Surviving in Engineering
Sitting at the desk typically reserved for professors, Swaril Mathur watched with anticipation as dozens of students began filing into the McDonnell Douglas Engineering Auditorium on a frigid November evening. The audience featured a mix of students ranging from freshman to seniors, all of whom had gathered with a singular purpose in mind: learning how to survive as an engineering major.
As she surveyed the rows of undergraduates seated before her, the fourth-year biomedical engineering major’s anxiety soon turned to excitement. Picturing her freshman self seated among the throes of wide-eyed students in the audience, Mathur imagines how much more different her college experience would have been had she attended such a seminar upon first entering UC Irvine.
Being a Student Parent Orientation Program staffer for the past two years, Mathur first began developing ideas for the talk when she found herself being bombarded with questions by members of her SPOP group through text and Facebook after orientation. Even within her own circle of friends, Mathur noticed that several of her colleagues endured difficulties of their own while making the transition to college.
Seeing her peers and SPOP-ers struggling, Mathur took it upon herself to take action with the hopes of enabling students to have a more positive experience in college.
“I’ve realized that honestly there are so many people on this campus who really have a lot of questions that can be answered so easily and could be so successful if someone just took the time to help them out,” said Mathur. “I met a lot of people who have so much potential they just didn’t even know what to do with it.”
Over the course of the next hour, the president of the Engineering Student Council advised those in attendance on a variety of topics such as developing more efficient study habits, connecting with professors, and applying for jobs and internships.
“Engineering’s hard, but it’s not impossible,” Mathur encouraged. “You can definitely do it!”
By all accounts, Mathur is a textbook example of the perfect student. In addition to maintaining a stellar GPA, the Laguna Niguel native boasts an impressive litany of leadership positions on campus, internships and research experience. However, though her resume may suggest otherwise, Mathur knows all too well the rigors of navigating through college life as an engineering major.
As a freshman whose primary concern was her grades, Mathur spent the majority of her fall quarter holed up in the Ayala Science Library studying as much as eight hours a day. Her diligence would pay off, but after realizing there was more to college than her studies, Mather joined ASUCI and Engineering Student Council.
Eager to kickstart her professional career, Mathur soon began looking for research positions available on campus but was hindered by her fear of talking to professors. Mathur instead opted to send essay-long emails to professors expressing her interest in their research that typically failed to garner a response due to their lengthiness. Disheartened, Mathur nearly called it quits.
It wasn’t until she learned to shorten her emails was she connected to a professor known for hiring freshman by her academic adviser during spring quarter that Mathur overcame her fear of talking to faculty members. “I realized that professors were people too and that I could actually talk to them and that they had a lot to offer,” said Mathur.
Boasting strong grades and a research position already under her belt as a freshman, Mathur was on the fast track to success. However, she soon discovered that even the best of students was only capable of juggling a certain number of commitments at any given time.
On top of balancing her studies, research and extracurricular activities, Mathur faced the challenge of maintaining a social life and keeping in touch with family as a sophomore. Though an adept planner, Mathur was unprepared for the amount of stress put forth by her schedule.
“I kind of hit this point where I just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Mathur. “I would come home and I would look at my to-do list and there was so many things, I was like ‘Nope, just going to sleep.’”
Midway through winter quarter Mathur had finally had enough. She dropped her summer classes, research position and chose not to renew her position with ASUCI. Overworked and burned out, she spent that summer recuperating by having fun with SPOP orientation and for once, not thinking about her future plans.
“That was the first time in my life that I figured out that Swaril Mathur had limits and I had reached the limit. Just from talking to my peers, I think everyone in college kind of has that time,” she said.
Rejuvenated and refreshed, Mathur moved into an apartment with her brother as being around family helped her cope with stress at the start of her junior year. Though this was the year she started taking more difficult upper division classes, Mather enjoyed her studies more than ever because they actually pertained to her field of study.
For all engineering majors, one of the most indispensable pieces of advice that Mathur can give is determining whether or not engineering is truly right for them.
“A lot of people I’ve seen who switch out of engineering, are instantly so much happier and so much more successful once they’ve switched because their switching into something that they’re actually passionate about,” said Mathur.
Seeing how far Mathur has come along since her freshman year, it’s clear just how far your major can take you.
“My one requirement for what I want to do with my life is I never want to be bored. I never want to go into work and do the same thing every day. Engineering gives you the opportunity to just be excited by what you’re doing.”