Should I graduate one semester early?

  • Physics
  • Thread starter AstroK
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  • #1
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TL;DR: Not yet feel ready to graduate so decided to take a one-year internship in the middle of final undergrad year to get things straight. Adviser think it's stupid to come back for one semester after the internship and think I should just get graduate requirement ready before I go. I don't think I need to rush on graduation and want that extra semester. Just want to know if what I am thinking is really that stupid.


I am a final year physics major. Today I talked with my academic adviser (who is also my undergrad research supervisor) about my career plan for the next two years. I'm planning to do an one-year internship starting from January next year. This means that after this Fall semester I will take one year study leave and be back in school the Spring semester in 2020 to finish my remaining last semester, so that I will be graduating one year late. But my adviser was very displeased by that and questioned why don't I just fill all the graduation requirement this semester and graduate on time so that I don't need to wait another year for the last semester. I realize that his opinion is often highly biased toward academia as he is a lifelong theoretical physicist, so I just want some more input from different perspectives to figure out what make the most sense.


Let me first give the full background behind all this:

When I first entered college I was strongly inclined to academia and did all the things that grad-school-aiming physics students do -- study real hard to keep GPA high, take almost exclusively physics and math courses, taking graduate level courses, doing research starting from first year, etc. But by the middle of my junior year, I started to questioned whether I really have a chance in academia and whether academia is really what I wanted. My answer to both is basically no. Then I realized three things: (i) I have no idea what I want to do and can do after undergrad, (ii) my CV is too weak and I am lacking too many skills to get any jobs that people would typically suggest for physics majors, (iii) even if I decided to go to grad school after all, my application profile is simply too weak to get into any good program.

I admit that I had some very terrible career planning and I think that if I just graduate as I am right now, I am going to be completely doomed. So at this last moment before I graduate, I put in this one-year internship, because:

(1) I feel that I need that one year buffer to figure out exactly what I want and work out a clear plan. During the semester I am often too busy and overwhelmed by coursework and research to think about anything else.

(2) I prefer not to talk about the exact details of my internship, but it is certainly something that would boost my CV and give me some useful skills.

(3) From what I have observed, getting a job in where I wanted to internship is incredibly competitive, but getting the one-year internship there through my school is fairly easy, because most people in my school don't want to take study leaves.


There is no problem up to this point, my adviser agreed that I should go for the internship. But instead of having me come back for my last semester after the internship, he strongly insist that I should get the minimal graduation requirements ready this semester and graduate on time (during my internship). I want to keep that last semester because:

(1) This may sound a bit childish, but I feel that I should take that final chance to explore things that I feel interested in before I graduate, especially my college education so far is so focused in physics. I will lose this chance if I want to graduate one semester early.

(2) I am only one course short from getting a math minor and one course short (which only offered during Spring) from getting a ``honors physics'' degree. Although I doubt these make any difference at all, the two courses themselves are something that I wanted to take long ago.

(3) The remaining graduation required courses are all in subjects that I am weakest in, and I originally want to prepare for them during my internship period. If I choose to take them right now, my GPA will likely suffer like really bad. I am working toward getting the highest graduation honor (requiring a GPA of 3.9 and I have 3.89 currently), and taking these courses right now will likely make me disqualified.

(4) I think that after coming back from the internship, I will be able to utilize my last semester and therefore my access to resource from the university better to transit myself out of pure physics since by that time I should have figured out where to go.

(5) As another attempt to prepare for transiting out of pure physics, I am trying to start a project with an engineering professor this semester. I think I can build a much stronger connection with him if I can work with him for another semester (I'm not sure at this point how things will turn out though)


My adviser reasoned his objection as follow:


(1) If I can fulfill the graduation requirement this semester, then it simply don't worth to wait another year no matter what (minor, honor, whatever). According to him, my priority at this point is to get the necessary requirements filled so that I can move on but not my personal interest, and I shouldn't try to select what course to take anymore but just to get them done.

(2) In where I am right now (my current institution is not in the US nor the UK), there is a government funded fellowship program. If my application is successful, I will receive full funding if I attend grad school in here. Having received this government funding source means that my chance in getting in grad school in here is maximized and there is no need for me to be a TA or something to receive a generous amount of support. But the application requirement is that I need to be graduating by next Spring semester, and this is really the main reason my adviser want me to graduate early.


Again, although I have little interest now to take the academic route, I still keep going to grad school (master's or PHD) a viable option to increase my marketability, and going to grad school in where I am right now is certainly an option. In case I ended up need / want to attempt grad school here, having this fellowship will make a very significant difference because of the funding policy of our university.


Finally, my adviser commented that I have hoped for the best but have not prepared for the worst and that I am doing things too step-by-step instead of keeping myself flexible and working on things in parallel. I don't know, am I really being too optimistic, if not stupid, in my planning?



Thank you for reading this long post.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
verty
Homework Helper
2,164
198
I am a final year physics major. Today I talked with my academic adviser (who is also my undergrad research supervisor) about my career plan for the next two years. I'm planning to do an one-year internship starting from January next year. This means that after this Fall semester I will take one year study leave and be back in school the Spring semester in 2020 to finish my remaining last semester, so that I will be graduating one year late. But my adviser was very displeased by that and questioned why don't I just fill all the graduation requirement this semester and graduate on time so that I don't need to wait another year for the last semester. I realize that his opinion is often highly biased toward academia as he is a lifelong theoretical physicist, so I just want some more input from different perspectives to figure out what make the most sense.
I see below that you will do the internship regardless if you graduate early. I think this is a very good idea.

Let me first give the full background behind all this:
...
I put in this one-year internship because:

(1) I feel that I need that one year buffer to figure out exactly what I want and work out a clear plan. During the semester I am often too busy and overwhelmed by coursework and research to think about anything else.
Sometimes it is wise to finish what one started. I'll say more about this shortly.

(2) I prefer not to talk about the exact details of my internship, but it is certainly something that would boost my CV and give me some useful skills.
Yes. For me it's a no-brainer to do this internship.

(3) From what I have observed, getting a job in where I wanted to internship is incredibly competitive, but getting the one-year internship there through my school is fairly easy, because most people in my school don't want to take study leaves.

There is no problem up to this point, my adviser agreed that I should go for the internship. But instead of having me come back for my last semester after the internship, he strongly insist that I should get the minimal graduation requirements ready this semester and graduate on time (during my internship).

I want to keep that last semester because:

(1) This may sound a bit childish, but I feel that I should take that final chance to explore things that I feel interested in before I graduate, especially my college education so far is so focused in physics. I will lose this chance if I want to graduate one semester early.
It could just be that you are feeling demotivated after so much study. I felt like that in my final year of computer studies. I even failed an exam for being tired and just not coping very well.

(2) I am only one course short from getting a math minor and one course short (which only offered during Spring) from getting a ``honors physics'' degree. Although I doubt these make any difference at all, the two courses themselves are something that I wanted to take long ago.
No, it's important. To have that "honours" word, it means you have a degree that is more comprehensive (and it sounds good as well). Especially good is if it is a first class honours. I don't know if it's like that where you are but your final placing counts. Stuff like that can determine who gets the interview.

(3) The remaining graduation required courses are all in subjects that I am weakest in, and I originally want to prepare for them during my internship period. If I choose to take them right now, my GPA will likely suffer like really bad. I am working toward getting the highest graduation honor (requiring a GPA of 3.9 and I have 3.89 currently), and taking these courses right now will likely make me disqualified.
Yes, I completely back you because I think you are feeling like you won't be successful at those subjects and the benefit of being away for a while is that you can look again at the prerequisites and get yourself ready for the few subjects that remain. That said, with a Masters it may not matter what your graduation score was, but I still think stuff like that matters. In fact, here in the UK even school results are important. Many job adverts look for school results, eg A in Math, C in English. So even school results still count.

(4) I think that after coming back from the internship, I will be able to utilize my last semester and therefore my access to resource from the university better to transit myself out of pure physics since by that time I should have figured out where to go.
Go and do your internship and keep your head in the game because it isn't a holiday. You are there to hopefully shape what direction you go in.

(5) As another attempt to prepare for transiting out of pure physics, I am trying to start a project with an engineering professor this semester. I think I can build a much stronger connection with him if I can work with him for another semester (I'm not sure at this point how things will turn out though)
It can't hurt.

My adviser reasoned his objection as follow:


(1) If I can fulfill the graduation requirement this semester, then it simply don't worth to wait another year no matter what (minor, honor, whatever). According to him, my priority at this point is to get the necessary requirements filled so that I can move on but not my personal interest, and I shouldn't try to select what course to take anymore but just to get them done.
I think it helps one's confidence to have a good academic result from your studies. It means you did well, you put the effort in, etc. How are you going to feel in an interview when they are asking you questions about your work ethic and you know you slacked off during your studies? How will you feel if you know you were successful and made the right decision? I think you could easily answer that question, if they ask it, why did you graduate a year late. You took an internship, and you were having questions about your career choice which is perfectly natural to have. You did your intership and got the results you were looking for and you made a success of that time in your life.

I think this is the only objection that has weight, that it took an extra year, but that could mean anything, you were sick, you changed minors, whatever. I don't think it'll matter versus your "first class honours" or whatever.

(2) In where I am right now (my current institution is not in the US nor the UK), there is a government funded fellowship program. If my application is successful, I will receive full funding if I attend grad school in here. Having received this government funding source means that my chance in getting in grad school in here is maximized and there is no need for me to be a TA or something to receive a generous amount of support. But the application requirement is that I need to be graduating by next Spring semester, and this is really the main reason my adviser want me to graduate early.

Again, although I have little interest now to take the academic route, I still keep going to grad school (master's or PHD) a viable option to increase my marketability, and going to grad school in where I am right now is certainly an option. In case I ended up need / want to attempt grad school here, having this fellowship will make a very significant difference because of the funding policy of our university.
I can see why getting a paid-for Masters would be attractive. I think you are wise to keep this option open. I'm sure others will comment on this point.

Finally, my adviser commented that I have hoped for the best but have not prepared for the worst and that I am doing things too step-by-step instead of keeping myself flexible and working on things in parallel. I don't know, am I really being too optimistic, if not stupid, in my planning?
Yes, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. This is a little stumble and you have plenty time to think it over. But I think you are doing things in parallel. You are looking ahead and planning for a situation where you don't have a good CV. And I think that is a very good thing.

Thank you for reading this long post.
 
  • #3
Tom.G
Science Advisor
3,704
2,387
Go for the internship!
It's a whole different concept out in the World than where you have spent the last few years. You will grow orthogonally from your present situation. (and it sounds like you have a start on that growth just by considering the internship.)

p.s. Just don't get so hooked in that 'other World' that you skip getting the degree.
 

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