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78 pointsThis 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.
52 pointsI 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.
20 pointsI've been meaning to write this post (and another that is hopefully coming soon) for a while but life happens. I was able to go visit my future grad program a few weeks ago and I plan to write about that next but for now, I want to talk about something I think will be a little more universal - the mental side of the grad school process, as far as I've experienced anyway. For me, and I'm sure many others, grad school was always just a far off thing I knew I'd do eventually but didn't put an incredible amount of thought into until I was about halfway done with college (about a year in for me). Then, the time came to decide what program and school I wanted to apply to and it got exciting. I'm a higher education nerd with a bit of wanderlust so it was exciting to me to be able to check out all of these schools around the country, even if it was just through their websites. Next, it was time to apply and the pressure was on. Did I really have what it would take to get in? Did I develop the right relationships for strong letters of recommendation? Is this even the right time for me to go to grad school? It's been 4 months, will you finally just sit down and write the essay?! So after months of procrastination, I finally admitted my application. I just turned in one so that was it, no more stress, now it was just a waiting game. But then, the Internet threw a wrench in my plan to peacefully await a decision. I started looking for stats of admitted students to the program. Did I make the right decision to apply to only one. Did I put too much stock in program location. And a bunch of other things it was too late to second guess considering it was already late January and the deadline for most programs had passed. Then I made a decision that probably wasn't the best for me mentally - I joined gradcafe. I never see it mentioned here on the site but being on here, talking to (and comparing myself to) people I'm essentially competing against was nerve-wracking. That guy has way more experience than me. He conveys his passion over writing better than I do. And even when it wasn't people in my field..you applied to 3 schools? 5 schools? 14 schools?! Man, those odds were way better than what I gave myself when I only applied to one. My stress levels skyrocketed but I was still in the same exact position of not being able to do anything but sit around and wait for a decision. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was only actually a couple of weeks, a decision came through. I got in! I was accepted to the program of my dreams and I was thrilled. But that feeling of pure elation barely had time to settle before I started doing more stress-provoking Google searches. Now I was comparing other programs to my own. That one offers more funding? That one pays for travel to interviews? That one offers more assistantships? All things I could do nothing to change. A few weeks later, I was able to visit my new school and meet other newly accepted students. Many of my fears were soothed. I wasn't the only one worrying about those things. I couldn't have been happier with the campus, program, and professors once I was introduced to everything in person. I didn't feel imposter syndrome even when talking with all these other great people were also admitted and the current students who seemed to be on a completely different level. After that weekend, I left completely happy with the results of my progress and have barely been on gradcafe stressing, doubting, worrying since. Now this isn't to say that I think gradcafe is bad. It's great to connect with others that are in the same situation as you, have the same interests as you, and understand the struggle of putting yourself through this rigorous process. But your own mental wellness should also be taken into account. There's always going to be someone who's application is a little stronger in some area. Maybe their GPA is one point higher or they went to a brand name school in the field or they have more research experience. But you have to trust YOUR process (not the process) and realize you have just as much right to be in the admissions pool as the next guy. The grad school process is all about selling yourself, trying to get a school to realize you're a good stock to invest in. So at the end of the day, you and the work you've done up to now are all you have to rely on so don't lose faith! You're great. Now you just have to get an adcom to realize that