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just some food for thought.
I remember when I first asked people of this forum: could I get into graduate school. They weren't going to tell me anything I really didn't know. I have a low undergraduate GPA, funding is competitive, but maybe if I got lucky I could get into one of the schools of my choice. I should have probably asked, instead of a critique, for the reassurance of what I already knew. I know all to well what an application season can do to someone. It can make even the deepest minds appeal to their most vapid instincts. The real question here is, what happens when someone looks at your stats and says something contrary to what you believe? Are you really going to change where you apply just because someone on the internet disagrees with you? Furthermore, say you wanted to apply to top 10 schools, and everyone on the forum universally agrees that you cannot get into one, do you really want to change which schools you apply to just for the sake of going to graduate school? Is that really what this about? Going to school for the sake of going to school?
In this short blog post, I do not have any answers to these questions. But before you make a post, wanting people on this forum to review your application, maybe you should think about the possible responses to your post. Or maybe what people say doesn't matter, and the fact that your posting here makes it all the better?
I don't know... do you?
Recent EntriesAnd so my long journey of graduate school applications has come to an end.
I hereby bid goodbye to the following:
Statements of purpose
Online application systems
and, last but not least, (and I have gleefully saved a special rude gesture for): [i]ETS/GRE/Standardized Testing[/i]!
(At the same time, I also welcome whatever new stressful, illogical, and inane bureaucratic hoops lay ahead of me in the Ph.D. program and beyond.)
But I digress. The subject of this post, really, is to explain a little bit about my long, circuitous journey towards graduate school. Many moons ago, I attended a high school that had a "gifted" program; though I was not chosen to be a part of it, my entire cohort of friends happened to be members. Accordingly, beautiful and wondrous things were always on their horizon (eg. one of them went to Princeton for his undergraduate work and, in short order, became an undersecretary in the Bank of Canada). Though I don't think I ever had the same pressure applied to me, I felt it all the same. I pushed myself and achieved a good entrance scholarship to attend the University of Toronto.
I went through the motions during the first few years but didn't develop much as a person. I got into a long term relationship, but it was one of those stagnant ones where we cut out all of our friends and just sat in our dorm watching tv shows. I retreated further into my social anxiety and the nonthreatening nature of my relationship. I didn't make any connections with professors, barely participated in any extracurricular activities, never in class, and sure enough, it eventually affected my grades--the one thing that I believed all this time had defined my success as a person. Though I left an impression on one or two professors with some solid essays on topics that I was passionate about, I had nothing in the way of a solid foundation for a strong graduate application. Entering my fourth year, I applied to Ph.D. programs at Toronto and other Canadian schools. The answer was a resounding
I felt despair at the first major (academic) defeat in my life and sank into a weird, hazy limbo. Yet, with some gentle prodding from my parents, I applied again the next year. Again, the call came back:
It was a terrible blow. Like a whale biting off your leg, one might say. I [i]really[/i] gave up after that. I figured [i]H[/i][i]ey, maybe graduate school isn't for me. Most of my friends didn't go on to Ph.D.s either! Maybe I was just following a path that others had defined for me. [/i]So I entered the workforce, worked a bunch of awful, menial jobs (think two key data entry and factory work), taught overseas for a bit and lived out my repressed high school partying years, and finally settled into a retail food service funk. I was depressed. I felt like I was staring at a dead end sign. Worse yet, I was hardly making enough income to survive.
Finally, due to kismet and external forces, I decided that I needed to try again with graduate programs out west, in California. I applied to some unknown or 'unranked' MA programs, aiming for the fully funded one and--success! I was shocked and I was grateful. I knew that this was my last chance to prove myself and claw my way back to my graduate dreams. I pushed myself harder than I ever have and (thanks to a genuinely rekindled passion due to a harsh and demanding professor), after much roaming on the high seas, I finally caught up to my Moby Dick. I reapplied to the University of Toronto. I steadied my harpoon and let fly. And after many months of waiting:
Of course, the acceptance to UT is merely symbolic to me. I don't think I actually ever intended to attend. But I feel like I have done a service to that narrative arc of my life: I finally conquered the rejections that destroyed me when I was younger, and in doing so, have finally proven to the niggling voice deep down inside that[b] [/b][i]YES. I AM WORTHY OF GRADUATE SCHOOL.[/i]
This whole schpeel is my way of saying: life happens. You can get thrown off the bull many, many times and in many different ways. At 21, not everyone is going to be ready, willing, and motivated to pursue a Ph.D. [i]and that's fine[/i]. Do your best, but if it's not right at this moment, work hard to improve yourself and try again when the time [i]is[/i] right. Due to personal (familial) circumstances, I needed a lot of time to grow outside of the garden into which I had walled myself, which included academia. I lived (and kind of didn't live) enough to know that I'm ready for graduate school now and I'm so lucky to have been given the chance this time around.
Best of luck to all applicants who are preparing for the next application cycle. I look forward to congratulating you all in 2016!
I haven't posted much recently, but I thought that I would throw out a recent reflection that I think could help a lot of applicants and current grad students.
Losing sucks. A lot. Not getting something we really want sucks. A lot. But life goes on.
I recently was awarded an Honorable Mention for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a pretty big honor, as 16,000+ students apply each year. I know a few people who have applied multiple years and never even gotten that. But, of course I'm still bitter that I didn't get the full award. To make things worse, the other two students in my cohort were awarded.
This lead to a lot of feelings, including anger, embarrassment, and self-doubt. I feel like maybe I'm not good enough if everyone else can get it but I can't. I feel lied to by my peers when they said my application materials were the best in my cohort during review sessions. I feel jealous that the awardees will make $15-20k more than me and not have to work as a teaching assistant or graduate assistant.
I took all of yesterday to myself to get those feelings out, to scream, to cry, to vent. But life goes on, and today is a new day. I realized a lot of things about not winning the award, which can extend to a lot of future competitions in life. Yeah, I didn't get the award I wanted, but am I a worse person than before I found out the results? No. Actually, I still have another line on my CV to say that I got Honorable Mention. I still have feedback on my application that I can apply to other things in my career.
And the other people in my cohort who got the award are some of my closest friends here. So, at the end of the day, I'm happy that they have a higher stipend that will help them. One is going to buy a house with her new husband. Another can travel more, which is her biggest passion in life. And I'm not making any less stipend next year due to their win, so I should just be happy that something good happened to my friends.
As cliche as it sounds, I realized this morning that I have a lot to be thankful for. I still have a fellowship from my university. I still have another year to reapply for this national fellowship. I still got into an amazing program at only 20 years old and held my own against more experienced students. I still have an amazing partner who supports me in everything I do, completely unconditionally. I still have a online community of people I can vent to about grad school to get out my frustrations. I still have a group of people in real life who I can hang out with when I need to be away from school. I still have a lot. And I didn't really lose anything from not getting that award. Next year will be difficult for funding, but it will work out (it always does).
In our little world of academia, whether it be applications or publications, everything is a competition (even if we don't want it to be). People will constantly make you feel like you need to be the best, you need to have the most awards, you need to have the most publications, you need to have the highest impact, you need to have the best committee. And it's great to aspire to do well in all of these areas. But, school/work is school/work, and it doesn't really change who I am as a person and my value. Yes, having a better CV gets me a more competitive job. Yes, having better funding makes my life a lot easier next year. But, I have a lot beyond what a few pieces of paper say.
No one has everything. Someone may get more awards or publications. Someone may have more friends or a more stable relationship. Someone may make more money or be prettier or have fewer health problems. But no one really has everything. And, after reflection, I'm really happy for the things that I do have. More lines on a CV, more money, and more recognition in my department are great. But they don't define me.
This morning I woke up to the coldest winter day so far this year. I could barely bring myself to get out of bed. Making coffee was a chore. My apartment was freezing. Our shitty prewar radiators are no match for this kind of weather. I just wanted to get back under my comforter, preferably wearing at least six pairs of sweatpants and my parka, and sleep until May.
By 9AM, I'd already checked my email and this board approximately 200 times. The last couple of months haven't been easy for me. After implied rejections from what I felt were some of my strongest fits, I was feeling discouraged. What if I hadn't improved my profile all that much over the last year? Should I have retaken the GRE? Was it a mistake to take on multiple editing projects for faculty instead of working on publishing my thesis? Was trying to switch disciplines an impossible task? Why didn't I apply to more schools? Should I have tried for an NDSEG even though I wasn't firmly in the behavioral sciences?
What if I just wasn't ever going to be good enough, no matter what I did?
It doesn't help that I had a bad interview with a school I really love. I had two interviews there, but the bad one just really sticks in my mind. I replay all the awful moments in my head in the shower. I hear the dumb words come out of my dumb mouth when I'm trying to get work done for my actual job that pays actual money.
To make a long story short, I have not been feeling hopeful. I have heard nothing from a lot of schools I applied to. I've been looking into all sorts of non-academic jobs, convinced that trying to get into a program for the third time would just be too much. YA novelist? Book publishing? Bartending? Teaching secular subjects at Yeshiva high schools? I've really thought through pretty much any possible career route, but nothing can stand up to just wanting that PhD. For my interests, you need the PhD even for non-academic jobs, so if I do anything else, I'm selling myself short.
Around 9:15 this morning, I got the email. I've been waiting for this email for almost two years. I've dreamed about this email. I get mad at other emails because they are not this email. I have probably broken world records for refreshing my inbox because I have been waiting so impatiently for this email.
I got in.
I got into a program I genuinely love with faculty I respect and admire. I got into a program that believes in my work and can support my scholarship. I got in with funding! I got into a department where I fit, where I have more POIs than I know what to do with, and where I can, just maybe, soon call home. I got in! I want to scream it from the rooftops.
There is still plenty of waiting to do. I have other schools to hear from, other disappointments, and maybe even other triumphs.
But what matters now is that I have the chance to prove myself. Getting into the program isn't the hard part. Getting the PhD isn't even the hard part. Doing something with it -- something truly and fundamentally meaningful with that degree is the hard part. And I am a long way off from that part of my life, but what matters now is that I am on my way.
I know a lot of you have been following this blog, whether from the beginning or just stumbling upon it now. I hope you can find the strength to drag yourself out of bed on the coldest day of the year just so you can get some of the best news of your life. I hope you soon have an excuse to drink cheap champagne and look at weird Craigslist ads for apartments in cities you barely know. I hope you finally get that email you've been waiting for.
I hope you get in.
I know you will.
After waking up early to attend our annual departmental symposium yesterday, I was left feeling exhausted at the end of day.
The symposium is entirely run by graduate students in the department, starting from deciding who to invite as speakers, down to the location of the symposium dinner. Overall, it's a great thing to participate.
But one thing that really bothers me every year is the award session. Each year, the department gives out awards in best poster presentation and oral presentation to students. Although the awardees are either decided by faculty or student in an anonymous voting process, the students receiving these awards are often the students from Big Wig labs. Or the most popular student. Or the talk with the prettiest PowerPoint slides. The science we do is sooo diverse, that is now difficult to fully understand the significance of everyone's work. Everyone works hard, every lab does good science. But you can't give everyone an award- so what do you do?
This is a common theme in life science academia nowadays. I know my PI is trying to be encouraging and supportive on this issue. After all, my success is a reflection on her, and me working hard is in her best interest. But her own CV totally reflects the above situation- multiple Glamour magazine publications, trainee of multiple Big Wigs, etc. It's kind of, well, ironic. It's hard to accept her encouragement when you know she wouldn't be able to land on a faculty position without her credentials above as the icing on the cake.
Life is unfair. I work hard and I have no regrets. That's what I need to know at the end of day.
Folks, I think I figured it out.
I look at the people who are in programs and doing things I want to do. Fuzzy Suessian, Resurgence(ZN), etc and I notice a particular thing they have in common.
They’re all above 200 internet/reputation points.
THAT’S what you turn these in for, an acceptance! I dunno how the adcomms figure out who is who but they’re sneaky… good thing you have me here to keep them honest.
Muwahahaha all I need to do now is post more puppy pics and I’ll be in for sure!
*ring ring* Hello, Berkeley (BARKley?)This is Bowties – my puppy pics are trending and I’ve got 500 internet points… I think that entitles me to a spot in your program.
Perhaps I’m going crazy…
It has been a long time since I've even come onto the grad café. Moving to London and starting grad school has really taken any free time I used to have to just surf the web and engulfed it, but I am incredibly happy about that.
First term has finished and I am now progressing into my second round of courses before I hit the heavy 4 months of dissertation writing that is to come in the spring. I'm more excited about finally getting to do some research but also nervous about the prospect of finding a supervisor, and actually working on it all.
Something which has been on my mind lately is potentially moving on to doing a Ph.D. after this degree. Ideally I would be able to start as soon as I finished my Master's, but I don't think my first term has prepared me enough to be able to send in the applications for the March 14th deadline. I need more time to think, time to get a grasp on if I actually want to move away from industry and into academia, and to ensure my grades are stellar so I can get funding.
Plus I've been in postsecondary education for nearly 5 years now. Most people would agree that it is time for a break (maybe I'm wrong, but I think I deserve one . . . not sure if starting full-time work would really be considered a break though).
Hello fuzzy penguins,
Winter and I are just... we're really not friends. It's perpetually cold, I can't go outside and run, and it's always dark. So as I sit here, curled up in fleece with the space heater blaring, I find myself picturing the future and its promise of warmth. Most notably, this upcoming August and September, when I (theoretically) start grad school. ...And yeah, the last few apps I have under review are at schools with winters just as harsh as my current homestead, but I can't help but get excited for the simple prospect of a change in scenery.
In my quest for graduate admittance, meeting and talking online with applicants and current grad students coupled with a desire for better weather has possessed me with this fun and refreshing sense of adventure. I want to meet the POIs I've researched and see if they're excited about what's going on in their lab and department. I'd like to meet professors in fields I'm inexperienced in and see what cell adhesion pathways or trinucleotide repeat dynamics or parasitic biology is all about. I'm thrilled to hit the town with recruiting grad student reps to talk shop. And more than anything, I wanna make cohort friends. It's just.. it's one of those times that you know is going to have some of the cutest moments in your career.
Til then, I guess, I will need to make do with this polar-vexed season. Travel might be good. Stay warm, kids.
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
My apologies for taking so long to get this post up! I started classes and have been pretty sick. As a reminder, the more questions you ask me, the more I know what you want answers to!
The purpose of the post for today is to provide my insights into interviews and hopefully ease some fears by helping you figure out what to expect at a biomedical science, molecular biology, immunology, or similar interview. I have a few questions that were in my message box, but other than that, I'm just going to fill in the pieces.
You guys need to remember that at most institutions, if you're selected to interview, you've got a REALLY good shot at being accepted, sometimes better than 75% chance. These programs are trying to impress you on top of trying to make sure that you're going to be a successful student and a productive addition to their research institution.
This is going to sound cliché, but the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. Don't pretend to be someone who you are not; you don't want them to view you as plastic and fake.
How do you prepare for interviews?
I hit on this previously, but there are more things to hit on. I mentioned that it is important to look up the professors who will be interviewing you if the school notifies you ahead of time. You can get a general idea about them from their lab website, but note that those are also rarely updated. Because of this, projects listed on the website may already be completed by interviews and could already be published (thanks to Glow_Gene for reminding me).Your best bet would be to look at their website and then check them out on PubMed. I also looked for their students on PubMed to see what recent publications they were included on. I read some abstracts and reviews on the professors' areas of research so that I would be able to discuss it with them when the time came, and I printed a few abstracts for study material. Prep a couple of general questions based on their most recent publications, but nothing super specific. You don't want to act like you know their field... because you don't!
All of this research also comes in handy when you're finally at a school and need to pick your first rotation. I also recommend looking up a picture of the professors and program administrators so you can at least know who to expect. It makes you feel a lot more comfortable when you walk into their office! It is also a good idea to bring in updated copies of your resume or CV. Most professors are given your application, but in case they are not or they want a new copy, take them with you.
I mentioned previously that I took some powerpoint slides from my last MS committee presentation with me to demonstrate that I could generate data. This is not necessary and definitely not required. You should also not do this unless your PI that you did the work under approves what you're taking with you; it could cause some big issues if your PI ends up getting scooped, and you want to protect that data.
When you pack, keep your bags to a minimum. Sometimes professors come and pick you up, and you will have to get your bag into their car. You're only going for a couple of days, not a month!
If you're currently in school, you need to be notifying people that you'll be gone. Make sure someone can record audio for you in lectures (if that is allowed) and be sure to reschedule things like exams as soon as you find out about the interview. I also had to find someone to sub for teaching my lab class. If you're employed, you need to either have some vacation time to take or you need to get some unpaid time off.
What should you be wearing?
I went over this in the previous post, but seeing people freaking out about it in the forums suggests it is worth repeating. On the plane or traveling, nice jeans and a decent shirt are generally fine, though I changed into khakis when I arrived at the airport.
For "casual" events such as a dinner with graduate students or other evening activities, I dressed on the more casual end of business casual: Khakis and a cute blouse, brown boots.
For my actual interview day, I dressed up more, but not to the level of a high end business professional. I wore fitted grey trouser pants with black boots, a ¾ sleeved black blazer, and a blouse.
For ladies, it is important that you're comfortable.
Here are things that I feel ladies should avoid:
1. Skirts, especially those above the knee... Complaints about modesty were common from professors. If you wear pants, you don't have to worry!
2. High heels, especially stilettos. You're going to be walking so much you'll be miserable before lunch. If you do want a heel, keep it low, and make sure that it is a fat heel so it is more supportive. Short wedge heels or boots are the best. Pick shoes you know you could wear 12+ hours with a few miles worth of walking in a day.
3. Cleavage. Just cover it up, ladies. You'd rather those you're talking to to look at your face, right? V-necked tops should probably have a camisole underneath just in case.
4. Sheer fabrics: There was a girl at interviews last year with a sheer shirt on over a yellow bra. Common sense should tell you to avoid things like that.
Guys, you've got it easier, but sometimes you put patterns together that make people cringe. Just look professional, and that should be all you need to worry about. You don't have to wear a full suit; a nice shirt + tie and dress pants are fine. Just don't wear jeans.
What are the outings with grad students like?
Odds are, you'll be arriving the evening before your interviews. Schools generally like to have the current graduate students meet you and take you to dinner, and often these students are volunteers. Usually they'll take you out to a local restaurant and you'll all sit, talk, and generally have fun. This doesn't mean that you should go and get completely wasted. Have fun, have a drink (as in only one, and a small one at that), and enjoy your meal. These grad students are both your best friend and worst enemy. They'll give you insight into the professors you're meeting and will usually answer anything you want to know about the program really honestly. On the other hand, they're also directly in contact with admissions and will note things about you. If you're rude and obnoxious, they're going to tell someone. The same goes for if you're so quiet that you talk only when spoken to or if you do not seem to play well with the other applicants.
Since I am assuming most people know how to play well with others right now, these outings with the grad students are great ways to learn about the area, real expectations for students, to ask questions about classes, professors, etc.
I had a blast at one of the interviews; the students ate with us the night before, attended their student seminar the next morning, and then the night of interviews, we got to meet them around a campfire with the professors. After that, we headed to a bar, which was a test, but we all had fun. Probably the best day was the day after interviews where the students showed us their apartments and some of their favorite places in town. Everyone was happy, and everyone was enthusiastically answering our questions.The grad students really made us feel welcome and like we wouldn't shrivel up and die if we attended there.
Another interview, the students were set up to meet us the evening we got there and then for a reception right after interviews. The difference was that students were reluctant to answer questions, acted miserable, and did not do much to make us feel welcome. These kinds of things can help you solidify a decision, later if you're struggling to choose between two schools.
What is the interview like, and what are some common interview questions?
You guys need to realize that everything is fair game. The types of interviews I attended were 3-5 interviews at 30-50 minutes each individually with each professor in their office. None of them treat interviews the same. One may want to ask you a ton of questions about your SoP, your research, and where you see yourself in 10 years. Another may have seen your application and decide that he wants to see how you take to being recruited for his lab, so your interview time will be spent discussing his research. Others are a mix of the two. Many professors will make at least some time in your interview to request that you ask questions of them about research, the area, and the program. Essentially, be ready for anything. I even was assigned a short homework assignment from one PI.
The obvious thing to do to prepare is to read abstracts as discussed above and to make sure you remember everything you put in your essay.
That being said, I know all of you still want some questions to prep to help control your constant worrying.
1. Why do you want to pursue a PhD?
You would be surprised at how many people get to their interview, are asked this question, and then just sit there staring at the person who asked it completely unable to generate a response. You're applying to grad school, so surely you have a reason for doing so, and hopefully it is one other than that the "real world" is a scary place. Know why you want to do this, and be able to talk about it.
Hint: You probably hit on this in your essays!
2. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A good idea here is to have a couple of options already in your head.
3. Why do you want to study at "insert institution name"?
Of all questions, you really want to be sure of this! You need to be able to demonstrate that you've applied to a school for other reasons than it had a free application or has a well-known name. Were there specific PIs you wanted to work with? Be careful, here... you need to have more than one PI! Was there a specific research area, such as epigenetics, that the school is known for? They almost always ask this, often followed up by something like, "You didn't grow up in a place like this, so how do you think you will adjust?" or "Will moving away from your family be okay with you?" or "Will your significant other be moving with you, or will they remain behind?" These sound personal, and they are, but sometimes they ask to try and gauge if you're serious about the school. I know when I interviewed, I wasn't prepared for that kind of follow-up, but I had luckily already discussed it with my boyfriend and family..
4. You said "insert random thing" in your essay. Can you elaborate a little on that? Why do you feel that "thing" is so important in "whatever they correlate it to"?
This is notable because you're going to have things in your essay that make you unique. They're going to want to question you on that. It could be some anecdote from your essay, something you say you want to do with your life (like public science outreach), or even something completely random.
5. Why did you want to be interviewed by me?
If you got to select who your professors were, be able to tell them why you picked them. Telling them you just went down the list isn't nice. Pick your profs by research interests and other factors.
6. Do you have any questions for me?
Now would be a good time to ask questions about the program, or, if you haven't discussed their research, give a segue into discussing a little about it. Like anyone in science, they love talking about what they do!
(More questions will be added as I get more question ideas!)
Interview etiquette (copied from my previous post):
Make eye contact.
Shake their hands when you get there and when you leave them.
Avoid "stuff" words (like, kinda, sorta, maybe, ummm, etc) and run-on sentences (and.... and then.... but..... and.....).
Ask questions about their research, the students, AND the program (the PIs might not know, but they will see your interest).
Say thank you!
Do all of the things you know to be professional, but try not to make yourself seem plastic.
It is a great idea to have someone give you a practice interview a few times before you go. Some career services places at your university may have this service for you. It is a good idea to film and watch yourself to see where you need to improve.
Next time, we'll answer Rexzeppelin's question: "How do you determine if your potential PI is a closet psychopath?" Feel free to ask me questions in the comments or to message me questions! I'll either answer them directly or make a new post!
GOOD LUCK AT INTERVIEWS!
When I was deciding between Maryland and IUPUI, I was weighing the lesser amount of debt versus connections. Or at least, I thought I was. But then someone told me this:
Pick the place that will make you the happiest, but remember that you always have the right to change your mind about what criteria constitute happiness.
I love that quote. It told me that I wasn't choosing Maryland because of the connections. It was telling me I could be the happiest at Maryland. I made the decision to become a Terrapin two weeks ago and I honestly think it's the best decision I've made. I could not, for the life of me, get excited about IUPUI. It is a great school and I refuse to knock it at all. But I just couldn't get excited about going there. Maryland, well, I was calling the director of student services with a huge grin on my face, scoping out apartments even though it's a little early, and just... seriously, you couldn't get the smile off of my face.
I know I will have more debt at Maryland. I know I might be living off of ramen for the next three years. But I also know that I am going to be in my favorite city in the world (it even beats some of my favorites in Europe) and I am going to have so many doors opened to me. I am required to do a field study as part of my program. The list of institutions Maryland does field study with is long and includes places like the Shakespeare Library, the Smithsonians, the National Archives, Library of Congress - the list goes on. My adviser for my Archives Specialization worked at the National Archives for 30 years and loves helping students get there.
Needless to say, I'm over the moon. It has been a long, long journey. What I thought would make me happy has changed throughout this journey. I've thought less debt, a cheaper city, etc. at one point would make me happy. I thought staying in my study abroad city would make me happy. I thought being done in one year would make me happy. In the end, it's Maryland for a number of reasons.
For all those who are still deciding, I wish you all the best! For all that have decided, congrats! For those who are looking to apply next year or reapply next year, take a deep breath. We all will make it!
By this stage I figure I'm something of an expert at visiting potential grad schools. As mentioned in my earlier posts, I looked around a number of American universities when I was over in the States last summer (before the applications were even created). I visited several UK universities for formal interview days and informal introductions.
Last weekend I had my first Visitation Weekend as an admitted grad student. And I handled it like a pro
Seriously, though - I believe that visiting prospective grad schools is a vital thing to do. For starters it taught me how to interact professionally with faculty, how to make small-talk with grad students and how to interview successfully.
Everybody will have different objectives for the visitation weekend, and will take different approaches to achieving those objectives. Here is advice from my perspective.
Before the Visit
- Work out how you feel about the school. Is this place your Top Choice or a Safety School? Did you apply here because you liked the faculty...but think the small college town atmosphere might get to you? If you have concerns about the university think up ways to find out more about the underlying issues. What questions can you ask professors/students/people waiting in the Starbucks queue that will get you the information you need to make a decision.
- Scour faculty, school, university and specialist Department webpages for information. See what is available to you in this place that is different from other locations. As an international student I wanted to see what resources are there to inform and support grads moving from another country.
- Write down a list of your most vital questions on a piece of paper...then put it in your jeans' pocket. On the morning of my visitiation weekend I could be found in my hotel room, scrawling feverishly on the back of my boarding pass all the questions I could possibly think of to address to POIs, students and both. Keeping that list on me during the day meant I could double-check it discreetly between meetings to check I wasn't missing out on anything important.
- Mentally & physically prepare yourself. As an introverted scientist, a whole day spent talking with lots of strangers, acting like a friendly team-player and remaining energetic until I was dropped off after dinner...whew, that counts as an endurance event. I had to take time out to psych myself up and get "in the zone". I'm OK with jetlag, but required a lot of water and an early night beforehand.
During the Visit - Objectives
- 3-5 faculty that I could see myself working for. As a chemist I go through several lab rotations. I have a thesis committee of 3, including my PI. I don't know that my 1st choice PI will have space to take me on...or that I'll work well with them. Therefore, the grad school I commit to must have an absolute minimum of 3 POIs that I like.
- Other Departmental faculty that I get on with. I'm going to be doing more than slaving in the lab for 5 years. I want to be in an environment where the faculty get on with each other and know the grad students quite well. If a major research group-related problems erupts, I want there to be "impartial" figures I can chat to for advice.
- Grounded Grad Students. I don't want to be in an ultra-competitive grad school where the students have big egos and distrustful attitudes. I don't want to be in a grad school where the students have submissive posture and low self-esteem. I want to be on a program that produces intelligent, confident and likeable grad students. Why? Well, I'd like to be an intelligent, confident and likeable grad student myself - so perhaps I can learn from their example.
- Resources to help me meet my career objectives. Coming into grad school I have quite a clear idea of where I want to end up in the future (industry, not academia) and what is needed to achieve that. The better a grad school can help me along that path, the more inclined I will be towards choosing it. Do industrial companies recruit grad students on-campus? Does the grad school host Career Talks about working in industry? How many?
After the visit
[*]Send brief emails to your POIs and organisers, thanking them for their time. It can't hurt to be polite to the faculty you've met (see my 3-5 rule above). Then see how many working days it takes for them to reply. The faculty who reply quickly? You want to work for those organised people.
- 3-5 faculty that I could see myself working for. As a chemist I go through several lab rotations. I have a thesis committee of 3, including my PI. I don't know that my 1st choice PI will have space to take me on...or that I'll work well with them. Therefore, the grad school I commit to must have an absolute minimum of 3 POIs that I like.
- Work out how you feel about the school. Is this place your Top Choice or a Safety School? Did you apply here because you liked the faculty...but think the small college town atmosphere might get to you? If you have concerns about the university think up ways to find out more about the underlying issues. What questions can you ask professors/students/people waiting in the Starbucks queue that will get you the information you need to make a decision.
And gentlefolk, it's finally March. I know for my discipline (history), programs are probably about half-way done returning decisions. I personally applied to ten schools and actually heard from the last of them on Monday. I'm extremely relieved to be done with the waiting game, and am extremely happy with how everything turned out (despite getting rejected from six programs - heh!).
As you might know from my last update, UNC Chapel Hill accepted me all the way back on January 31st. Part of the reason I didn't want to post another entry until now, in fact, is because I got so much news during the first half of February. And since most of it was good news, I didn't feel like it would be kind to post an update with so much (probably gag-worthy) excitement when so many folks were still waiting to hear back.
...Now that people are beginning to enter their decision processes, though, I thought I would share a bit about mine!
I was able to eliminate two of the schools that accepted me right off the bat: one due to poor fit and the other because of ranking/some slightly rude POIs. In the end it came down to CUNY and UNC. They're both excellent fits for me - the faculty is just incredible at both programs. As much as I would love (seriously, love!) to live in NYC, though, the cost of living was a big factor in my decision. Of course, the rankings of the schools are quite different (#10 at UNC vs. #27ish at CUNY for European History), and the prestige/external funding opportunities will be very important to me.
I gave myself about a week and a half to really mull it over (and wait for rejections from other programs - ha!), fearing that I might have formed an unreasonable attachment to UNC because they gave me my first acceptance. Tallying up the pros and cons, though, I'm completely confident that UNC is the right program for me...so on Saturday I went ahead and formally accepted their offer! I'm all set to go out to campus for the visiting weekend in March and absolutely couldn't be happier!
Now all I need to do is finish my thesis and complete my coursework, so I can actually - you know - *graduate* and attend my new program in the fall. That's proving easier said than done, but spring break is just a week away at my current school, so the finish line is in sight!
As you all continue the horrible wait and make your decisions, I wish you all the luck and happiness I've been lucky enough to experience the last few weeks! Feel free to comment and share your hopes, anxieties, decisions...whatever you like!
[Note: found this unpublished and unfinished draft of a blog entry I wrote early last year. Thought I'd publish it anyway.]
Like several of you, I've heard back from most of the schools I applied to (actually, all but1). I've had two in-person interviews (both followed Skype interviews), one just over-the-phone interview, and two acceptances (weirdly, not following interviews at all).
In-person interviews are the only way to go. I know SO much more about those schools, the city I would potentially live in, the faculty, grad students, and general climate of the program than I would have otherwise. In both cases they were game changers - I went in with set opinions that were totally blown out of the water. I literally don't know what to do with the two outright acceptances (without interviews) I did get. How am I supposed to make a decision based on the few pieces of paper they sent me? I'm planning to request visits.
In-person interviews are exhausting. Much more so than you think they'll be. I'm pretty sure I stopped forming coherent sentences about three-quarters of the way through. But it's okay, I think they expect this, and hopefully don't judge too harshly when you forget important pieces of information - like your name, where you're from, or who your POI is. And trust me, you get asked that a lot.
Similar-seeming schools and departments can be wildly different.
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At a social function I overheard some discussion about the PhD applications under review (in another department at another school on another planet with no specifics about any individuals, I swear).
Using a sample size of admittedly N=1, I was struck by the difference in the relative importance various members give to different parts of the application. Some like SOPs some don't place much emphasis in them. Some want a hard number for GREs, others(like many of you I gather)think they are worthless. Some are impressed by pedigree - others almost seem to rebel against the idea. Apparently a sort of weighting system has evolved - but in trying to reach consensus among near equals there appears to be a reversion toward the mean - so that in the end no single part of the application was rendered unimportant.
In reflecting on how applicants probably need to react to the process I thought about that old joke:
Two campers are awakened by an angry bear outside their tent. Fearing for their lives they jump out and start to run away. One camper says to the other "I sure hope we can outrun this bear" and the other says "I don't care about outrunning the bear - I just hope I can outrun you".
With no absolute formula or level that ensures acceptance - how you stack up compared to the next guy may matter the most. (Ah, a true economist - thinking at the margins). If the rubrik depends on a small set of judges who hold very different opinions about what they are looking for the best bet is solid strength everywhere rather than brilliance in one aspect of your work that hopes to compensate for major shortcomings elsewhere. This may not be the situation in a lot places - but I suspect it's more common than not.
I realize it's been some time since my last post, but there really wasn't anything exciting to write about until recently.
So now I'm in that never-ending waiting period. Every day I find myself staring at my phone, demanding the email notification light to start blinking. And then it does, and I think, "wow, it really worked!". Until I read the email, which has nothing to do with my applications, and 9 times out of 10 is something I couldn't care less about. So then I sit at my desk annoyed at that email, and start the email-light demanding cycle over again. It's usually then that I make myself do something productive which works for a good 5-10 minutes until I find myself staring at my phone again. Apparently, I have developed the attention span of a goldfish.
Of course, every so often I do hear something positive. Now, you would think that hearing something would help squelch the anxiety I feel towards my other programs, right? Oh no, actually it makes it worse! It's almost like some twisted gambler's fallacy, if one school tells me something, well then the others have to as well! So if I hear something from School A on Monday, well then Schools B-H will definitely tell me something Tuesday. And if not Tuesday, then Wednesday, and so forth. And yes, I realize the lack of logic there, and I've tried to tell myself that. But have you ever had an argument with yourself? Mine never end well. In fact, they usually end with me staring at my phone...
So at this point, I've had one in-person interview (School A), one phone interview (School B.) and I'm officially waitlisted at another school (School C). So that's 3 out of 8 programs, with no word from the rest. I think I might be waitlisted at School D, but I'm not sure yet. From what I've been told from the schools I have heard from, if there is anything positive coming my way I should hear back from School B in the next few days (for an in-person interview invite) and School A should be making admissions decisions early next week. From my experience, School C has a long waitlist so it's hard to say where I stand there if they even get to the waitlist (they didn't last year). So for now my hope is on Schools A & B. I thought that knowing when I would hear back would be helpful, but I don't know if it is. I mean I guess it is in a way since I know when to expect it, but at the same time I feel like a little kid waiting for Santa to come. Except that I don't know if I'm getting a present, or if Santa will give me a lump of coal sometime later. I know it's only 1 more week. I already waited 1.5 weeks for School A (plus 6 weeks), I can wait another week. At least that is what I keep telling myself.
I also made a decision that if I got an interview I would only tell a select group of people (less than 5 total). I thought that would help because then I wouldn't have a lot of people asking details about the interview...which just leads to questions about all the other programs to which I applied. Also, then you don't have 20 people giving you advice about the interview. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from perfect, and I am more than willing to ask others for advice. However, I like to do it on my own terms, and ask the people I trust, and know how graduate school interviews work. Hearing about how interviews work at your place of employment probably will not help me at X University. I've done a good job keeping this all quiet, but it is much harder than I thought it would be! After my phone interview yesterday all I wanted to do was tell someone...anyone...fine, everyone how it went. Once I get in somewhere I'll probably share interview details (if there are any at that point) with anyone who asks, I'm just hoping that day comes soon.
I bet that right now, there are about a million "What if??" questions running through every one of our brains... But the scariest one is "What if I don't get in?"
I'll speak for myself-- that seems to be all I can think about lately. A couple of days ago, I made myself write out a Plan B (which started off seriously: "look into MS programs, studying/traveling abroad" but then it became... slightly crazed: "move to hippie farm, join convent"). It helped my anxiety a lot... for a couple of hours... But what we all have to remember is that we'll be okay, no matter what the outcome of this admissions cycle! I'm sure that not all of you believe that "everything happens for a reason", but with grad school applications, I think everything does happen for a reason. If we don't get in to any grad programs this admissions cycle, we have many years ahead of us to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, improve our applications, and try again.
Okay, so... me. This is my second time applying to grad school. Of the seven schools I applied to last fall, I was accepted to my two "safety schools" for PhD programs in biomedical sciences, but after some thoughtful deliberation, I decided not to attend either of those schools. Why? Because I wasn't sure I'd be happy at those places, and I knew that would hinder my success.
[Second-time applicant's tip #1: only apply to schools you want to attend. Applying to grad school isn't like applying to college; you shouldn't have a "safety school" unless you could see yourself feeling happy and fulfilled if you went there.]
[Second-time applicant's tip #2: Find MULTIPLE faculty members with whom you're interested in working at the schools to which you apply. You don't want to find yourself at a school where you're only interested in working with one faculty member and then they don't have the funding/ space to mentor you.]
Last spring I was terrified of turning down PhD offers because it meant that I would be staying in my job as a research tech for another year when I had been already been working there since my sophomore year of college and for the year since I graduated and I felt ready to move on. It also scared me because I knew that only applying to schools that I wanted to go to was a gamble; they were, by and large "better" schools, and there was always the possibility that I wouldn't get in anywhere in my reapplications. But I took a deep breath, and went with my gut feeling. I have the better part of a year to improve my application, I told myself, I'll get in somewhere... right?
Now I am so happy that I decided to take that second year off. Over the past year, my work in the lab has gone very well-- I presented my projects at one international conference and at several smaller conferences, I got some major work done on some projects that I wouldn't have been able to finish if I had gone to school in the fall, and I acquired more skills that will leave me with that much less to learn in grad school. Equally importantly, my additional year off has also given me the opportunity to reexamine my application. I met with a member of the admissions committee at my university who was kind enough to go over the shortcomings of my application, and find the places where I could have presented myself a bit better.
[Second-time applicant's tip #3: Always address the elephant in the room (bad grades, lack of research experience, etc). I had some extenuating circumstances that explained some poor academic performance, but last year I was too embarrassed to address the issue in my personal statement-- big mistake. Explain your situation gracefully and it may help you.]
All in all, I feel like I have significantly more control this time around-- I know what factors I want in a school, I know how I can improve my application (apply early, revise SOP, retake the GRE, replace one recommendation writer, apply to different schools, etc), and perhaps most importantly, I have that extra motivation to get there, which is clear in my applications. And it's all because I've had the better part of a year to think, plan, and execute.
So for all of us who are freaking out right now, remember: Not getting in (or taking an extra year to re-apply to schools you would prefer) is a blessing in disguise. If we aren't accepted this time around, our lives will most certainly NOT be over. That's especially true for those of you still in undergrad... I tell all of my undergrad friends not to go straight to grad school-- for the love of all that is good, take some time off! Grad school is long enough, and you don't have to be in a rush to get there. It's better to make such an important decision with slow and careful deliberation.
-> PM ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE! I'll keep posting here, but if you want to know things like my GPA, etc, let me know!
This might just be my last blog post here on The Grad Cafe, and it is an exciting turn of events. How I went from a 'decaf' lurker to a Master's Student is certainly a trek I will not soon forget. I still wake up some days just wondering how I got into such a great program when everyone just seemed to out-qualify me, but there are those days when I feel confident, happy and ready. I am ready.
I'm still not 100 percent positive with what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to get my Masters and I know I am happy with the program I am in. I still wish my Japanese was better, I still wish I had more work experience and I still wished I had more time to stay young - but, as I said, I think I'm ready. No matter what number my dice lands on, I'm happy with the way things have worked out right now.
Where I was
Undergraduate Institution: Temple University, Japan Campus
GPA: 3.85, one of 5 Magna Cum Laude
Major/Minor: Asian Studies/Political Science
Reflection:Considering the school is the first 6 stories of an Office Building in downtown Tokyo, I don't really regret going to TUJ. It wasn't the hardest school - and most of the students really aren't in it for the academics - but it did teach me a lot. Being in such an unique international set up - an American school in Japan with people from all around the world - really taught me a lot about the world, myself and academia. Maybe I wasn't pushed to my limits, but I really enjoyed the ride and I cannot deny the growth I feel as person with a Temple Japan degree.
Where I will be
Graduate Institution: University of British Columbia
Program: Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Policy Studies
Worries: I'm going to die - taking such a heavy course loud to finish school in a year. I'm going to be the dumbest one in the room. The program doesn't focus enough on Japan. Canadian credentials might get in the way down the road, maybe.
Hopes: I meet a plethora of new international friends and contacts to add to my already varied list. I get a stronger focus on policy studies. The beautiful campus inspires me to actually leave my room. I succeed.
Where I could have been
Graduate Institution: Seton Hall University
Program: Duel Masters in Asian Studies and Diplomacy & International Relations (Whitehead school)
Why I didn't go: Offered only a few TA-ships and no other substantial financial assistance. Huge China focus - limited Japan courses that I saw. Didn't make me feel special.
What I'll miss out on: Seton Hall has fantastic networking and a unique partnership with the UN that I wish I had access to. Despite being much smaller and younger than UBC, I'm pretty sure Seton Hall's networking and alumni set up is far superior. I would have been able to live at home, and NYC/DC were so close.
I have officially registered for all but one of my classes with UBC - and I'll be in that last one soon enough. UBC makes you register for the whole year, instead of semester by semester, and since I plan on graduating in one year (=Death) that means I'm all set. My classes are really varied but, ultimately, set me up to have a strong foundation in international development and the role policy plays in the growth of Asia Pacific countries. There's a focus on East Asian diplomacy and Japanese government structures which I'm going to love as well. One of the cooler things I've learned is that many of my professors will let me tailor the classes to fix my interest - they wont care if all my papers are on Japan/US relations or what not. As long as I do the research and mold in their coursework, I'm set.
I'm taking 4 courses a term/semester, which is scary considering everyone is telling me not to take more than 3. But even grad school has to obey the law of economics and I do not have the money for a fourth semester, so I have to finish up in one year. The only thing I don't know yet is where/what my Practicum will be, though I know it will take place over the summer. I'm hoping to do something in Japan - worth with an NGO or government agency but of course my Japanese will need improving.
Of course it seems like I will be missing yet another one of my graduations, which is extremely depressing. I missed TUJ's ceremony because I couldn't afford to fly to Japan for it (graduated a semester early) and now UBC's ceremony for me wouldn't be until November, with me having finished all requirements by September 2013. Oh well. T_T
I'm still trying to find a job - I applied to a bunch of RA'ships but I didn't get any so far. If I can make 200 a week than I should be able to pay for grad school on my own and return my loan to good old Uncle Sam - but taking so many classes AND working might just honestly kill me.
Since this might be my last post ever, I guess I should leave a small bit about what I have learned about applying. One of the things I will point out is to just APPLY to a program - even if you don't think you'll ever get in. I thought UBC and White Head were well beyond my abilities - and yet both got in. UBC even called me an extremely strong candidate (I'm sure they had me mixed up with someone else, though). If you have the money and don't mind bothering the people writing your LoR, please, please, just apply to the programs you are interested in. You never know what will happen.
Thank You Grad Cafe for scaring the hell out of me with your 'I save orphans and scored a perfect GRE test', its been mad fun : )
So less than a month until the big move. I'm both excited yet freaking out at times. This whole process is about to finally end and a new journey will start and hopefully it ends as well as this one.
Anyways, as many obstacles it seems like a person confronts with this whole process they must not forget the journey isn't over until you are really there. I say this because some of the things you don't think about when applying become harder once you have made a decision. Finding an apartment has been one of these particularly difficult things I have encountered. Unfortunately, this is somewhat my fault given I simply couldn't afford to make trips back and forth just to look at places. I was finally able to work with a real estate company that has rentals which helped dramatically. I would definitely recommend this to anyone especially if you are moving more than a few hours away. This was after the fact that I had found a place and basically was screwed over. Unfortunately, at many universities on-campus housing is unreliable and most grad students can save a lot money by finding a place off campus, I know from my experience I am saving roughly 200 dollars every month, which is a lot on a graduate student's budget. Overall, I am relieved that I will at least have a place to sleep when the move finally comes.
Secondly, I am all registered for the fall. A few things may change, but I will see when I actually get to my orientation and talk to a few professors. The big thing I have to confront with this is time conflicts with my required methods courses and a course I really was just looking forward to taking. I knew this may be a problem when I made my decision to choose a smaller program over a larger one though, so still I am excited to get started.
Thirdly, the thing I am most excited about is starting my assistantship. I think after having worked so hard to get to this point I feel like I can bring something to the table really, at least I hope. I am honestly just happy to be making some money even if the majority of it is going towards my living expenses as well.
I wanted to finish this blog for the time being by noting more of my background. I applied for PhD programs in poli. sci after a year off of school. I did okay on the GRE but not spectacular like most of the people on this forum. My undergraduate gpa was pretty good at around 3.8, which I definitely believe helped with my less than stellar GRE verbal score. My research focus covers a number of issues, including energy politics, ethnic issues, and more broadly security within Central and Eastern Europe. I do have some experience in the region which I thought helped narrow my research focus, but I don't particularly believe this set me apart from others.
Overall, if I had recommend anything to anyone about this whole process, it would be to only apply to programs you would actually attend. Lastly, you don't want to have any regrets about the whole process, applying for a given program is a lot less expensive than what you will be spending after you make a final decision.
OK, I lied. I actually start TA orientation on August 6.
What a long, strange journey this has been. First, the application season-that-wasn't. Then, the application season that ended in a fully-funded offer from a perfect-fit school. Followed almost immediately by the cancer diagnosis. Followed by the year of chemo and radiation. Followed (most thankfully) by remission.
And now, after a full decade of starts and stops, I'm finally doing this. I've given notice at the school I've been teaching at for the past decade. I'm registered for classes. I have my funding package. We're looking for a place to move into.
Somebody pinch me - surely this isn't my wildest dream, actually coming true at long last?
Now, the question is - shall I blog about my first year here? Do you want to read about that?
In 64 days, I'll be driving cross-country with my parents to Delaware. My dad offered generously to drive our truck, which will also be towing our car. I last did a move like this when I was a kid, so I was too naive to know that I should worry about things like accidents, the car breaking down, thieves breaking into the storage portion, running out of gas, how to park so you don't need to reverse, etc. Now, these are all things I'm terrified of, even though I definitely trust my dad. He's a great driver. It's just a little daunting.
We've slowly been packing up our apartment and getting rid of things. We're selling our multi-functional pool/dining/poker table and we bought a queen sofabed so that we can have our parents stay over with us when they come to visit. I've been reviewing my Italian and reading as much as I can (which is not much -- probably only a couple hours a day since I can't read at my work ). I have so much that I want to read before school starts but I don't know if I'll have time.
My husband's work has been incredibly kind to us. That's an understatement. He's allowed to keep his job and work remotely, as an independent contractor. The details are a little complicated, but basically it boils down to the fact that we'll have a steady stream of income that can support us. Taxes for independent contractors kind of suck, as we found out (if I understand it right, it's like 30% when you include the federal tax and the self employment tax), but as long as I can maintain my grades enough to keep getting funding/tuition/my stipend, then we'll be just fine. Our apartment is a little pricey but I honestly can't wait to live there and don't mind the rent because the environment is so perfect.
Both of our jobs have become crazy busy, of course... so that adds to the hectic feeling of our move.
I've thought of a few titles and topics for my thesis and have been tempted to email my adviser to tell him that I already know what I want to write on. Either of these things are things I've been thinking about for years and years, so I know I'll end up writing about one of them. I'm so excited about it. I also have classes picked out and we're planning to create a little work space for me in our new place. My husband gets an office, too, so he's so excited about that and I couldn't be more happy that he's excited about this new adventure.
Anyway! I hope you are all doing well I Haven't had any time at all to come on the forum so I have no idea what's happening with any of you any more It's awful. I really hope I'll have time to get back on the boards soon because I really enjoy the community here!
-- Update irregularly --
Obivously, I started playing this game called "The Waiting Game" after submitting all of my grad school applications few weeks ago. Like many others, I was hoping to get e-mails or phone calls regarding my applications - ideally for interviews/acceptances, of course. Unlike some of the users at the forum that check their e-mails extremely frequently, however, I check the admission results here once every hour or two.
- First Week of January -
The fact that my stats are not outstanding subconsciously makes me to believe that there is no way I will receive any e-mails or phone calls for interviews at this early stage. From my observation, people who received e-mails / phone calls for interview in mid-late December tend to be the most competitive applicants. Even though there are some exceptions based on the numbers presented on the result page, I think it is a reasonable assumption that I will not get any response until that day -- the day where most people receive their admission decision(s). It sucks to see someone who got an interview from a school that you applied and/or wanted to go, when this person has similar stats (or worse numbers) than yourself. Although I tried not to take things personal, I can't help but wondered "why haven't I receive that e-mail or phone call" - could it be my statements, my recommendation letters, or simply because I am not a citizen? Drilling into these dead-end questions can only make me more pessimistic; hence I tried not to hopelessly anticipating and desperately searching for some sort of positive responses. But sometime it's just difficult when you got a phone call with unfamiliar area code at 7 or 8 in the morning. You pick up the phone call that the person did not make a sound, and later you found out that the number is a toll-free number by searching it on Google. My body just responded to that phone call swiftly like a ninja -- I Can't Help It.
And I really try hard to achieve what I just said. But it is difficult. For instance, as of Jan 3, I realized that there are 3 applications that I submitted did not actually confirm my submission. A school that I applied sent me an e-mail back in early-December right after the submission. The e-mail said that the school will send me information and link(s) about my application status few days after my submission. The school, however, did not send me any e-mail since then. I sent e-mails to the graduate school and the program that I applied, and addressed my situation in mid-December, but I did not receive any response. Until Jan 3 morning, I check my list of grad schools application statuses (that I have it in .xls/.xlsx), this school has never confirmed/finalized my application since I paid the fees and submitted it online.
Given that this school did not respond to any of my e-mails that I sent using my personal e-mail address (with a popular e-mail domain), I used my private (school) e-mail address and sent them e-mails with the same info. About two hours later, I got a response from the program and the school claimed that some parts of my application are missing, possibly due to some technical problems at their ends. So, I confirmed the situation with the school and resend my materials to the program awhile later on the same day. It was unlucky that my application was "incomplete" at their ends, yet it was fortunate that this issue can be resolved just two days before the adcom review the last batch of the applications. Not if I resend this e-mail out of my anger, anxiety, and curiosity, I would not send them an e-mail at all. I won't be able to know that my application was incomplete and I would have flushed my almost-a-hundred USD to the toilet for nothing...
By the end of the week, I received 3 rejection letters before and during a short trip that I visited a neighboring country of the U.S. The trip was alright. It could have been better if I was into nightlife and if I was not paranoid because of the unpeaceful atmosphere of the city at night. As for the rejections, the results are predictable considered the following statistics:
School A: Number of Applicants = 700-800. Number of International Applicants who are accepted/enrolled = 7-8 (of a "umbrella" program, which consisted of no less than 5 departments/subprograms), provided by the school website.
School B: Number of International Applicants who are accepted for the program = 1, provided by the Dean through the "follow-up" of rejection e-mail.
School C: Number of International Applicants who are accepted/enrolled = 20-25 out of ~80 enrolled students per year, provided by the school website.
I should have paid extra attention on these stats prior submitting my applications... FML.
- Second Week of January -
The second quarter/semester began earlier this week. As a quasi-nontraditional applicant and student, I am not enrolling in this term. Main reason is to avoid any negative impacts on my academic performance due to traveling and interviews (if any). Although I am not academically active on my school system, I am sitting two courses just for fun - 1) electron microscopy and 2) structural analysis of materials using X-ray diffraction. Introduction of these two classes are pretty simple, which only requires basic physics (optics) and some basic symmetry/point group/space group theory from organic and/or inorganic chemistry. Because the basics of a technique are always the same, and therefore whether if one is into material science or molecular biology (E.g. X-ray crystallography for small inorganic/organic molecules vs. proteins), sitting-in these classes can only be beneficial. While I am enjoying my chill schedule for the coming weeks, I got another rejection letter. No surprise I guess. The schools that I applied to are the most competitive ones. Even when someone who has an almost-perfect scores was rejected by this school, I supposed anything bad can happen on my other applications (i.e. complete rejection streak), which is my worst possible scenario.
This week I also began sending out e-mails to various programs to confirm whether an update for the fall term grades is necessary. While schools such as Yale has an option for applicants to update their grades for the fall semester/quarter, many other schools did not explicitly indicate whether an update is necessary or not. Considered that I did decent in my last term (tiny increase in my overall and major GPA), I decided to send out e-mails to confirm whether an update is possible. I figured that there isn't much I can do to make my application more competitive, I would do anything possible to tip the balance in my favor.
Speaking of sending out e-mails, has anyone send out e-mails before the application season begins? Back in summer 2011, I sent out e-mails to potential PIs that I would like to work with, and I only got two or three responses out of 10 or even 20 e-mails. Maybe I didn't write a decent e-mail, but I have been told that some professors tend to have "scattered brains" where they may skim through an e-mail and forgot to reply after awhile (instead an instant removal.) Regardless, there are very few professors replied my e-mail that I didn't even bother to send out more e-mails after awhile. Just imagine when you received, for example, 3 e-mails out of 20 e-mails, and you are applying +20 schools. If you apply to a school that has at least 3 POI, then you'll need to send out at least 60 e-mails. What a tedious task!
And early this week I talked to a friend about funding and fellowships. It is not like I did not attempt to apply any fellowships, but in reality, there are very few fellowships for international students. From my research, I would say 80-90% of the fellowships that is available for science students are only for U.S. citizens, while more than 50% of the fellowships are for female only. I was extremely frustrated when I know that the one and only fellowship that I am eligible to apply (Fulbright) does not offer any fellowships for my home country... well technically they do, but they only offer fellowships for students (regardless of nationality instead of my original nationality) to go to graduate school in non-science programs at my home country. I then realized how ridiculously unsupportive my home country is - science stands almost no place in this small piece of land and the only thing that is important is money.
- Third Week of January -
See here: ()
- Fourth Week of January -
To make it short and brief, I got my second interview - from a school at an urban city. When I told my former student mentor and some non-biochemistry/biology majored friends about it, they were all happy for me because of the reputation of the school. I didn't know much about this school until I search it on wikipedia, and turned out that it seems pretty nice. The reason I applied to that school was because my former PI suggested that they have a good program in biophysics. Turned out that one of the paper that he co-authored with, the other author is the professor from this school (and he was a grad student from another school from the same city.) I look up the "package" information, and everything sounds pretty attractive to me. Even though the cost of living is high, the urban settings will be pretty cool considered that I was born and raised from the extremely similar setting, plus I am the kind of person that would work in the lab past midnight and walk home 2 or 3 in the morning if necessary. And therefore if the housing is close enough, then my lab-style (lifestyle in the lab) won't be affected by the fact that I have no intention to get a car or motorbike (even though getting a scooter seems to be a possibility). I got notification through e-mail in the morning after a lecture that I am sitting in. I was surprised that I got another interview! I instantly ran back to the classroom, and told the professor about it (and the professor is also my former PI). Later that day I got my tickets and everything. The feeling of getting interview is almost the same as being accepted, even though it is totally not the same. But again, considering myself a weak candidate, any interviews would light my hope. My jubilant feeling fades a little when I got a rejection letter the day after, but that's okay.
As for the classes, space group symmetry is slowly FML.
- First Week of February -
Going to have two interviews in 2 weeks, I started preparing myself for the interviews. While I printed out some of my POI's publications and read them briefly, I also prepared a list of questions that I would like to ask when opportunities come. These questions, mostly from tgc forum, were quite useful. However, when I asked my former PI to check out the list, he found some questions were not really appropriate to ask, at least in his perspective - an interviewer for my home department's grad program. The idea of printing out a list of questions isn't really a good idea in the first place, and he suggested that I should keep these questions in my head instead. Then he told me a tiny bit about one of my trips - Manhattan, NY.
I have been to Manhattan before, but it was the spring break 4 years ago (2008). Back then, I can still recall that New Yorkers in downtown/midtown Manhattan were wearing suits and huge coats (sometimes with fur) on the streets, when I was wearing an undershirt, a (long-sleeve) collar/shirt, a sweater from Berkeley / Cal, a short pants, and a pair of sneakers. But this time is slightly different - it is in the middle of Feburary. So my PI suggested that it may be really cold over there and I should considered wearing underlayers. Opinions from tgc suggested that they probably wouldn't do that unless it is sub 0 degree celcius, and also because I will probably spend most of the time indoor, and therefore I may find myself uncomfortable by wearing underlayers in a warm indoor atmosphere.
On the other hand, because both of my trips are in the East, and therefore I am trying to adjust my circadian rhythm this week. It is pretty abnormal for me to try to go to bed at 9 or 10 pm and wake up at 4 or 4:30 am - for I am a night person. That also means that I will have to get my dinner at around 4:30 pm, when I usually (back in my home country) eats my dinner at 9/10 pm, or 6/7 pm (when I came back to the West).
I am very excited for my return to NYC. I was very impressed by the urban atmosphere (ps. I was born and raised from an urban atmosphere just like NYC), I guess it was because after all these years, I finally went to Time Square on Broadway and 7th (I think), at the middle between the two giant Coca-Cola TV displays, and surrounded by many of these familiar places that I learned from commercials, films, tv drams, shows, morning talk shows, new years eve countdown a.k.a. MTV, and so forth. I once thought that it was because of the tall buildings and everything that impressed me, after I went to the West for college for a year or two. Turned out that it was not true when I returned to my home country. Hopefully, this time around, I will still be impressed by the atmosphere over there! I definitely can't wait to eat those street food over there, which I missed it last time. Hopefully a 5 hours quick tour in the city allows me to do everything that I missed from my last trip!
- Second Week of February -
Rejections that I received this week doesn't mean anything to me right now - 'cause this week is LIN-sanity! My trip to east coast also carried me away. Like I always believe - things happen for reason(s). If the school is going to reject me, then clearly I am not a good fit for the program in their perspective (and it really doesn't matter what I think).
Leaving for my flights in 13 hours and I have not completed my luggage packing. However, my head is just looping the chorus of Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys. Next update will be a new entry just for my visiting week. So long until then.
- Third Week of February -
- Forth Week of February -
Nothing fancy going on here besides following NBA All-Star game. I guess it is reasonable to assume that schools that I have not hear from will send me a rejection letter next month. Most of the bio-science programs tend to send out invitation for interview / acceptance letter on or before early February. Therefore, I already expect the rejection roll on its way in a week or two. While I vented my story from last week to a couple people and I got over it, I still find it absurd for their given (rejection) reason. My situation at this moment is kinda bad because I do not know if school(s) that I have visited will accept me. Therefore, I kind of expecting for the worst, or executing my plan B in a few months. A couple professors find it "unbelievable" that I received so few interviews based on my profile and essays. Well, I almost always blame it on my international applicant status. Surely you may say that there are tons of international applicants who did well in GRE and school, but I would argue that I just happened to be suck at exams, especially standardized ones. It is also funny that different schools have a different understanding with Chinese (international) applicants. While some professors know about some of the shady stories from the academic in China (e.g. a PhD thesis was reused 31/32 times for 32/33 doctorates became a news and documentary. Everything in the thesis was the same with the exception of the author list. PI were not punished), most of the school did not realize the situation at all. As a result, these people have an upper-hand than people like myself. Now I am definitely not saying everyone goes into this category, but I find it sucks to compete with these people.
If you are interested in reading academic integrity scandals (not sure if this is the right word) in China, here is a blog:
Let's s wait for March 1 and March 15. Two big days regarding my application process.
- First Week of March -
Back to the waiting game is not fun. I e-mailed a couple schools but I have not hear anything back yet. General perspective is that rejection letters are on their ways to my inbox. So I am prepared to execute my plan B, which is reapplying in Fall 2012. More importantly, I'll have to 1) get a job back in my home country, and 2) retake GRE so that I get a combined +1300 in the old format. One of the classes that I'm auditing changed the lecture room and therefore I no longer sit-in in that class. What a shame. Sent a few e-mails to professors from schools that I have not hear from, but I haven't get any response yet. I also contacted to schools that supposedly reimburse or my visit expenditure. Now I'll just continue my waiting game and chill at home.
- Second Week of March -
First acceptance received 6 in the morning through e-mail. Not as excited as others that I've read on the forum. Interesting.... (will update the rest of the week later.)
And then I got a couple rejections in this week to eliminate other potential options that I might have. While I am waitlisted by two schools, chances of me going to my first acceptance school is extremely high. This is a short recap of my current application status:
Applied - 25
Interviewed - 2
Rejected - 18 (Including 1 post-interview)
Accepted - 1
Waitlisted - 2
Waiting for official response/decision - 6 (2 waitlisting, 2 expecting rejection, 2 unknown)
It appears to me that rolling admission, for most of the time, does not apply to international students. It appears that I did not receive rejections from these rolling-basis schools until March, when I submitted my applications back in mid/late November, with the deadline on or before Jan 1. That being said, I would suggest any future international applicants to optimize their applications (e.g. improve your SOP/PS) and submit it just a day or two before the deadline, instead of weeks before the deadline. After all, admission of international applicants almost always limited by funding sources and therefore it doesn't mean much if you apply early or not - issues with funding always resolve for domestic students first.
- Third Week of March -
It is the last week of the quarter here and I am just chillin like the past couple weeks. Got three more rejections this week so I can potentially choose between a school that has made me an offer, a school that I am waitlisted, and a school that I have no idea what the current status is, besides "decision pending". There is nothing much to talk about besides March Madness is going on, got a new bike for daily commute, applied to be an undergrad TA for next quarter (but the coordinator is a hater). Other than that, I am packing for my a-bit-early-Spring Break out of country. I hope I'll have a chillaxing time with my old friend.
- Forth Week of March -
Been chillin at the other country for about a week. Before my trip, I got a rejection from "a school that I have no idea what the current status is". And by the end of the trip I got an e-mail saying that a school that rejected me awhile ago placed me on their wait list, but due to the unexpected high acceptance of initial offer leads to the ultimate rejection of my application. I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone, but given that the school claimed that they will only take 1 international student, to me, it does not make me feel any better. This e-mail (as if an explanation why I am rejected) is completely useless and it goes straight to the trash bin.
- Fifth Week of March -
It is spring break over here and I have been back in town for a few days since. This is gonnabe my final semester at school and I am very happy about it. Mostly because I am finally done with undergraduate studies and ready to move on things and works that are more interesting. Looking back for the past couple years, I have been through a lot of deferment on my studies all due to personal/family financial issues. While I know that there are many people out there who are non-traditional applicants, I consider myself a quasi-traditional student. Although I completed my freshman and sophomore coursework half a year sooner, I took a year off after my junior year and work in a lab full time (without pay), before I went overseas for another year to take a few classes towards my degree. My mentor, who was a year ahead of me in college, is now a 3rd year PhD student; a friend of mine, who just became a junior when first I met him, is now completing his first year for his PhD at another school. I'm glad that I'm leaving soon after all, for I know I should be a 2nd year in grad school; for I am sick of living in this apartment with a girl who has no personal hygiene; for I can start paying off my debt with my stipend in grad school; for I can finally make some green after 3 years (employment for international students are difficult and complicated).
Now I'll go back to the book and read a chapter or two to prepare for a class that starts tomorrow. First and last time to TA at this school, hopefully it will be amazing and fun.
- First Week of April -
Things went well the first week of class. Has been pretty chill so far--just taking a lab, a seminar, and sitting a lecture from a class that I'm TA'ing. Got 2 more rejections this week and that really ends my application journey. I guess I can write a wrap-up here.
Applied: 25 schools, 26 programs
Wait list: CU Boulder, UVA, Cornell
Interview: FSU, MSSM
Well I guess this entry ends here! If any of you have any questions, feel free to PM me. Ciao!
So at this point, I am looking at three rejections, and still two unknowns. Out of those two unknowns, I am thinking that one is a definite rejection, and the other one I think is not looking that great either. Not necessarily impossible, in my cynical mind, but unlikely, mainly do to the fact that they take so few people.
But at this point it looks like I have a good start for my plan B, which I have been thinking a lot about this season. Considering what I want to do in the future, with a PhD, I am hoping that it really does work. It is also with the museum that I am hoping to work with while getting my PhD in the future. I applied to two programs that have affiliations with the museum I am hoping to be working at soon. I am hoping that it is a start for me improving my application the next time I apply in the next year or two, if the last two schools don't work out. One of the schools that work with this program is still unknown to me at this point.
This whole situation is depressing.
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.
So it was recently my mother's birthday. Like a good little offspring, I sent her a card and called her. My younger sibling, rebrobate that he is, forgot (or chose not to?), despite reminders from me and our dad. Alas. Now he's gone incommunicado and the current parental theory is that he's avoiding contact because he'd have to awkwardly address the belated birthday thing.
I of course, assured them that this probably wasn't the case and that his phone or something probably died. Then, I logged into my email and considered whether or not it was too late to email my POI. Which sort of made me realize its the same situation. So much for being the good sibling.
That probably doesn't make any sense, so I'll explain what I'm getting my knickers all in a twist about: A week and a half ago, I got website notification that I got into my dream school. Yay! But it was just online, no email or anything from the DGS or my POI. For the first couple days, I was still in shock-mode, and unwillling to email anyone at the school in fear (terror) that they'd rescind their offer. Now, I realize that its probably unlikely (though stilll odd that I haven't heard from them otherwise, right?) So I should email my POI right? Generally, I figure that she's an awfully busy person, and that if she wanted to talk to me, she'd have done it. And last week, I rationalized that she was certainly busy with CAAs (big art historian conference). This week, I'm running out of rationalizations, and full of legitimate questions about the school/program/city/etc. But...now it is all awkwardly belated. I'm like my younger brother avoiding calling my mom- and its only getting worse as I wait (is it?) So I've worked myself up into even more confusion. Do I email her? Do I wait until I hear something else from the school, until I officially accept, until I hear back from other schools? What do I say to her? It is a small program, what if someone noticed I was being awkwardly quite and just decided to pipe up two weeks after the fact. Le sigh. Proof I can make myself nervous about anything.