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Welcome to engineering

By Selena Zhang, A.B. '20, SEAS Correspondent

Alumni share advice, insights during Sophomore Forum

Sophomore Forum is a series of events to welcome sophomores to engineering the semester after they declare a concentration at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. These events introduce sophomores to the community and the resources to make the most of their SEAS experience. Sophomore Forum also emphasized the importance of supporting diversity and ethical decision-making in engineering,

“In terms of the mission of the Forum, our goal is really two-fold. First, we have this new group of sophomore engineering concentrators, and we want to bring them all together to one central place to help start the community-building process. We hope that students will begin to recognize the faces of their classmates and strike up a conversation with their peers sitting around them,” said Patrick Ulrich, Associate Director for Undergraduate Studies in Environmental Science and Engineering. “Second, the Forum provides the opportunity to highlight a few topics that second-year students may not see right away otherwise. We like to have sessions around career development, like finding summer opportunities, as well the chance to hear from current seniors about their thesis projects and recent alumni who can share their perspectives directly with the students.”

Three alumni spoke at the Sophomore Forum alumni panel: Marcy Laub, A.B. ’16, an environmental science and engineering concentrator with a secondary in statistics; Mounir Jamal, S.B. ’17, a bioengineering concentrator; and Pulkit K. Agrawal, S.B. ’15, a mechanical engineering concentrator.

The panelists discussed how to make the most of the opportunities at school. They emphasized how final projects for courses can help students identify their interests, as well as develop valuable skills and experiences. The panelists also encouraged community-building.

Agrawal emphasized the importance of a saying from his own undergraduate convocation, “Don’t compare, connect.” He encouraged students to meet classmates with that spirit.

The panelists also offered interview advice from their experiences searching for internships and jobs. Jamal assured students that no one expects undergraduates to have complete knowledge and technical skills. He encouraged students to go into interviews confident that they have something to offer.

Laub recommended that students attend career fairs outside their scope of interests to broaden their horizons and also practice speaking professionally.

Sharing their workplace insights, the panelists emphasized the value of knowing how to collaborate with others.

Knowing how and when to ask for help is a valuable skill in the workplace that students can start honing in their undergraduate years by learning to ask teaching fellows and professors for help, Agrawal said.

Laub shared a takeaway from her time in the workplace—there are so many ways to be in a chosen field, which takes the pressure of finding the perfect first job. A first job exposed can expose you to other elements of that kind of work that you wouldn't have been aware of before, she said.

Students, like Jonas LaPier, S.B. ’21, an environmental science and engineering concentrator, enjoyed the opportunity to hear reassuring words from recent graduates.

“I liked their [the panelists’] assurances that life after graduation turned out well. It sounds like people didn’t do what they expected to do, but it all turned out well,” he said. “It should be good.”

Bioengineering concentrator Evan Thompson, S.B. ’21, was especially interested in the technical advice the alumni shared.

“The alumni panel was very effective. I especially liked hearing from the bioengineer because I’m a bioengineer as well. I resonated with what he said about tissue engineering. The thesis advice was helpful, especially the part about not necessarily having to work on a thesis during junior summer,” he said. “Marcy’s advice about going to different events was great. Being a sophomore now, I’m definitely going to do that. I really enjoyed it overall.”

Kami Krista, A.B. ’21, a joint concentrator in engineering sciences and theatre, dance, and media, plans to take Laub’s advice and go to career fairs to gain interview experience. She found it helpful that the panel featured alumni from interesting paths and showed the diversity of engineering paths, beyond the typical industry giants.

“The unstructured questions asked at the panel were really helpful. The alumni were very willing to give their insights about the interview experience and how they view the interview process,” she said.

Students left Sophomore Forum with a greater understanding of what it means to be an engineer, as well as the tools to tackle new challenges.

Topics: Events