Senior capstone design is a year-long project-based course that gives students a hands-on opportunity to apply their three years of engineering education to solve a real-world problem. After two semesters of hard work and many late nights in the OEDK, I can confidently say that this course has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. I learned a lot along the way, and I wanted to share some tips and observations that I’ve gathered from my experience. Here they are, in no particular order:
This is so important. Getting to know your teammates outside of the project is crucial to success, and the best way to do that is spending time together when you’re not working on the project. Feeling like you can relax and take a risk within the group setting is essential in resolving differences and conflicts when they do occur. On that note, having bad relationships with your teammates can completely derail your project. While I personally haven’t experienced divisions with my teammates, I’ve heard nightmare stories of some teams’ inabilities to resolve interpersonal differences. This led to complete collapses of their projects because working with their teammates wasn’t enjoyable.
To aid in team cohesion, my team went mini golfing and had meals together on numerous occasions. After a while, time spent working on our project turned into time spent with friends because we enjoyed being around each other!
My teammate Kelsi suggested we use a task management system she’d learned called the Running Action Item List, or RAIL. It allowed us to set goals and keep track of the tasks we were each responsible for. I think this is what really propelled us forward through the design stages of our project since it ensured that we didn’t go off the rails (haha). We went over tasks at the start of each week and, as a team, were able to get past the many roadblocks we ran into.
One example of this: For example, at the beginning of this semester, we realized that our initial design would not work due to unexpected stresses. Our team worked a collective 100 hours for each of the following two weeks in order to completely redesign the motor layout. Thankfully, we had a system in place to delegate tasks efficiently and were able to get the project back on track (haha) within the month. Through this experience, I’ve come to enjoy the challenges of solving the multitude of problems that inevitably arise during any engineering project.
In the workplace, there are money and time constraints which are propelled by clients who have objectives to meet. There will be many times in your career where you’ll work on a team, so you need to know how to contribute to the group and its goals. Senior design is sort of a mix between the actual workplace and school, where you’re free to apply your knowledge and make mistakes. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn and grow.
I’ve heard that some people view senior design as just another class they need to take to graduate, but that’s the wrong mindset. What students don’t realize is how their projects can make a big impact if they put in the time to make something that’s never been done before.
As a result of our hard work, we’ve recently been invited to present our project at the 2018 World Congress of Biomechanics in Dublin. We’re absolutely thrilled for the opportunity to represent Rice internationally!
In sum: If you’re taking senior design next year, remember to have fun. Yes, it’s hard work, but you can have a huge impact on a real-world issue and hone your technical and leadership skills at the same time.