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A Moment of Levity and Lessons Learned



Just finished a hilarious interview, and I really mean hilarious. When I first got the email from the POI of a school that I was already accepted to but had no funding yet, asking to chat, of course I was excited, who wouldn't be? So I immediately went off and prepared for the interview by reading the POIs personal webpage.... only to discover that he specialized in a field where I had abysmal grades in as an undergrad. And by abysmal I DO mean abysmal, not the 'oh my grades were awful, my only Bs in my row of straight As' sense. Not to mention, this field is definitely something that I do NOT enjoy doing and have never encountered in my work, my strengths and experience definitely lie elsewhere. Just reading his research and publication abstracts, I was sure that there was no way this was going to work. But I pushed through with the interview, because who knows? He may be branching out into a new topic or something. And he wouldn't bother contacting me if he didn't see a possibility, right?

For the first time in the whole graduation application process, I was finally 100% right about something. So after the introductions and description of my work and goals for grad school, he asked me if I knew something about him.

Me: I've read your website and your projects seem geared towards *pause* X topic.

I was kind of half-laughing at this point because I could see where this was going. Not maybe half-laughing, but maybe a voice tone which suggested that hilarity was about to ensue.

POI: Yes, I've looked over the classes you took in X topic and your grades were *pause* not great.

At this point I couldn't help but let out a chuckle because I could see exactly where this was going. What followed was the most relaxed interview I have ever had, where I basically confirmed that I only had basic knowledge regarding the topic, no experience doing it, added that my group usually collaborates with other people when it comes to studies/projects in X because we know we don't have the skill set necessary, and had no interest in developing deep skills in topic X since I thought I would be better honing my strengths elsewhere. Also, I would be a horrible fit for the open position, TA-ing a class related to topic X, and I admitted that I would be as lost as my potential students if I were to be their TA. For some reason, knowing from the start that there was no way anything was going to happen really loosened my mind, and I was able to relax and talk to the POI in a way that I have only seen narrated from grad cafe posts. In interviews I usually have 'OMG I can see myself working with this person so I better not mess this up because if I do there'll be no more chance for me' running through my head, which results in much stammering, talking too fast, nervousness, and generally making a complete fool out of myself, so this was quite a welcome change, in a way!

Of course, it wasn't all bubbles and giggles. I admit I would have felt more despair over the pointlessness of the interview if I didn't already have another acceptance. But I'm still waiting on 3 schools which I would seriously consider going to, and my insides/mind have been churning overtime, so this was like a semi-breather. The POI was also kind enough to give some feedback regarding my application. When he first asked me what skills I envisioned myself developing in grad school, I said that I was keeping an open mind since I am slightly new to the field (only gained interest in it during work) and I wanted to gain an understanding of the field while exploring my options. He then told me that in his opinion, an MS degree should develop a specific skill, something that I agree with. The problem is, I don't know exactly what skill. Or wait, do I really not? Because after the interview, I got to thinking. Certainly I don't want to develop skills in topic X. But how about in the relation of topic Y to topic Z? In my work experience, that has what struck me the most, and the one that I have some experience and skill at. Although I have an idea of the topic that I want to work on, I should have made this more clear in the interview instead of being vague. Because in truth, I'm not open to ALL the options- I have experience in this certain topic that I wouldn't mind going deeper into, and I have a few selected topics that might be worth exploring (more on this later). That's certainly not all the topics in the overall field.

Also, he asked why I put down the names of Prof. Z and Prof. Y as people who I'd like to work with when he thinks they're totally out of my field and experience. Ok, he didn't say the latter part, but I could tell that that was what he was hinting at. I had no answer to that. I had wanted to work with other professors, but when I contacted them before applying they told me that they had no funding at the moment and were unsure if they would have in the future. I was still interested in the program, so I listed down Prof Z and Y- I had some interest in their topics but I knew they were a reach in terms of fit. Now I see I should have stuck to my guns and maybe listed down the original people I wanted to work with. I admit this was a pretty big mistake and made my application look very ill-prepared (maybe slightly delusional?). Oh dear.

Now I'm sure that all my applications are completely idiotic and unfocused. The moment of levity has passed and the rumination begins. My experience and skills so far are undoubtedly in the relation of topic Y to topic Z. However, I'm also open to gaining experience in either of topics A and B. In no means are they reach topics like topic X. But how can I do this when research regarding A and B is very limited where I'm located? Grad school may be my only opportunity to find out if A or B are right for me. But is this even possible given my background? Should I give up on A and B and cleave more towards the relation of topic Y and Z? It is certainly too late to change my applications to reflect that. But I'm not even sure I WANT to. Don't get me wrong, the relation of topic Y and Z is something that I think I would be happy to work on for the rest of my life, but I want to explore other options, or at least gain insight on them. However, there's no way to do this where I currently am. Am I asking for the impossible?

I'm sorry this was so long, my thoughts are all over the place right now. I think it's time to leave these distressing thoughts behind for a while and fix myself a nice cup of hot chocolate.

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