The passion and pressure of being an engineer

The passion and pressure of being an engineer

The passion and pressure of being an engineer
February 17
20:28 2017

Bianca Mujica | Staff Writer

The twisting halls of Discovery Park go from quiet and studious to buzzing with activity in a matter of minutes. After everyone has scurried to their classrooms, the building returns to students burying their heads in textbooks, notes and laptops.

But underneath the bustle hides a question rarely asked: how does the nature of the field affect the mental health of its students?

Arun Surujpaul, a mechanical and engineering sophomore, said last semester that his peers often joke about mental health but never seriously talk about it. Since then, he has experienced his own struggles, used the on-campus counseling services and had serious conversations with close friends about what he’s gone through.

“This field breeds people that are passionate about making things and solving problems,” Surujpaul said. “The pressure to solve those problems can become a burden.”

Surujpaul explained not everyone in the field has passion, but those who do might feel a responsibility to solve prominent issues. He said these students have an “over-excitability” for the field and its positive applications.

The desire to see those applications put into practice can be motivating, but also largely idealistic and disillusioned.

“So many engineers are too focused on working that they don’t take the time to introspect on themselves,” Surujpaul said. “Our field is expected to do so much. Sometimes we feel like what’s at stake is the fate of the world.”

This self-assigned weight would pull anyone down, but it is the norm in a field like this. Still, that does not make it any less dangerous. These ambitious standards exhaust the very engineers that set them, and unwanted results may lead to feeling like a disappointment.

Unfortunately, the pressure hits before getting the chance to carry such weight. An engineer’s academic career may be just as demanding as the professional career and can feel overwhelming regardless of a student’s potential.

Salman Mohiuddin said the stress increases exponentially if students do not have an interest in the field or if their grades are lower.

“There’s a sort of inferiority complex,” Mohiuddin said. “There’s a lot of competition, and it can make some people feel inferior to bring up that they’re struggling when everyone else around them is doing so good.”

Mohiuddin is in his first year of mechanical engineering as a graduate student, and the emphasis on independent research in his program adds an entirely new level of pressure for him. He said one of the challenges of the field is that students have to constantly learn new information in addition to improving their skills and knowledge on things they have already learned. This is more difficult for graduate students who do not have as much guidance from professors.

Evette Guerrero is an education major working in the coffee shop at Discovery Park. She has learned much about the field and the people in it because of her job.

“Most of the people here are quiet and keep to themselves,” Guerrero said. “They are used to being on their own.”

Although not in the field herself, she has noticed that a defining characteristic of her friends in engineering is their persistent stress and need for a break.

“There was one kid who came to the coffee shop every single day, and we would always try to talk to him but he never laughed,” Guerrero said. “It took him an entire semester before he even smiled. Some of these people just have no opportunity to goof around.”

Although the field is rigorous, an education in engineering starts with basic classes to ensure all students have the necessary foundation to move forward. Most students already know this content, which can lead some to believe the reality and reputation of the major do not match.

Surujpaul said he has seen peers become complacent while learning these basics but have great difficulty once the course moves along. He said it’s not enough to simply do homework and attend class; they must also recognize the situation and what is expected of them.

Aside from classwork, students must learn the various programs used to complete certain assignments. These programs have updates on their software and technology every one or two years, so students using them have to completely relearn the program and its new functions.

These, among other things, are why Surujpaul describes engineering as a field that is “always moving.” But he maintains that although it takes dedication, the stress and pressure are still very real.

The inferiority complex that Mohiuddin said influences him is also something Surujpaul thinks about, but the two approach it very differently.

Surujpaul agrees the field is highly competitive and showing one’s areas of weakness might give the impression of lesser intelligence. However, Surujpaul said everyone has weaknesses, but no one should deny the flaws that are part of being human.

He said he has been the student that refrains from sharing his troubles with others, but he has found it much more rewarding and fulfilling to start conversations about mental health with a trusted friend. Even confiding in a trusted professor could create a strong relationship.

Seeking help is not where it ends. Success will not be consistent, although the stress and pressure will. The anxiety will persist. But Surujpaul believes the rate at which students learn is most significant.

Academic achievement does not come naturally to anyone in any field, but embracing mistakes and acknowledging a shared responsibility of the world’s problems is a step towards progression for all disciplines.

“There’s this idea that engineers are the best and the brightest, but that’s not true at any one moment,” Surujpaul said. “We are not born with it, we have to work for it. If failure is something that depresses you, you’re not going to make it as an engineer. To engineer is to fail.”

Featured Image: Junior early childhood and special education Evette Guerrero discusses women in STEM fields. She has encountered students who keep to themselves and don’t have much time for extracurricular activities. Kelsey Shoemaker

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Kayleigh Bywater

Kayleigh Bywater

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