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What do you think of the "Don't get good grades" advice?

  1. May 15, 2014 #1
    You guys met those that give that kind of advice?

    I've seen grown 40-year old engineering graduates from reunions who advise university students to "focus on being a student instead of studying", with "student" meaning somebody who spends most of his/her time on volunteer work and having fun instead of on the coursework, or something. Because, apparently, you'll do better in the jobs market if you've got a "well rounded and social personality". Hah, maybe if you're aiming for mediocrity.

    In another case, just recently I was referred to a blog from an employer who opens up by saying "I never look at the grades of a candidate before an interview". Apparently he thinks students with too good grades are perfectionists, and perfectionists are bad. And so forth. Don't really agree with his opinion at all.

    Though few agree with me. It seems to me this kind of thinking misguides many of my fellow students into foolishly thinking it's OK to waste time (20 hours a week in many cases, sometimes more) on volunteering for various festivals and organizations, at the cost of studying. Sure, everybody's different and everyone should choose their own path, but it seems to me "volunteering is good for one's career" line of thinking is just excuses for avoiding hard work.

    Though don't get me wrong, I'm not for spending 100% of your time on study - I'd never do that. Going to parties and doing hobbies is crucial for ones sanity. But that said, I definitely consider getting good grades and learning as the top priority in university. After all, that's what the government is paying us for (yes, the government partially covers the costs of studying).

    However, these people do have a point: spending lots of time on social stuff will make you extroverted and improve your social skills, and social skills are critical in both the job market and life. Sure, if you got bad grades you won't get a first job in a top company, but you might get to that company in 5 years after some work experience and allot of contacts (i.e. through light cronyism).

    Now, perhaps you guys are a bit biased due to the high amount of academicians here, but I would really like to hear your opinion. Am I too serious and lame? Is focusing too much on school a mistake?

    tl;dr: During university, is focusing on studying, or on developing ones social skills, the most important for a good career?
    Last edited: May 15, 2014
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  3. May 15, 2014 #2


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    You should have a balance on both study and enjoyment. Only then will you succeed in your life ahead IMO.
  4. May 15, 2014 #3
    Indeed. I'm mostly asking about how important good grades are to one's career, though.
  5. May 15, 2014 #4


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    They are useful when you are applying for your first job.
    After that their importance decreases quite quickly.
  6. May 15, 2014 #5
    Won't the habits you've made and the stuff learned be important as well?
  7. May 15, 2014 #6


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    Sure that stuff is important. But in my experience, the skills that earn good grades are different from the skills that make an employee valuable to an employer.

    People who are smart but difficult may not be worth the trouble. If you've ever had to work with anyone who is like "Dr. House" on that TV show, you know what I'm talking about. Such characters are interesting to watch on a TV drama but can be a nightmare if you have to work alongside them.
  8. May 16, 2014 #7


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    I think grades are important, but they're not the "be all and end all" measure of the outcome of your education. Even for graduate school admissions, they're only a component of what committees look at in potential candidates.

    I think how much you balance a focus on grades with your overall understanding of the material and your other opportunities through your undergraduate education really depends on what your goals are and to an extent, what your natural tendencies are. If you're trying to get in to graduate school or professional school afterwards they are tremendously important. If you're aiming to enter the workforce afterwards, their value is less.

    One of the messages to take from "don' focus on grades" advice isn't so much "don't focus on grades" as it is "take advantage of other opportunities." Part time jobs, internships, volunteer positions, club activities, sports, competitions, and research projects can all be extremely valuable because they teach you about yourself, where you're likely to excel or stagnate in the world, and give you networking opportunities.

    In the end, advice is just advice though. You have to do what feels right for you. Purposefully allowing your grades to slide simply because someone else thinks you should party more is a bad idea. Partying occasionally to keep from burning out based on your own self evaluation is a different and more positive thing.
  9. May 16, 2014 #8
    If you can, you should do both. Get good grades and learn to work as a group. Engineers and scientists like people who we can communicate with. We can usually see through the ones who just smile and nod pretty quickly. It is much easier to work with people who know their stuff.
  10. May 16, 2014 #9
    That advice is overkill, just chill and do your thing. It's truly a sad sight to see people on caffeine pills and anti depressants because of this "oh my god, I need the best grades". It is also sad to see people looking for excuses to be lazy.
  11. May 16, 2014 #10


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    There needs to be a balance. It's not about deliberately not getting a good grade, it's about learning how to balance various parts of ones life. If you don't want to do anything but study then do that sure, but academic grades aren't the be all and end all. Aside from being good things generally taking part in societies, travelling, volunteering or even just plain socialising are all going to give you good life skills that employers like.

    It's also worth considering that the post-grad job market is very competitive. Not sure exactly how comparable it is with other countries but in the UK there's still the problem of under- and unemployment in post-grads with regular news stories about master's students working at mcdonalds. So you might have top marks but if a bunch of other people have them what else do you have to show? For my PhD interview I've been told that the main reasons I got the position weren't to do with my grades but how I came accross in interview, what else I'd done and the fact that I seemed to be an easy going guy. Given that everyone who got an interview all had good grades from good unis there wasn't much else to distinguish us.
  12. May 16, 2014 #11
    OK thanks for the perspectives. I see my views were too aggressive. In the end I feel competitive grades are important (I want to attend MIT during my exchange year + I've made a habit of doing my best), but to not to the degree where you become a nolifer. I still seriously disagree with the notion of grades not being important. Whenever I hear somebody dismissing hard work completely like that, I can't help but get hostile and think "wow what a weakling".

    I guess it's up to oneself how one chooses to live. While most of you seem to give a 50-50 importance to both, for me it's better with a 80-20, with 80 on work and sports, and 20 in the direction of relaxing and social stuff. Though I kind of want to be more social and perhaps more relaxed and less competitive, but I just can't bring myself to not finish a job.
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  13. May 16, 2014 #12


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    I always worked to keep good grades, because I was poor and needed scholarships. If you are not competing for scholarships, then a mix of A's and B's (with the occasional C) won't hurt you. Just make sure to try for A's in things that directly pertain to your future line of work. Otherwise, be prepared to face questions about that when you interview for that first job.

    As far as really learning anything, that needs to be done on your own time. In courses, I learned a lot--but wasn't that interested in much of it. Later (after leaving school), I was able to continue learning in the areas that really interest me.

    As for social learning, that is always useful. But too much social life should not be the reason you are not making good grades. If you are healthy and really motivated to do well in school, both should be possible.
  14. May 18, 2014 #13


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    I don't really think a healthy social life and good grades are opposites, but people do excuse their bad grades with being otherwise busy, or lack of social life with "I have to study".
  15. May 20, 2014 #14
    If you ever grade (as a TA or undergrad reader), you'll have a slightly different perspective on grading. Grading is definitely subjective. I've given undeserved grades to people. I try to be as fair as possible, but I do have a guideline. If they don't fit the guidelines, I'll mark them off. Or if they fit the guidelines but really don't know what they're doing, I'll give them the points.

    I try to be as fair and make grading reflect knowledge to the best of my ability, but I can't all the time. For instance the class I'm grading for now, the teacher told us to not worry about half points. Each problem is worth 2 points. There was one problem where it asked for like 5 different things. If they got all 5, I'd give them 2 points. If they had 0/1 I'd give them no credit. but if they had 2-4 I'd give them 1 point. Now someone who got 4 things certainly did better than someone who did 2 things. But they have the same score. This actually happened. This is in an upper division, core class (real analysis). Graduate admission committees will be "heavily scrutinizing" these grades. Some of these students stay up refreshing gradebook in anticipation for their grade, obsess over it, freak out, etc.

    Also I had people attempt all five and have the right idea, demonstrated a good understanding, but then screw up a few dumb things. They would get 1 point, the same as if someone attempted two, but happened to get them right. Even though the first obviously is more deserving.

    Some people will write huge wordy confusing proofs, but nothing will be "wrong" so I give them credit. But they obviously don't know what they're doing.

    I'm not saying it's entirely arbitrary. The thing to look for is general trends. In general, the same students that get high scores tend to keep getting high scores. Those who get low scores tend to keep getting low scores. But if a homework is out of 10 points. You add two numbers wrong, so I knock you from a 9 to an 8. Your friend added them correctly, and he gets a 9. Your friend has an "A" and you have a "B", but do you really understand the material less? No.

    One thing to keep in mind is that while you are freaking out, spending hours making sure your homework is perfect, etc. I spend maybe 5 minutes on each homework. Sometimes less, even. (I always try to be fair. It just doesn't take that long most of the time) My two roommates are TAs and they'll always grade while watching TV, drinking beer, etc.

    Is there a full proof way of making sure you get full credit and no points off for dumb things? Of course. You spend 15 hours on every homework and obsess over signs and additions. You check for sign errors 20 times and you rewrite your homework 4 times making sure everything is perfect. Even then, you might miss something. Say you spend 15 hours on your homework and get 95%. You spend 3 and you get 85%. Those extra 12 hours you could have spent reading about stuff. Go to the library and just pick up a book and read it. Take graduate courses. Go to office hours and hang out with professors. Just talk to them about whatever. Or hell, even spend that extra time playing video games and getting drunk. Your time is limited. There are diminishing returns to everything.

    If you get the chance, see if you can be a grader for a class. If not, take it from me or other people who grade. We're human, grading is subjective.

    For a lot of graduate admissions, they won't really distinguish between a 3.7 and a 3.8. Either one shows a general positive trend. In industry, they don't even ask for grades a lot of the time.
  16. May 30, 2014 #15
    Personally I say don't worry about the grades with the exception of doing well enough to move on. Concentrate your efforts on the material and indulge in the areas you find most interesting (just be sure to cover all the topics).

    It seems we live in a world where as faculty continues to be stretched they rely more and more on technology (i.e. assignments that are entirely on computers, including grading). Most cases these programs are not pedagogical in nature and are generally a waste of time that could have been spent gaining a deeper understanding of the material. In some other cases you just get a bad lecturer.

    Either way, do what is best for your brain instead of spending too much energy on A's.
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
  17. May 30, 2014 #16


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    Nobody ever asked me for a transcript of my grades when applying for a job. If you are applying for some kind of fellowship or trying to get into a graduate program, a transcript is required, but employers are looking for someone to do a job, not pass a test.

    If you've got the degree, that's the qualification that employers are looking for, even with a first job right out of college. After that, your experience can become a deciding factor.
  18. May 30, 2014 #17
    Dont you at least need to send them after being hired, to prove you have the degree?

    Some, but not most, of my applications do ask for GPA. Intel for example is very choosy about GPA. At career fairs many times they ask my GPA and write it on my resume.

    edit - I agree though that having real work experience in the field is more important than stellar grades.
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
  19. May 30, 2014 #18


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    Never heard of "don't get good grades," but I have heard plenty of, and agree with, something along the lines of don't get your panties in a bunch if you lost a few more marks than you expect. Grades are indications of how well we grasp concepts taught in class, but it is at times inaccurate. I mean, I've seen final year electrical engineering students with near perfect GPA that struggle to get a simple LED circuit to work on a strip board (and by simple, I mean power supply + resistor + LED). So I can understand why some recruiters don't even want to look at the transcript when they can get more straightforward information by asking the referees or during the interview.
  20. May 30, 2014 #19


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    That's what's great about having the sheepskin or whatever your degree is printed on: you just pull it out and show it. Some people like to hang theirs on the wall of their office, but I don't think I've looked at mine twice since graduation almost 35 years ago.

    Even right after graduation, if someone came up to me and threatened, "Your GPA or your life!", I couldn't have given an answer. My school was unusual in that all grades in courses were number grades (70% passing grade), and as long as the student had a passing grade in all courses and fulfilled all the other requirements for graduation, he got his degree. There were some awards given at the ceremony for best overall grade in this or that, or best improved, but those were small potatoes against getting the carrot at the end of the stick: the actual degree on a piece of paper, or whatever.

    If some HR troll isn't satisfied, they can always contact the school. In fact, a lot of frauds would get caught that way if HR exercised its due diligence.

    I can see why Intel would snoop into your academic background. It would be very embarrassing to them if they accidentally hired a 'C' student who actually made an innovation there. They've been living off the same processor architecture for waaaay too long.
  21. May 30, 2014 #20
    I think the times have changed in the past 35 years. I don't think grades are small potatoes compared to a degree. Getting a degree is easy, getting good grades is not. Sure, fretting between a 3.6 and a 3.9 is might not be that big of a deal, but Cs get degrees students with <3.0 have much less options are are less marketable.

    With respect to contacting the school, HR isn't going to jump though hoops for a candidate with extra needs when they have dozens of others to choose from. I don't think that showing them the physical piece of paper degree is sufficient, they want official transcripts sent by the school at your request. Just about every place I have ever applied for has wanted them as a condition of final employment and your grades are checked out then against what you claimed to have got. But I am applying for entry level stuff. I don't doubt that after getting a few years experience they may be less diligent and the grades would be less important. A Cs get degrees student with positive work experience is better than a mostly A student with no relevant work experience. I think that is the spirit of the original post and thread title. For most goals its better to intern and get experience than focus only on grades.
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
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