One-Year Post Graduation Anniversary: Advice to STEM Students

One-Year Post Graduation Anniversary: Advice to STEM Students
2020-07-03

William Cardo graduated in 2019 with a degree in Chemical Engingeering. One year on from his graduation he shares some important advice for STEM students. You can read the original article posted to LinkedIn here.

I graduated almost exactly a year ago from The University of Aberdeen with an MEng of Chemical Engineering. 

  Image shows a young man in kilt and formal graduation robes stands in front of Kings College    

There’s definitely something sentimental about a Graduation Anniversary. It makes me think of my past year’s life centred around assignment deadlines, all-nighters in the Sir Duncan Rice Library prepping for exams and getting to lectures on time - all whilst maintaining a healthy social life.

This student lifestyle came to an abrupt end as soon as I graduated. With a huge transition from university to industry, there are new opportunities to look forward to and important decisions to make along the way. The new experiences in the last year have truly shaped me and taught me more than I could’ve ever expected. 

I wanted to write something a bit more personal, about my journey from being a Fresher in 2014 to my transition to a Graduate Process Engineer working in the real-world: What I have learned from my experiences and my advice to aspiring STEM students. 

I’m sharing twelve of those things today.

1. Desire.

You can do it! 

If you walk into university with a strong desire to work hard, you will succeed - no matter who you are, where you are from, your skin colour, age, gender identity or socio-economic background. 

The journey to success is down to your mindset. 

2. Challenge yourself.

Let me address this question: “When am I ever going to use this?”. 

Truth be told, you may never use the things you’ve worked so hard to learn at university but there’s a fundamental reason to learn them. 

You teach your brain how to think independently! You learn how to adapt and tackle unknown challenges that lie ahead. 

Developing your critical thinking skills is essential when facing real-world, non-linear problems.

3. Develop good listening and critical thinking skills.

Einstein – “If you can’t explain a concept simply, you do not understand it well enough.”

Learn to be proficient in the English language. 

Through self-expression, life is revealed. 

Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity. An example could be reporting a technical problem to your boss or simply communicating to your colleagues on a daily basis.  

I would advise reading classic books as these are the milestones of our literary tradition. These books became markers of creative rebellion, able to question established ideas. Reading will: 

  • Challenge your critical thinking.
  • Give you inspiration.
  • Open your mind and perception.

4. Be creative.

As Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” 

The ability to finding a new approach to a problem everyone else is working on is what’s going to make you a great engineer. Be fearless and question everything. There is no such thing as a stupid question.

By having self-belief, you can take immediate steps to project greater self-confidence in the way you approach problems and with life in general. Sometimes reading and learning about ideas that fascinate you is more valuable than delving into complex specialist material. 

5. You will grow and your understanding and perception will change as you discover new things. 

It’s important to learn about a variety of subjects to freshen your knowledge. 

Through the lens of the Energy Transition, these topics can range from Decommissioning, Renewables to Digitalization. Keep up with industry trends and understand the market!

6. Learn by doing. 

Learning new skills takes sustained effort and the deeper your knowledge base is, the more potential you have in creating something novel. 

If you want to master a technique, practice the technique as much as you can and apply it in many ways.

If your assignment involves a computational problem, try running the algorithm on a program you are familiar with, then try solving the same problem in a program you are unfamiliar with. Start with simple problems first then work your way up to the hard problems! 

7. Learn to say No and reconsider your options. 

Don’t be afraid to disappoint. 

If you don’t enjoy the day-to-day journey of acquiring that one skill, you most likely won’t enjoy a role that utilizes that specific skill in the future.  

8. Find your passion and create a Mastermind Group of like-minded individuals.

Devote time to working on things you love! Allow the true beauty of yourself to shine through and realise your creative potential. In addition to working on your strengths, work to become competent in your areas of specific weakness. 

Prepare to push yourself beyond your creative boundaries through the beauty of a Mastermind Group - coined in The Law of Success, by author Napolean Hill, in 1925. 

Challenge each of your peers to create and implement goals, brainstorm ideas, and support each other with respect and honesty. The synergy of energy that participants bring to a Mastermind Group can help teams propel to much higher levels of success, by creating a dynamic environment. This can apply to any form of team working exercise.

Remember, Integrity is essential for success in any role.

9. Have a work-life balance. 

Work does not define who you are. 

It’s important to keep stimulated outside work or study by having fun and trying new things. This could be learning to play a musical instrument or simply daily exercise. 

10. Be curious. 

Remember that we have one life in this universe and everyone’s human experience is different. 

Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself. 

Be honest with who you are. Listen carefully to those close to you and be able to handle constructive criticism.  

11. Network.

Push yourself beyond your comfort zone by applying to work experience and volunteering programmes and attending technical conferences. They will give you an ideal opportunity to:

  • Find out whether it’s the right career for you.
  • Develop soft skills highly valued by employers, such as communication skills, teamwork, problem solving and time management.
  • Build new contacts and experiences. A placement will give you the opportunity to apply theory to practical environments. You will be faced with non-linear problems and have to adapt to the fast-paced everyday working life.
  • Learn from industry experts and embrace their wealth of knowledge. You will realise that your initial understanding of an idea or problem will have to be revised. That’s the process of growing and developing as an individual.

Don’t shy away from contacting your Careers Advisor – they are a great source of information.  

12. Learn computer programming. 

Make sure you have the tools in your toolbox to deal with any curve ball thrown your way.

To thrive in a STEM role, it’s important to know how to make a machine do repetitive tasks that will make you save vast periods of time.  

Industries are embracing digital technology to reshape their operational workflow and reap the benefits of improved productivity, higher efficiency, increased revenue and reduced costs.

The Oil and Gas industry has played a pivotal role in the economic transformation of the world. However, after a period of falling crude oil prices, together with greater demands of climate change accountability, Digitalization in the Oil and Gas industry can act as an enabler to tackle these challenges and provide value to all its stakeholders. 

It’s important to keep up with industry trends. My advice would be, learn at least one object-oriented programming language, like Python, to best prepare yourself for the future. 

 

Remember it’s important to self-reflect to help build self-awareness and gain inspiration from past times. By taking the time to ask yourself the important questions, you gain a better understanding of YOU – your strengths and weaknesses.  

I hope you found this article useful and interesting. 

Stay safe & stay inspired. 

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen

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