Engineering Creativity

By Kenji Marshall with Ethan Everly

Last issue, Ethan Everly wrote an article about wellness in the context of McGill culture. He touched upon the importance of having diverse interests that can add to your life. This issue, we sat down with him to continue that conversation, and talk about the relevance of creativity in engineering. Take a look at our conversation on his experience with the film society, writing for Ledger, and much more.


Kenji: How has creativity been a part of your life in engineering?

Ethan: There already is a lot of creativity within studying engineering in group projects or when you’re asked to generate ideas. A lot of my creativity has blossomed recently though contributing to the Plumber’s Ledger and through running the film society. I’ve found extracurriculars to be a good outlet for creativity, but with that being said, when you nurture your creative side and you go back to the more academic side, you have a lot more to bring to your studying and your courses. Creativity and academics are things you have to cultivate, and they won’t converse with each other at every point, but if you cultivate those practices in parallel, then they complement each other.


K: How did you first get involved with The Film Society?

Ethan: My first involvement was when I was invited to a Facebook event for a screening of Fantastic Mister Fox. This is one of my favourite movies, so I thought I would check it out. It was this beautiful small building owned by McGill on Peel St, and there was this miniature movie theatre. I fell in love with the aspect of someone running a movie theatre and people enjoying the practice of going to see a movie with other people in a theatre setting. Immediately after that I asked about how I could get involved. Two weeks after that I hosted my first screening and I was one of the executives on the team, so I just jumped into it. This year, I have helped cultivate a new team because many people left. Next year, I’ll be president so that’s very exciting.


K: Is there a creative side of the film society, in terms of selecting movies and the environment? What is decision making process for the creative direction of the club?

E: Even the name “The Film Society” speaks to the creative direction that the past team had with it, which was making a space to discuss film making and pontificate on the movies you watch as a society. A few regular members would really dig into these more obscure movies. I think what I love about film, besides film making, is that I love the theatre experience. The direction I’ve been able to take with it is how can we make the best student run movie theatre. I try to focus on the hosting side of it. You walk in and we have popcorn, bags, a scoop. Whenever I can, I like to have catered events that will have free pizza or hot chocolate, so you’re walking in and it feels like this tradition. I don’t focus on talking about the movie after because I find that makes people a bit uncomfortable, but I like to run a movie theatre and that’s all it has to be for me. I think that the creative direction of providing this service and sharing a love for film really speaks to a lot of people so a lot of people are really receptive to it.


K: How is the engineering student turnout at the film society?

E: The engineering student turnout is mostly my friends that I have bugged to show up. I don’t think there is a correlation between a student being an arts student and showing up. Generally we get a pretty good range of students. Engineering is one of the lower sides, so I try to push that by putting more posters up and get it more known in general. I think generally engineers have a lot going on with their own social organizations so it’s a tougher program to crack.


K: How did you first get involved in film?

E: Aside from loving going to movie theatres all throughout my life, I think the first involvement I had with film was when my dad bought my brother a JVC Analog camcorder for his 8th birthday. From that point on, when we would go out in the woods and play Lord of the Rings, we weren’t just playing; we were making a movie. That cultivated a creativity within us and allowed us to play for a lot longer than most kids would and be more imaginative because now we were making stories and thinking of how we were going to tell the story or create a narrative, rather than just imagining things. That really matured with me. Into middle school and high school I kept making home movies about myself. I had a camera and a YouTube channel with a friend called “Distant Studios”. It was my chubby acne phase. I did that and then we had a film concentration in high school, so I spent my senior year making movies for class and assignments. My final project was this 20-minute movie that I I pooled together with my other friends in the program to make. We each had a 5 minute final movie, so we made all our projects into a 4 part story. Afterward, I went to CEGEP for filmmaking and I wasn’t so receptive of film making at that point as I realized that there were other parts of my life that I wasn’t cultivating by studying film.


K: How did film transition to an interest in engineering?

E: The most tangible connection was that I saw Interstellar, which is a really popular sci-fi movie about interstellar travel. There is a book called The Science of Interstellar. What I didn’t know was that the movie was written by this husband and wife duo of astrophysicists who had been working on this since the 80s. This book detailed all of the astrophysical phenomenon that you see in the movie and showed that they are backed with science. When you see a black hole in the movie, it is the way a black hole would look. From that I fell down this rabbit hole of reading about astrophysics and quantum physics and I fell in love with it. That’s when I started to focus on my love of science. Because of that, I kept up with my math classes. In CEGEP when I was studying film, I was also taking science level calculus. While studying film became less and less rewarding, studying calculus was rewarding. I kept thinking that if my favourite course was calculus then I should probably switch out of film. So I did.


K: Will art be a part of your engineering career?

E: Your profession is whatever you make it. As someone who has more creative tendencies than I have intellectual capabilities, a career that will resonate with me is one where it takes more than just pure analytics to do my job. Having a job where I’m allowed to generate ideas and solutions will cultivate that creative side of me. That’s something you can find plentifully in the engineering field. Having the analytical skills to be able to say if something creative will work or not is probably the most rewarding part of studying engineering. Midway through U2, I am starting to get into these classes where it takes an understanding of the fundamental information, but what they are asking of you is to have some synthesis, so to take what you have learned in your first few years which is a bit more information heavy and laborious, and generate solutions to problems. I think the curriculum at McGill is really good at giving you problems that are really open ended. If you allow it to, your engineering pursuits can allow for a lot of creativity.


K: You wrote an article for last issue about approaching wellness in the context of McGill culture, specifically in engineering. How was writing that article for you and where did those ideas come from?

E: The main idea was the cooking metaphor that I used. That’s something that has been on my mind since senior year of high school. I was working 25 hours/week, going to school, trying to keep up a social life with my friends, and stay in shape. I realized that trying to add too many different hobbies was going to not let me do anything properly. I had to be mindful that if I put something on the backburner for a few weeks, I have to check on it. I have a responsibility to everything I involve in my life. I was thinking about how I wanted to express how I maintain my wellness to other people in a paper. Time management and managing interests are the biggest factors of an undergraduate’s wellness. A lot of times, what causes people to feel down or stressed out is an imbalance of interests or pursuits, so I thought talking about how I manage my own interests would be really pertinent.


K: What advantages and disadvantages to our personal wellness do artistic interests have? Is it worth it?

E: For me it’s worth it because I find a lot of value in having diverse interests. I think when you have a diverse range of what you do, your interests can inform each other better, as I was saying earlier with the film making informing engineering and vice versa. I think having a wider range and having things that aren’t purely analytical or purely based in STEM helps cultivate a more rich personality and bring more to the table. The con of it is that it eats into your time and requires a lot of deliberation as to how you are going to practice your hobbies. But you end up getting so much more out of everything. I think you need to look at if a hobby is right for you and if what you’re getting out of it can’t be found in other aspects of your life. In writing for the Plumber’s Ledger, I got to get back to writing which was something I was wildly into in high school, but ever since I went in to science I didn’t have a need to write, so it fell by the way side. Getting back into it was really gratifying. That being said, I wrote the article on a Saturday night when I could have been out with people. It was a choice and it takes a lot of awareness as to what will be best for you in terms of your hobbies and how it will service your life.


K: Artistic output is always judged and critiqued. Is that something that still scares you?

E: When I was studying calculus and film at the same time I had times when I got As and Cs in both. Definitely getting a B on a film that you made hurts so much more than getting a B on a calculus test you just didn’t study enough for because there’s a personal side to it. I think we’re trained to quantify everything in our lives, so if I was worried about how much people liked my article, I think it would be a much different experience than I had, which was focused on the fact that I was writing again and how am I going to say what I need to say, what parts of the writing process I needed to work on, what parts resonated with me. One of the biggest reasons that you should do something creative is because it’s not quantified. Having things in your life that aren’t quantified is hugely important to your wellness and your self-esteem. Doing something for the sake of doing it is insanely important. If you are someone who spends a lot of time studying or worrying about school like all of us do, then you’re worrying about being quantified, how you stack up, and what grades you will get. Doing something creative is a way to exist passively.


K: Do you think the social culture of engineering is conducive to creativity?

E: I think there are incredibly creative people working within the social community. It is better to think of it as two separate communities: social and creative. Not that they don’t have their overlaps, but you can appreciate the purpose each one serves more separately. If you look at the things EUS or MAME does, they are mostly social. If you wanted to get involved with those to practice your creative output, you would be really disappointed. It would like judging a fish on how it climbs a tree. These social events are there to keep us sane and keep us together and talking, which is important in our high stress atmosphere. You have to look further for the creative side of it. The Plumber’s Ledger isn’t the first thing that you are invited to when you get to McGill; it’s frosh and E-week. Because they are more social, they are more widely available. You have to do more hunting for creative outlets, but they are there. I really do think there is something for everyone in engineering Comparing McGill to Montreal, Montreal is vastly more artistically focused. I think if you aren’t getting enough creativity out of the social circle in engineering, you can meld with the social circle of Montreal as a whole. You can start going to shows or independent movie screenings, and that’s a really good way to tie in creativity with the social aspect of your life. It’s a good way to get that creative itch scratched.  


K: Do you think that creativity is rewarded in Engineering?

E: If you are focused entirely on fitting in, then you will view practicing your creativity as a sacrifice. Or if you’re pressed on time, you might view choosing creativity over a social event as a sacrifice. I think being yourself and being authentic to yourself, so whether that means you saying that maybe it is a Saturday and you have a guilt about not going out, but you just don’t feel like it and want to do something else like play guitar or videogames. If you do that and focus on what you get out of each action, you will be much more in tune with who you are and what resonates with you. It will let your personality come through a lot more and people will see that and will gravitate toward their perception of that authenticity. It doesn’t matter if you’re worried about not being constantly in a social circle if when you show up you are fully present and yourself.