If you’re a literary person at heart, engineering school might seem a bit intimidating. What I have going in my favor is that I’ve been documenting and observing aerospace engineers’ work for 15 years now. If I haven’t had the precise educations they’ve had, I’ve at least seen them in action so I know what to expect. What follows are my thoughts as I get myself in the right frame of mind to attend classes soon.
I tried prepping for engineering school a few years ago and failed to go through with it, mostly because the specific program involved required taking calculus as a prerequisite. Not being a “math guy,” I had to refresh my memory on algebra, then trigonometry, via Khan Academy before I tried to take on calculus. I took a vacation, forgot most of what I’d learned on the math front, and dropped the project. This time out, I spoke with a current student at my intended school and was assured that calculus does not come up as an in-class requirement, so for now I’m holding off on the equations.
However, I am digging into engineering books that I know relate to what I want to study. These include:
- Space Vehicle Design by Michael Griffin
- Structures or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J. E. Gordon (recommended by Griffin when I told him I wanted to get smarter on engineering)
- Human Spaceflight: Mission Analysis and Design by Wiley J. Larson and Linda K. Pranke
- Space Habitats and Habitability: Designing for Isolated and Confined Environments on Earth and in Space by Sandra Häuplik-Meusburger and Sheryl Bishop
- Humans in Space: The Psychological Hurdles by Nick Kanas
- The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution by Frank White
The point of all this, of course, is to immerse myself in my subject matter so I’m not caught (completely) off guard by whatever the teachers throw at me. I suspect I will still have a steep learning curve in some areas (will I have to learn computer-aided design/CAD?), and I’m fine with that because I’m interested in the content. Even if I don’t understand everything I read, I am at least preparing myself for the topics and terminology that I am likely to encounter.
This approach is not too different from how I approach my daily work. I do a lot of supplemental reading in my free time so that I understand my subject matter. On the job, my research task has not been to make myself into an engineer but to better understand what they’re doing so that I can explain it to someone else. Otherwise, I’m just winging it, and that is something you should not do. If you don’t know something, look it up or ask. The more you ground yourself in the material, the more useful you can be to your customers or clients.
You shouldn’t be writing like an engineer, I hasten to add. If that were to happen, the employer might as well let their engineers do the writing. You are there to turn their subject matter into information that others–often non-engineers–can use to perform a specific task or take a specific action. Yes, you might be an English literature major, as I was with my first degree; that doesn’t mean you can’t take the time to get your content right.
And while I am on the verge of educating myself so I can be an actual engineer, I can still apply my English major’s habits of research and interpretation to bring engineering knowledge into my mind in words that I will understand. I might even surprise myself.