Back to School: Engineering Shopping List

Welcome back to the Digilent Blog!

As our local university is starting back up again for the fall semester, many engineers will find themselves in need of a few items. Thus, the engineering shopping list!

Naturally, there are many “standard” requirements that one needs for their classes: pens, pencils, notebooks, an alarm clock, a known schedule, and other things of that nature. But engineering classes tend to also need some additional things outside of the standard realm, some of which can be bought at your local convenience store, and then still others that cannot be bought.

Engineering Paper

The famous engineering graph paper. Image from abuakel’s flickr.

The first two mandatory items that I would look for are engineering paper and a graphing calculator. One would normally think that you could simply use any other kind of paper to answer the questions, but inevitably one does need to show their work involving multiple equations, derivations, and graphs, hence the need for engineering paper which nicely doubles as graph paper. Ideally, one would think that you would be able to use appropriate software to generate all of the graphs that you need and print them out later, but sadly not all professors like printed out graphs nor do all the graphs benefit between the time put into them creating them on the computer to just drawing them out on paper. A graphing calculator is necessary for solving all of the annoying equations that inevitably involve some obnoxious decimals. They are also perfect for figuring out the look of all of those graphs that need to be hand drawn, or cross-checking that a particular intersection point that you previously calculated is indeed accurate.

A selection of graphic calculators. Image from

Other things that I would shop for is a quiet place to study and a non-messy high energy snack. The non-messy portion of the snack is so that you do not distract yourself by picking up all of the delicious (or distracting) crumbs that may appear everywhere as you are physically stocking yourself up for the long study session, which nicely brings us to our next point. Study sessions come in two different types, the group study session where people (ideally) work together and bounce ideas off of each other, and the solo study session where you quietly focus (again, ideally) on and complete the work at hand. Both of these have their own downfalls though; group study sessions tend to all be with friends, which is great, but friends also tend to have other things in common that they like to talk (or complain) about. Solo sessions tend to alleviate┬áthe social problem, but also make it terribly easy to fall prey to other distractions that you can’t be called out on by your study buddy, i.e. Facebook, YouTube, music, online games, sleeping, you name it.

A high-energy snack suggested by

Unfortunately, this leaves us with a conundrum. Do you keep accountable while risking self-perpetuating group conversations? Or do you go lone wolf and risk falling asleep and getting stuck on something that a second pair of eyes would have caught immediately? As you might suspect, there is no definite answer that applies to everybody. I personally used a mixture of the two types: studying and working by myself when I was confident that I could figure everything out on my own, even if it would take a little longer than if I was in a group, and a group session for the classes where I knew there was relatively no chance I could figure it out by myself and the group members were in the same boat. I also personally tried to make sure that I maintained a consistent level of focus during my solo sessions so that I didn’t take a “quick nap” (which never worked out that way) or find myself frequently changing whatever song was currently being played. Although the song switching is theoretically a “quick fix”, beware of how many quick fixes you are doing in a set period of time.

Do you have any other tips or things that the college engineer needs to be successful?

Be the 1st to vote.

About James Colvin

The biggest thing that I enjoy is learning new things. Especially things involving some type of technology; computer components, fun gadgets, games, coding techniques, etc. I love spending time with my wife and our two sons and hanging out with our friends. During my normal work day, I manage the Digilent Forum and the North American Support team.

View all posts by James Colvin →

One Comment on “Back to School: Engineering Shopping List”

  1. For engineering, RPN calculators [from HP] used to be the best – they’re still good, but other brands have caught up. There are a plethora of apps available, covering circuit design, mechanical stress analysis, astronomy, etc.
    It would be great if there was a calculator you could use with FPGA – either as a plugin keypad & display, or as a programmable device with expansion ports on the sides. Keeping the current draw down might prove tricky.

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