wait for response, but check your email often. Sometimes won't get back to you on purpose; they want to see how motivated  you are.  Usually I give them about a week. One week later, shoot an email (with the original message below), and say "Dear Professor ___, I sent you an email about 1 week ago regarding your research and my potential involvement.  Would you be able to set up an appointment with me? Below are my available times." And list your available times.

Sometimes, they will send you an email back immediately! Don't dilly dally! If you said you were available at 10, you better be available at 10.  Stick to your said commitment.  This is your first chance to impress them, and you don't want to mess it up by changing your mind.

7. Meet with the professor.  Say, "I read your stuff about ____.  Although I don't know much about ___, I would love to learn more and get involved."  Ask them about their current research projects.  Would you be working under a graduate student or directly with the professor? Both are good! What kind of qualifications do you need to work in their lab? Some professors want some upper division coursework, but if you show you are motivated and excited (and have done your research), they are often willing to make exceptions.

Serena's Helpful Tip #3: It's okay to get rejected. Some want upper division coursework.  Some just don't have room or the time! Usually, the reason you get rejected is not because they dislike you.  This is why you have multiple professors in mind. 

8. Be ready to start almost immediately.  Again, this depends on the professor.  They may never contact you again.  It's up to you to maintain the relationship. They may also set you up with a graduate student almost immediately.  Be ready for an increased work load.  It might be a lot of stress quickly, but don't worry, you're smart!

Serena's Helpful Tip #4: Be willing to devote about 10 hours per week for at least 2 quarters. If you don't have this much time to devote, don't even start your search.  You know your coursework.  You know your graduation plan.  Don't waste your time or the professor's by dropping out because you were "too busy."  This excuse does not make for very good letters of recommendation.  

9. Work Hard.   At first, you won't know anything!!! It's okay; just be willing to learn and do research on the side (look at papers, publications, wikipedia pages- often a good resource for general information).  After you get the gist of it,  don't be lazy and sleep in until 11.  After I got my initial training, I would often show up before ALL of the graduate students in the lab.  Some told me that I worked too hard.  If you are surpassing the expectations of the graduate students, THIS IS A GOOD THING and keep doing it! 

10. Have the goal of publishing or presenting your work. Ask your adviser (he/she is no longer your  professor to you- however you should still address them as so) about doing this.  It shows your motivation to have an individual project and willingness to take on new challenges.

Serena's Helpful Tip #5: Don't expect to get paid until you've put in enough "time".  It's okay to ask, but the professor doesn't know anything about you; would you pay someone you didn't know? After a few months, you can ask.  But again, don't expect anything.

I hope this list is extensive enough.  Again, research is tough work.  But don't let other people dissuade you if you really want to get involved. If I didn't answer all of your questions, feel free to comment.

Boom Boom Pow

Since studying absorbs most of my life, I usually accompany it with music. For some, music is a distraction, so I understand if you want to totally ignore this post.  Below are a few of my favorite music genres.

Techno/House Music: My favorite when writing papers for my GE classes! I feel like I start to type as fast as the music, and it makes my 10 pages go by very quickly.

Jazz: Also another favorite.  Usually best for a rainy day while you are casually running through your Calculus 2 problems. I love just be-bopping along. Ella Fizgerald is the best. :-)

Rainy Day: I absolutely love the sound of rain! This is my favorite to start my day. It just makes me want to have a nice hot cup of cocoa and fill my brain with all sorts of circuits problems.

Top 40 Pop: Usually good when you are just feeling down in the dumps. Ke$ha usually does it for me.  I just start singing along, and magically,  I feel better. Then, I'm ready to keep coding.

Rock/Metal: I'm from LA, and I truly miss KROQ.  But this genre helps me get over the problem I've been working on for hours.  I just get motivated, and then I figure it out! :-)

What is your favorite study music?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yay for Women in Tech...wait What?

A few weeks back, I bought an issue of Glamour for my occasional fix of girly-brain candy.  I came across this article.  My first thought was "Cool! They are going to actually address this issue about girls in STEM." After reading the article, I do have some critiques, since the article does not address the REAL issue.

The article concentrates on computer science only.  Now, nothing against computer science, but STEM is the WIDE field that incorporates more than you can imagine.  There was no talk about the ground-breaking work in other fields.

It concentrates on women in management and entrepreneurial roles.  Again, there's not a problem with these roles.  However, management isn't for everyone.  Neither is entrepreneurial-ship.  I think we should encourage these, but we need to get down to the basics- How do women gain the skills to take on these roles? Through STEM degrees!

The "Hang In!" section completely dismisses the whole reason behind STEM. Most of this article is about money and power.  They talk about how a women's salary in STEM is 33% higher.  Sure, it's important. But why am I really spending countless hours in the computer lab to finish my homework? The reason is WAY beyond the money.

Programming can be a huge turn-off to some people.  To be honest, I don't enjoy programming very much.  I do it when it makes my life a whole lot easier, but I don't go around creating new iPhone apps or anything like that.  If I would have read this article when I was a freshman in college, I would have been very scared.  It isn't all about programming, and Glamour makes it seem like it is.

I like the work that Glamour is doing to try to promote girl power, but the article completely dismisses anything outside of computer science.  STEM is much more revolutionary in many different fields.  Sure, computer development is VERY big right now.  However, politics show that it goes beyond that. Take a look at Energy politics for an example; there aren't too many computer scientists in that.