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I understand that joining a sports team or student council won’t matter at all for graduate school. However, what about internships in industry, competing in science/engineering competitions, or being a tutor that teaches high school kids math and science?

Additionally, what if you’re given an engineering internship, but it isn’t directly related to your desired research? For example, I’m interested in doing machine learning in graduate school, but I get an internship where I get to help in the development process of making apps from a relatively unknown company?

And also, I’m trying to aim for a top 25 research university, should I just maximize my time by just doing research? If I were to spend lots of time for an engineering competition, but I only reach the semi-finals, would that be a waste of time? Should I still add that to my application?

Sorry if I ask lots of questions. I tried searching all over the Internet, and I can't really find any answers. Thanks.

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Yes. Participation in all types of scientific competitions is appreciated, even if not directly relevant to your research area. Even if you don't win them, participating in such events show inclination to scientific activities.

But if you know what you want to pursue in research, and you're able to do that early, it is definitely better than joining random scientific competitions and internships.

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  • I really appreciate your answer. Since I already know that I want to pursue artificial intelligence/machine learning as my research for grad school, should I only pursue internships and do competitions that are related to the field? And also, sorry, what about teaching people? Thanks May 2, 2017 at 2:25
  • @ARandomPersonBlowsUp As Shake Baby mentioned, doing research is what will have the most and best impact on your application. You are unlikely to get this experience in general engineering internships or science/engineering competitions. Look for internships in academic labs or industry internships specifically aimed towards undergraduate researchers. What you have listed (including tutoring, app development, etc.) are valuable, and should be on your resume if you have done them, but they should not be your first priority with your stated goals.
    – user58322
    May 2, 2017 at 8:03
  • @ARandomPersonBlowsUp If you are having trouble finding opportunities, don't neglect simply visiting your professors and asking them if you can become involved, or if they have any other specific suggestions. Take the time to stop by their office and ask them personally - don't send an email with your questions if you can avoid it. And even if there is no one in machine learning at your institute, research even in a vaguely related field will help you significantly.
    – user58322
    May 2, 2017 at 8:12

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