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Need Advice. Feeling Lost. Awful First Semester, screwed.

  1. Dec 16, 2011 #1
    OK... This is a going to be a LONG post. My apologies for that, and anything that seems contradictory right now. I am probably going to change what I think(I am 18), so take all of this with a grain of salt. I probably don't even know what I talking about. I am not thinking straight. I really don't want to sound whiny, arrogant, unrealistic(thinking I could ever make straight A's after doing this badly? get real), what have you here, so if that is what I come across, apologies. I seem to rub people the wrong way sometimes. The Internet is not a good medium for emotion.

    I am a first semester EE at a top 10 engineering school. I just got my grades back and they were FAR worse than I expected. I had my eye on grad school-and yes, high ranking ones-as well the Hertz, NSF, blah blah blah... I feel very silly for even dreaming of it now. Sort of a "what was I thinking scenario." I've done the calculations, and if I make A's from here on out(which I keep getting told is wishful thinking more often than not-I am confident that I will do better next semester for reasons I will illustrate later in this vast outpouring that is this thread, but I don't know if it will be THAT much better.) I will have a roughly 3.7-.75 GPA by application time... not a bad GPA by any means, but definately not ideal for MIT, Caltech, UCB, etc. And that is the best case scenario, which probably everyone above me in class thinks will happen to them too. Yes, I know that with a 4.0, I still probably wouldn't get in, and I know there are other grad schools. I know there is time to bring it up. But it definately affects my short term prospects. My chances at a Goldwater are pretty much screwed(of course, I knew this a while ago, when I figured out that I wouldn't be making straight A's), and there is the issue of REU's, study abroad programs-really good one I was hoping to do, scholarships, etc. Would doing my master's at my home school, if possible, and doing good on that improve chances at grad school? Of course, I don't know if EE is what I want to do anymore, so I guess I shouldn't be so sure of it, but...

    My questions/rant will come in two seperate parts for organization's sake.

    Part 1-Major

    First of all, I am considering a switch to physics. (Also considering ChemE/biochem, but not as much, and ChemE I couldn't do even if I wanted to now due to the GPA. Some stuff in ChemE sounds really cool, but I don't like the base of it-thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, reactor design. Maybe that is the case for a ChemE BS, but ChemE grad school is different. I was hoping for more chemistry, biology sort of thing. If I am wrong, please tell me. For simplicity's sake, let's keep it to physics vs EE)

    I was torn between EE and physics at the beginning of the semester. I was leaning toward physics, but I went EE because of job prospects, the fact that it was harder to get into EE than physics, and parental nudging. I was hoping to do nanotechnology. Spin state electronics and photovoltaics also appeal a lot. I don't want to just make something more efficient however, I'd like to pioneer a new field. It seems as though engineering is a lot about improving things. While that is important, I want to make an imprint on human life as we know it. I like the idea of working with nanotechnology a lot. I also like renewable energy, though I don't if this is an EE thing. EE is a broad degree, with a lot of routes, which appeals to a guy interested in a lot of things like me. That being said, I don't like programming, and I really should have thought of that before doing this. I try really hard in programming, but still don't seem to do well. Circuitry is OK, but I don't LOVE it, and it seems as though EE rests upon circuits. I brought home my circuits books and am going over more problems to see how I truly feel.

    I really like physics, but I don't know if I am good enough at it to make a career out of it. You need to be at the top to get a position in academia, and I know I am no Einstein. (If I was, would I really be having problems now?) Are there oppurtunities for phd's in physics outside of academia. I am not good at math, didn't like it until I encountered calculus, and proofs are my bane. I like it OK now, but am still not a lover. I don't see it as elegent, merely a means to an end. I know that is a very engineering thing. No offense to any mathematicians out there. I am really working hard to bring my understanding up. I was just severely mathematically abused in school as a child. It is a depressingly common case in America. I also want to apply my physics knowledge to more real life problems. Biophysics appeals to me, as do semiconductors and such. I have heard physics people work there. Then again, CERN is really cool as well. I guess I really don't know what I want. I am trying to use this month to figure it out. I'd like to put more here, but I don't want to keep you reading forever. I'll elaborate more on what I like above if you wish. If I said contridictory , tell me.

    Completely random, but can you get into protein engineering with EE? Or do you need ChemE/BME?

    Part 2-Grades

    No matter what I choose, I need to get straight A's. So this is what I will do.I've been preparing for next semester. First off, I've gotten my hands on a Diff EQ book-I gotta take that class no matter what I do next semester major wise-, and am studying it, going through the problems, everything. I am enjoying it so far, but I am still worried. I will follow the standard advice(read book before class, sit in front, take notes, do HW as soon as possible. Turn off the wifi on the computer when typing, or keep the computer away from me. I have no illusions that this will all magically take place without hard work and conciously sticking to it, but it is what I need to do. Focus on this semester, and NOT years down the road. I spent an unhealthy amount of time here looking on what to do research wise. Any other suggestions?

    I know notes in particular would help. I didn't take notes at all in high school. Didn't need to, did fine on grades and standardized test scores. Should of known college would be different I did at the beginning of the semester-incidentelly started off the semester well, but finished horribly- but fell out of the habit. Which might have contributed. Also, I don't know if this counts for me, but I will be going back on medication this semester.

    In high school, I was on medication for helping me focus and other things(I have a condition which I'd prefer not to state-yeah, I know, why bring it up then, but just roll with me here), and I went off it the semester. I wanted to do it "on my own". Some choice. This isn't all of it of course, I will need to work harder, but I strongly believe it will help somewhat. It isn't a magic pill, but I do get a lot better on it. No excuse though. I am so afraid as though I sound as though I believe everything will magically change and they will ignore this semester because I wasn't on my meds, which isn't the case.

    Oh yes, before I forget. I looked intensively for research positions last semester. Had no luck, but did see some signs for this semester-one guy told me to apply this semester. Again, no guarentees, but I need research even more than GPA for grad school right? Wouldn't having research since freshman year help my case?

    However, shouldn't I be focused on getting those straight A's if possible? Or do I need the research to make up for this GPA deficit. Would it actually help because it would force me to manage time more efficiently(less to time to surf the the web and study whatever I please), as screwed up as that sounds. That is a big catch 22 with research.

    I guess I am helped somewhat by the fact that I don't really have any friends. I tried really hard to this semester, and have actually made some progress, but I'm still not where I want to be. I feel even more pathetic for not being able to make the grades without social distractions.

    Sorry for the rambling, disjointed context. All of this might not make sense. If not, just say so, I will clarify. My parents have been really mad at me, and I am not in the clearest mind of my life right now. I guess I feel as though all my hopes have been crushed. Sounds so melodramitic. I guess I feel somewhat lost right now.

    PS: One thing I should mention is that not all classes are the same. In the math, I think it was due to not enough effort notetaking-I underestimated the courses, and it bit me in the butt-, whereas in EE, I tried plenty hard, but still didn't get the results.

    PSS: I should have jumped on it earlier this semester when I realized that I wouldn't be making straight A's. I screwed up on a midterm or two as well. But I didn't think my GPA would turn out to be THIS bad. I really had a good feeling about the finals after I took it.

    Gotta stop whining, and go study Diff EQ now. :\ Bottom line, am I just not cut out for science/engineering? Am I in the right major? If I do what I plan on doing and work really hard, can I make straight A's, or is it a fantasy. Is there any chance in h*** of me making it into a top grad school?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2011 #2
    I'm going to be honest here, your expectations of yourself don't seem to be realistic. It is unlikely that with all the stress you place on yourself that you will be able to perform on tests. I am in physics and a lot of the test scores depend less on how thoroughly you studied and more on how focused, calm, and confident you are when writing the exam.

    You have these goals which are admirable, but it seems that you are sacrificing your happiness for what I believe are some of the best years of your life. You say that you have no friends and that it could help because you can spend more time studying. But learning every equation in your textbook is, in my opinion, much less important than establishing relationships and staying socially active. It forms a solid foundation of support for your life, and your friends will always help you in a time of need.

    I don't mean to be rude if that's how I'm coming off, I'm just giving you my two cents. There may be such a disparity between us because I am the opposite of you. I get by with mid 70s, am disorganized, and a lot of the time I don't show up to class. I've decided a long time ago that marks aren't the be all and end all, but I'm also not hoping to become a graduate student at one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

    In the end, you have to do what makes you happy. Good luck to you.
  4. Dec 16, 2011 #3


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    This reminds me of a quote somebody made about an "artists commune" once: everybody there knows how to look like an artist, but nobody knows how to paint.

    It seems to me you like the idea of "being a scientist or an engineer" (preferably at somewhere "cool" like CERN, of course) but the problem is you don't actually like the "engineering" part of engineering (from your comments about both EE and Chem E) and you don't like the "math" part of physics either (and without the math, physics is not much more than pop-sci books).

    So, stop worrying about grades, take a step back, and do a reality check. Or to borrow another quote, if you are in stuck in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging...
  5. Dec 16, 2011 #4

    I quoted the above items because I want to make a point.

    As an EE graduate I believe I can make the following observations. You just finished your first semester in EE, so you probably have taken few actual EE classes as yet. Probably just physics, math, chem, maybe circuits, am I correct? You won't get to the "meat" of EE until at least your sophomore year. Circuits I may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but wait until you get into more advanced things like signal processing, FPGA's, transistors, materials science... just to name a few. You may end up liking EE more than you imagine now.

    It seems to me you are making a lot of statements about what you like and dislike without having enough experience to base your statements on. How do you know you don't like "thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, reactor design"? Unless you have taken some serious ChemE classes, you probably only have a general idea of what this stuff is. You say you are interested in nanotech, but have you ever taken a class in it or done research in it? Well maybe you have, I don't know you personally, but it would be highly unusual if you have done enough work in spin state electronics and photovoltaics to make a mature decision that this is what you are truly interested in.

    My advice to you is to work on improving your study skills and not to overthink your interests/aptitudes. One bad semester doesn't dictate the course of your major, your academic career, and your life. It is very likely that as you progress further in your EE degree it will seem more interesting to you, and you may be more motivated.
  6. Dec 17, 2011 #5
    I didn't read the whole post but I think that you need to work on your study skills. I recommend Cal Newport's blog called study hacks. I would start with an 'autopilot schedule' for ONE of your classes and do a 30 day trial.
  7. Dec 17, 2011 #6
    you don't have to go to mit or caltech....
  8. Dec 17, 2011 #7
    If you like photovoltaics, why not aim for a career in that? Who knows you might develop a really efficient photovoltaic device that really makes an impact. At worst, if you do really badly on the course, you can install photovoltaics on roofs. Lots of money in that, it's fun, and a very useful job.

    Making it to a top grad school isn't the "be all and end all". Gates, Woz, Jobs, et. al. didn't and look at the impact they had!

    If I was you I'd look for the next EE revolution and try and get in on it early... photovoltaics just might be it...
  9. Dec 17, 2011 #8
    dont switch to ChE if you want to have a good gpa for grad school, lol . . .
  10. Dec 17, 2011 #9
    First of all, stop beating yourself. You sound too worried for someone who doesn’t quite know what direction they’re headed. Enjoy your time, but not too much :smile: . Also, like someone said, it’s OK if you don’t go to MIT or CalTech. I know it’s everybody’s dream to go to a school like that, but what i’ve learned from my time in college (i’m still undergrad so take it as you wish) is that the cliche statement “The best school is the one that best fits you” is true. I wish i would’ve taken that advice and gone elsewhere, but i’m where i’m at now, and you gotta make the best out of it. This may sound very harsh, but i’ve learned to deal with it too. Not everyone is cut out to go to a school like MIT or CalTech. Is it more difficult to get admitted there? Of course. Does someone going there mean they’re smarter? Not necessarily. Does that mean you should give up and stop trying to get admitted there? Heck no!!!! I’m going to work my butt off and do everything i can to get admitted there starting next quarter. If it fails, then it fails but Never stop for anything or anyone. Figure out what you want to do and go from there.
  11. Dec 18, 2011 #10
    It's really not as hard to get into MIT and Caltech as you think. That said, do you even know why you want to go there? I want to go to these places because they have good aerospace propulsion programs, and Caltech in particular is right next door to Jet Propulsion Laboratory and well within driving distance of SpaceX, among many others. I also know that to do that, I need good research/internship experience and solid grades. Not perfect grades, but solid grades. I need to demonstrate interest in my field. I need to acquire good letters of recommendation. Things like that.

    One semester could not possibly ruin you, no matter how poorly you did. Trust me, I know - I just got a D in differential equations, and I'm picking myself back up and going at that class again next semester with twice the effort and ten times the desire. You have to look at failure as a chance to grow, not as a limiting factor.
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