I became a better engineer & person
Updated on Mar 20, 2017 - 1:14 p.m. IST by Maninder Pal Singh

Post a Bachelor’s in E&C from Punjab Technical University, I decided to pursue higher education in the US. On getting my GRE and TOEFL scores, I applied to eight universities and got a timely ‘yes’ from five. After measuring all factors, I decided on George Mason University (few minutes from Washington DC).

A home and a free bus ride
I initially stayed with my uncle but through the university’s Indian Graduate Students Association, I found roommates and on exploring, it appeared that there’s a whole locality that is home for international students. We are a majority here; playing cricket is a very common sight! Soon it was revealed that the reason this location was a favourite among foreign students was the bus service connecting the university and metro station at no cost to students!

Choosing a good advisor
The international student office makes students comfortable and provide as much information as possible. After fun sessions with students of all nationalities, I had to meet my academic advisors (professors) and decide on different subjects and specializations. I chose my advisor after matching my interests with my advisor’s research area.

On competition and projects
All Master’s level classes are scheduled in the evening, and classes were competitive as working professionals, PhD candidates, Master’s students and some very sharp Bachelor’s students took the same courses. This turned classes into really informative sessions and took learning beyond a standard classroom. All courses have projects and meeting deadlines as the courses advance became the biggest challenge. Initially, this was tough but as time advanced I was not afraid to get my hands dirty!

Getting a job
I discovered that an on-campus job is helpful as I will be earning enough to support my living expenses and will also be entitled to fee waiver. So I applied to various posts - GRA(Graduate Research Assistant), GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant), RA (Resident Advisor), web developer, etc. But getting a position was not that easy. Most do not reply and there’s no point waiting. I went to enquire about my application for GTA in my department when the Professor was finalising the candidates. I politely asked if he received my application. He asked me my name and GRE scores and nodded. Next day, I got an e-mail saying I have been chosen as a GTA based on my first semester performance and GRE/TOEFL scores. That was a big surprise; I was happy!

 
 
 
 

“Working professionals, PhD candidates, Master’s and some very sharp Bachelor’s students took the same courses, which turned classes into very informative sessions”

 
 
 
 

Balancing work, study and fun
For one-and-a-half years, I worked as a GTA for undergraduate students and also completed my course work on time. We also had a very diverse soccer team and the Saturday matches became an addiction. With all these things going on, I never felt bored. I was always charged up and new events were a common sight on campus. What I liked most about the US education system was that everything was grand and I never felt out of the crowd. People are very friendly and the university takes immense care of its students.

Graduation day
We wore green robes and waited for our names to be announced. On hearing my name, I went to the stage, shook hands with the Dean and ran in front of the camera to get clicked. My uncle and aunt who helped me a lot during my education were present and cheered me. After personally shaking hands with all students, the Dean referred to ‘The Class of 2011’ as graduates! There was a lot of energy and emotion in the auditorium. Students tossed their hats high! Education at George Mason University was filled with challenges. I came out as a good engineer. More importantly my experiences made me a better man. 

  (As told to Shipra Goel. Maninder is a New Delhi-based RTL Design & Verification Engineer)

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