How Olin Did (and Did Not) Prepare me for Postgraduate Life

After I graduated from Olin, I went on to graduate studies at Cornell University, in a MS-PhD program. I work with and around a lot of people who went to many different schools, and I have taken classes at Cornell University. I can say one thing with absolute certainty: Olin is different.

What Olin gave me, that some of my colleagues seem to lack, is the drive and ability to seek out and work in situations that are out of my comfort zone where I have no idea what’s going on. I have taken courses without having taken the prerequisites, begun working on projects without any background in the subject, and worked with people who I have only just met. In all of those situations, I was able to easily adapt what I had learned already, rapidly discover what I did not learn and needed to know, and learn that.

Had I not been subjected to Olin’s “Spiral Learning” regimen, I think I would have taken a more reasonable approach to these endeavors. I would have slowly entered into projects, taken courses that I only had the prerequisites for, and I would have slept a great deal more. However, that’s not nearly as exciting.

What the Electrical Engineering degree I got from Olin didn’t give me is this theoretical background that many other students have. In classes, I find that my answers to questions tend be less formal, and in discussions, my thought process significantly deviates from prescribed methods. I find this also to be the case for the other Olin students I have had the opportunity to work with.

While this ability is great for solving may complicated problems, it can sometimes obfuscate simple ones. And, in courses with set homeworks and tests, it’s actively antagonistic. The lack of a theoretical basis, and the deviation from the typical way of teaching electrical engineering has put me at somewhat of a disadvantage in certain classes.

For example, when I took Circuits at Olin, I was taught using mostly MOS circuit analysis techniques, which are useful in analyzing and designing contemporary circuits. However, in many colleges, transistor electronics are taught using BJTs. When taking an advanced Analog Design class, I had to educate myself in this class of circuits to understand the analogies that the professors and other students were drawing to describe and understand MOS circuits.

Overall, Olin best prepared me to adapt to any situation that I came up against, but this flexibility came at the cost of lacking the traditional knowledge of the Electrical Engineering world.