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Irrelevant internship vs. GRE preparation Please help decide

  1. May 29, 2013 #1
    I am an undergraduate EE major specializing in signal processing and my ultimate goal is to do neuroengineering research at a university. I am graduating this Fall so I will have to take the GRE sometime during the semester.

    I want to score as high as possible on the GRE but I feel like if I don't make a concerted effort to improve my writing, grammar, and vocabulary and merely "try my best" then I will do poorly on the writing sections. My only chance to make this concerted effort is this summer, which conflicts with my current internship.

    The internship, however, is in a field of no interest (power distribution in MEP engineering), an industry of no interest (construction), and I will spend the entire time developing skills that I never plan to use in the future (AutoCAD). Hence, I view it as irrelevant and would have no issue cancelling.

    The conflict here is that I have literally no work experience at all. If I cancel, then I will graduate college with no internship experience whatever. The only reason I haven't done so is essentially due to parental pressure. My parents want "something on my resume" and there is additional familial pressure to stick with the internship since my uncle is the one who got it for me in the first place.

    I don't feel like I can do both either since the internship consumes 10 hours a day (8 hours of work + 2 hour total commute). When I arrive home at the end of the day I don't feel like doing anything but sleeping.

    So in short my options are:

    A) Stay the course in order to get "something on my resume" and "try my best" on the GRE
    B) Cancel the internship and spend June through August preparing for the GRE to increase graduate school prospects.

    Which would you choose?
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2013 #2
    I would choose to study the GRE, which I'm doing now. I'll tell you right now, if you plan on taking it without studying for it, prepare to get a low score. I've been studying for it for several months now and have had to postpone it 3 times (at $50 a shot), because I don't feel I'm ready. There are some extenuating reasons for those delays, but the point is that the GRE is designed to be studied for. If you don't know the tricks and traps that the prep classes prepare you for, you're gonna end up in the briar patch.

    Unfortunately, you've ended up in one of those nightmare scenarios where the uncle gets you "a real job with real money!", when you're just about to finish your manifesto that will change the world....kind of thing. I feel for you. The first thing I'd say is try to do both, but that does seem untenable if you're working 10hrs. a day.

    My best advice would be to write something out for you parents to look at, some kind of pros and cons Benjamin Franklin deal. Find some literature and explain to them how this test needs to be studied for, explain how you are going to study for it, the hours per day and week you're going to put into it. Chart a timeline on a calendar for them and show them in no uncertain terms that taking this internship will render you unable to take this test properly, and subsequently disqualify you for graduate school...at least for the next year. If they're willing to accept that risk, then unfortunately you're out of luck. Unless you can crash out on your buddies couch for the summer and stock up on ramen:tongue:

    Good luck and wish me luck! See you at the testing center....maybe.
  4. May 29, 2013 #3
    I say do the internship. The GRE isn't really that hard. I studied for maybe 2 weeks and got 90th on quant, 80th on verbal.

    You're an engineer, so grad schools really don't care about your verbal and writing, unless it proves you are illiterate or something. In fact, I got a 30th in writing (didn't study it at all) and I got into very good schools in physics. I think they just want you to be 90 or above in quantitative.

    Just a few weeks and a handful of practice tests and you can pull above 90th percentile quant easily. It's more about learning the technique to answer the questions than actually learning the concepts.

    This is from my perspective as someone who majored in physics. Really if you are worried, take the free practice test and see if you bomb. You'll most likely do "okay" and from there you can fine tune.

    And if you don't want to just believe some random guy on the internet like me... if you know any professors that work in an engineering dept, ask them how much the verbal and writing weigh in the admissions process. Also ignore all this advice in the case of a subject GRE. Those are different.
  5. May 30, 2013 #4
    The problem here is that not everyone is wunderkind wotanub. Someone who is able to nonchalantly take a few practice tests in their spare time over a couple of weeks and ace the GRE is a definite outlier of at least 4 sigma. So I think your advice to PNGeng may be over-optimistic to put it lightly unless you know him personally. If the GRE were as easy as you say it is and requires little to no preparation, then there wouldn't be entire industry devoted to that preparation. We're trying to help PNGeng here, not lull him into a false sense of security.

    That said, wotanub did make a good suggestion and that is to just to take a practice test today, or as soon as possible, and then you'll have a good idea of what you're up against. There's plenty of these at your local Barnes and Noble. I recommend the ETS study guides.
  6. May 30, 2013 #5
    I think that it really is easier for STEM major people. I think all he really has to worry about is the quant section, and it's really unlikely for him to do really bad due to his engineering background. 90th percentile and above is high, but not everyone who takes the test are STEM majors. You have English majors who don't even know what a standard deviation is thrown in there. Given this is is reasonable to say the STEM majors score better on that part of the GRE. There's even a table.


    But OP do study as much as you need. I was trying to say I think a whole summer of studying is excessive, given the trade-off you're making.
  7. May 30, 2013 #6
    According to the OP that is not the case. You're "eschewing," to use a popular GRE word, the OP's concern about the verbal portion. Remember where he says,

    So I think that is where his head is at, and if he's that sketchy about his verbal section skills, I don't think 2 weeks is gonna cut it. I think that even if you are going into engineering and ace the quant portion of the test, the school still uses the verbal portion when considering you for admissions. If they didn't, then why would they require you to take it at all?
  8. May 30, 2013 #7
    Like I said, I don't think they really care about the verbal/writing. I'm in physics, everyone I ever talked to about this while I was applying said so (a few committee people even said they don't even look at it), and the reason I suspect is because thing like fancy vocabulary really aren't relevant to the study of physics. Mediocre verbal doesn't say anything about your potential in science, however a mediocre quantitative can raise some flags. College wants you to be rounded but grad school wants you to specialize. Why would they make you take it at all? Not everyone is trying to be a scientist/engineer. I got these handouts I got from a grad school seminar at MIT and a lot of the disciplines don't even list what the average verbal or writing is; just the quant. The ones that do aren't really stellar verbal scores. In fact, MIT EECS doesn't even require any GRE scores.

    Yeah 2 weeks isn't going to get you a 170 on verbal but it really doesn't matter if you're an engineer or scientist. My writing was pretty bad, but I did just fine. I just focused on trying to get perfects on the quant section on the practice tests, then when I consistently did well, I took the real test.

    One thing I will say for certain is that the potential recommendation letter that can be gotten from an internship is far more important than a few GRE points in verbal. Recommendations are the most important part of the application. If you have no work experience, then you have no letters that tell the committee how good you are as an engineer, all they have to go on is "He got an A in my class" letters that don't tell them how you are in a research setting. Experience is probably more important for you as an engineer than it was for me as a physicist.
  9. Jun 1, 2013 #8
    Thanks DiracPool and wotanub for the input. I'm still undecided.

    I took the Princeton Review Practice GRE online and got a verbal/quantitative score of 150/152. Thoughts? Does this change either of your opinions?
  10. Jun 2, 2013 #9
    I just took one of the written tests in the ETS study guide and got a 159/151. To be honest, I think we're both "hurtin' for certain," as they say. In fact, I'm gonna start another thread about it. Please comment if you have any input.
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