It took me three years of engineering to learn it wasn’t for me, so why am I still with it?
As mentioned in my first blog, I am a senior materials science and engineering major. The most often way I describe it to people is materials engineering is like mechanical engineering at the atomic level. It is a little bit of chemical engineering, metallurgy, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering technology all in one. Every field utilizes materials science– we are the guys that help determine the materials that allow everyone else to build their designs.
During my first semester of junior year (also notoriously as the “weed-out semester”), I realized that the confidence I had slowly gained in my first two years of college was diminishing. All of a sudden, I was at the lower end of the pack. I didn’t pick up on the curriculum as well as my classmates, and I had no idea how to study. I chose the major because I wanted to learn more about biomaterials, but I found myself losing all enthusiasm for even the curriculum directed towards that topic. It was interesting stuff, but did I really care about materials characterization, deriving the common laws of thermodynamics, or the hundreds of different ways atoms can align themselves in a crystal structure? I wasn’t passionate about my knowledge anymore. It only became more prominent throughout the semester that I was being left behind by classmates far better suited for the field than I ever will be.
Flash backward to my first blog where I had begun to volunteer in my hospital’s ER in this semester. I was burning out in my major, but I found joy in the hospital and the providers I was interacting with. They gave me a ‘driving force’ for the semester (ha materials science joke.) And when I finally uttered the words, “I want to go to medical school,” I knew that I had found a new purpose in my education. Sadly, this was about two weeks before the end of the poorly done semester, and I ended with a hot 2.9 for the semester dragging my overall GPA below 3.5.
It really challenged me to be so far into my major only to realize statistically, I was not good enough for medical school. I didn’t have the money to switch majors and essentially start over. Frankly, I wasn’t going to waste two and a half years in engineering; I worked too hard to throw 83 credit hours away. The only thing I could do? Suck it up, work harder, and rock engineering at the same time as adding the pre-med expectations into my lifestyle.
So that’s what I did. I worked to gain a 3.3 semester GPA the following spring, a 3.7 GPA last summer, and (fingers crossed) I can wrap up this semester with a 3.6+ GPA. Its nowhere near where I would like to be academically for my medical school application next summer, but its an upward trend that I am proud of.
I think that’s the one thing engineering has taught me the most– having pride. Working your butt off to produce a product that, honestly, still may fail. Engineering taught me that it’s okay to fail, and failure is a part of life. Obviously, I don’t want to fail a midterm, and in the same vein, I don’t want to design a polymer scaffold holding a hernia that fails in the body. But if I allow myself to fail in the process of getting to that final test or product, I learn so much more effectively in my mistakes and avoiding them in my next attempt at the problem.
Nothing can make second order derivatives or polishing a sample for four hours enjoyable, but I have to give great credit to my professors for adjusting their teaching to reach out to my stubborn mind. I still have the same problem of feeling left behind intellectually by my classmates, but I appreciate my professors for translating the curriculum in a way that catches my interest. For example, when my physical metallurgy professor was discussing diffusion of elemental atoms through another elemental crystal structure, I was so mentally stuck. What does this variable mean? Why would we ever use this? During the third time for he tried to explain this to me, he took out a sheet of paper and drew an arm with a wound. “If skin is 2 mm thick and this biodegradable polymer releases .5 mL of medicine per two days, how long would we expect the medicine to take to get through the skin?” Suddenly, the whole thing clicked.
It’s crazy how similar engineering concepts are to the topics you think would only be related to medicine like biology, chemistry, medical sciences, or kinesiology. Biomechanics? That’s summation of forces. Implants? That’s a whole textbook on corrosion resistance, oxidation avoidance, degradability studies, and avoiding immune response. Sociology? Newton’s First Law– People won’t react unless there is an external force acting upon them.
Fun Fact: We all know that organic benzene rings and six membered carbon rings are the most stable configuration of all rings because of the less angle strain on each carbon. Did you know that when heated, clumps of metal atoms will want to arrange in hexagons because of the lessened angle strain when reaching equilibrium in the metallic system? Isn’t that cool?? (I learned that last week in physical metallurgy and I’ve been blown away by it for the past week.)
A year into my decision to pursue medical school, I cherish the decision to stick with engineering. It has provided me the greatest challenge of my life. I fear that it will be an ink blot on my medical school application (for real, I’m still sassy about that B in thermodynamics and C in transport phenomena), but I believe it has made me a more critical thinker, a more well-rounded problem solver, and a believer in the failure process. I will be proud to say I’m an engineer during my medical school interviews, and I will be proud to say I did materials science and engineering for my bachelors degree.
If you’re a pre-med engineer, tell yourself everyday that you are intelligent and fully capable. You are going to rock that organic chemistry test one morning and then rock your differential equations test that afternoon. You will succeed, you will excel, and you will achieve your dream of becoming a physician even with taking this less conventional route. Remind yourself every day that you are proud to be challenging yourself. Never forget how awesome you are and the power you have.