If you’re one of the thousands of fall admits at USC and you’re still here, you deserve a pat on the back. You survived the first round of midterms and career fairs!
I bet every international grad student would agree that the past few months seem to have gone by like a New York moment! Just when you thought you had finally trained your brain to stay awake for those wretchedly long class hours without pumping cringe-worthy amounts of caffeine into your system, or figured out how to keep up with deadlines and assignments week after week. And on top of that, doing your laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and still managing to stay upright — voila! Before you know it, you notice the midterm monster lurking right around the corner!
You realize you don’t have enough time left to finish all of that coursework you had been procrastinating on and gear up in time for the exams. And those of you like me — who are going back to college after a long stint at the industry — will probably understand the struggle to focus your attention on studying. All that staring at morsels of distraction flitting across your screens has actually left you with such a short attention span, even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer! But that’s the wonder of the human mind; it pulls up miracles when you need one! Whether you’re a “pull-all-nighters-at-Leavey” or “slog-in-your-own-private-space” kind of person, you just put your head down and do what you have to do to get yourself through the metaphoric “stormy night.”
For USC Viterbi students, the midterms are closely followed on heels by career fairs, and it’s time to start prepping your pitch to industries so you can land internships/full-time positions. My first experience with one was the USC Career Fair in September, which was anything but encouraging. Waiting for long hours under the relentless Californian sun to get a chance to speak to the recruiters seemed too daunting. You can’t hope to cover many booths — unless you are shameless enough to cut queues (which in my opinion is downright the most disdainful thing you could do)! Viterbi Career Fair was a little better from an engineering student’s perspective in that there are more companies and the crowd gets distributed. Also, you get really valuable insight as to what the industries expect from graduate students.
But as an international student in Viterbi, I find the career scene here to be very overwhelming. For one thing, the sheer population of engineering students at USC is H.U.G.E! So, competition is insanely high. On top of that, most international students have the burden of loans and VISA requirements to consider, which only adds to all the peer pressure. Moreover, from the time we start grad school, all we hear is advice like, “Start applying for internships early,” “It is not just about what you know, but more about who you know,” and the like. Most of this advice comes from good intentions, but sometimes I wonder if the real objective of getting a master’s degree is getting lost amidst all the mayhem!
For most people doing their master’s abroad, it isn’t just about getting a fancy degree and then a fancy job that will help them join the affluent ranks. It is about immersing themselves in the culture of a foreign land, gaining valuable experiences — technical or otherwise — and most importantly, gaining academic enrichment from the competitive environment that the school provides them.
It is easy to get lost in the chaos, put learning in the back seat, and give in to peer pressure, but it takes incredible amounts of perseverance and resolution to utilize the opportunities correctly and channel yourself toward the path of self-improvement.