Self-engineering: finding purpose for myself and my career

"Find something meaningful and be unrelenting in your pursuit of it."

UBC MASc student Eric Vaags.

Eric Vaags

  • Degree: Master of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2022
  • Program: Civil Engineering
  • Campus: Vancouver

I’ve been at UBC for a long time! I completed my Bachelor of Applied Science degree at UBC (including a year of co-op) before going straight into the Master of Applied Science program. UBC has felt like a second home to me these past seven years and some days it felt like I would never leave! My current research focuses on the application of statistical and machine learning algorithms for the prediction of failures in water distribution systems.

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC?

I’m a competitive person and I’m constantly striving to be the best I can be. Knowing UBC’s reputation for achievement, I was attracted to the opportunity to be a step ahead by the time I begin my career. It didn’t hurt that the Vancouver campus is also one of the most beautiful places in the city.

Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable?

I learned the importance of deep friendships! As much as I enjoyed the courses I took and the skills I acquired, the friends I made are what I’ll remember most fondly and will gladly bring with me into my career. I had the honour of being the best man of one of the first friends I made at UBC; in five years, I won’t remember how I did on my exams, but I’ll definitely remember how it felt to stand next to him as he got married.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program?

Don’t feel like you need to have everything figured out! Failures are a great way to learn. Choices that seemed wrong can end up opening unexpected doors. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I shifted my main focus several times and even in my master’s degree, my research interests were fluid. I ended up settling on something quite different than I would’ve first thought. I would not change a thing (even though I did, several times).

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?

Having studied Applied Science, I’m hoping to finally start applying science in an impactful way. A dream of mine has been to use what I’ve learned about data and modelling to aid in the development of water infrastructure in underprivileged communities. I am extremely fortunate to have been able to attend UBC and I’d love the opportunity to give back.

Many of today’s jobs did not exist 10 years ago, and we do not know for certain what the workforce will look like 10 years from now. How did your studies in the Faculty of Applied Science prepare you for the future of work?

I think one of the most important things that my studies at UBC have taught me is to always be learning. Particularly when faced with new and unprecedented challenges, the ability to step back and assess my shortcomings has been invaluable. My studies have encouraged me to be determined and adaptable and have given me the tools to approach the uncertain future of work with confidence.

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