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On Labs and Life: Insights from an Electrical Engineering Student

Interview with Vrishank Prabhu 

There’s a reason why industries favour BCIT graduates—BCIT programs provide rigorous hands-on training to fuse theory and practice. It’s a learning model that’s especially useful for gaining relevant skills needed in the workforce.

And the opportunity to get hands-on experience is exactly what brought Vrishank Prabhu to the Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering (BEng Electrical) program at BCIT.

BEng Electrical is a four-year degree taught within the School of Energy, where the first year of the program shares a common course load with Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology (ECET) diploma options. Currently in his second year, Vrishank explains that unlike programs such as Computer Systems Technology and Computer Information Technology, which more heavily centre on developing systems using different programming languages, BEng Electrical is more focused on working with physical electronics as well as designing Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and microcontrollers. 

Electrical engineering is a challenging subject, Vrishank notes, thinking back to the core courses during his first year. It’s why labs are imperative to understanding the material presented in lectures. Since, as he puts it, “in the labs, you’re directly applying what you learned in the lectures, which gives you a better connection [to the material]. I find that you learn a lot more from doing the labs because you’re doing the problems. It’s the ‘experience’ part of it.”

There are many different labs students in electrical engineering are introduced to. “We would learn how to use little transistors and logic gates, and you need to use these logic gates to create equations, like a little calculator,” says Vrishank. “Or you create a lock mechanism where you have to press a specific pin for a light to turn on. That’ll be the problem you’re presented with, and then you need to use all the stuff you learned in class to solve that problem.” The labs, he continues, are what makes all the classes fun.

Of the many core first-year courses, Vrishank points out that ELEX 1105 (Circuit Analysis 1) and ELEX 1117 (Digital Techniques 1) were among the most essential. 

ELEX 1105 is an introductory class to key circuitry concepts and laws needed for upper-level courses. The labs centre on building circuits and solving similar problems given in the lectures, using tools such as an Analog Discovery 2 (AD2), a digital multimeter, and breadboards.

“That class in [particular] is considered like a gateway class [to] the whole program,” Vrishank explains. “A lot of people find [it] to be the most [difficult] since that’s the class where you’re introduced to all the electrical topics such as Ohm’s law or circuit analysis in general.”

ELEX 1117 focuses more on software and the theory behind circuits. The labs dive deeper into designing circuits using basic logic elements, converting between decimal, hexadecimal, and binary number systems, as well as creating logic device programs using hardware description language.

But to Vrishank, the labs that were by far the most interesting and rewarding have been ELEX 1113 (Electronic Fabrication Tools and Techniques) and ELEX 2120 (Electronic Circuits 1). These classes involve bigger projects: building a power supply in ELEX 1113 and working with an Arduino kit to program a robot in ELEX 2120.

Though if he had to choose a favourite lab out of all the ones he’s done, Vrishank says he would pick ELEX 1113 because of how fun the class and the labs were.

“The whole class [of ELEX 1113] is centred [on] building a power supply and it takes the entire [term],” Vrishank explains. “From the start, they teach you how to use SOLIDWORKS PCB. You actually designed the PCB [and] all the traces to make your connections on the board. Then you print it out and physically solder all the components on, like your capacitors, your resistors, everything, to make a functional power supply.” He adds that the power supply then goes through several safety tests so that you’re able to use it at home.

“What’s really convenient about [building this power supply],” he continues, “is that in most of your labs across all the courses, you’ll use an AD2 to kind of go do all the functions you have in the labs with oscilloscopes, functions generators, power supplies—you use that little AD2 to do [work] on the go when you’re at home. But it only has a limit of a small voltage [so then] you can use this power supply that you built to actually get bigger voltages when you’re doing different things.”

And the things you learn in ELEX 1113 extend beyond the classroom: soldering parts onto a board and designing a PCB are essential skills in electrical engineering. As Vrishank says, “you can take those skills and start designing actual computer chips or microprocessors down the line once you learn a little bit more. You also get a general idea of how a project goes, like [what the] development steps are [for] creating a project or a product.”

Given his passion and dedication to the field, it comes as a surprise when Vrishank reveals that electrical engineering wasn’t his first choice—his initial decision was between business and computer science. Yet he was amazed by much he enjoyed his first year after being admitted into the BEng program, noting how fun the labs were. That was what pushed him to continue in it.

When asked what advice he has for first-year students studying in ECET courses, Vrishank shares that reaching out for help through peer tutoring or office hours is key for academic success. He mentions a new resource that students can use: proctor labs, which allow flexible lab times for students to come in and get work done or build on their skills. 

“The lab proctors who run the labs are other students in ECET,” he says, “and they have experience with all the labs you work on in the first year, so they are always available to help you out during the proctor lab sessions. With proctor labs, you aren’t pressed for time and don’t need to stress as much about not understanding concepts during your scheduled lab session.”

Something else to keep in mind is finding time to recharge. As with other full-time programs at BCIT, Vrishank’s studies involve schedules and workloads that can be challenging to manage. “So, take a step back once in a while and take your own personal time,” he says as a reminder. He also emphasizes the importance of connecting with classmates to foster a more fun and collaborative environment. And as for things like grades and GPA: “Don’t agonize over every perfect detail.” 

From working with circuits to building power supplies and coding functions for a robot—it’s easy to see why the electrical engineering labs make the program so much more interactive and help immensely in reinforcing the materials taught in lectures. After all, that’s what hands-on learning at BCIT is all about, and it’s what makes the educational journey here so memorable.

Then again, perhaps that’s just the magic of BCIT.