So to anyone who’s met me, whenever I mention that I seriously despise public speaking, the first thing anyone often says in response is, “What? YOU? No way! You’re so outgoing! There’s no way you don’t like public speaking!”
Yeah well, it’s true. I have never ever enjoyed public speaking. Sure, I’ll have a go at promoting events and being obnoxiously loud about why engineering is the best faculty on campus, but when it comes to being serious and sharing/presenting something that I’ve been specifically (t)asked to talk about? Nope. Nope. Nope. I’d really rather be in the audience.
(Un)fortunately, when I came back home from my adventures in Greenland, one of the first things that I was asked to do was make a presentation on my experience and why students should consider signing up to go abroad (either for coop, or in my case, for academic exchange). Needless to say, I really didn’t want to do it but I knew there was no way around it.
The style of presentation that I was asked (by my boss) to present was in the form of a PechaKucha – a 6min 40sec presentation where you talk through 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each.
Bleh. As if I already didn’t hate having to talk in front of a crowd, now I’m on a time crunch that requires me to cram everything that I want to say in just a few minutes. Ugh.
As much as I wanted to say no to the presentation, I figured it was about time to buck up and get over with it. I’ll have to get used to presenting eventually, might as well start now.
So, after fighting back waaayy too many nerves and having my boss hire an “acting coach” to train us on how to do a PechaKucha-style presentation, I finally got my presentation out of the way and I’m happy to say that even though I was shaking in my boots, apparently nobody had any idea just how terrified I was and I actually got some positive feedback! Phew!
The analogy was made that if I were standing in a bucket of wet sand during my presentation, I would’ve completely liquefied with how fast my legs were shaking. Stage fright is real y’all.
But without further ado, here’s a revised version of my script with a few snippets of the photos that came along with what I wanted to say!
Imagine with me if you will, you’ve finished your last class, your last exam, your last lab report, and you’ve finally walking across that stage to pick up your degree. How many of you know exactly what you want to do next? How many of you have absolutely no idea?
Well this was exactly the question that I asked myself when I walked in on what I thought would be my last first day of school here at UBC.
“I’m in my final year, what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing?! What does this degree even amount to if I have no idea where I want to go?
I remember, walking into the final dregs of my undergraduate degree feeling terrified from all the pressure of family, friends, even faculty who were expecting me to succeed! I was scared! It left me feeling so anxious and incredibly frustrated, completely at a loss for what to do.
Have you ever caught yourself wondering why you’re sitting in class in the first place, when you’d really rather be at home tackling that pile of work sitting on your desk? Or those moments in class when all you see and hear is one formula after another with no idea how to link them all together?!
It’s all so technical! Engineering is full of ‘technical’!
But I’m not technical!
And that’s just it. I realized, that I am not a technical engineer! Something was missing in my degree and I needed to pin it down. I had just finished reading the e-neus (that nobody reads), and saw the tagline “Come to Greenland and learn about Extreme Engineering!” I took that as a sign.
But what in the world is “Extreme Engineering”? Well, let me tell you: It’s the study of extreme climates and seeing how engineering can play a role in places such as the Arctic – learning about permafrost and other cold climate regions, working towards integrating sustainable development for the communities of people who live there.
People. I was missing the people. When we’re in school, we’re always being inundated with theories and case studies, but for what? For the people! For the communities that we want to be serving as engineers! I believe, that as an engineer, part of my job is to solve problems for the communities that live in this world!
In Greenland, one of our projects was to build a skating rink on a frozen lake (as I’m sure you’ve all seen from some of my previous posts or instagram photos). All of the effort and the late nights that we invested into putting this little rink together, fighting back endless evenings of freshly dumped snow, we finally had something that we were proud of. Something that not only we as the engineering students could enjoy, but also the whole community!
Every weekend we would set up shop, where kids and adults of all ages would come by and learn how to skate! A lot of them had never even seen skates before, so to actually be a part of the laughter and the energy emanating from that little patch of semi-smooth, yet often-chipped ice as we skated for hours, it’s an experience I will never forget!
We made an impact.
We physically built something for the city, and everyone was out to support and cheer us on for what we did! We might not have done a whole lot of technical ‘engineering’, but it doesn’t really matter because in the end, it’s the service to the people that really counts. Isn’t that what engineering is really all about?
In my opinion, the most important aspect of our profession is to serve the ‘greater good’ and make an effort in bettering the lives of those we choose to make an impact on. It’s the families that we save from the next flood or earthquake, the pursuit of more sustainable water treatment or biofuel to build a better future for generations to come.
Every single one of our disciplines has something to offer, regardless of where in our incredible profession we all end up!
Whether that’s robots or drones to prevent putting humans at risk in dangerous situations, designing bridges between towns for easier access to food and water, or even simply building a skating rink that brings people together and expands community relationships.
This aspect of community and public-involvement was exactly the piece to my degree that I felt I was missing. Going abroad has opened up new doors for me to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and give life a chance! To figure out the things I like and dislike, to struggle through my frustrations, and actually make it all worth something!
Another project that I worked on was a slightly more hands-on approach to what “extreme engineering” really entails. When living in Greenland, or almost anywhere within the Arctic Circle, the presence of permafrost is more than just a natural phenomenon. It’s a fact of life. Everything that you see and do, is related to the frozen ground below you.
Luckily for me, not only was I able to live and learn about this permafrost, I was literally up to my armpits in this stuff! But the best part is, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Germany and attend an international conference on permafrost! It was absolutely incredible!
Remember that fear and anxiety that I had about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? Well honestly, up until this point, I still hadn’t figured it out. That’s when I met Marcia, the coolest, nicest, most badass researcher to have ever turned me into a nervous wreck. It was so embarrassing.
Normally at networking events, I’ll shy away from conversation until I find somebody who I know can help me get started. But this time, there was no way around it! I was on unfamiliar ground, at a week-long conference that I felt I knew absolutely nothing about. Yet here I was, completely surrounded by experts in the field. I, was sweating bullets.
But little did I know, after following Marcia around for what felt like the next twelve hours trying to work up the courage to even introduce myself, I had found something that would leave me jumping out of my own skin to learn more about it: ROCK GLACIERS!
That might not mean a whole lot to many of you reading this post, but to me,
that is where I want my engineering degree to be!
Mapping out rock glacier hazards and assessing the safety of nearby communities at risk.
This, is what I want to be spending the rest of my life doing!
I can’t say that I know exactly what my immediate future is going to look like, but that’s okay because all of this new-found excitement with having traveled across the Atlantic and meeting people from all over the world, it all brought me straight back to the very place where this whole adventure all began: here at UBC.
By acknowledging my insecurities and taking that Indiana Jones “leap of faith” to search for those missing pieces in my degree, not only have I discovered something that I’m completely infatuated with, but I’ve also rediscovered the answer to why I chose engineering in the first place! I chose it for the people!
If there’s anything that I want you to take away from me blabbing to you for the past few minutes, it’s that there’s more to your degree than just the academics!
Each of you sitting here (at this presentation on campus) today have already made it this far, and that speaks volumes to just how smart you all actually are!
So what are you going to do with that big brain of yours?! Disconnect from those textbooks and theories, to reconnect with why you chose to be an engineer! Maybe you have no idea, but that’s alright because unless you willingly make an effort to fumble with the pieces, you’ll never really know if they’re actually going to fit.
So yes, there it is! My one-digit-minute presentation on why I absolutely loved my adventure of struggling through the frustrations and unknowns in my degree. I may have gone over the 20-slide limit by just a tad, but I’m relieved that it’s finally over and I’ll get to continue on with all the other work that I have on my list that I’ve been putting off to fight my nerves and paranoia about screwing up while presenting. I made a few mistakes along the way when my brain blanked out and I completely forgot what I wanted to say, but hey, nobody’s perfect. I sure as hell ain’t.
Cheers, and thanks for reading! I know this one might be a long one but I’m pumped that it’s up and out for whoever wants to read it! Stay classy everyone and I’ll be back to post some more about things I keep promising to post about!