I've never been one to sit back and wait. It's frustrating and feels distant. I'm nosy by nature, and I figure that my future university should know me as well as possible anyway. I think the universe is tired of me nosing around, because things just started moving really quickly.
I've seriously applied to three schools, grudgingly to one, and have more casually submitted partial applications to others. Let's talk about me as an applicant in general, first.
I'm female, 21 years old. I'm Hispanic and from a military family. I have a "learning disability" that seriously impacts my life.
I have a good employment history with occasional promotions, and have worked at a large bank for the past two years.
I've been named to the Dean's List 6/7 semesters, but my first semester of freshman year (the time I was not named to the Dean's List) was also when I was going through the testing and diagnosis process for my aforementioned disability. I currently have a 3.6 cumulative GPA and 3.8 Psychology GPA.
I studied using Kaplan's 2015 GRE prep book and took the GRE this past November. I received final scores of V: 162/ Q: 152/ A: 4.5. I found the book and accompanying materials helpful, and used the Kaplan GRE Vocab app on my phone to go through flashcards frequently.
My minor is Communication Studies, but I've also taken courses on Criminal Justice, Business, and am a student researcher in a Neuroscience Lab on campus. I was in a community musical theatre company from ages 5-18. I talk way too much. I'm from a rural area in Michigan, and have gone to my hometown University. I have no family history of graduate education, and am a second-generation American.
Great, moving on. Next, schools.
First, there's Western Michigan University. Though it's in MI and I'm in MI, it's farther away than my other schools. WMU does have in-state tuition, which I obviously qualify for.
I've applied to their IOBM Masters program, but they also offer a PhD. According to SIOP, they accept an average of 7 students into the IOBM MA each year.
On 1/11, Western called to offer me an interview for their program, and the weekend event is Feb 4-7. I will be hosted by a current grad student, but because I'm a wimpy scared baby my parents will be driving there with me and staying in a hotel nearby during the interview weekend. I mean, they offered, I'm not about to say no to anyone offering to keep me company on a long road trip!
My academic advisor knows one of the professors in I/O at WMU, and thinks I'd be a great match for her.
Western seems to have a great program, and I've heard only good things from the few current students I know. I'd be able to get a nice apartment for a very reasonable rate, and staying in the state is nice for insurance and blah blah blah. However, the city of Kzoo is less than perfect for I/O, and my current employer does not have a presence in lower Michigan so I would not be able to remain with the company, no matter what.
Oh, and as I was writing this I received the detailed schedule of interview weekend. It seems that IOBM, BATS, and BA will all be present. Also, my grad student host just emailed me, and she's under the impression that she has to pick me up from the airport. Like I said, I'll be driving. Whoops! Someone gave her some bad intel, friends.
Next on my mind today is Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. I've applied to their I/O M.A. program, and am currently working on getting my LoR gathered for the separate application for graduate assistantship and scholarships. RU does have a PhD as well.
My employer has solid presence in the Chicago area, and I would very likely be able to transfer to a convenient location and continue my part time employment while attending RU-- especially because RU holds classes in the evenings. My advisor is "old friends" with one of the IOBM professors at RU, and I'm emailing him back and forth to arrange a time when we can skype or chat on the phone. That'll be sometime next week.
Now, a little update. I logged on to my applicant account for RU, and today there was a new document required: official college transcript with degree. Since I haven't graduated, that's difficult to provide and the application for assistantship is due Feb 1st. So, I called their admissions office. More confusion. I spoke to a woman who was very confused about my undergraduate transcripts, and after some investigation she realized that my records were weird because my application is already pending a decision. WHAT. Like, excuse me, hold on, no. What?
So I expressed my shock to her, but she assured me that I should proceed with the assistantship app as I am. I asked some questions about sending in my LoR, all good. It'll save me some postage the way I'm doing it anyway.
I have to mention: I have a feeling about RU. For some reason I am drawn to their program, and feel like it would be a great fit for me. My limited exposure to Chicago has been wonderful, and weather isn't a concern of mine. It would be a huge change, but I'm not afraid of that.
The third serious application I've sent is to Elmhurst College, just outside Chicago. Their I/O Masters is highly rated by SIOP and within my preferred application area.
Elmhurst doesn't seem to have an application fee, but they also seem to have extremely limited funding opportunity and no graduate housing resources. Their application process has been the most strange so far. I've been told I sent my GRE scores to the wrong office and that I'd have to pay to resend them only to have the scores found in the correct location later. I've gotten rather curt emails from their admissions office, and later was contacted by the assistant directer of admissions who asked me to send further correspondence directly to him. Checking my email just now, I found a new message asking me to activate my Elmhurst Technology Account that I've just been issued. What in the world does this mean? Why do I need this? Have I been quietly accepted, and the emails were sent in the wrong order?
Besides, I haven't even sent my LoR to them yet.
Let's recap this, because my head is spinning and a lot has happened today.
1. Interview at Western. My host for WMU interview weekend thinks she needs to pick me up at the airport, even though I've indicated that I'm driving.
2. Roosevelt already has me listed as "pending" a decision to accept or reject me, and the application for assistantship/scholarship is due Feb 1st.
3. Elmhurst issued me a Technology Account that leads to a "campus portal" and the email said that they hope I "will be an active member of the Elmhurst College community," but I haven't even sent them my LoR yet and haven't been officially accepted or rejected. Confusing.
Today has been REALLY weird. I think there's Netflix and wine in my near future.
So, here's the thing.
I didn't grow up as a special snowflake. I grew up knowing that I'd better work my butt off to get what I want, because there's always going to be someone on my heels hoping they can beat me. That's not a bad thing, because that other person is just trying to get what they want, too. Everyone is.
I'm currently a senior, and I'll be graduating at the end of April. I'll graduate with honors, and my family is very proud because I'm the first, ever, in my entire family to finish an undergraduate degree "on time," or in four years. I have family in two countries and (after a recount) at least six states who will be at my ceremony in April. I need to start stockpiling kleenex. Not surprising at this point, but no one in my family has ever considered grad school. It's just... not part of the world they know. My Abuelita and Abuelito have less than a full high school education between them, and the other side of the family has very limited college education. This is more foreign than the moon, to my family.
I'm sure I'm not rare in this-- my family is so proud, right? But they can't relate, and a lot of the time they seem to think that getting into grad school is just like undergrad. Same thing at work. "Didn't I already write you a letter of recommendation? Why do you need ANOTHER one?? Can't you just go to that school I already wrote to?"
I've never lived on campus, and I never really got into my university's culture, so I feel limited there as well.
The thing is that I don't totally know what I'm doing at any point, but I'm trying to keep the ball rolling. I have very limited human resources to draw from, and I'm never quite sure where I stand. I'm the only student at my university who is going into I/O. This blog is about me figuring this out, for now. I mean, I'm still figuring this site out, actually. In future entries I'll discuss my GRE and prep for it, where I've sent applications, and any updates I have. I encourage readers to comment their similar experiences, ideas, or notes.
Curtain for now.
When I applied for undergrad, I only applied to two or three schools. I didn't think there was anything wrong with that, I had to go in state, to a public school, and I didn't want to go to a huge (more than 10,000) school so that left very few options. I picked one, and although I came close to transferring, I graduated two and a half years later, relatively happy with my decision.
Fast forward to deciding where to apply for grad school. About a year before I was set to graduate with my BA, I'd decided what I wanted to go to grad school for (student affairs) and started looking for programs. At first, I had two key factors in mind - I wanted a school in an urban environment, with an ultimate frisbee club team (bonus points if the city had a professional ultimate team). This narrowed it down to one or two schools so I started intensely researching them. Reading everything I could about the programs online, searching for youtube videos, seeing how their alumni were now doing professionally, reading into the faculty of the school, and trying to learn about the social climate of the university and the city it was in. This lead to me falling in love with a school, so that's where I applied. That's right, I only applied to one school.
I figured this was the place I wanted to be, so why apply to spend years of my life at a program my heart wasn't set on. After being on gradcafe for a few weeks and interacting with a few students interested in student affairs, I realized this was not the norm at all. I saw people applying to 4, 5, up to 14 or so schools. This shocked me. I panicked. Starting looking into these programs the other students were applying to, considering scrambling to get a few more applications in before deadlines. But while I was doing this search, I didn't find another program that had me grinning at my computer screen as I envisioned myself there. I didn't find myself being annoyed that there wasn't more information about the program online. I didn't find myself craving to go to any other school.
So despite breaking the status quo and putting all my eggs in one basket, I'm (mostly) confident in my decision. I only applied to one school and that's okay. Some people may think this is foolish and maybe I'll agree if I get rejected from what I think is the school for me. But that's a bridge I'll cross if I get there.
Anyone has experience with or feelings about applying to just one school? I'd love to talk to you about it.
I've been lucky enough to get the opportunity to share my recent and hopefully future experiences with you guys through the form of some (probably) incoherent spiels. I'm hoping I'll be able to help people out, or maybe just provide some entertainment while you're waiting for those elusive decisions from prospective schools.
Let's jump right into it. I'm 20, just graduated from a small, relatively unknown public state school in the South with a BA in psychology. I'm hoping to pursue a Masters in Student Affairs. Essentially, I'd like to get paid to hang out with kids all day and maybe give them some advice that'll send them in the right direction. I could elaborate more on that but that's the bare bones. Feel free to ask me more about how I came upon that decision or anything else - I'm pretty much an open book!
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?
And 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.
Ph.D. applications are strange. We all have this burning desire to show ourselves to be the kind of scholar that adcomms know will succeed in a given program but we have to do so by jumping through highly archaic or irrelevant hoops. This, of course, is not news, and we've all heard the arguments ad nauseam, so I won't rehash the talking points.
What I will say is this: all I really want is to get into a program that will support me so that I can prove myself. I know I have it, I just want the chance to show it. To me, this is really the last big hurdle that I face before I can really buckle down and kick some ass. I want that acceptance letter in my hand to ward off that Sword of Damocles over my head reminding me that I have this ETS hoop to jump through or that ApplyWeb app to fill out just around the corner. (My MA was stressful for that reason: I barely had time to stop and think because the second I walked into that school, I knew I was preparing for my Ph.D. app and all its concomitant nonsense.) I want to know I have the next five years ahead of me set in stone and guaranteed so that I can concentrate on the really important stuff: my research.
So, I'm praying that I don't get shut out this season. I know I have something to offer and I can't wait to prove it.
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.
I think we all have that moment after submitting our applications where we notice something that feels catastrophic about our materials. After pressing that submit button, it's too late to go back and change things...but that doesn't make the freak out any less stressful.
For example, I just realized that one of the KEY TERMS (if I was writing a title for my SOP, this word would be in there) could have been grammatically incorrect. I was using it as a noun, but it's only supposed to be an adjective! I started frantically Googling the words and their usage. Had I sunk my chances with one dumb and HUGE mistake? How had my readers (of which there were many) not pointed this problem out?! How did I not know?!??!
After a good 15 minutes, I turned to my works cited, and there it was -- these authors were using the word in the same way I was. A bit more Googling and it seems that despite an 'official' (ie. dictionary) distinction between the noun/adjective forms, that the words are used interchangeably. In the U.S., my usage is especially common.
CRISIS AVERTED! Or...crisis imagined?
How about you? Any freak outs so far? I want to hear about your freak outs, real or imagined. Did you find a typo? Did you spell a POI's name wrong? Did you submit an SOP with the name of a different program?
I am on my billionth revision of my SOP, as I'm sure most of us are. I had it looked over by some of my colleagues and also my graduate director, who had some good and bad things to say about it. In the end, she said it seemed polished enough in her eyes to be submitted, so I felt somewhat relieved.
The other day one of my other old-school profs (a Yaley who did all three of her degrees there), took a look at my SOP and said it needs almost a complete re-write and that I come off as uneven in tone and too "student-y."
I appreciate direct feedback like this but, to be honest, it was pretty crushing. I feel so torn about my SOP now. Do I keep what my younger, more contemporarily-informed graduate director says or do I take the old-school prof's revision feedback or a combination of both? I have no idea.
Most of my SOP has been built on conversations with POI at the school to which I am submitting it, so I feel like it was rather well-informed.
I don't know. I just feel like my tower tumbled.
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.
There is less than a month until my first applications are due and I am suddenly feeling the anxiety and exhilaration that comes with taking such a giant risk. Sometimes I feel fantastic, like I'm going to get into every single program on my list (of 10, if you are wondering how things are going) and sometimes I feel defeated, like I'm wasting my time yet again.
I have completed what I hope is my final draft of my statement of purpose, and cut down my thesis to a sample of about 25 pages. My letter writers are locked in, my transcripts and GRE scores have been sent, and I'm updating my CV.
I have had 2 in-person meetings with POIs, and one phone call. To be honest, the in-person meetings didn't go all that well -- and not because they didn't like me, or I didn't like them. The value in meeting a POI seems to be that they can tell me things that they couldn't otherwise. In both cases, I was told about either funding or personnel problems, and the news shifted my plans for each program significantly. Another POI told me over email about a crucial problem on the department side of things, so I know that school is now unlikely to admit me because my POI is on indefinite leave, etc, etc. I'm just saying this to underline how valuable getting in touch with POIs has been -- I've reached out to almost 30 professors, and it has been so crucial in keeping my confidence levels up and getting a feel for what faculty committees are looking for.
Feeling better about this cycle doesn't keep my from occasionally getting hit with a burst of adrenaline. It's a shock to the system. It's standing on the edge of a huge chasm and my dream is right on the other side. I can see it, but can I get there? Can I grasp it?
Only time will tell.
How are your applications going? Have you had any worthwhile or interesting talks with POIs? Are you ready to turn your applications in or are you ready to throw them out the window?
After putting it off for months, I'm finally getting back into the process of applying for the PhD. Last year went so poorly that I almost feel sick when I think about going through it all again, but I know I can't enter a program without at the very least applying. I think many of us who are second (or even third) time applicants might know these feelings well: fear, shame, self-defeat.
On top of it all, I'm way overloaded with work: full-time university research position, teaching a class and editing on the side has left me with no time at all to work on things or even volunteer with the community I want to study. Not exactly how I had planned things to go, but I suppose it could be worse--research and teaching are both good signs of my engagement as a scholar.
Are you trying again this year? How is it going for you?
I feel as if I could end up in one of two positions: my fear and regret over a bad first cycle causes me to screw up this year (self-sabotage!) or I move past what was an admittedly very traumatic experience and just get my head in the game.
One of my professors who got his doctorate at Columbia, when I very hesitantly mentioned I wanted to apply there as a hail mary, casually said "Oh yeah, I can email Prof. amazing-rockstar-who-is-one-of-the-pre-eminent-professors-in-the-world for you."
I know not to count one's chickens before they hatch and I also know that simply having a prof email on your behalf doesn't guarantee anything... nevertheless:
Should I be dying and/or freaking out right now or what? Because I really want to.
I haven't blogged for bunch here, but I thought I would just make a list of advice I thought of as I've been in graduate school a while and am starting at a new school. This advice isn't necessarily unique, but hopefully it will help people anyway.
It doesn't make sense to apply to a few top graduate schools, it makes much more sense to apply to many top graduate schools. This rational should make sense; if your ultimate goal is to go to a top program, apply to all of the top programs for your best chance. Too many times I see people who target midteir schools and throw in their random MIT/Harvard ect. You might get lucky, but chances are if you are only applying to 1 or 2 top 20 schools, you wont get into a top 20 school. Another way to phrase this is apply to the schools you most want to go to.
If there is severe weakness on your application, such as bad GPA or GRE, you should be embarrassed about it and act like it. Being embarrassed about it gives off the idea that you are used to being excellent at everything, and this is just a setback that you wish you didn't have. The wrong attitude is "Grades don't matter" or "I just don't test well". Perhaps this is true, but you are trying to sell your self to graduate schools.
Be honest about how general your research interests are, being super specific does more damage good for the most part! A PhD is a research degree designed to teach you how to solve open problems. The things that matter most are department and advisor, but the research project can be enjoyable as long as it fits in some general research interest. I'm not telling you to research Russian Lit if you are only interested in American Lit, but perhaps the period of American Lit you study can be more flexible. In graduate school you are exposed to tons of new ideas, the development of your research should be affected by them. Apply to work with strong advisors in strong departments and worry about the last 10-20% of research fit later, you will probably find that it doesn't matter anyway!
During interviews and visiting weekends, be yourself. Because the serious "I need to get into graduate school" version of yourself is probably a lot less likable than your normal self. And people want to accept people they like. Think of it like a first date.
Write early and often, because eventually you will hate your thesis/dissertation. Everyone I have talked to (including myself, yes, I talk to myself) goes through a period where they hate their research. This period usually comes when you are in the final stages of writing your thesis/dissertation. For me, it came after I finished my MSc Thesis but needed to do revisions after the defense. My committee handing it back to me with corrections and annotations made me want to throw up. I think this stemmed from the fact that I wrote ~50% of it in a 4 week period, when most of it could have been finished a lot earlier!
Help other graduate students who are struggling in the classes of your specialty. If you are taking a class with your advisor or in your subfield, and people are taking that class for breadth requirement, help them when they need it! This will make it much more likely that they will help you when you are fulfilling your breadth requirement in their subfield !
Make friends outside your department. Because department politics get old.
Be 100% honest with your advisor. It makes it much harder for them to give you good advice if you aren't honest. If they say, hey can you write that program for me and have it to me by Friday, but you are swamped, its ok to say "well I have a lot to do this week, perhaps I can get it to you on monday or tuesday next week ?"
Don't be afraid of Bs. If you are getting all Bs, there is probably a problem. If you are getting all As, there is probably a problem.
Don't skip happy hour because you have a lot of work. This is pretty self explanatory. You can always go for an hour then head back to the lab. Just stick to your limits, but always try to do something social every day, even if it is just chatting over a single beer for 30 minutes to an hour with someone.
Learn how to fail gracefully. Because most of the time you will fail, until you graduate, when you succeed. Learning from these failures is the most important thing when trying to get through a graduate degree.
Anyway... thats all I can think of.
Well, we're a bit into May and it seems like things have certainly settled down.
I'm finally sure of how I'll be spending the next year (I signed a contract!): I accepted a 1-year research fellowship, with benefits, at my current university. Despite a generous fellowship offer, I turned down an offer of admission to a 1-year bioethics MA. I'm very happy with my decision to work as a researcher in the social sciences and even happier to know this position will give me more free time to work on perfecting my 2nd round of PhD applications. I turned in my MA thesis and graduation is just around the corner.
In addition, I hope to volunteer either at a hospital or non-profit that serves the population I hope to study while pursuing my doctorate. When I apply again, this will show I've already started making crucial connections and relationships with potential informants.
I am over the sting of rejection. Since getting all my letters, I published my first peer-reviewed paper and have a peer-reviewed book review in-press. I am being proactive. My next step will be to cut my thesis down to journal article length and work on that as a potential publication.
I probably won't check in for a while, but I will when applications are my priority again.
Have a great summer!
I haven't quite sorted out in my mind yet if I am simply feeling the effects of misplaced hubris or if I'm getting regular graduate student blues, but here goes:
Every year there are departmental writing awards. I submitted an essay that my professor really liked, gave an A+ and said it was the best in the class. I felt quite confident I could net at least second place (we have a tiny department).
Fast forward to today: an office admin told me to come by the department because there was leftover food from an event. I went by and saw the leftover programmes touting the writing award winners. I saw someone who has been in the program for many years (maybe four years even though the program is only two) had won first place. Okay, that's fine. But second place they chose not to award at all.
I know for a fact that my colleague in my year submitted a strong essay as well. How in the world could neither of us have won second place? And instead of awarding it to either of us, they thought no one else was worthy? Not only that, but they didn't even bother to send out the award recipients in an email (to me or my colleague). It feels like I was kept in the dark or shut out somehow.
I feel deflated and out of touch with reality all of a sudden. Am I just being puffed up by this one professor and I'm actually a really, really rancid writer?
It's going to take me a while to recover from this I think. What a blow.
I'm not sure what's got hold of me lately. I feel my PhD has been a waste.
I'm close to the end of my fourth year. By September, it will be my fifth year in the program. When I started in the lab, I was assigned four different projects, all were outside of the lab's expertise (and of course I wouldn't have expertise either). I didn't really think much of them besides seeing them as brand new challenges, new opportunities to learn and explore. As time goes on, things were tough, and inevitably some projects came to dead ends. The surviving projects are one high-throughput screening I single-handedly optimized and ran with the help of core facility staffs, and one other interesting in-vivo project looking at novel substrates of the protein we study.
I spent so much time building the technology platform for these projects, and 2 years gone by in a blink. This process really leaves me feeling like a technician rather than a PhD student. Seriously, maybe I'm just not smart or efficient, but I really don't have the mental power to take on intellectual challenges after constant protocol optimization/troubleshooting. Testing compounds from our chemists seems to be my major role in the lab now, along with reading literatures trying to come up with a potential direction to proceed with the in-vivo project. It's a lot of thinking. A lot. My advisor doesn't seem to understand; as someone who just sits in the office and read papers, she seems to have forgotten how it was like to be at the bench. I really see no point in communicating this to her, nor she has the experience in these techniques. My name would be added to the paper whenever any of the compounds I help tested gets published; so far I have 2-3 middle author publications (do these count as anything?).
I don't want to totally discredit the training I received here. It's good to have the ability to troubleshoot or build something from scratch. During the problem solving phase, I acquired a lot of knowledge from all kinds of lab techniques I could lay my hands on, critically think about how they could help my projects, and quickly learn them. But still, sometimes I wish I joined a better established lab. Instead of devoting copious amount of time laying foundations for the lab, I wish that the time I spent would be more beneficial in moving my own projects further. It's hard being someone's only-second grad student. Want to pack up and go home.
and it accepts ALL my fur babies!
It's within walking distance to campus, comes furnished, and includes parking.
I went to Boston last week for my school's open house and to check out potential housing. I only saw a couple of places, and I'm glad that one of the places ended up working out. I signed the lease and submitted the security deposit/last month's rent, so everything is looking good. That's one less thing to worry about. =)
Also, Boston is amazing. I love it. I am in love with my program, my cohort, and just everything. I'm seriously so excited.
It's the season to come down with a cold. Meh, pay back time from my body...
Things in the lab are as sluggish as ever. I wonder when is anything going to pick up the pace? I have yet to become efficient, surprises this place throw at me constantly put me outside of my comfort zone. It's annoying to often slow down and figure things out.
My boss suddenly said to me the other day that she cannot do my readings for me, that she has many things on her plate, and I need to be independent in doing all the thinking. She ended the conversation offering to help if I ever need reagents, advice, or getting outside help. I don't expect her to do my readings. I know perfectly that's my job. But how does one balance between taking directions and going rogue? It's hard to do when one day you are told that your approach is not good and just do as you're told, then again told you should do your own thinking and independently learn all of the techniques you need. And dealing your boss' emotion fluctuation...
It's been hard moving along in this lab. But it will be better... We've already come this far as a team. Let's do it!
So now it's hit me - this is for real.
I'm moving across the country to study at HARVARD.
If someone had told me this when I was a kid, I wouldn't have believed me. I was still in my mother's womb when she came to this country. We lived out of a car and in crummy motels. I even lived in foster care for a bit. I never would have thought someone from my background would achieve something like this.
I'm excited - no doubt about that - but I'm also starting to stress out. I am receiving some financial aid, which I am grateful for - but I'm still going to have to take out some loans to cover living expenses and whatnot. I'm also stressing out about the move there - are we going to be able to find a place that accepts 3 animals (turns out my mom can't watch my cat after all)? How is the move going to be on them? How will we even secure housing from over here? Do we have someone do it on our behalf? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
My boyfriend's parents invited us to stay with them during the summer so we can save up some money by not spending it on rent, which is awesome. The only thing is their place will already be a full house with five dogs, and my boyfriend's mom is allergic to cats. Now I'm frantically trying to find someone in the LA who can watch my cat during the summer. (if anyone out there can help, let me know!)
I'm going to the open house events this week so that will give me an idea of what Boston is like, and maybe I'll be able to talk to people who can point me in the right direction.
I know things will work out in the end, but I wish I had an answer to these things already.
Anyone who has done cross country moves....your advice is much appreciated!