Engineering tools I can’t live without – School edition

Dear Reader,

As a senior in engineering, there have been many homework submissions, solved problems, group projects, late nights with not enough coffee, and a few tears. Some of these things have been made simpler with the help of some tools. I’ve compiled a list of what I try to always have with me when I walk out the door to go to class, or what I regularly use to get through a semester.

1. Calculators

I have three calculators that I carry in my book bag at all times. At my university, certain professors will allow certain types of calculators in their classes. The first calculator I use is the TI-84 Silver Edition graphing calculator. This calculator has so many function, including graphing and the ability to add programs to it. TI-84’s website offers different programs that can be downloaded to your calculator. It has been a lifesaver to truly know how my calculator works and what all functions it can perform. There are later editions that have came out since the TI-84 SE, like the Color edition and the TI-89 Titanium calculator, but I’m sticking with what I know. Plus at this point, I seem to have a strange emotional attachment to my TI-84. I think it’s because its been beside me through so many tests and tears.

Image result for TI-84 Silver Edition graphing calculator

Another calculator that I carry is the TI-36X Pro. This is not a graphing or programmable calculator and I use this calculator when those types are not allowed in class. I like this calculator because of its multi-line display and its ability to do simple matrices. The buttons and functions are also in a very user friendly arrangement.

Image result for TI-36X Pro

The third calculator I have in my book bag is the TI30XIIS calculator. I honestly don’t use this calculator much now that I have the TI-36X Pro. But it did get me through calc 1 class. It has all of the scientific functions but only has a single line display. It is cheap compared to to price of a programmable calculator, but for approximately $7 more you can purchase the 36X which I would recommend.

Image result for TI 30X IIS calculator

There is another calculator worth mentioning that I don’t actually have in my collection. The Nspire CX CAS calculator is a programmable calculator that is practically a computer in the shape of a calculator. It is has the ability to store whole word documents and excel sheets, copy and paste, the ability to solve equations with variables, and so much more. I’ve heard great things about it and as far as I’ve seen, it can be used in all classes that allow programmable calculators.

Image result for Nspire CX CAS

2. Engineering Paper

This may be a no-brainer to my fellow engineering students, but I didn’t really start using engineering graph paper until last year. It has made my homework so much neater. We’ve all turned in homeworks that by the time we get done with them they are either unreadable, or works of art. Engineering paper helps to keep it as the latter. I don’t like using regular graphing paper because it’s difficult to see what I have written but this green paper solves this issue, and it’s what I’ve been using ever since.

Image result for engineering calculation pad greenImage result for engineering calculation pad green

3. Mini stapler

I had a professor who wouldn’t accept homework papers that were late, even by a minute. He also wouldn’t accept them if they were not stapled. After a mad dash to the nearest office to staple a few assignments, I got a mini stapler to put in my bag. You wouldn’t believe how many people ask to use it.

Image result for mini stapler

4. Power Bank

Ahhh! Low battery!! You don’t want to be stuck with a dead phone and no way to charge it. I have an Anker power bank to charge my phone whenever I need it.

5. A Printer

I don’t know about other universities, but it costs $0.10 per page to print in our library. When you have a 23 page lab report due each week, that can be a lot of money that could be spent on more important things. Like food. I use a normal HP desk jet 2542 printer that connects to my laptop via usb.

HP Deskjet 2542 All-in-One Printer

6. Expo Board

This is probably one of my favorite things. My mom actually found this for me for Christmas and I have used it countless times. It’s super easy to carry around and is so handy to have for working out those engineering problems. The nuBOARD can be found on Amazon.

The Use-Anywhere Whiteboard Notebook -NuBOARD NOTEBOOK North America Edition-

7. 6″ Engineering Scale

I got this my freshman year and put it with all of my pencils. I have used it in drafting, note taking, and whenever I need a straight edge. It’s small enough that it’s not a hassle to carry around. The fact that it has three different scales in it is a bonus. I say that I use it all the time about all of these items, but I really do use this all the time.


8. Dual Monitors

While I actually don’t have a great dual monitor setup at my home, you would not believe how much better this improves the whole computer usage thing. Life changing. Be warned that once you use dual monitors, it will be very hard to go back to a single computer screen.

9. Headphones

This isn’t specifically an engineering thing, but I always have a pair of headphones with me. Until I accidentally washed them, my pair of Yurbuds was my favorite pair. Now I have the Apple headphones that have the lightning adaptor.

Image result for yurbudsImage result for apple earphones

10. Metal USB

Last but not least, a good metal USB drive is a great thing to have. I used to have a plastic USB drive on my key ring, so I would always have one with me. Until the plastic piece that keeps it on the key ring snapped. While I managed to find the USB drive, had I not been paying attention, I would have lost an entire semester’s worth of data. Thus began the search for a metal USB. Any metal USB will do. I got mine off of Amazon.

Image result for metal usb


11. Motivational Quotes

This isn’t really a tool per se, but I have a board of motivational quotes that I have hanging in view of my desk. It helps get through the rough patches that engineering seems bound and determined to drag you through. Each time I hear a good quote, I write it on the board.

Image result for motivational cat posters

These tools have helped me out along the way. Other things I use are more obvious, such as folders, notebooks, mechanical pencils, my laptop, chocolate, and the occasional phone call to Mom who still loves me even though I call to tell her I just failed a test.

Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment if you have something you’ve fallen in love with that has helped you out in class!


College Advice – Real advice.

Dear Reader,
I’ve compiled some cliché advice that I am sharing with you all. It’s helped me get through what is now my fourth year of engineering.
  • If you get Chegg, go in with at least three other people for the subscription. It saves a lot of money. The downside to that is only one person can be on at a time, but for now the app still works if multiple people are on. Be warned though, that if you rely on this heavily for all your homework, the tests will kill you and it will bite you in the butt. Trust me.
  • Find someone who knows what they are doing in the class and befriend them. Sit next to them so you can initiate conversation and get to know them so it’s not all that awkward when you email or text them asking how to do the homework, or to take notes for you.
  • Speaking of siting next to someone, sit in the front of the class. It can be off to the side, but it better be in the front. That’s where all the smart people sit, and it is a proven fact that you do better if you sit in the front. Plus you’ll be able to see the board and actually hear the professor.
  • Study sessions are always better with food. Because you will want to do anything else but study when you are studying.
  • SelfControl is an app that can be downloaded on your computer and phone that will lock you out of Facebook, Netflix, twitter, and whatever other distracting sites that eats up your study time. It does work and you’d be surprised how relieving it is once you’re locked out and how much better you focus. It’s very useful when it comes down to the wire on deadlines and such. I know you think you can control yourself and you won’t need this app, but you will. Procrastination’s a b***h.
  • Don’t text and drive. My roommate alone was in two accidents because people were texting and driving. The first totaled her car. I was in an accident that totaled my car because the driver was on their phone. IT IS NOT WORTH IT. You can try to rationalize it. We’ve all done it. But stop. Nothing is worth your life or someone else’s.
  • Always have a pair of headphones and a charging cord for your phone in your book bag. Because you will always need them when you don’t have them. One of those portable power banks shoved in your bag is nice to have as well. Along with a mini stapler.
  • Do stuff that you would never do in high school. Go watch a performance. Go to the events on campus. It’s a great way to try new things for free and meet people outside your major. It doesn’t have to be associated with the college. I took a stained art class and joined a rugby team. Some of the best decisions I’ve made.
  • You will eat every form of pizza there is in college. It’s not shameful. Everybody does it. Live a little.
  • Amazon will give you Amazon Prime free for six months with a school email. A lot of places will have student discounts. While you’re drowning in student debt, take advantage of these small perks.
  • You are paying an insane amount of money to get a degree. Don’t forget that. Work hard. Because this will shape your future and all that wise stuff.
  • That being said, college is the time to discover yourself. Relax. Ask yourself what you want out of life. Enjoy yourself.
  • If you don’t think you will need your textbook after the class is done, either rent it or find someone who has taken it and borrow theirs. The school bookstore is NOT the cheapest place to get your books. You can normally find someone who has the pdf version of the book but I liked having the physical copy. Whichever you prefer.
  • If the professor has been teaching awhile, chances are they don’t change the tests all that much from semester to semester. They will change it some, but getting ahold of those previous semester’s test will help you know what to expect.
  • If multiple people warn you to stay away from a professor, heed their warning. There is usually a justifiable reason for what they say. Sometimes you will have no choice in who you have to take for a class, or they will be the worst first year teacher imaginable. It will happen. Go to their office hours when you need help. They don’t do anything during those hours except stare at the walls anyways. is a great way to pick the professors for your classes and to plan ahead when you enroll for the next semester.
  • Walk your schedule the day before classes start, especially your first semester when you are unfamiliar with the building names. It will help you tremendously when everyone is wondering around like headless chickens. Everyone shows up on the first day/week so get there twenty to thirty minutes early to claim your seat. In the front.
  • Everyone knows there is no assigned seating in college. But everyone knows there is assigned seating in college. Once you pick your seat, that will be your seat for the remainder of the semester. Choose wisely.
  • Khan Academy is a wondrous website that will show you videos explain how to do a problem or explain a concept. It is waaaayyy better than youtube and the guy who does all the videos is very easy to understand. If you don’t get something in class, chances are Khan Academy has a video that will show you how to do it. If you’re into upper level course, you may not find what you need, but youtube normally has examples. There’s no guarantee on the quality or experience of the person posting that video though.
  • There is this weird thing in software engineering known as Rubber Duck Debugging. (We all know how strange the software engineer guys are.) But basically you place a Rubber Duck on your desk and you explain the problem to him. If you can accurately describe the problem, the method on how to solve the problem, and go through all the steps in a way that if someone who knew nothing about what you are learning  (the Rubber Duck) could understand it, then you successfully know the concept and how to solve the problem, or can de-bug your mistake. I personally have a stress ball camel named Clyde and a pig named Pepe. They’re great listeners.
  • Find a good stress reliever. Running, music, whatever it may be, it will be necessary to find something to get rid of that stress. Other than shutting down and crawling into bed to ignore all surroundings. Because no matter how much we’d like it to, it doesn’t solve a darned thing.
  • Contribute to group projects. No one likes the person who does nothing but still expects to have their name on the project. Some projects will be able to be used as a reference or as a resume builder.
Some things you just have to learn for yourself. Have fun, be safe, and don’t forget why you’re there.