Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

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Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:46 pm UTC

Hello there, I'm new here, and I heard much good about these fora. I've been a reader of the comics for quite long, and only very recently have I decided to make the jump into the fora, hoping to find like-minded folk. So, for my first thread, I thought I might be a little daring and tackle a delicate subject. I think I'm right in understanding that this forum tends to attract people a talent for acquiring academical knowledge and skills and an interest for the sciences and the technologies. I also understand that these attributes do not necessarily guarantee a very successful academic life, neither in school nor in college. However, the wish to delve into science and engineering, and the ambition to achieve in those fields, still drives many of us not to give up or drop out, as tempting as those options may seem.

However, a bad academic record is an irreversible loss, which will be recorded in your resumé and in your (or your parent's) pockets.

So, when life gives you these sorts of lemons, and you finish a five-year career in seven or eight years... what do you do with the lemons? That is, how does one make the best of a terrible academic record?
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Tue Jan 10, 2012 2:56 pm UTC

No interest for this topic?

All is lost...
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Bears! » Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:56 pm UTC

A little more detail would help us provide you with an adequate response (I assume you're not speaking of an impersonal "you," but you specifically). What courses have you taken? How are you defining "mediocrity" - that is, how "mediocre" was your performance in undergrad? Is there a performance difference between your earlier and later undergraduate years? What do you actually want to *do*?

Now, even with all of these questions answered, most of us are not really qualified to give you a full-blown evaluation of how your performance would register with graduate school admission committees, employers, etc. You may be better off talking with a counselor, employers, deans of graduate programs, and authorities in whatever field piques your interest.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:54 pm UTC

Honestly, advice strictly for my case is not exactly what I'm looking for. I was thinking in more general terms. However, let me specify.

Edit: in the course of writing this reply I've said a lot of unnecessary things, which I decided to leave said anyway, so I put them in spoilers so as not to hinder the rest of the document. It's mostly indulgent ranting and personal blabber.

Here in my country, you get an Engineer's license in five years. That's like getting the bachelor's and the master in one go, in terms of Anglo-saxon systems. Most people who actually complete it do so within seven if not eight years, and ten years is hardly unheard of. If I'm freaking lucky and all goes well, I'll complete it in eight years, two years from now. I've failed subjects over and over again, becoming worse as the years went by, and this year (technically fourth, chronologically fifth) there's hardly a course I haven't taken at least twice. My grades have also consistently gotten lower: while at first I could easily get 8./10, right now I seldom get anything over a 5./10. My morale has gotten worse and worse, and so did my studying habits and work ethic.

The course after the next, I plan to go finish my last year in Germany, and do my final project there. So there's that.

So what did I gain? I feel like the actual technical knowledge I was imparted was pretty much useless, theory for the sake of theory, with much more focus on what we could easily be tested for than what we actually needed to know, and a very superficial touch of nearly every field relating to industry.
Spoiler:
And I'm kind of glad about that, because the deeper we delved into every field, the more sketchy and approximative and badly-explained the materials were. First year was horrible (they automatically expel 60% of the students), but at least the subjects were clearly defined, well taught, with an abundance of standardized material. You knew exactly what they wanted from you, and what they gave you, and what you had to do. NOW... now it's all "pay very close attention while in class because there are no books that correspond to this course", with a strong side helping of "figure it out yourself". It used to be advanced calculus and classical mechanics and electromagnetic fields and amazing concepts, and now it's all about joints and motors and converters and stock management and applied electronics (nothing gives me more grief than applied electronics, the reason being, the protoboard stuff we build up don't work half the time, and you don't even know why, and there's no time to find out!).
According to the graduates, the actual knowledge is worth crap, what's important in the work field is the skills I've achieved of finding out stuff and solving problems on-the-go, from little to no previous information, on a very short notice, and to a certain compromise. Perfect work isn't expected, neither is perfect understanding. What is expected, though, is that it is error-free: if your mistakes harm someone, your ass lands in jail.
Spoiler:
Honestly, I'm sick of it. Sick of teachers that don't give a fuck, sick of racing against the clock every freaking day, sick of sleeping five hours a day. The reason it's going to take me two years and a half to finish yet is because I'm taking the last year I have left and spreading it in two, because I'd rather do few subjects every term and do them right, with a score I can be proud of, than take tons of them and fail half and pass half with a shameful score. My pride was what caused me to overestimate myself every term, take too many courses, and crash spectacularly at the end, and I'm done with that. I'm accepting that I am average Joe, and my output may not be ideal, but damn it'll be clean and proper and well-done.


So, back to the workplace, what are my advantages (please forgive me for what's coming, but I'm required to "brag" here, just treat it like it was written in my resumé, that is, with a grain of salt): I know many languages (seven as of now, four of them at proficiency level, with the degrees to prove it), am a very eloquent, very articulate individual, with a vast culture and a keen sense eye for detail, as well as very suave manners and a very diplomatic approach to conflict solving (that is, I'm very good at winning arguments while not offending my counterpart nor making them look dumb, and getting people to agree with me "in theory"... the other half I need to perfect is to get them to actually follow up on that and do what I want: I'm good at convincing, but not persuading). Also, I'm easy on the eyes. Oh, and I'm also a very principled, very ethical man. Viscerally, compulsively so. Which in some environments is an advantage and in others a hindrance.
Spoiler:
For one thing, I utterly suck at cheating and lying (save by omission), and thus I'm very bad at predicting when others will lie or cheat. However, there's social value to be found in the respect (and self-respect) that come with being (or appearing to be) a committed Neutral Good, so it's not all bad.
And that's about it. And, as an engineer, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's pretty damn worthless, at least at entry-level.

I feel like I've fucked up my academic studies.
Spoiler:
Study habits that I never learned in school until senior year (which I passed brilliantly, as well as first year in college, because I literally did nothing but study those two years), I lost almost immediately, in second year, and in fact I actually forgot there was ever such a thing. Right now, I've recently decided to relearn them from scratch, and apply a very strict work schedule, but that sort of conscientiousness is something that doesn't come naturally to me at all. My dismal performance as a student has dispelled the illusion I was under throughout my childhood, that I was "smart" and "destined for greatness". Now I just want to get by, find a stable, respectable job, one that doesn't pay too badly but isn't too demanding either, and disappear in anonymity.
However, if there's any way for me at all to make up for that, or at least to take steps to become as competent as possible before joining the workforce... (or the academic system for that matter: being a scholar looks like something I could enjoy, at least from where I stand)... If there's any good advice at all you can give me in that sense, I'd be grateful.

Spoiler:
You may be better off talking with a counselor, employers, deans of graduate programs, and authorities in whatever field piques your interest
.
And face their looks of uninterested contempt and their "maybes" and "perhapses"? No thank you.

... Dammit, I still need to work on that pride thing... looks like I haven't quite learned humility yet.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Jorpho » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:29 am UTC

One key point that should be made promptly:
Shahriyar wrote:However, a bad academic record is an irreversible loss, which will be recorded in your resumé and in your (or your parent's) pockets.
Nothing gets "recorded on your resume". Your resume consists of what you put on it. Employers might ask for your academic records, I suppose, but they probably won't. They might raise an eyebrow at the dates on your resume, if you have them there, but guess what? You don't necessarily have to put those there, either!

Also, most people don't find the stuff they spent so much time learning in university to be particularly useful in the real world. Such is how it always has been, so it probably always will be.
http://abstrusegoose.com/418

EDIT: Another thing:
Shahriyar wrote:the deeper we delved into every field, the more sketchy and approximative and badly-explained the materials were.

Study habits that I never learned in school until senior year (which I passed brilliantly, as well as first year in college, because I literally did nothing but study those two years), I lost almost immediately, in second year, and in fact I actually forgot there was ever such a thing.
It seems to me you can't say for sure that your study skills are somehow to blame if the presentation of the material is suffering. So, don't.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:12 pm UTC

It seems to me you can't say for sure that your study skills are somehow to blame if the presentation of the material is suffering. So, don't.


I'm told that being able to overcome that obstacle is what real-life engineering is about. Initiative, extremely fast but superficial acquisition of information, quickness in work execution and a capacity to work very hard for very long, and...

... This sucks. And their way of teaching you is to throw you into the pool of data and expect you to either sink or swim.

... I thought this was going to be kinda like Battle School... I guess I got exactly what I asked for, and found out that, on one hand, I didn't have what it takes, and on the other hand the only thing I could possibly like about it was the challenge, which I lost...
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:04 pm UTC

So what is your intended career destination? Why not think of intermediate jobs that can act as stepping stones to get there.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:35 pm UTC

Shahriyar wrote:According to the graduates, the actual knowledge is worth crap, what's important in the work field is the skills I've achieved of finding out stuff and solving problems on-the-go, from little to no previous information, on a very short notice, and to a certain compromise. Perfect work isn't expected, neither is perfect understanding. What is expected, though, is that it is error-free: if your mistakes harm someone, your ass lands in jail.


How error-free something needs to be depends on what you're doing. It's hard to find any piece of software of any decent length that could reasonably be considered "error-free", for example. If you're building a car, sure, there's lots of things you need to be careful about, but that's why you build a prototype and test the hell out of it before it goes to market. In this part of the world, at least, entry-level people wouldn't be responsible for these kinds of things though. Here in Canada, for example, liability for such things would typically go to someone who is certified as a Professional Engineer (P.Eng), which is an added qualification that typically requires you to do 5 or so years of post-degree work under someone who is a P.Eng (and I would venture the likelihood of getting sent to jail is pretty small as long as proper precautions were taken).

Shahriyar wrote:So, back to the workplace, what are my advantages (please forgive me for what's coming, but I'm required to "brag" here, just treat it like it was written in my resumé, that is, with a grain of salt): I know many languages (seven as of now, four of them at proficiency level, with the degrees to prove it)


This is a pretty big asset, particularly if any of the languages you know are Asian. Being able to talk to your clients/partners in their native languages is very desirable.

Shahriyar wrote:am a very eloquent, very articulate individual, with a vast culture and a keen sense eye for detail, as well as very suave manners and a very diplomatic approach to conflict solving (that is, I'm very good at winning arguments while not offending my counterpart nor making them look dumb, and getting people to agree with me "in theory"... the other half I need to perfect is to get them to actually follow up on that and do what I want: I'm good at convincing, but not persuading). Also, I'm easy on the eyes. Oh, and I'm also a very principled, very ethical man. Viscerally, compulsively so. Which in some environments is an advantage and in others a hindrance.


Same as above. Social/interpersonal skills are extremely highly valued. You're almost certainly going to be working with a group, or even managing a group, or giving presentations, or pitching products or whatever.

Shahriyar wrote:And that's about it. And, as an engineer, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's pretty damn worthless, at least at entry-level.


On the contrary, since many engineers lack exactly the sort of skills that you have, these skills make you stand out. I'll just point you to this, which notes that the top skills desired by Fortune 500 companies are, in order: Teamwork, Problem Solving, Interpersonal Skills, Oral Communication, Listening, Personal Career Development, Creative Thinking, Leadership, Motivation, Writing, Organizational Effectiveness, Computation, Reading. Note that many of the skills here are not technical skills, but are relational.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:52 pm UTC

So what is your intended career destination? Why not think of intermediate jobs that can act as stepping stones to get there.


My big dream would be to grow rich and skilled and well-connected enough to eventually found a University (in fact, a complete educational complex would be ideal) in my home country, and make it really prestigious. That would be at a stage in my life where actually making money wouldn't be a priority. Until there... well, making money and/or achieving power/influence/connections (in a safe, not-attention-drawing way) in preparation would be the ideal. I chose engineering because I thought it would allow me to get there through a science-related path (other than medicine). Because I love science. And my "hidden agenda" is to promote it and help improve education levels in my origin country.

Also, I'd love to get to travel the world, along the way.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:19 pm UTC

So how do you think you can get there? Name a requirement along the way, and how you can accomplish that requirement.

Basically, I'm pointing out that you're a college graduate now, and having a life goal isn't necessary, but having an idea of 'next few steps' is probably a good idea. You have a long term lifetime achievement goal set up, so awesome. How do you envision yourself getting there? Will you do it by being really wealthy and just tossing a bunch of money at the issue? Will you be on some academic board and elected it's president?
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:46 pm UTC

I haven't the slightest idea... More immediately, what sort of job can I try to take with my abilities that would put me in a position to earn money and a good reputation? (No one wants a crook to teach their kids) Perhaps joining the diplomatic corps, or the UNESCO?
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:49 pm UTC

Maybe your school has a career counseling or advisement office? Or perhaps you can ask some professors?
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:19 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Maybe your school has a career counseling or advisement office? Or perhaps you can ask some professors?


So far, I haven't had much help from either, and, believe me, I tried. The advisement office will teach you about making CV's and passing job interviews, and professors will either shrug, or, if they're impressed with you, try to get you to work for them.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Jorpho » Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:40 am UTC

Shahriyar wrote:Here in my country, you get an Engineer's license in five years. That's like getting the bachelor's and the master in one go, in terms of Anglo-saxon systems. Most people who actually complete it do so within seven if not eight years, and ten years is hardly unheard of.
I guess I got exactly what I asked for, and found out that, on one hand, I didn't have what it takes, and on the other hand the only thing I could possibly like about it was the challenge, which I lost...
Lost? Maybe if you'd given up entirely and taken a different past you'd qualify as having "lost". It sounds to me like you've got a plan.

Shahriyar wrote:The advisement office will teach you about making CV's and passing job interviews, and professors will either shrug, or, if they're impressed with you, try to get you to work for them.
Dude... That's what it comes down to, in the end. You should learn how to pass job interviews and make a good CV and maybe work for a professor who's willing to let you do so, because regardless of what you want your first stepping-stone to be, in the end it's probably going to start with whatever you can get. People don't escape that by being better than everyone else; people ultimately escape that by sheer blind luck.

No matter what some people tell you, you can't blame yourself if you're not on some mystical fasttrack to wealth, influence, and fame. Not entirely, anyway.
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Shahriyar » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:38 pm UTC

It sounds to me like you've got a plan.


Yeah, that's right, I'm the man with the plan. (feel like a Christopher Walken) XD

Dude, that's not a plan, that's a pipe dream. A sketchy, distant one, to boot!
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Re: Compensating for Academic Mediocrity as an Undergraduate

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:43 pm UTC

Then do some research on how to get there. Pick what steps you think are barred to you because of your academic record, and think of other ways to get past or around them.
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