Peer Advisors' Blog

Welcome to the peer advisors' blog! Written by current Fourth Year Systems Engineering peer advisors, these posts are here to help you get more information and advice about the Systems Engineering program. Have a topic you want to know more about? Get in contact with any of the advisors or visit them during their office hours! No appointment necessary.

  • What is INCOSE and what can it do for you?

    By: Simone Olson

    You might have a couple of 3rd and 4th year engineering students go into your classes and talk about INCOSE. International Council of Systems Engineering, or INCOSE for short, is a professional society in the field of systems engineering with about 17,000 members worldwide. Some of their main activities include conferences, publications, local chapters, certifications and technical working groups. Their chapters can either be for professionals or undergraduates at colleges across the US. More information can be found at

    UVA has a local undergraduate chapter that aims to serve, strengthen and promote UVA Systems Undergraduate Community. They host member meetings, connect undergraduates with alumni for potential job opportunities, and host social events like Systems Semi Formal in the spring. It’s a great club to join to meet other engineers that share academic interests with you or get advice from older engineers. 

    I have been involved in INCOSE at UVA since my second year and have seen the organization take on more responsibility and events. This year the organization is planning on connecting younger engineers with faculty to talk about research interests and opportunities. There will also be alumni zoom meeting where undergraduates can learn about career options within systems and see what successful alumni have been up to. Lastly, there will be Coffee Chats in the spring semester where 1st years will be paired with 4th years to have informal conversations about Systems Engineering. 

    If you are interested in joining please reach out to to learn more and see how you can benefit from these activities. 

  • A Second Major, When Does It Make Sense?

    By: Luke McPhillips

    UVA engineering is quick to quote its record of engineers completing double-majors but does not provide a clear guide to what that can entail. A second major can offer immense value in building out a unique knowledge base for career pursuits, academic fulfillment and more. It can also be overwhelming and confusing, and leave you as a fourth year wondering why you spent so many of your available credit-hours on something that does not excite you.

    Below I outline some of the pros that I have identified through pursuing Systems and Economics majors, and then define a set of questions that can be useful for framing the double-major question.


    • A second major can lead to the discovery of an academic field that excites, interests, and challenges you in a way much different than Systems engineering.
    • It can open the door to thinking about further studies with a more dynamic lens. I am interested in sociology programs, an interest that developed through economic study of human behavior and extracurricular work.
    • It can introduce you to a different face of the University. Course of study can often be affected by life experiences, pursuing a second course of study offers a chance to build an extended network of peers and learn about UVA experiences and perspectives not represented within Systems/Engineering.
    • Completing two major programs is an impressive accomplishment! Employers will take note and recognize you pursued a difficult course of study, they will be intrigued by the intersection of passions.
    • Expand post-graduate opportunities! Regardless of what type of work you hope to pursue, having deeper exposure to two fields increases the likelihood that something you have done at UVA aligns with a possible position. The more mutually exclusive the two programs are, the greater the breadth of options.
    • You will develop a distinctly unique problem-solving mindset! Academic fields often have different methodologies, integrating 2+ is extremely powerful.


    Questions to consider:

    • How can research/study abroad interact with completing both? Can you fulfill requirements in a non-traditional manner or will the number of courses interfere with giving full energy to your desired pursuits?
    • Will you have to take a brutal semester or two? Alignment of courses can sometimes be rough. Be extra mindful in sketching out your class schedule and do not be reluctant to hybridize the typical form if it will ease the load. Explore how different professors teach their sections of the same course and be intentional in creating symmetry in your studies. For example, I pushed Econometrics off until this semester and am taking it concurrently with Linear Statistical Models. When studying for midterms, ~50% of content overlapped and decreased my workload.
    • Can you leverage your AP credit? This is a regret I have. Instead of taking my AP Physics C credit, I retook Physics I and II at UVA for “funsies” <- literally. While I love physics, this was a waste of valuable schedule space and boxed me in moving towards third year.
    • Is the major you want to pursue feasible? Natural combos exist, Systems and Stats and Systems and Economics are classic examples. The application sequences in systems are a powerful avenue for navigating a second major. Out-scoping, what is the added value of completing a second major vs. a minor vs. a couple of intro classes? If you cannot specifically identify several reasons of how continuing with the program will create opportunity for you after 1-2 classes in the field, consider re-visiting your commitment to completing those studies.
    • What is the opportunity cost of pursuing a second major? Can you identify what the trade-off are? It can be informative to structure thinking in this manner, enabling some objective comparison within a very subjective decision.
  • The Value of Exploring UVA Outside of SEAS

    By: Luke McPhillips

    SEAS offers its students a wide array of research opportunities, courses, extracurriculars and special events. I often find my discussion of “why UVA/why UVA engineering” centered around its unique community when giving tours to prospective students.

    But pushing out of the SEAS bubble is reciprocally beneficial. Through my time at UVA, I have been an RA, involved with all levels of Sustained Dialogue on Grounds, tutored, taught a class, coordinated sustainable programming and joined a co-ed frat among other commitments. Common to all is an energy that derives from being with people who have experienced a whole different path at UVA. Structure of thought is just as powerful as base of knowledge and diving into the wealth of perspectives that exist here has immeasurable returns. There are only a few times in life we have the opportunity to learn, live, and explore alongside thousands of our peers in a space that exists with such directed purpose.

    Studies have shown that people who have far-flung social networks are most happy. Far-flung can be defined as geographically dispersed but also as diversity of mindset. Building networks of friends and mentors across Grounds is challenging, but broadens horizons. Engaging with the larger UVA community supports the export of the objective engineering mindset, a perspective that is increasingly lacking in societal discussions of science and technology. Conversely, it supports the humanization of innovation and the ability for us to think more critically about the complexity of societal institutions in designing systems.

    In summary, just shake-up who you go out with next weekend. And join a club or two that has nothing to do with engineering and is composed of peers from the College, or Nursing, or Curry. It is rewarding!

  • Systems Students Can do a Semester Abroad!

    By: Meredith Hargroves

    Many engineering students have trouble finding the opportunity to study abroad due to compact and rigid course schedules; however, systems engineering has a flexible schedule that allows students to spend a semester abroad second or third year, especially if students come in with transfer credit.

    I studied in Sydney Australia Spring of my second year. While in Sydney, I was able to take Financial Accounting and Money and Banking to satisfy a business minor requirement and elective. I also took Database Systems to fulfill the requirement for SYS 2202. 

    If you are interested in studying abroad but don’t know where to start, pages 5 and 6 of this document have study abroad programs that UVA engineers have participated in. 

    You can also see a list of courses that have already been approved for transfer credit from specific universities abroad. Many of the required courses for systems engineering can be taken at other universities. 

    If you want transfer credit for a class that is not listed, you can likely receive it. Find the UVA course description and the course description from the foreign university for the course you would like to take and the systems department can approve it. 

  • Course Selection: Tips and Tricks

    By: Samantha Jensen

    Ah yes, that time in the semester where you have to decide your fate for the next semester in terms of what classes to take, what times to take them, and which professors to take. Sometimes it’s very simple, and other times you have to enroll in the max 19 credits just in case because you couldn’t get into your first choice and you need options. 

    Course selection happens in November of the fall semester and April of the spring semester. Systems engineering has a good outline of all the courses you need to take in your 4 years, and generally the courses are in a set progression. But the curriculum also has room for technical electives, HSS elective, and unrestricted electives- and those decisions can be tough. 

    Some general tips:

    1. Use the shopping cart option to hold onto courses that you want
    2. Check Lou’s List for courses being offered that semester
    3. Use the systems curriculum to plan and keep track of your courses
    4. Put all courses in your shopping cart before the day of course selection
    5. If there are multiple sections or multiple professors, but a few options in your shopping cart just in case they will up
    6. Select the “waitlist if full” option when adding to cart
    7. Log onto SIS 15 minutes before your time to check the status of your classes
    8. Use UVA Schedule Me to see a graphical layout of selected courses
    9. Take a chill pill - you’ll get into the classes you need eventually!


    P.s. no one really knows when course selection starts and ends on the day. Athletes get to enroll starting at 7 am and then there’s a break until it opens again for the afternoon. The earliest I’ve ever heard of a sign up time is 2pm. So just keep that in mind if your time is later, like 6pm.

  • Engineers Need Soft Skills, Too

    By: Cassia Jbeili

    Most of you hate group projects - mainly because people don’t show up to meetings or carry their weight. Because of this, it’s easy to roll your eyes at professors preaching that “group work is important for life skills”. While the aspect of working in a team is important, it’s really the soft skills utilized in a group setting that are important. A useful analogy to think of: you know in grade school when we were forced to do summer readings on books we really weren’t interested in? Then, we would spend the rest of the year not reading for pleasure? Being forced to do group work is similar. We work on a project & deliver the results, no matter what disgruntlement is felt along the way. Because it seems like an ‘unnecessary chore’ at the time, it often devalues our perception of group work skill. Overtime, this can be detrimental - the world is not black & white business transactions. You need to be personable and able to properly communicate to efficiently get the job done. After all, the people you work with are human, and relationship building is critical for success. 

    A 2018 Workplace Learning Report surveyed over 4,000 managers/employees/talent developers/executives and found that training for soft skills was the top priority for talent development. This goes to show that soft skills play a huge role in differentiating candidates for job employment or advancements. We all know someone who is extremely intelligent, but who lacks the ability to work with others. Nowadays, such pure technical intelligence won’t get you far - it’s found that it actually limits growth opportunities and lacks effectiveness. Soft skills are just as important as the hard skills, although more difficult to define and measure. Companies are seeking people who have both kinds of skills - mainly because those who don’t communicate well, don’t get along with others, and aren’t receptive to creative thinking actually detriment the company. In the end, if you don’t focus on simultaneously building your soft skills, it doesn’t matter how educated or competent you are (because let’s be honest, what’s going to set you apart from the person who graduated with the same major and degree as you? You both probably got a killer education).

                You’re probably wondering, “okay but there are so many soft skills. I can’t possibly try to focus on all of them”. True. But, soft skills are something you master overtime with experience and constant awareness. Start by focusing on a few. Five of the most important ones are:

    • Communication (including being a good listener)
    • Creativity (thinking outside of the box rather than sticking to the status quo)
    • Adaptability (ability to be nimble and adjust plans when needed)
    • Collaboration (including working with people of all backgrounds)
    • Leadership (instilling trust in others and fostering loyalty while taking on challenges)
  • My process to networking for internships and jobs

    By: Seth Jaffe

    Whether you like it or not, effectively networking plays a significant role in getting internships and jobs during and after college.  Everyone has their own thoughts on what are dos and don’t and my recommendation is that you talk to several people who have experience in networking before creating your own strategy.  In this post, I want to focus on the process I used to network which can be broken down into five steps.  This is somewhat of a case study from my experience from June - August before my third year internship recruiting season.

    Step 1: Finding people 

                Before my third year, I was unsure what sort of internship I was looking for so I decided to break down my search into three main categories: consulting, product management, and systems engineering/aerospace jobs.  I compiled a list of ~15-20 companies that I was interestested in and then went on LinkedIn to search for UVA systems engineering alums who currently worked there.  I only reached out to UVA systems engineers because I believed they would be more eager and excited about talking to me because we had a fairly significant connection.  When deciding which people to specifically reach out to, there were a few factors I considered.  If possible, I tried to contact people who were more recent grads who occupied a position I might fill as a recent grad.  If there was a wide variety of options, I chose to reach out to someone who I thought had similar interests to me such as volunteering, sports, traveling, etc.  Lastly, I considered the specific location where the person was working.  Many companies have different procedures for recruiting, but based on my experience specifically with consulting firms, recruiting is highly office specific for final round decisions.  If possible, try to reach out to someone working in a specific office where you want to work.   


    Step 2: Reaching out

    I didn’t see the merit in trying to find a specific firm’s email format because that seemed rather intrusive; however, others will probably disagree with me.  Instead of sending an initial email, I reached out to people via LinkedIn.  I never got LinkedIn premium, where you can send messages to people who you are not connected to, either.  Instead, I sent connect requests to these people and attached a short message introducing myself (there is a strict character limit): “I am a rising third year at UVA majoring in Systems Engineering with minors in business and design integration. I am interested in interning at COMPANY XX next summer and potentially working there and would like to learn more about what it is like to work there.”  I found this fairly effective and probably got a 40-50% response rate.  Because of the varying response rate, it is important to do this in waves because you want to go ahead and schedule a call fairly soon after the person responds.  I probably sent 3-5 requests a week.


    Step 3: Scheduling a call

                When the person responds, I quickly respond asking for his or her e-mail so that I can schedule a half hour time to talk.  Make sure to give the person a wide window and be accomodating with talking early in the morning or late at night if necessary.  I had calls at 9 pm and 7 am.


    Step 4: Having a conversation

                After all this hard work, you finally have the opportunity to talk to someone.  It’s important to stay relaxed and know that this is informal and a learning experience for you.  I always took calls using ear buds (I don’t have air pods!) while at my computer so that I could take notes.  I also created a tentative call plan with a few questions I wanted to ask that I tried to follow.  However, do not feel the need to strictly follow a plan and see how the conversation goes naturally.  Here is a sample call plan that I made.  

    • Introduction: Thank the person for coming and provide a 1-2 min overview of myself: where I’m from, something I do at UVA, and that I’m starting to figure out what I want to do with my systems degree after graduating.
    • How did you end up at the job you are at today?
    • What is a typical day at work like for you?
    • Can you tell me about a project you have worked on or currently working on?
    • What systems engineering knowledge do you use at your job?
    • Conclusion: Thank the person for taking the time to talk and mention that I will be applying to his/her companies internship program in the coming months.  Casually ask if I can stay in contact with this person as I go throughout the process.

                It is very important that you make the call be about the other person and not about yourself.  After doing a brief introduction, all my calls were just me listening about what these people do in their jobs.  These conversations became quite easy and relaxing because everyone loves to talk about themselves and what they do at their job.  You make a much better impression doing this than just coming out and asking for advice, tips, and help with applying for an internship at the person’s company.  You don’t want the other person to feel like you are trying to use them.  Once the call is rapping up, it is important that you thank the person and remind him/her that you are going to be applying to work at the person’s company and you would appreciate if he/she could be a resource during the recruiting process.  I probably did around 20 of these calls and every single person happily agreed that I could follow up with him or her.  I’m putting this into step 4: Send a quick thank you email the next day and try to highlight one interesting aspect of your conversation!


    Step 5: Following up during the application process

                I did most of my conversations early in the summer and did not apply to internships until maybe 2-3 months later.  Once I submitted an application, I sent an email to a person I talked to at that company letting him or her know that I had just applied for INTERNSHIP X.  For a couple specific people, I asked a couple of questions about what the interview process was like as well as if he/she knew anything about the time table.  For a few companies, as I went through the recruiting process, the alumni who I had originally reached out to starting reaching out to me offering to give advice and connect me to other people at the firm.


                I’ve probably rambled on long enough, but this is basically how I went through the networking process with several tips and advice sprinkled in.  I obviously believe you should listen to what I have to say, but make to get advice from a variety of people.  My strategy definitely was not perfect, and what works for me may not work as well for you.



  • Money on your Mind?

    By: Emma Boland

    You have one of the most useful and applicable majors at UVa. While you may dread having the Stoch test and 30+ page HW assignment due on the same day, or think you may go crazy if someone asks you to regurgitate the 6 steps of systems problem solving yet again, you are gaining a skill that every business needs and will pay hefty salaries ($$$) for: data-driven analytics. For that reason, you need to carefully consider what field you would like to go into after graduation. 

    While you may feel tempted to follow the crowd and apply to consulting jobs, I am here to present to you a whole new idea: finance. Finance is truly the forefront of innovation. Start-ups need funding to get their ideas off the ground, the economic state is a major determining factor for the growth or failure of businesses, and investments in certain technologies (i.e. green energy) determine the future. What makes the world go-round? Money.

    Finance is not the typical path for an engineer, but the UVa Systems Engineering curriculum is surprisingly applicable to business, specifically trading. Traders work closely with clients to trade securities on their behalf and manage risk for the banking institution. A typical day for a trader consists of speaking with clients to try to clarify their goals, analyzing large datasets and graphs in order make predictions if securities (stock, bond, currency, etc.) are going up or down, using the context of the current economic state to help shape the decision, and finally giving a recommendation on what to buy and sell. SYS 3034 wya?

    I interned at Citibank in their Sales and Trading division this past summer and am going back full-time beginning July. I loved the internship and felt like I had a competitive advantage over my fellow interns and some full-time employees with my data analysis skills. So I’m here to give you a comprehensive guide on how a Systems Engineer can break into the finance industry, specifically trading. 


    How can I find out if I’m interested in finance?

    In my Systems Engineering experience, none of the case studies/projects dealt with a problem in the financial sector until SYS 4022 Linear Statistical Systems. In the very last segment of class, we used R to predict the next unemployment rate based on past data. Consequently, it is a little difficult to know if you are interested in something that you have not explored thoroughly. So what can you do?

    1. Come to Systems Peer Advising Office Hours on Wednesdays from 12-2 and talk to me! 
      • I will answer any questions you have and talk about my internship experience. 
    2. Go to a banking info session
      • Banks come to UVa and hold info sessions about their internship opportunities. They are usually 1-2 hours long and provide very useful information about their line of work. I recommend going to one of these and seeing if you are interested. Even if you come out it completely uninterested in finance, it is equally important to know what you dislike as to what you like. 
      • These events are usually found on HandShake.
    3. Read the Wall Street Journal “Markets” section 
      • If the stories 


    What types of skills and affinities are necessary for trading jobs?

    1. Fast-paced environment. 
      • If you’ve ever seen a trading floor in the movies (think Wolf of Wall Street, the Big Short), they are moving at light speed. You need to be able to do quick mathematical calculations on the spot and execute orders for clients immediately. A client can make or lose millions of dollars in a matter of seconds, so you need to work well under pressure and have an affinity for high-energy, fast-paced environments.
    2. Short-term > Long-term
      • In financial markets, everything is moving so quickly. A great trade idea you come up with in the morning can totally fall apart by the afternoon. Trading can be compared to short sprints, rather than one long marathon. The typical length of projects depends on what desk you are on (I’ll get to that later), but in general you are never working on a specific assignment for more than two weeks. So, if you like working on a series of shorter, smaller projects, then you should consider going into trading! 
    3. Interpersonal skills
      • While your coding and data analysis skills will be fundamental to your success as a trader, they won’t matter unless you have clients to trade for. There are multiple banks that are all able to execute the clients’ trades, but they will come (or not come) to you based on the relationship you build. With that, you need to have strong interpersonal skills that can build and maintain relationships with people. The role is very client-facing. 
    4. Quantitative skills
      • I think everyone in Systems has this, so I won’t bore you with details. 


    What courses/sequences should you take to prepare?

    1. Economic Application Sequence
      • This is essential to gain knowledge about the economy. From economics classes, you will gain an understanding of what makes the economy move, the consequences of these moves, and how people behave in the context of different economic factors (i.e. game theory). I recommend classes that emphasize macro-economics as it is more useful to understand the bigger picture. 
      • Courses I recommend:
        1. Money and Banking - this is the best class for aspiring traders
        2. Econometrics
        3. Macroeconomics
        4. Theory of Financial Markets
    2. Engineering Business-Minor 
      • This is extremely useful way to gain entry to the coveted McIntire Comm School classes and learn about business. While the classes I took generally focused more on the micro side, it is essential to learn how individual businesses work and how they are financed. 
      • Required Courses:
        • Financial Accounting - required. Extremely useful in understanding how businesses finance themselves and learning what is classified as an asset or liability. 
        • Microeconomics - required
        • STS 4810 New Product Development - required. One of my favorite classes at UVa. You are put into groups and come up with an original product idea. You learn about business models, how to forecast customer demand, etc.
      • Three electives
        1. List of electives:
    3. Pay attention to the SYS 3034 
      • This class really teaches you how to work with data in context of a real world problem and be able to present a recommendation/finding in layman’s terms. This is exactly what you need to do in finance, so work hard on the cases and pay attention!


  • Creating Your Own Application Sequence: How and Why

    By: Hayley Waleska

    As you may know, you are required to select and fulfill an application sequence as a part of the Systems Engineering major. This application sequence is basically a soft focus on a particular type of system and is meant to help you gain more skills in an industry or on a particular topic you find interesting. Examples of popular sequences include Computer Science, Human Factors, Economic Systems, and more. The full list can be found here

    There is, however, an option to select a Student Designed Application Sequence in which you get to create an application sequence all your own. I chose to pursue this option to allow myself more time to take classes I was enjoying in the College. I minored in Religious Studies with a concentration in Hinduism and creating my own Application Sequence not only allowed me to do so but gives me the opportunity to talk about my interests and unique perspectives during job interviews and internships. I’ve had more questions about my application sequence, Non-Western Cultural Integration, than I can count and I personally believe it is what got the job I will be taking after graduation. 

    In order to create an application sequence, you must have submitted a proposal for your own program by December 15th of your third year. I definitely recommend showing to your advisor at least a month before then, as they will most likely have comments. If your advisor isn’t particularly helpful (no worries, mine was not involved, either), you can just take it to the Head of the Undergraduate Systems Program, currently Greg Gerling. 

    The draft needs to be about a page and include three main components

    1. “A brief narrative defining the concentration area and describing its importance and relevance to systems engineering.”
      • Basically, how do you tie this to systems engineering. This isn’t super hard as systems is incredibly broad and could be applied to just about anything. If I can apply it to Hinduism, you can apply it to your interests, too.
    2. “A list of primary and alternate courses that constitute a program of study in this concentration area.”
      • Just list out the courses you really want to take in this area. The board prefers you to have some sort of technical keystone course on there, but that doesn’t have to be a math or science. My technical course was a class called Development on the Ground (GDS 3100) that centered around exploring protocol and procedure for implementing strategies in real world settings. Just look for something that sounds like practical implementation of a systems solution.
    3. “A brief description of your educational objectives and career plans and how these are related to the concentration area you propose. Indicate any special background or preparation that may motivate your choice.”
      • Explain why you care about this subject. If you care enough to make your own application sequence, you should have a good reason for this. Even if you don’t end up in a field directly involving your application sequence, you still could in the future. I explained that I was interested in the day-to-day implementation of systems strategies in locations where Western ideals and cultures were not the norm. 

    Once your advisor or Professor Gerling have reviewed your proposal, you will more than likely be asked to revise it. I needed to go through and narrow the courses I had listed under part 2 as well as find a technical keystone course. 

    After you submit it to the board, you will hear back in about a month (maybe two) and they will ~hopefully~ approve it. Once approved, it will appear in your SIS and it is official! 

    It is also important to know that your self-designed application sequence can shift after it has been approved. The keystone class I originally selected was restricted to only GDS majors the semester after my sequence was approved. I panicked and contacted our department head, but he worked with me to find and approve a suitable replacement. 

    TL;DR: I love the application sequence I was able to define for myself and if you have any strong interests outside of systems and the standard list of application sequences, you should definitely consider creating your own.




  • Learning How To Network - Working to Build a Solid “Inner Circle”

    By: Cassia Jbeili

    We’ve all heard the stories of people “being in the right place at the right time” and becoming successful overnight. Those are mainly anomalies, and most of us have to work incredibly hard to reach our goals - whatever those may be. In fact, most people find success (in jobs, relationships, life) through networking. It’s all about who you know. The young, successful entrepreneurs today didn’t get to where they are by sitting around staying in their safe bubble.

                Engineers get a bad reputation for being ‘socially awkward’. We get forced into this stereotype that we aren’t good at holding conversations, but I think UVA does a great job at breaking down that stigma (hello group work/taking classes outside of the E-School/client work). Putting yourself out there and networking is intimidating, because we all worry about failure and what others think of us. However, the only way to build connections that are valuable in the long run, is to network. 

                Networking can be as simple as going to your professor’s office hours. I think people don’t take advantage of the primary resources the University provides - access to professors who have spent time building their own networks. Using time with professors as a form of mentorship and connection is essential in building relationships. Plus, you never know when you’ll need to go to them for something: whether that be reference letters or discussing grades or just life advice. You spend good money for this education, so exhaust the resources and get the most out of the people surrounding you! Once you get comfortable with professors, you can then challenge yourself to branch out to peers and others in the University community - you never know who others know, and how this could benefit you with unseen opportunities. 

                Halfway through college, I came across a guy called Dale Carnegie, who developed tips for effective networking. What I quickly learned: networking doesn’t involve endless LinkedIn requests or collecting business cards. The key to successful networking is being you true, authentic, incredible self. And, sure, our true self hates small talk and meeting strangers. But, here are a few tips to help you begin your networking journey and building an “inner circle” of support -

    • Try to get out of your comfort zone - success doesn’t happen without  uncomfortable growing pains
    • Create a mental path to map out what opportunities you are looking for
    • Go to events
    • Be sincere - people see through fakeness
    • Remember people's names and something interesting about them that they shared with you (it shows that you were listening)
    • Ask people questions/ask for advice - everyone needs mentorship
    • Follow up with people you meet and connect with
  • Systems Electives: User Experience Design

    By: Meredith Hargroves

    You may remember struggling through group assignments and challenging tests in Human Machine Interface. Some students even complain that no matter how they design an interface during a group assignment it was always wrong. These memories deter some systems students from taking a similar class, User Experience Design (UED), that relies on the basic knowledge from HMI, but takes design to an entirely new level. I hope to convince you that UED is a valuable class that you should strongly consider taking during 3rd or 4th year, even if you have finished all your requirements. 

    UED is fun, creative, and can help you land a job or internship! First of all, the class has no lectures. Every day is different, and class is never boring. One week you may be talking to a client, the next week working on your designs with your team during class, then giving feedback to other groups in design reviews, and lastly presenting to the client after you’re proud of your work and have been through several iterations. You may have team meetings outside of class, but you also get a lot of time to work with your group and get advice from Professor Gerling and other students during class. 

    Another benefit of UED is that the class is very small. Not only will you get to know your team, but you’ll be working alongside the entire class in design reviews. So far, every group I’ve been in has had one 3rd year, one 4th year, and one grad student. This is a great opportunity for networking since students in other years have valuable professional advice and connections to companies you may be interested in. Additionally, a small class means you’ll get to know the professor, which is always a good thing!

    If you’re looking for a job or internship, look no further than User Experience Design. Each time a client comes in, they’re likely interested in hiring a few students. If you do a good job on the project and show interest, you have a far better shot than someone that applies to the company online with just a resume and cover letter. You’ll also get a taste of the type of work you’d be doing and know if you like it before you commit to a job or internship. An added bonus is that you’ll have lots to talk about in the interview.

    Even if you don’t find a job or internship through UED, you’ll finish the semester with an awesome portfolio of projects you’ll be excited to show in interviews. It will boost your confidence in interviews since you’ll have experience working with clients. You’ll also know how to use Figma and create a portfolio so you can take on other projects in the future if they arise. 

    The best part about UED is that you get to let your creativity flow. It’s the perfect balance between engineering and art. You’ll learn a lot without realizing you’re learning since you’ll be having so much fun. 

  • Global Sustainability as a minor

    By: Ashif Chowdhury

    A lot of engineers tend to look at different minors within the engineering school, but I would like to talk about minors in the college. The systems major requires everyone to take an application sequence of three courses in various engineering fields. I did my application sequence in Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure systems and this allowed me to easily count most of my courses into a Global Sustainability minor

    Now, you may think, how does global sustainability work with a systems engineering major? Well, a lot of what is taught about in global sustainability is how our world is run by systems, whether it be mechanical systems such as power plants, natural systems such as forestry, or businesses which have their own complex systems. By being a systems engineer, I brought a unique analytical perspective in all of my minor courses which was usually filled with students from the college. 

    Another part I enjoyed about taking classes in the CLAS and Architecture schools is that I was able to meet a variety of different people and gain new experiences myself. Being in almost completely engineering courses my first two years of school, I tended to meet people that had similar thoughts and ideas on how they approach a problem. Getting the diverse experience of working with people with different academic and personal backgrounds was a rewarding experience that I would say really let me enjoy my time in college.

  • A Look into Engineers Going Global and HackCville from a Systems Perspective

    By: Lynn Kha

    Engineers Going Global (EGG) is a is a student-run project incubator that provides fellow students the opportunity to apply engineering principles learned from the classroom to real-life problems in order to find sustainable solutions for the local and international communities. Through EGG, I was able to join the Tuff Armenia Project (TAP), which allowed me to apply my Systems Engineering skills to a real-world project! TAP is a project focused on providing sustainable and earthquake resistant dwellings for the citizens of Gyumri using tuff, a compacted volcanic ash found abundantly in Armenia. I applied many concepts from Systems Engineering Concepts (SYS 2001) to view the project from a higher-level perspective and deliver sustainable solutions alongside community partners. My Systems Engineering skills helped me develop and prioritize short-term solutions to mitigate health risks and long-term solutions to provide recommendations addressing the temporary housing crisis.

    This project is a prime example of how Systems Engineering could be applied to any subject, like international development! This major provides you with the problem-solving skills to tackle complex projects, whether it is technical or not. EGG not only connected me to TAP, but also provided assistance on writing grants, getting IRB approval, and consultation from faculty advisors. TAP ended up winning multiple grants to carry out the goals of the project in Gyumri, Armenia for a month and is now being continued through a course in the civil engineering department!

    HackCville was another club that I was involved in during my time at UVA. HackCville develops the skills, networks, and entrepreneurial ability of UVA students by providing experiential programs and a tight-knit community. I took multiple student-run courses that furthered my knowledge in entrepreneurship and data analytics. I learned how to code in R, which provided me the foundation to tackle Linear Statistical Models (SYS 4021). HackCville allowed me to meet many like-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds, which helped jumpstart many of my projects. Many networking events and start-up trips to major cities, like NYC, Richmond, etc., introduced me to the vast UVA network and exposed me to a variety of companies. This helped me consider different career paths and gave me the support to secure my internship and full-time job, while having a lot of fun too!

  • Capstone - What to Expect

    By: Caroline McNichols

    The 4th year experience that we generally refer to as Capstone is actually a series of two classes SYS 4053: Systems Design I (taken in the Fall) and SYS 4054: Systems Design II (taken in the Spring). Each student is assigned a team project, with one or two professors serving as advisors. Each project has a sponsor who has outlined a problem they’d like the team to address. When you register for classes in the spring of 3rd year, you won’t know what project you’ll be on yet. Project selection for the systems major happens in the first two weeks of fourth year. For our year, we had some time to read through all the options and then ranked our top 7 choices. After everyone submits rankings, they run an algorithm to assign people to projects in such a way that everyone gets the top choice possible. Another facet of the experience is participation in the SIEDS conference hosted at UVA in April each year. Every systems capstone team submits an abstract and a paper, and presents at the conference. It is hard to be much more specific about the work teams do because projects can address a wide variety of topics and can involve a lot of different skill sets. Like with many systems projects, it depends.

  • Gain Business Skills Without Being in McIntire

    By: Victoria Lum

    So you’re interested in business but are an engineer...what do you do? One option is the engineering business minor! This is a popular minor that only requires 18 credits (6 classes). Three of the required classes include microeconomics (ECON 2010), financial accounting (COMM 2010), and new product development (STS 4810). The other three classes are electives that you can choose! Most of the classes in the COMM and ECON department count, then the business related ENGR, STS, and SYS may also count. If you plan things well, you can “double dip” on your business minor classes and other engineering requirements. For example, microeconomics (ECON 2010) counts as one of your 6 classes, but it can also count as an HSS elective. I also took economics of engineering systems (SYS 4044) as a technical elective, but it also counts as a business minor elective.

    If you are interested in pursuing the minor, applications are during the minor fall of your second year. If you are a first year, I’d recommend taking microeconomics and/or joining a business related CIO, to see if the business minor is something you want to do. When applying, it also shows your interest and may increase your chance of getting accepted. If you are a second or third year who has missed the deadline (or were not accepted - I’m not sure what the acceptance rate is), have no fear! You can still take business classes without having the minor. The minor is just a formality to list on resumes. Don’t let this stop you from taking these classes!  

    With the flexibility of the systems engineering curriculum, you can fit many of these classes into your schedule without overloading yourself. This is where the application sequences come in handy. I did the software and information systems sequence which has a specialty in business-oriented information systems. These classes include IT courses in McIntire such as project and product management (COMM 3200), database management systems and business intelligence (COMM 3220), digital innovation (COMM 4250), and business analytics (COMM 4260). One thing to note is that many of these commerce classes are restricted until open enrollment, so you are not guaranteed a spot in the class since McIntire students get priority.

    I have listed out all of the business classes I have taken below, so feel free to reach out to me ( if you have any specific questions! I took way more than 6 because business interests me more than random classes in the College of Arts & Sciences for my unrestricted electives. All of these classes have provided me valuable skills and have made me a well rounded individual since many engineers tend to have more technical skills compared to business skills.

    Classes I took:

    COMM 2010: Introduction to Financial Accounting
    COMM 2600: Leadership Across the Disciplines (HSS)
    COMM 3200: Project and Product Management (application)
    COMM 3220: Database Management Systems and Business Intelligence (application)
    COMM 3410: Commercial Law I
    COMM 4250: Digital Innovation (application)

    ECON 2010: Principles of Microeconomics (HSS)
    ECON 2020: Principles of Macroeconomics (HSS)

    STS 1800: Business Fundamentals for Engineers
    STS 2730: Engineers and the Art of the Deal (STS 2000/3000)
    STS 4810: New Product Development
    SYS 4044: Economics of Engineering Systems (technical)


    Find out more about the engineering business minor here

  • Case Interviews - What To Expect

    By: Cassia Jbeili

    It goes without saying that case interviews are daunting tasks. They require you to think on your feet to formulate an analysis/recommendation when given a detailed problem or challenge. The goal of the case interview is to show that you can strategize when given problems across a broad range of industries. Often times, the interviewer purely wants to see the steps you take to approach the problem and how you think. As a consultant, you will be in front of clients doing the same exact problem solving, so the company wants to make sure you are prepared!

    Before you get nervous about that, think how beneficial this can be to you! From speaking with many interviewers and recruiters, your GPA only gets you so far. Think about it: it’s you up against someone who has taken FAR easier classes (because let’s be honest, engineering is tough). They have better grades and a better GPA. You both get selected for interviews, but guess what? Most of the time, you are the one who knows how to speak to a client, analyze, and deliver! The Systems Curriculum (especially SYS 3034) has set you up well to be able to do this.

    Looking into the logistics of this, you will show up to your interview and in about 30 minutes (depending on the firm), you will be given a business problem and go through the course of actions to solve it. This interview will most likely be a mix between candidate-led and interviewer-led. The interviewer won’t intervene much and will leave you up to your own device to structure the problem, possibly draw on a framework, ask for further data, and formulate solutions. Throughout the process, the interviewer will interject to get you to work on specific parts of the problem. They also may help guide you if they are noticing you are going off down a rabbit-hole - don’t be alarmed by this, as it doesn’t mean that you are “failing” the interview!

    In the end, you’ll reach a solution (or multiple recommendations), and you may feel like it wasn’t your best work. Remind yourself that these interviews are designed to be tricky! Remember that the problem solving process is just as, if not more, important as the recommendation you present at the end - the interviewer wants to see your analytical skills. Anyone can sit there and crunch numbers, so use the interview as a time to talk through your thought processes, focusing on reasoning. You will most likely make a mistake along the way, so show how you can pivot and make the necessary corrections! And hey, after 30 minutes, you’ll be done and able to leave anyway!

  • Why Choose Systems Engineering?

    By: Samantha Jensen

    What is systems engineering? I get this question a lot, whether it be from people with a different major, interviewers, or my parents. I haven’t quite figured out the best answer for it, but I do know that it was the best choice for me.

    I came into the University of Virginia super set on majoring in mechanical engineering, for one main reason - I liked physics in high school. I had no idea what systems was and in my head mechanical seemed like the “typical” engineer. In my Introduction of Engineering (ENGR 1620) class my professor made us go to those major nights, and I was free during the systems night, so I went. Professor Reid Bailey gave this presentation and showed a picture of the USA from above, with dots in different areas that represented certain things, and he asked something about if this image intrigued us. That first caught my attention, and throughout the rest of the presentation I started to realize that he was thinking about complex problems the way that I typically think about them.

    Fast forward to application day (back when we had to apply to majors) and I eventually decided to go with systems first. It appealed to me for a few different reasons: 1) I was currently in physics 2 and hating it, so I thought mechanical might not be for me, 2) I felt that the kinds of problems that systems engineers dealt with were more up my alley, more complex and “wicked” problems, and 3) I thought that systems would give me more of the soft skills that I thought were important in getting a job, more communication and leadership type skills.

    Now that I’ve almost gotten through the whole program, I see that systems aims to make us pretty well-rounded people that can think about problems in terms of the big picture as well as at a smaller level. Most of the classes aim to equip us with different types of skills that you can apply to those problems. For example, Data and Information Engineering (SYS 2202) teaches us how to manage and use databases as well as visualize information so that it’s easy to understand. Human Machine Interface (SYS 3023) teaches us how to design online platforms in an effective way. Disrete Event Simulation (SYS 3062) teaches us how to simulate and optimize different types of systems, and Linear Statistical Models (SYS 4021) allows us to analyse data and draw conclusions from it. If you just look at them individually, you might think, what do these classes have to do with each other? They all relate in that they expose us to as many different analysis tools as possible so that you can take any problem and come up with an effective way of solving it. If this sounds like it’s for you, then you should choose systems.