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Schools 2nd year undergrad with questionable academic history looking towards grad school

  • Thread starter mrund3rd09
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I'm an international student who has been in the US for a long time. I go to a state college that excels in engineering, but it's mainly focused on industry. My major is chem e, and I'm still trying to decide between industry and grad school. My gut tells me I'm a better fit for grad school, but another part of me just wants to settle down with an easy job and look after my family (granted, it doesn't really come cheap for international students either way).

If I do decide to pursue a PhD, I would like to either work with the best, or not even bother. (I have a feeling people will challenge this perspective, but let's just keep it at that for now) This is why my past troubles me. When I was in high school, I took a good amount of college classes. For a number of years, I was emotionally overwhelmed and unable to perform my best academically. My senior year in high school, I managed to get a D-, D+ and an F on my college transcript (same college I go to now). A large part of my emotional distress came from having to live with my parents. But I'm moving out of the house this summer, and I am very optimistic that things will work out a lot better for me in the near future.

My cumulative GPA is currently sitting at 3.51, with 3 retakes (the ones from above) and a lot of withdraws (I've reached my school limit in withdraws). Particularly during this semester, I dropped 3 classes, which brought me below full time. (this was the only semester I had more than 1 withdraws) The reason was that I wanted to take a sort of a leave of absence to get my personal life in check, and catch up during the summer. My ambition is to focus on my classes and get 4.0s to possibly boost my GPA up to 3.6-7 before I apply for grad school.

So as you can see, my past was a little turbulent, but I am determined to make things better from now on.

As for research, I was added into a project with a professor last year, and that's ongoing. I'll probably finish this semester and get another research position in the fall.

I'm not yet sure where my letters of recommendations will come from.

Off the top of my head, these are the things I'm worried about right now. My hope is that I can use my next 2 years to demonstrate myself and make a grad school application that will make me a competitive applicant. I know that judging by the cover, I don't look like anything special, but I do believe that I have potential, and with the right state of mind, I can overcome the odds. Please help me address some of my concerns.
 
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If I do decide to pursue a PhD, I would like to either work with the best, or not even bother. (I have a feeling people will challenge this perspective, but let's just keep it at that for now)
I really have to challenge this perspective since its going to really, really hurt you in graduate school. The fact is that you are going to be competing for limited spaces against a lot of people, many of whom are just better than you are, and if your attitude is the "best or nothing" then you are going to wind up with nothing.

Off the top of my head, these are the things I'm worried about right now. My hope is that I can use my next 2 years to demonstrate myself and make a grad school application that will make me a competitive applicant.
And if you've gotten your personal issues under control, I think you can get into graduate school.

I know that judging by the cover, I don't look like anything special, but I do believe that I have potential, and with the right state of mind, I can overcome the odds. Please help me address some of my concerns.
Except that you can't overcome the odds, and the you probably shouldn't try. The problem with the idea of the "best or nothing" is that when you get into graduate school, things are going to go wrong, sometimes very wrong. If you can "fail gracefully" then you can bounce back and finish the program. The trouble with unrealistic expectations is that once things go bad, then rather than accept the situation, there's a good chance that everything is going to fall apart.
 
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what I meant when I said beat the odds was more like playing my cards right and making my application the best it can be. It was bad wording.

And what I meant by best or nothing, was that my perspective of grad school is that if I can't work and learn from the best, then it's better to work in industry. Not if I can't get a degree from a prestigious university, I'm going to die.
 
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also, what if I work in industry for a number of years, get a green card, and then come back to doing research. Would my chances improve a little bit?
 
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what I meant when I said beat the odds was more like playing my cards right and making my application the best it can be. It was bad wording.
You to have to realize that even under ideal conditions, you are have a roughly 1 in 10 chance of being a research professor, assuming you complete the Ph.D. which isn't given.

Something else that you should realize is that graduate school is a great deal for international students. US immigration law is extremely favorable for graduate students, and for many it's the only way into the country.

And what I meant by best or nothing, was that my perspective of grad school is that if I can't work and learn from the best, then it's better to work in industry.
The "best" people are usually to busy to work with you. Often you have to settle for pretty good. There are pretty good odds that even with the Ph.D., you'll end up working in industry.
 
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Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely research more about these things.

Now, can we talk about the concerns I was addressing?
 

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