Photo credit: UFashion University of Toronto
This week on At Your Man’s House Monday we’re speaking with Babatope Ajayi, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Toronto who is specializing in Mechatronics and Energy & the Environment. We’ll be talking with Tope about the heavy workload in engineering, post-grad options, and the sweet internship opportunities waiting for those who make it through the program.
Could you tell us a little bit about what exactly mechatronics is?
At U of T, you pick from two specializations out of five in the mechanical engineering program. The two that I chose are mechatronics and energy & the environment. Mechatronics deals with anything that uses electricity, but has a mechanical component to it. A simple example would be a watch. The part that’s spinning in sequence is the gear train, and that’s its mechanical element. The electronic component is the conversion to digits. The digital output it produces is the numbers you see written on it. That’s a small-scale example of the relationship between mechanics and electronics that is studied in mechatronics.
What made you choose engineering and eventually decide on this particular area of specialization?
When I was younger I had a keen interest in aerospace engineering, but my uncle advised me against going into that field because it was a bit limiting. With mechanical engineering, I can touch upon all areas of engineering. I learned bits of electrical engineering from my analog and digital electronics for mechatronics course and chemical engineering from my thermodynamics course and heat and mass transfer course. There’s a little bit of all the different specializations of engineering that I get to study.
The general belief is that once you’ve decided to pursue something like engineering, you’re set. You’ve got a job straight out of school. What is the job market like for mechanical engineers, and what things do you need to do outside of school in order to make yourself more competitive? Do engineering students even need to network?
You don’t really need to network. With engineering you could be a complete loner and still get a job. Networking may only make a difference in terms of how quickly you get a job, not if you’ll get a job. And of course, you need basic people skills to get through interviews. But for the most part, so long as you know your stuff, you’ll eventually find employment. Also, they design the program so that you have broad knowledge. For example, in second year I had to take accounting and finance courses, so if I decide to open a business I know basic things like how to balance my books. I also had to take courses in programming because everything’s automated now, so I can go to a tech company and say I have programming experience. You can get a good starting salary with an engineering degree, and you are prepared for many graduate programs.
You currently have an internship with DCL International, a company that specializes in advanced emission control technologies. What is the process of applying for internships like for an engineering student?
Internships usually start in May. At U of T, you have the option of doing an internship after your second or third year and you pay to access a portal where all the internships and jobs are posted. Usually people do their internship in third year because you can’t really claim to have knowledge of engineering until then since in the first year you mostly take general courses. For instance, I took a lot of courses in accounting, finance, and programming. It wasn’t until third year that I took courses specific to my discipline such as mechanical design and design for the environment. It’s not entirely simple to get an internship. Even in engineering, they expect you to have experience. You still have to prove to them that they should hire you.
So are engineering internships paid?
Yeah, that’s why you have to really prove yourself to them. You get paid, and it’s the same starting salary that they’d give a regular engineer.
Get out. As an intern?
Yeah. But how much depends on where you work.
Do people take courses during the internship?
Not usually. You’re still enrolled in school on a part-time basis, so you can take courses, but the internship’s a full-time job, so the people that do decide to take courses will usually take night courses.
So when do you graduate? Does it take more than four years? And if so, is the internship optional?
Yes. The internship is optional, so some people choose not to do it and can graduate at the end of four years. I’ll be graduating after five years. But it’s advised to do an internship because most employers are looking for experience. One thing I regret is not joining clubs. I’ve known people who’ve had terrible grades, but were the first to get internships because they had hands-on experience through their clubs. For example, there are a couple clubs on campus where you race cars, but the members have to build the cars themselves. A lot of these companies want to see that you have experience doing hands-on work. It’s one thing to design something on SolidWorks and just conceptualize it on a computer. It’s a whole different thing building it in real life.
What have you learned from this internship and has it been helpful for you in terms of deciding on your career path after graduation?
The best part about doing my internship is that it helped me realize that I don’t want to work for anybody but me. The only exception would be working for the government whether it’s at the provincial, national, or if possible, international level. But my goal is to start my own business. I’ve realized that, like they say, if you don’t follow your dreams, someone else is going to pay you to follow theirs. I’m currently chasing someone else’s dream. I want to be at the point where I’m paying someone else to chase mine or I’m chasing it myself. I want to be able to make my own schedule and be my own boss.
My internship has also been very useful because I work in research and development. Almost everything I test I get to build myself. As a result, I’ve received so much hands-on knowledge. For instance, the other day my mother said we have a leaky faucet and she told me, “You’re an engineer. Fix it.” Before I wouldn’t have been able to, but now I was able to take a look at it, go to Home Depot, and get the things I need. Through my internship I’ve developed the practical experience needed to apply the theoretical knowledge I’ve learned in school.
Do you plan on continuing your studies after graduation? How vital is graduate school for your job prospects?
I would like to eventually get a master’s degree. Originally, I wanted to start it immediately after my undergrad, but my boss advised me not to pursue one right away. My thinking was that since everybody has a bachelor’s degree these days, getting a master’s was a way to separate myself from the crowd. But with an engineering undergrad you can have a starting salary of $60,000 a year and move up to $100,000. It’s only once you start considering moving into higher levels like in management that a master’s degree makes you competitive. My boss’s advice was that if you’re this little boy coming out of undergrad with a master’s and then go into a company and try to be the boss of people who’ve been working there forever, it’s not going to fly very well. But if you’ve worked at a company for a few years the idea is that you’ve done your time and you’ve gained experience. Basically start from the bottom and work your way up. If you jump for the top right away, people are going to make sure you fall, so gain the respect of your colleagues first.
Are there any particular causes you are passionate about, and how do you plan to incorporate your desire to give back into your training and eventual career in engineering?
I’m involved with my school’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). At the moment my position with my school’s chapter is as Director of Development. EWB tells us what its financial goals are and we help them fundraise a certain portion of that. My involvement with this organization is also tied to my own personal goals to work abroad. As much as I love Canada, Nigeria is still home, and I see myself setting up a business there. In Canada, we have everything we need. Back home, we have the potential to get what we need. We just need the people.
Engineering is considered an intimidating area of study by a lot of people. What do you say to people who think of it as this extremely difficult, inaccessible program?
Anyone can do engineering. Like I said to a friend once, “You’ve got what it takes to do engineering, but it’s gonna take all you’ve got”. I’ve missed a lot of family events. There’s been times during exams where I’d pull an all-nighter and all I’d do when the sun came up is go home, take a shower, and then come back to school and do it all again. I’ve gone days without seeing people or my family, but that was through a combination of procrastination and a huge workload. I used to get caught up in last minute work because of my social life, but if you plan your time well it’s doable. It’s hard in the short term, but it pays off in the long run.
What is your favourite spot for getting things done in the city?
I’m a library person, specifically Robarts Library. I need complete silence to get in the zone and study.
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