The aftermath of a 23 unit quarter and then some. I’ll be reflecting about the quarter over the next few blog posts, so the future version of myself won’t make the same mistakes.

I took the following classes this quarter:

  • MAE 102: Dynamics (4)
  • MAE 103: Fluid Mechanics (4)
  • MAE 156A: Advanced Strength of Materials (4)
  • MAE 182C: Numerical Methods (4)
  • Physics 4AL: Physics Laboratory for Scientists and Engineers: Mechanics (2)
  • GEOG 7: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (5)

I genuinely enjoyed all of my classes this quarter, especially the more fast-paced ones, like 156A. My GE, GEOG 7, was such a joy as well—data visualization and maps are so fun! Studying such a wide variety of topics never ceased to bore me, especially those that built on the materials, statics, and thermodynamics classes I took in spring quarter. They also had the additional benefit of reinforcing the material. However, there were also several drawbacks. Most of my midterm grades were fairly average, at the “top of the bell curve”. Also, I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I would have liked on engaging with problem sets and reading the textbook on my own time. I hated not having enough time to do everything I wanted to, even when I was working at peak efficiency.

Rescuetime I started using Rescuetime to be a “Big Brother” by keeping track of my time on my laptop. Here’s one of the most productive days I had last quarter, involving starting a physics lab 12 hours before the deadline, then doing some stuff in Solidworks after. (Note the drop in productivity after dinner.) My optometrist will be absolutely delighted with the amount of time I’m spending with a screen six inches from my face.

Even worse was the feeling when I stayed up the night before an assignment to complete it—and still ended up scoring below the median. That was always demoralizing, but also a sobering reminder to attend office hours.

In the past, I was always able to simply bottle up my doubts and work through the difficulties. However, that didn’t always work this quarter, as it felt like a constant battle: would I break down first, or would the quarter win?

How much engineering is too much?

I had a fantastic experience working at Cal-Weld last summer. I got a chance to work with engineers and machinists, and apply the technical skills and knowledge gained from my classes and extracurriculars. (Blog post/portfolio entry to come!)

After I got home from work, I went to night classes at De Anza College to learn MasterCAM for CNC machining. The class itself was well paced, and taught me how to cut pixels. Next stop, actual billets! Arguably the more important part was socializing with the machinists and engineering students in that class. Since some machinists had been using MasterCAM since it was released in the 1980s, I was able to learn some software tricks from them, as well as a more logical orders of operations when programming CNCs in real life.

With the few hours before bed, I worked on the design of the suspension for Baja. Progress was slow, but steady. In true UCLA fashion, though, I basically designed the suspension by the book, without any physical intuition. (Blog post/portfolio entry to come!)

Was this too much of a good thing? Should my life be all engineering, all the time? I do enjoy designing and building things, and arguably the only way to “get ahead”, or at least get a broader view of the subject, is to do side projects, leading to any free time being filled up by engineering. Plus, practical benefits aside, side projects (like my rollerblades) are fun!

Here’s some of my observations from this quarter involving % work or % engineering and my well being:

Work is healthy when:

  • I enjoy what I’m doing.
  • I don’t have to choose between doing extracurriculars and my mental/physical well being.

Work is unhealthy when:

  • I worry that I’m not being productive with my time if I take a break to eat dinner or socialize with friends.
  • I find myself counting down the days until the end of the quarter. I have the privilege of working in an enjoyable field!
  • I’m unwilling (either by ignorance, or by pride) to ask for help from fellow students or my professors.

On the flip side, though, taking on more academic burdens has helped me figure out what I enjoy, as well as leads for my interests going forward. For instance, based on how much I studied for classes during tenth and finals week, I can confidently say that I won’t be pursuing deep research in solid mechanics any time soon.

Thanksgiving: my mental state is as well done as this turkey

During Thanksgiving dinner, I was chatting with an aunt. “How do adults manage to work so hard without burning out?” I asked. At that point, I was grateful for any sort of break, and needed the three days from Thanksgiving to sleep and recuperate with family before going all in for the end of the quarter. I honestly could not imagine a future without winter, spring, and summer breaks. What good would I be to an employer if I were not just burnt out, but fried to a crisp?

My aunt encouraged me to start by pursuing other, non-engineering or even non-academic activities. For instance, my uncle, a doctor, took a minor in classics. Her way of destressing was going to football games with friends. During her senior year, she went to every home game—even though it just so happened that the football team lost every time she went!

My mom’s advice: “休息是為了走更長的路”. It reads like a fortune cookie: rest for the longer journey ahead. Since I was a baby, I’ve hated sleeping (sorry, mom!) This quarter, though, I learned that I like “active” rest, taking my mind off of work by going to the gym. I’ve managed to change my thinking about exercise as well, from an obligation to an investment. This quarter was my first time working out on a regular basis since middle school, when I was on a club swim team. Throughout high school, I was mentally numb all the time, with my only respite being robotics, or hanging out with friends. My only exercise was just occasionally lifting the robot.

The mental health benefits were pretty significant as well. If I didn’t go to the gym for more than three consecutive days, I would find myself in a mental “death spiral”.

What will I do with my life?

Will I fail physics?

How can I get politically involved on top of my current obligations?

Do I actually want to be a mechanical engineer?

It wasn’t just the endorphins, either: working out was a habit, and one of the few aspects of my life that I had complete control over. I began lifting weights, following Reddit’s PPL method. For all the major lifts, I started off with just barely the bar, and got excited each time I went to the gym, added a tiny bit of weight, and was able to lift it! (I actually ended up dropping 75 lbs on myself once at the end of the quarter, though that’s another story.)

If I hadn’t started working out this quarter, I’m not sure how I would have been able to cope with the stress of school and Baja. I’m even more amazed at how I managed to make it through the past five years without exercise—guess that means I’m obligated to go to the gym for the rest of my life! In all seriousness though, if I had found the gym earlier, I might have been more productive, had better self esteem, and had a more enjoyable high school experience—who knows! All I can do is improve the future me, and keep my mental health in mind.