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Passionate, but burdened by the past, what can I do?


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Long story short: I had a bad GPA in undergrad, making me a terrible candidate for most fellowships. I'm an introverted PhD engineering student who has been focused on course work. I haven't done any research and so my research advisor stopped advising me. I've been given an academic advisor, who apparently is not my research advisor, and I am to meet with him.

 

My bad GPA in undergrad was due to me spending all my time on research that never really went anywhere. My advisor was very laid-back about guiding, fearing that guiding might clamp down on creativity. I did get something into a conference (SPIE) based completely on my own idea with no guidance from my professor, who despite how this may sound, I really do like. And I got a third authorship on a paper in 2011. But, the bad GPA makes it really difficult to get fellowships.

 

I'm taking a class with him right now and I'm doing really well in it. I would like to be in his lab group (which consists of only one other graduate student, but I have seen others work with him and ask for advice related to his lab's projects), but I am worried that the fact that my research advisor dropped me will weigh negatively on his impression of me.

 

What should I do next?

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Find out why your original research adviser dropped you. Make sure that's what happened, actually. "Stopped advising me" can mean a multitude of things. If you're still nominally this person's advisee, either find out how to change advisers and make it so, or find out how to get back on track with your research. Once you've got a clear reason why you've been dropped, figure out how to address whatever shortcomings got you dropped as an advisee. Then, go to your professor's office hours and ask him if he has any openings in his lab group and what you should do in order to become a part of it. Express your interest because he can't read your mind.

 

The next step is to organize the rest of your academic career in line with the program's scheduling. You should have completed coursework after this many semesters, done reading/testing/whatever by this time, begun work on your diss by this time, and completed it by that time. Sketch out a basic time line with realistic goals to shoot for. Organize your research interests so you know what you have to do before you can start researching, what you should probably need to do while researching. Organize conference opportunities well in advance. Certain ones crop up every year, and you'll know that you have a shot at presenting your personal research, so find out when the submission deadlines usually are (look up last years, for example) and start planning. Organize the work you have already done that is complete or near complete in such a way that you can cobble together an abstract, poster, paper, whatever to submit to a conference. Look through your completed or near complete work and start planning on writing papers to submit for publication.

 

What to do next? Take charge of your academic career, don't wait for things to happen to you. Sure, your undergrad GPA is going to bite you in some ways. But it's not what's keeping you from getting published, or from presenting, or from working in the labs. It might cause you funding problems, but that means looking for funding more creatively, where your undergrad GPA isn't as much a factor as your letters of recommendation and research proposals. If you aren't a member of your field's professional association(s), join. If you don't know how to organize yourself, find a self-help book or see if your library or school has academic help sessions (many universities do). If you're undermotivated, see the school counselor. Check into organizations like Toastmasters. It's not your adviser's job to lead you; it's your adviser's job to shepherd you, that is, to keep you in the pasture while you're wandering around, doing your own thing.

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I was dropped because I wasn't contributing to research activities. I was doing coursework so I could get a higher GPA so I could get funding so I could work on research.

 

I should have clarified that I'm in a class with another professor who is new and seems to like me. This is what I was referring to initially, but I just found all of this today, so I'm a bit scattered. This professor has seen that I work hard in coursework and I do well on tests. I've changed from the person I used to be, and I want him to see that. I guess it's pretty desperate, but I would like to ask him if I could have a shot at his lab. I haven't really done research in a 2 years now.

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Juggling research and class work is tough. I have been trying to do the same and it can be hard to balance. My uGPA was also not great because I focused only on resaerch. I am working on my MS now and am currently applying to PhD programs. I have focused on getting very high grades while also getting outstanding LORs from my PI. It is really tough...

 

My advice is that you cant always juggle everything and research is never the thing to drop. Sure, there may be 1-2 weeks out of the semester that you are too busy to do much research but other weeks should make up for it. I do at least 20 hours a week, in addition to getting As in classes and PhD applications. For class work, you probalby need to figure out which classes should get your focus and which you can afford to slack a little. If a potenital PI or a professor you really respect is teaching then give it everything you have. This semester I took 3 classes, my PI taught 1, one of my favorite professors who is one of my LOR writers taught another, and the third class was only tangently related to my research interests. I totally slacked in the 3rd class and used that time to do research. I somehow still barely scraped by with an A. This isnt necesarily always the best method but I got my research done and my PI really likes me so I do think it is worth it...

 

As far as figuring out which PI might be the best for you, I would speak to teh professors about your interest and try to sit in a couple lab meetings to see if the advising styles are a good fit. Getting dropped from the other PI will not look good but if they give you a chance and you work hard then I am sure you can prove yourself.

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