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©2000 Zhan Huan Zhou
Updated Jan-01-2000

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Why Did Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear?

©1999 Zhan Huan Zhou, Fall 1997, Issue 1

Here I am in my second year. Here I am in 2A. For the first time in three academic terms, I have a course where I can sit down and not have to worry about being bombarded with methods of integration, concepts of digital electronics or any of that technical engineering stuff. I am taking History 243, the Impact of Industrialization on Europe, as my first complementary study elective (CSE). All I can say is that I could have used an arts course like this in my 1B term last year.

As a computer engineering student, I had no choice but to be in stream 8. This meant eight straight months of classes in my first year. Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that all the courses in 1A and 1B had already been chosen for me. Even so, it wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t overload my brain with double weight courses like E&CE 100. Further still, it wouldn’t have been so bad if not every single one of the courses was an engineering course.

The fact that I had to take the equivalent of 11½ engineering courses in eight consecutive months last year nearly fried my brain. By the time finals rolled around in 1B, I couldn’t stand numbers and equations. Even more so, I despised integration. In 1A we did that in calculus, physics and chemistry. In 1B, we did even more integration in calculus, physics and E&CE 100. I was just sick of it and all this coming from a guy whose quoted as stating "You know what cool about double integrals?!?"

What I needed in 1B was a break from all the technical engineering courses, a break from all the math equations, integration and circuit analysis. I find it quite unfortunate that my department doesn’t allow to take this break until the 2A term. Of my eight academic terms, only in five of them will I have a CSE, that leaves three terms without one. I’ve already done two of those terms as a frosh. I am not looking forward to that semester without the CSE. Fortunately, I will only have to go endure being spoon-fed a strict engineering only diet for four months of as opposed to eight months as I did in first year.

Having a CSE not only gives me a break from all the engineering courses, it also gives me a broader world view, both as a person and an engineer. Being an information addict, I love to gather facts on subjects that interest me but do not have a chance to research on my own. As an engineer, it is important that I know where my work stands in society and how it will impact people now and in the future. By taking a CSE you may be enlightened by information like why Van Gogh cut off his ear. Okay, maybe Van Gogh’s personal life doesn’t interest you, but CSEs are important, especially those offered in the arts department. I am not advocating that you drop out of engineering and become an arts major, I am simply stating you cannot go through all of your 4 2/3 years here at the University of Waterloo taking only engineering courses -- that would cause permanent brain damage.

An engineer who is strictly an engineer is not an engineer.