Electrical Engineering Senior Heriberto Nieto

Heriberto NietoWhen I first heard of the Pre-Graduate School Internship at the end of my last semester, the thought of actually enrolling for this class never crossed my mind. I did not believe that shadowing a graduate student would show me anything I had not already seen during my four years as an undergraduate Electrical Engineering student. Since the most difficult classes during my last two years have consisted of a small percentage of graduate students, I had formed the idea that maybe the only difference between being an undergraduate and being a graduate student was enrolling in slightly more difficult classes. I figured that an additional three years of Electrical Engineering courses would obviously not be easy, but it would not be something I could not manage either.

Later that semester, while speaking to a student that was currently enrolled in CMS 364M, I noticed that his idea of graduate school prior to taking this course and my present mindset were surprisingly similar. He concluded our conversation by admitting that his perception of graduate school had been completely incorrect. This brief discussion changed both my outlook on this course and my once firm idea of what graduate school might be like.

Although I had anticipated that my final year as an undergraduate would be spent debugging hundreds of lines of code in a computer laboratory or studying at the ENS for a series of endless midterms, I decided to sacrifice a few programming and circuit courses for an insight into the life of an Electrical Engineering graduate student. This drastic change of mind was brought upon by the fear of the unexpected. I found myself constantly thinking of questions that I had no answer to. What if I do not enjoy graduate school? Should I step into the work field before jumping into three more years of engineering education? Can I reach my goals without acquiring a Master's degree? It was a strange feeling realizing that I had gone from being completely certain about my future plans, to questioning my desire to pursue any form of higher education after my undergraduate career in a matter of days. This sense of confusion persuaded me to seek help by enrolling in the Pre-Graduate Internship.

Soon after enrolling for CMS 364M I met with my graduate mentor, Shyaam Raman. Shyaam is an Electrical Engineering graduate student pursing a Master's degree in Energy Systems. His current area of research is in the field of renewable energy technology. Although his technical areas differ from mine, Robotics and Embedded Systems Development, our engineering background allowed for a unique perspective from which to communicate.

I saw my first meeting with Shyaam as an opportunity to obtain some long-awaited answers to all the questions that had been plaguing my mind. This first meeting set the stage for such general graduate school questions as:

  1. Why did you decide to go to graduate school?
  2. How much harder have your graduate studies been compared to your undergraduate career?

Shyaam answered both questions with brief, personal examples of what he has encountered so far as a graduate student in the Engineering field. He told me that his decision to pursue his Master's degree was based solely on his interest in his field. Shyaam emphasized the importance of being interested in your area of study because courses at the graduate level are not as broad as those in the undergraduate curriculum. Graduate classes focus on a specific topic for an extended period of time, making courses much more difficult and possibly dull. Although his answers were simple, they had not been obvious to me before.

Shyaam concluded our meeting by assuring that all my questions would be better answered through observation once I began to shadow him during the semester. We parted ways after agreeing that I would attend his Controls course every Tuesday and Thursday. This course seemed to be the most appropriate class for me to listen in on because of its strong correlation with my Robotics technical area. Since Shyaam also serves as a teaching assistant for the Engineering Physics Laboratory, he invited me to attend his session the following Wednesday.

The first couple of months of the semester consisted of our initial agreement; I attended Shyaam's Controls course as often as possible and we usually met at his convenience to discuss any questions or comments that I might have had. The first real obstacle that I encountered came during the first month. I realized that the depth at which the material was being covered at was overwhelming. In addition, I found myself feeling dispassionate in the professor's lectures even though the coursework was based on one of my technical areas, Robotics and Controls, which is suppose to be my field of interest. Although I was deeply concerned with this sudden revelation, I soon understood that this was exactly what I was searching for by enrolling in this course. This realization forced me to step back and re-evaluate my education plan from this new found perspective.

The following weeks forced Shyaam and me to alter our original curriculum due to the increasing difficulty of Shyaam's Controls course. Shyaam did not believe that I had taken the proper amount of courses to understand the class' complex topics that were going to be covered during the rest of the semester, and he also did not want my lack of experience in this field to falsely influence my final decision about graduate school. We also decided that attending Shyaam's Physics Laboratory session would not be necessary since I had already taken this course as a freshman. Our revised program of study would now consist of Shyaam and me meeting on Fridays for two hours to grade approximately 75 quizzes and lab reports from his Physics Laboratory sessions. Shyaam was required to work as a teaching assistant in order to fund his research. The amount of time necessary to be a teaching assistant, a full time student, and perform research for a thesis opened my eyes to a different level of time management. Did I have a strong enough desire to follow through with all these responsibilities? I finally realized that I did not.

In conclusion, the Pre-Graduate Internship helped me understand that I did not want to pursue a Master's degree in the Electrical Engineering department. I found that I preferred being an engineer whose expertise is not confined to the specific details of one technical area. Since I have determined that any further education will not be in the field of engineering, I have been researching the options available for engineers in law school. This idea was brought to my attention during our third meeting on April 3 by Edward Sandoval, a second year law student mentor. A career as a Patent Attorney would allow me to make great use of my Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering while not limiting my pursuit of higher education to engineering.