If there’s anything that I’ve learned during my two-and-almost-a-half years in the Hopkins bubble, it’s that Hopkins is quite literally the place of existential crisis. Maybe not quite literally — if you are a philosophy major you may actually know what the term “existential crisis” entails and may strongly disagree with that statement — but you know what I’m talking about.
Why-am-I-here-what-am-I-doing-what-is-this-class-how-long-is-this-problem-set-going-to-take-when-is-the-drop-deadline is, more often than not, the mood of the hour (at least for me anyways). But if you’re an engineer, in addition to all these other questions, there’s another question that seems to plague us all at one point in time or another:
Why in the world did I ever decide to major in engineering — am I a masochist or do I just hate myself?
I don’t think I know an engineer who hasn’t said something to that effect at some point in time (and trust me, I know a lot of them). It’s a very valid question, especially when you have exactly two working lines of code written after five hours of work, or when you and your friends are in a Brody study room at 3 a.m. and still cannot figure out where you dropped the negative sign that’s messing up every other subsequent answer in the seven billion line problem set.
Why do we do this? Are we brave? Crazy? Stupid? A combination of the three?
I, and the majority of my friends have wrestled with this idea for countless days and nights over the past couple of years, and while I have chosen to keep BMEing, many others have chosen to board ships and sail themselves all the way over to KSAS, where they have made new lives, new homes and begun new families for themselves in this land of unfamiliar peoples.
And you know what? I entirely respect their decisions. Because I know they did it for the right reasons. As I’ve learned, there are very, very good reasons to be an engineer, and there are very, very bad reasons to be an engineer.
What are the bad reasons to engineer, you may ask? These are four of the biggest, in my opinion:
Specifically for you BMEs (because I know too many of you and I feel like too many of you need to hear this): It’s an invalid reason to be BME just for the sake of being in the nUmbEr oNE bIOmeDIcAL ENgineErInG pRoGraM in the country. Yes, it may feel good now. It may be a large, self-esteem boosting moment every time you pass by that large-not-overly-extra-at-all banner in Clark Hall that reminds you that YOU are in the number one undergraduate Biomedical Engineering program in the country. But come on — you have to admit that that feeling of pride wears off pretty quickly; do you even notice the banner in Clark anymore? It’s good to be proud of your accomplishments (getting into the BME program here is inarguably a feat you should be proud of), but I’m sorry, it’s not healthy (or valid) to put so much weight in an arbitrary ranking — it’s not a valid reason to stay if that’s you’re only reason to. Being number one can only bring you so much happiness. It also will bring a lot of pain if/when Georgia Tech overtakes us again.
For the rest of the engineering school — Yes, there is a lot of prestige that comes with your engineering degree. It will come with a lot of lucrative job opportunities and it is impressive to tell people that you have a degree in arguably one of the most challenging fields of study from a top 10 university. But again, how long does that pride really last? It can be gratifying from time to time, but is it really worth it to be miserable for four years just to graduate and get a related job that you can also be miserable with? I say no, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.
This one is tricky because it does come with balance and caveats. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I don’t want to have money when I’m older, because I do. I don’t want to be living hand to mouth — I want to have some sort of stability, and enough money that my family can take that vacation and go eat at that expensive restaurant from time to time and my kid can go to their dream school. With that, I wouldn’t want to pick a career path where I know I’ll never ever be able to make the dough to do that. But engineering is not the only way for me to live that life. You can make decent money without being an engineer; it may be a little harder, you may make a little less than you had hoped, but you can do okay — not all non-engineers starve. You just need to get your head out of the sand and explore your options.
Because of Mom and Dad
I love Mom and Dad as much as the next still-homesick-from-time-to-time-even-though-I’m-a-junior-college-student, but at the end of the day you are you, and Mom and Dad are Mom and Dad. It’s tough, especially when you spent the first 18 years of your life being the perfect, obedient child, but at the end of the day, you need to do you; I promise you you’ll regret it later if you don’t. Build up the courage. Have the hard conversation. It’s scary, but it’ll be worth it.
I’m sorry but this is another @ you BMEs. I already wrote a whole other column about the med school thing so we’ll keep this short and sweet: Being a biomedical engineer does not guarantee admission to med school even though the words “bio” and “medical” are contained in it. In fact it may not even help you that much, so, again, you might as well major in something you enjoy instead of being miserable for four years. It’s. That. Simple.
There are other bad reasons to be an engineer, but I think you get the jist of it.
Engineering is great, but it’s not for everyone. Be an engineer because, even though problem sets make you hate your life, there is something so rewarding and gratifying about slaying the beast and getting them done. Be an engineer because you want to learn how to analyze and tackle quantitative problems, even if you choose to do something different later on, you’ll have a great foundation to build upon.
Be an engineer because you can’t see yourself doing anything else — because although you know getting the degree is a nightmare at times, you know it will be all worth it when you’re done, equipped to do your job and never have to take another stupid midterm again. Be an engineer because you think it’s best for YOU. Because you’re the most important person in your life — I will fight you on that. You’ll figure it out. You’ve got this.