Transferring From Science To Engineering: The Best Choice For Sharlene

"If you prefer solving problems and you’re interested in solving real-world applications, engineering could be for you."

Sharlene Santiago Smiling

Sharlene Santiago

Why did you want to study engineering?

I started out in the Faculty of Science, and it was at the end of my second year in biochemistry that I decided I wanted to study engineering. Switching majors was one of the toughest decisions I‘ve made, but was also one of the best. I applied to engineering because I wasn’t feeling particularly engaged in my science classes. I had also talked with some academic advisors and learned that my job opportunities after graduating with a science major would likely be limited to lab tech positions unless I went on to grad school, which I wasn’t interested in doing. I realized that studying chemical and biological engineering was an option that would enable me to have a vast array of career options right after graduating while continuing to study something I love. 

Chemical and Biological Engineering

What differences have you noticed between science and engineering?

The culture between the two is very different. As a science student, I tried making friends the usual ways, but it was really hard. In engineering, it was so much easier. Everyone was encouraged to join the group chat for their discipline and you could get updates on events and easily to reach out to people in your classes. Engineering is often viewed as a difficult program, and it is. But there are lots of support systems in place and the community is very tight knit. 

Transferring to engineering enabled me to connect with a community of peers, which has made for a much more rewarding university experience.

Tell us about your co-op experience.

I’ve just completed my fifth and final co-op term and have done 20 months of co-op in total. I deliberately chose to work at four organizations (a different one for almost every co-op term) so that I could experience a diverse range of industries and company cultures. I learned a lot about myself in the process. 

It was fantastic to get some hands-on experience in laboratory settings and a pilot plant. 

However, my most recent co-op experience at a consulting firm was very rewarding – I liked the work-life balance and found the work to be diverse and interesting, with lots of opportunities to learn new things every day.



Sharlene's Consulting Co-op

Have you been involved in extracurricular activities?

During my first few years as a science student I worked with World Vision UBC, a club that raises money to support sponsored children in developing countries and that is also one of the largest non-profit student-run clubs on campus. I started out in a coordinator position and the next year I became a director. The following year I was elected president, responsible for overseeing all six committees and raising as much money as possible to support our sponsored children.

When I got into engineering, I helped run the UBC Engineering Career Fair. This was during the pandemic, so it was being run as a virtual event for the first time, which made for a lot of challenges. It went seamlessly, with all the participating companies being really happy about the experience. 

World Vision UBC 

How about engineering design teams?

I’ve been part of several teams, including UBC Concrete Canoe, Sustaingineering UBC and the UBC Biomedical Engineering Student Team

I think design teams are great for learning and meeting people, and particularly important for setting yourself apart from others when you are applying for co-op positions.

Everyone has taken the same courses, so if you can demonstrate technical project experience through your design team work, that will help you stand out. 

UBC Concrete Canoe  Sustaingineering UBC  UBC Biomedical Engineering Student Team

What’s ahead for you?

I’ll be graduating next May. I’m not entirely sure of the position or field I want to work in, other than the fact that I absolutely want to do something connected to sustainability. For me, that means a career where I am accelerating solutions for a sustainable future. That could be working in areas to minimize the impacts of climate change, carbon capture or carbon sequestration, green technology, water management, or health care.

I have a wide range of interests, and the great thing about chemical and biological engineering is that there are many ways to explore those. 

Anything else you want to add?

Throughout my engineering classes there have been discussions about the importance of bringing different perspectives to the design process and the value of team diversity. I don’t think this is talked about as much in the Faculty of Science, but it is something I appreciate coming to this field given my gender and background. 

If we’re designing for sustainability, it’s important to include multiple perspectives. 

Any advice for high school students wondering about engineering?

If you are deciding between science and engineering at UBC, my advice is to think about what you like. If you like research and theory, science could be a good choice. 

But if you prefer solving problems and you’re interested in solving real-world applications, engineering could be for you. 

Once you’re in engineering, I recommend doing co-op. You can really discover which areas your skills are best suited for and explore so many areas before you even graduate. Finally, get involved in extracurriculars and join design teams. You’ll gain incredible technical experience, while improving your skills in leadership and communication. The university experience wouldn’t be complete without extracurriculars!

Student in a lab holding a mini Erlenmeyer flask.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Chemical and biological engineers will be equipped to excel in a number of fast-growing and highly paid fields, including biotechnology, food, environmental services, bioenergy, forestry, biopharmaceuticals, health care and biomedical engineering.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

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