Engineers at Work

Students in Hancock Hall diligently studying, Oct. 12 2021

Contrary to popular belief, engineering students at Virginia Tech attempt to lead fulfilling lives outside of classes. Like other students, many engineers participate in a variety of extracurricular activities and sometimes even fill leadership roles in various clubs, organizations and sports.

However, balancing the hefty course load the College of Engineering drops on each student with extracurriculars can seem like a herculean feat. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to attack everything engineering students want to do because of this course load. However, with careful planning and prioritization, it may be possible to achieve a healthy work-life balance as an engineering student.

The Achilles’ heel for many students is not taking the time to plan out what they want to do with the time they’re given. Tackling tasks as they become urgent can lead to a lot of wasted time complemented by stressful cramming as deadlines approach.

“Treat (school) like a full-time job,” said Paula Van Curen, an academic advisor for Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “If (students) have those large chunks of time, (they) should try to spend it on campus (in) a study room or library. (This will) probably reduce (students’) stress because they’re not trying to work on things at the last minute.”

Of course, not all students attempting to juggle extracurriculars with coursework have the time to treat school as a full-time job every day. Part of planning is recognizing days that will be less productive due to those other commitments.

“(Students should) know when (they’re) free and when (they’re) busy and plan around that,” said Johann Ruiz, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering and a Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity program (CEED) mentor who helps first-year engineering students adjust to life at Virginia Tech. “(For example), I know Mondays and Wednesdays are my busiest days, so I need to remember if I have an assignment due Monday or Tuesday, I need to get that done (on) Sunday.”

In short, planning is a major part of taking control of one’s life as a student. Students should start planning as soon as possible to make sure they have all of their responsibilities under control.

“I think most students know how to manage their time and they have the tools available to them,” Van Curen said. “It’s just a matter of discipline and getting to that habit. Once (they’ve) established that habit, it almost becomes second nature.”

A point that many students get confused about when planning is what they should prioritize in their schedule. Realistically, students may not be able to allocate as much time as they want for everything on their plate. However, students should be careful and remember why they’re at Virginia Tech in the first place.

 “A lot of (students) feel like they’re obligated to continue what they’re doing (with extracurriculars),” Van Curen said. “Their academics come first, so focus on (those) priorities.”

Just like it’s all right to say “no” to some extra responsibilities extracurriculars might demand, it is all right and sometimes even necessary to take some relaxation time as a student to avoid burnout. If things become too much, engineering students shouldn’t forget to enjoy themselves a bit.

 “(Students should) make time for (themselves) to relax and have fun,” said Maria Zakhem, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and a CEED mentor. “(This can be) by going to the gym, hanging out with friends or doing something away from (their) work.”

Finding a relaxing hobby is a great way to take a break. Having something to fall back on, whether it’s drawing, reading or just taking a second to breathe, is a good tool to have in stressful situations.

“I’m a big believer in meditation,” Van Curen said.

After taking a break, students are often in a better headspace to approach difficult problems in a new way. However, if nothing seems to work, students should remember that their professors and teaching assistants are there to help them. Asking for help can be a great way to save some time and hassle to allow for a better work-life balance.

“I would rather finish an assignment in 30 minutes in office hours after I have gotten extra help than struggle (for) two hours not knowing what to do,” Zakhem said.

Overall, engineering students can make an effort toward balancing academics with their other passions through a bit of discipline. If students take the time to plan and prioritize their activities and recognize when they need a break, they can make the most of the time they have.

Transitioning into a college workload and leading a life outside of classes is hard. It is impressive that students are making it through the majors they choose at all, and adding more work on top of that through extracurriculars seems nothing short of unimaginable. The efforts that Hokie engineers put in to serve their community, better themselves or just have fun through extracurriculars while going through academic hell perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Virginia Tech.

“I have a lot of admiration for anybody that can finish a major in the College of Engineering,” Van Curen said.

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