GRE Complete.

I spent the last few days anxiously preparing for the GRE examination, which was earlier today. In the final run up to the exam, I did another practice test, reviewed all the mathematics, and crammed as many words into my brain as possible. I would say I was about 90% prepared (obviously, one cannot reasonably expect to know every single word, or even close to it). My main concern was getting the perfect 800 on the Quantitative section. Looking at the schools I’m particularly interested in applying to, Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Washington, the average quantitative score was in the range of 770-780 for the PhD programs. Scoring perfect was almost essential.

My test center was Hamilton, and upon reaching the building, I attempted to go up to the fifth floor testing center. Little did I know, I couldn’t do that myself. There seemed to be a security card standing in my way. So back out of the building I went, and bumped into another student who had the same 12:30pm appointment. She called up to the test center, and a proctor came down to retrieve us.

I had to sign a confidentiality form, not to divulge any of the questions presented that day, and write (yes, cursive writing; printing was strictly prohibited) a short note on the matter. It was surprising how much of my cursive writing skills have vanished over the past several years. I butchered that seemingly simple exercise.

After some tutorials on using a computer, and a short prayer to whoever’s listening, I set out on my essays. The topics were fortunately straightforward and I had lots to say on both essays. A good start.

Then I reached the quantitative section. It was a terrible start. I spent nearly 10 minutes on the first three questions, and I thought I was done for. The start threw me off for the rest of the section, in which I constantly felt rushed. I hoped with all of my will that it was to be the unmarked, research section.

I can’t deny that I thought about more than one of the math questions as I embarked on the Verbal section. I know every prep book says to block out everything prior to the current question, but, as you’d probably expect, that’s far easier said than done. The words I crammed in the last few days before the exam didn’t show up, and there were several questions that I had do some educated guessing after eliminating some choices.

Expecting (or perhaps hoping for) another math section to wrap things up, I saw only a prompt for an unmarked research section. I was tempted to do the section for ETS’s sake, but  the apprehension of not knowing my score in the two marked sections proved to be too strong. I clicked the ‘Exit Section’ button and held my breath. *Stomach leaps into throat*

Quantitative: 800

Verbal: 660

And exhale. I didn’t quite expect it, but 800 on the quant was achieved. I was slightly disappointed in the verbal score (was aiming closer to 700), but all in all, not a bad day’s work.

So step 1 of the grad school application process has been successfully completed. The score was sent off to the four schools I mentioned earlier. Now it’s time to put together the Letter of Intent and some information for my referees. Good weekend to all! 🙂

Grad School Prep

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself sitting on a bus on my way back home. But here I am, and I’m taking the opportunity to finally write a few things.

Midterms are all done for the semester, and they were mostly successful. Current marks for the four classes are all well into the 90’s, which is boding well for Dean’s List once again. I really can’t complain about much in any of the courses. Of course, being able to select the courses played a part I’m sure. I was shocked at how little time is left in the semester when I looked through my calendar yesterday. The semester has flown by. And for good reason.

Boredom stretches out time, and I’ve had very little of it. Between preparing for the GRE (in less than a month), keeping up with the 4 courses, fourth year design project, percussion lead in the university orchestra, being an executive in the photography club, and an undergraduate research assistantship, I feel stretched pretty thin. With only 3 ECE courses, this should have been a fairly relaxing semester, but instead it’s turned into my busiest by far.

That GRE… I’m getting into gear for graduate applications, and I’ve narrowed my fields of interest to Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Communications (the lower layers). With a work semester in the fall, I have to wrap up much of the preparations for applications this semester. My biggest concern is references. I’m well on my way to two or three academic references, but theses are professors I’ve only known for a few months. It’s been difficult to stick myself into professors’ faces for no reason – I’m not wired that way.

Graduate school. If I achieve what I’m signing up for, it will mean another 5 or so years of studies. PhD. Sure, it’ll be nice to have that after my name, but sometimes I’m not sure if that’s where I’m trying to get. Everyone tells me that research isn’t like undergrad, and I completely believe it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m still not quite living life. My 4 years at the University of Waterloo have made me itch for the ‘real world’, little tastes of which I’ve experienced through co-op, and I love it. I think I know what I want to do, yet I’m still actively pursuing grad studies. Why?

Part of it is my belief that only an undergraduate degree could become an impediment to my goals in the future. What decisively sets me apart from the average if the average has the same piece of paper? Say what you will about the system, credentials help identify a person.

Perhaps the most important factor is the occasional pangs of regret I see in my father’s eyes, when we speak about graduate studies. Don’t get me wrong, he’s done very well, but there’s always been a part of him that wonders how things would be different if he had of pursued his engineering masters at McGill, instead of taking the job on Prince Edward Island to support the family. Where would he be now? He doesn’t want me to wonder the same thing, 20, 30 years down the road.

Do I take 5 more years of potential pain for that certainty in the future? I’m leaning towards yes.

Commence 4A

Now that it’s a bit over a week into the new semester, I’ve had a chance to sit through all the classes I’m enrolled in plus one, ECON 231 International Economics. Without a doubt there’s a different mindset when approaching this set of courses, because I selected each and every one of them. These are classes that I’m interested in and that makes it easier to apply oneself. I was one of four lucky people to get an override to attend ECON 231, so I’m sporting 5 courses instead of the typical 4 that is required for this project semester (fourth year design project).

Thus far, I can say without a doubt that ECE 438 Digital Integrated Circuits is my favorite course. I’m so glad that sucking it up through ECE 231 and subsequently ECE 332 are starting to pay off. Semiconductors are just such gosh darned interesting stuff. I had a chat with the professor this semester about topics on process engineering and it seems like that’s mainly a topic for graduate studies. Hrm…. I’ll jot that down on the list. It’s really too bad companies like Intel don’t hire co-ops, although I completely understand why. We’d be absolutely useless in the field.

I’ve been cramming GRE vocabulary for the last few weeks in preparation for taking the GRE, hopefully in mid to late June. While I’m very excited about going to work for Microsoft in the fall and of course would be delighted if they were to extend a full time offer, I want to keep my options open, and graduate studies is one I’m considering. In that vein, I’m also considering doing an Undergraduate Research Assistantship this semester, if I can find a professor interested in giving me the opportunity.

On the extracurricular front, I’ll be in the photo club again, probably as an executive, and I’ll be back in the university orchestra after a one semester absence. This semester shouldn’t be too crammed, so I feel I can devote some time to music again. I know I’m being a bit hypocritical after writing about possibly being on the wrong side of the conductor, but after turning down an urgent plea for percussionists last semester, I’m partly doing this to assuage my own guilt for (sort of) letting the group down.

Alright, I’m off to play a bit of tennis. I just love the great weather!