This week I got a peek behind the curtain at the application review process and it's not pretty. As they say "a little like watching sausage being made".
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.
First off, congrats to everyone who has gotten an acceptance! Second, hugs and much tea and choice of wallowing food for those who have had nothing but rejections or have been rejected to their top choice.
I am sitting with two acceptances right now. And i'm ready to make a decision. I'm ready to start looking at housing for my new program and figuring out if I can get a job in that city. I don't have to officially decide until April 15th for a US program or actually, August, for my other program. So why am I ready to decide now, when all the options aren't in? And what does this have to do with my parents?
Right, so, little back story. I am a DoD brat (sounds a bit nicer than Army brat) and I've moved three times in my life, five if you count undergraduate and study abroad. I'm used to living in a place for 5-7 years and then moving again. In fact, since my parents have been married, they haven't lived in one place longer than 7 years. Needless to say, the transitioning constantly has put a bit of wear on me emotionally.
I know for a fact that wherever I got to graduate school (with the exception of Maryland, perhaps), I will move shortly after graduation for a job. So, in my mind I'm going "Okay, I move from study abroad to either home/DC for the summer, then move to who knows where for three years of graduate school, finally get comfortable and then move again for a job." And to me, that doesn't add up. It's too much transitioning for me. Too much uncertainty, and this feeling that I'll never really get comfortable anywhere because I'm so used to just picking myself up and plopping down in another place.
The UK Master's I'm looking at is a one year program. It's at my study abroad institution so I don't have to move cities (housing, yes). Almost all of my friends at said institution are second year undergrads so they'll be around for the one year I would stay there for. I know the city, and as infuriating as Welsh trains are, it's a nice place to live. A wee bit expensive, but nice.
And then there's tuition. If I got absolutely no funding at my top US choice, it would be double the price of a degree at Aber. So yes, the UK is looking pretty good. I've gotten over the ALA/CILIP accredidation kerfluffle and I'm ready to get my dissertation done and graduate from undergrad and move onto the next step.
But... my parents do have a point. I'm guaranteed housing at Aber so I technically don't have to sign a rent contract if I don't want to. I am probably going to get funding at least one university, despite my being MA and the other degree being Library Science which rarely funds. And maybe that will make the cost comparison at least equal, if not tipped in the US's favor.
But three years for two master's, versus 1 year for one when I'm pretty sure I'll be getting either a second Master's, PhD, or law degree at some point after the first/second masters? I love school but not *that* much.
Everything seems to be pointing in one direction but I shall wait. In the meantime, if any of the MLIS's or Public History/Public Humanities MAs want to send out decisions, I'll be happy to consider them!
Ah ye of little faith… I said this blog would be one of inconvenient truths.
You will come to trust the Fez, but ‘til then there is plenty of evidence to back this up...
Here’s link to a February 2007 Science article (Kuncel, N.R., Hezlett, S.A., Standardized Tests Predict Graduate Students' Success, Science, Vol 315 No. 5815, pp 1080-1081) that examines the GRE and GMAT:
“Four consistent findings emerged: (i) Standardized tests are effective predictors of performance in graduate school. (ii) Both tests and undergraduate grades predict important academic outcomes beyond grades earned in graduate school. (iii) Standardized admissions tests predict most measures of student success better than prior college academic records do. (iv) The combination of tests and grades yields the most accurate predictions of success.”
“Results from a large body of literature indicate that standardized tests are useful predictors of subsequent performance in graduate school, predict more accurately than college GPA, do not demonstrate bias, and are not damaged by test coaching. Despite differences across disciplines in grading standards, content, and pedagogy, standardized admissions tests have positive and useful relationships with subsequent student accomplishments.”
There are plenty of other studies that validate the GRE, (like one published in 2001 in the Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 127, No. 1) But the 2007 study has the prettiest graphs.
As for the GRE’s measure of innate intelligence, you could trust the guys at Mensa who have accepted high GRE scores in lieu of a 132 IQ score on the Stanford Binet IQ Test, but for more scholarly proof you check out Carvajal and Pauls, (1995), “Relationships among graduate record examination scores, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised IQs and undergraduate grade point average”. College Student Journal, 29, 414-416.
Here’s a link to the original research thesis in case you don’t have easy journal access
They find a strong positive correlation between the GRE and IQ. Full scale IQ with GRE-V (r=.63) and with GRE-Q (r=.71)
But my point really was – with enough effort can score well enough on the GRE for most programs, who don’t accept people based on their GRE or GMATs, but they often use them to help make their first cuts.
[initially I planned to only cover the story of my application in two parts. This plan fell through as soon as I started writing. Apologies for stringing out the conclusion, it's coming soon...]
May 2012. Basel, Switzerland. It was evening and most of the tears had dried. Simply the act of admitting that my current situation had to stop made me feel better. I resolved to take plenty of time in the upcoming long weekend to relax and stop thinking about grad school applications and my failed attempt at Fall 2012 admission. I wasn't even going to think about alternatives yet, I certainly wasn't going to settle on a firm course of action ("settle on a firm course of action = post a Facebook status or blog post on the matter) for about a week.
It was a gorgeous long Spring weekend. I sat on the balcony as the sun came up, cradling a steaming mug of coffee. As scheduled, I headed over to Prague for 2 days (pretty place, but too many tourists). As a strongly introverted person, I prefer to turn thoughts over in my own head long before I start discussing my ideas with others.
The decision wasn't one I needed to think actively about. When I came to examine my thoughts a little while later I found I'd already decided: I wanted to apply to the USA again for 2013 entry. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing exactly the way I want it.
I took a hard look at my application, identified some key weaknesses and sorted out a plan of action.
Chemistry GRE score was awful...I'm going to re-sit it.
Have two years of industrial experience...I need another academic research project.
One of my referees isn't really in the position to describe my research competencies...as above, I need another academic research project.
As an international applicant I'm a complete unknown to these universities...I'm going to have to visit them.
Here I need to divert to talk a little about fear. I had identified several things that I believed were necessary to improve my chances of admission - the thought of doing them absolutely terrified me. I'm an introverted scientist. I was terrified of approaching a Big Name Professor at a conference, introducing myself and asking for advice - even though we'd arranged the meeting via email in advance. I was terrified of dropping in to the office of one of my work bosses unannounced to ask questions about sponsorship. I was terrified of emailing Very Big Name Universities to ask if I could have a look round their Department.
Terrified...yet I did all these things anyway. Whenever I hesitated or felt myself shaking with nerves, the voice in my head aggressively demanded "Look, do you want to get into grad school or don't you? Quit stalling and do it."
More than anything else, dealing with my fears proved to be the key to improving my odds of admission.
During the summer I took a two week holiday in the Philadelphia region. In those two weeks I caught up with all my friends, did fun summery tourist stuff and visited 5 grad schools. I met with faculty, students and administrators. [Advice - grad school administrators are usually v. willing to organise a visiting day on your behalf if you say you're a prospective student. Then they do the running around the schedule meetings with Big Name Faculty who would most likely ignore your unsolicited email. On the top of that you'll probably get a free lunch thrown in too]
In early Fall I was back in the UK, enrolled as a Visiting Student at one of the top science Departments in the country. Falling outside all funding categories I took it as unpaid: not ideal, but there wasn't a better option available to me. As luck would have it, I really enjoyed those 3 months - great group, challenging project, awesome location - they did a lot to restore the professional self-esteem left battered from all the rejections.
Better-informed about the competitiveness of the US admissions system, I chose a broader range of grad schools to apply to. I kept the number of American applications the same in the second cycle (5), but I put in applications to 3 British universities at the same time and kept the option of applying to more later.
Things did not go completely according to plan. My Chemistry GRE score came back no better than the first time around. This was upsetting, but wasn't going to totally derail me: I stuck with applying to the universities I'd been in close contact with (where I'd have name-recognition on my side) and invested more in the British applications.
Soon it rolled around to December 2012.
Most people who think that the GRE is stupid and useless also have low GRE scores.
Like it or not you need good GRE (or GMAT)scores to get into a good program, because like it or not, people with good GRE scores tend (I say tend) to have natural academic abilities far beyond those of mortal men. The GRE is designed to be hard to do really well on (read 85%-90%+) without intuition, insight and reasoning skills - not just grade school math and vocabulary skills.
For the not-so-lucky end of the gene pool, there's another reason the GRE is useful to ad comms. Because you can do well on the GRE by working hard to prepare for it. So, low GRE scores mean either 1) you are not naturally gifted or 2) you didn't work hard enough at passing it and might not work hard enough in grad school. (What,you think comps don't require the same level of dedication?)
So you say "I worked really, really hard and I still got a 130Q". You might want to lower your sights(and your sites), head for the chat room, and complain about how useless the GRE is.
My application for the University of Toronto is 100% completed. My letters of recommendation have been sent in by my recommenders, and all my documents have arrived at the university. I'll be spending the next week and my entire reading week break wondering if I got in, despite the fact that a response probably won't be in my inbox when I get back on the 23rd.
My City University application is going to take a little longer to complete. I gave my recommenders until April to finish the letters for there for me. One said she'll have it finished next week, the other probably won't until April like I asked. I wish I had asked for him to complete it sooner, because my acceptance there (and decision to attend) is going to be something I'll really have to think through. I basically applied on a whim and because it was free. I would really like to attend, of course, but financially it may not be feasible.
I guess I'll figure it all out when the time comes. Until then I wait impatiently, and start mentally preparing myself for either a) moving, or rejection (and figuring out a backup plan).
I unintentionally found out how to get schools to respond to your application much sooner. I noted in most of my applications that I would be backpacking and only available by email, and possibly Skype (internet connection permitting), after February. To be fair, at the time I thought this was true. I just ended up pushing my trip back until later because I had some work commitments I didn't want to bail on. And it's not like you can go back and correct your application after you submit it.
But as a result, I've had three POI's contact me concerned that I might be out of the country during their standard interview period - and wanting to know if they could interview me sooner! One of them even went so far as to obtain "special permission" from the adcom to interview me early. I actually felt really bad about that, and let her know I was still around and was happy to wait until the official period. So even though I haven't had that interview, at least I know they're interested!
Actually, my intention in mentioning that I would be gone was sort of unrelated. I wanted to include something about my travels, without doing the usual irritating equivalent of name-dropping. One of my LOR writers suggested I phrase it like that - as an FYI, rather than a "hey-look-how-cosmopolitan-I-am".
I'm definitely not advocating lying about it, but maybe the moral of the story is - it doesn't hurt to be a little hard-to-get?
The first part of my story begins with me dreamily wandering through the office on a beautiful Philadelphian spring day. It ends with me tearfully running across a small Swiss town exactly 2 years later.
I call it a saga for a reason.
Actually, the saga kicked off in Scotland, the country where I grew up and chose to study my undergraduate Chemistry degree. I chose the University of Edinburgh mostly for the strength of its degree program, but also because I was enchanted by the city of Edinburgh. A stately, rugged and charismatic place that I connected with as soon as I saw it. The first few years as an undergrad gifted me with a peaceful sense of inertia: if you'd asked before the summer of 2009 what I planned to do with myself after graduation, I'd have replied, "Well, y'know...I guess I'm going to stick around in Edinburgh, maybe doing a PhD, maybe working." As far as I was concerned there was no need to go anywhere else in the world when I had Edinburgh. A PhD was an abstract thing I assumed I'd slip into one day, but didn't think about in any proactive sense.
Yet in the summer of 2009 I had a visa glued into my passport and strode onto the plane that would take me away from Scotland, putting me on the opposite side of the Atlantic for the first time. Not as a holiday-maker, but as an independent worker. In the British university system, the scientists on a 5-year B.S/M.S course have the option of spending 12 months "in industry" and a significant number of scientific companies recruit Edinburgh students directly. Middling through my degree with no driving motivation for high grades I was a quick victim of the global recession: applications went unacknowledged. The offer I was made in February for a medicinal chemistry place in the USA was entirely unexpected - I'd convinced myself I was staying in-house for my penultimate year - but I took it swiftly.
Those 12 months in the States were perfect. I loved Philadelphia. I loved the med chem and working environment. I loved all the travelling and adventures I got swept into. Inspired by the science I decided what I wanted to pursue as a future career: an Organic Chemistry PhD in the USA would be the first step towards that goal.
Instead of applying to PhD programs during my final year at Edinburgh, I figured it would be a tad less stressful (and more useful overall) if I went into industry for another 12 months following my graduation, aiming for Fall 2012 entry into the school of my choice. A friend recommended I approach a pharmaceutical company he'd worked at in Basel, Switzerland. He had contacts and knew that they took on a number of interns in my position. It had been a downer returning to the UK after my time in Philly. Burning with wanderlust I booked my one-way flight to Switzerland.
Fall 2012 admission did not happen.
Looking back, I was quite naive about the whole grad school application thing. In the UK, an elite research-intensive university is not nearly as competitive as its equivalent in America: all of my smart British friends who wanted to do a Chemistry PhD applied to a maximum of two institutions and were accepted without breaking a sweat. The UK degrees aren't broken down into GPA scores - our classifications are much broader - so I didn't appreciate the importance stats like GREs and GPAs would have in the American admissions process. The >10% admissions rate for international applicants at my top choices didn't mean anything to me. If I had what it took to get into a British program, why should a US one be any tricker?
Under-estimating the competitiveness of the American system (or else over-estimating the competitiveness of my application), I applied to 5 of the most elite chemistry programs that the country had to offer. I get the feeling that this is a common mistake international applicants make - one of my French friends did exactly the same. I was working when I revised and sat my Chemistry GRE: my score was horrendous. I chose for my 3rd reference a professor back at Edinburgh who knew me personally and was in a position to comment on my academic record...but who wasn't an organic chemist and couldn't comment on my research ability. Dimly aware that these all counted as weaknesses in my application, I maintained cheery denial of how these details would impact me.
What happened next was a series of rejection emails spread out over the course of 3 months. I didn't know of the Grad Cafe's Results Section back then, so had no idea they were coming. I kept myself in a state of denial for those 3 stressful months, refusing to admit that I should be investing in a Plan B (PhD in UK or Europe) until too late. I applied piece-meal to grad schools in Switzerland, Germany, Britain with increasing desperation. All their places had been allocated. Several Germanic professors initially seemed interested...until they found someone better and simply stopped replying to my emails. I hated myself for sending begging emails and pleading for replies...but I sent them anyway, instead of decisively moving on to the next opportunity.
My personal and professional sense of self-esteem crashed. Relations with work colleagues became strained as I retreated into a dark place within myself. Instead of developing as an independent scientist in preparation for doctoral research I was reliant on my supervisor telling me what to do: I hadn't the self-belief to make decisions on my own.
We were moving out of winter and into spring. Still I was frantic in refreshing my email inbox trying to get sorted for Fall 2012 admission. I no longer cared where I was accepted, just as long as I was accepted somewhere. Refusing to contemplate any alternatives, I just had to get onto a PhD program.
It was on the day that I left work in tears and rushed home across Basel that I knew my situation had to change. I was going to have to accept that Fall 2012 entry wasn't going to happen for the sake of my mental wellbeing and the wreck of a person I was right now.
This came to mean only one thing: Fall 2013 & the re-application cycle.
If you're procrastinating and wish to explore the story's background then check out some of my previous Wordpress posts:
Edinburgh | Postcard From Edinburgh | Edinburgh: Taking back the city
Philadelphia | 10 Things I Love About Philadelphia | (Back) On The Streets Of Philadelphia
Basel | Basel is the New Orleans of Europe... | In praise of "Continental Europe"
The Fall 2012 Application Cycle | Broken | My 2012 did not go according to plan
Hey now! I'm a blogger.
My original thought about blogging was to cut through the B.S. I find in the forums and give a practical, unvarnished view of the way I think stuff really works.
Like - if you have to get a LOR from a guy who works on the loading dock with you - you're probably not going to impress the ad comm. And if you got 130Q on your GRE you aren't getting into Northwestern's Econ PhD program.
I am one of those math/econ types who didn't get enough touchy-feely training as an undergrad - but there's enough of that cheerleader stuff in the forums to balance out my curmudgeony take.
Who is The Fez? I just finished my first semester in a PhD program where I plan to do behavioral econ stuff so I will probably begin with some blogs about the admissions process and my first year experience. BTW, I am also an old guy - older than dirt - though you would never know it because The Fez is so hip. But that will probably inform my view of the world of grad school.
So, I think I've moved beyond the stomach-churning anxiety of January, and am now into the February waiting-it-out blues. I'm resigned to the fact that checking my inboxes (yes, plural - apparently from a perverse need to torture myself, I gave out two different email addresses - ugh) every five minutes isn't going to speed anything up. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still do that; it's just that now it's more of a tic rather than driven by hopeful optimism.
I've been invited to two interview weekends so far, and have had a third request for a phone interview. But given that none of these are actual offers, it does nothing to stop me biting my nails. Especially since I've all but given in my notice at work - I plan to travel from April 'till school starts in the fall, and everyone at work knows this (because I can't keep my mouth shut about grad school, apparently). So yeah, worst case scenario, I have to no job, no school offers, no plan.. so no pressure there
To add to that, this is my second time applying - last year I applied to 6 PhD programs and was roundly rejected by most of them. But more about that later.
I know everyone says this, but it really is an emotional rollercoaster. When I got that first invitation to visitors weekend, I literally shed a few happy tears (they noticed me! I may have a chance!) but it was quickly replaced by doubt and certain unavoidable facts (they're inviting several candidates, I'm just one of many, what if I don't even like the school? etc).
Ah well. At least it's nice to know I'm not alone in this self-imposed torment. We'll make it through this! (maybe sans a little sanity)
Oh, and to pass the time, I've been making handmade thank-you cards to my LOR writers. It's fun, and I like to think it's more meaningful and conveys my appreciation more than a generic card. I know people on here have asked if it's appropriate to send thank-you gifts (it's not, IMO) and I think this is a nice balance between a gift and a regular card. I recommend it
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 would take some small comfort in that platitude were it not for the fact that my current misery feels more like my own personal Dantean jacuzzi while everyone else is off swimming in the bigger, more mature lake of liquid fire.
Basically a roundabout way of saying that while all the lit folks are huddled together experiencing the highs and lows of acceptances and rejections trickling in from the titans of graduate school, I'm feeling very much like that old man stranded on Calypso's island: counting the waves with 10 long years to go...
I mean not only do I have to wait until April to hear back from schools but I don't even know anyone else that applied to the same schools, so this suffering is a lonely kind of suffering. The anxiety that one feels that is mirrored in a friend (however anonymous) becomes distinctly innocuous, a collegial bonding, something of a joy.
So really, I feel like I'm missing out. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. I can put myself through that torture in 2 years time.
1. My blog and general online persona is named after a very famous Golf Course in Scotland. Almost.
2. I am Scottish. In my role as blogger, traveller and cultural ambassador you are welcome to ask me anything about Scotland. Absolutely anything you wish. From the authenticity of Groundskeeper Wullie's accent to the most appropriate insults for a Glaswegian priest, I'm able to help.
3. You know those people who were absolutely rubbish at high school Chemistry, couldn't understand any of it? That wasn't me.
4. My family is quite academic-y, so I always assumed I wouldn't stop my education at an undergraduate degree. However, it wasn't until I spent a year over in the USA as a pharma intern that I knew I wanted to do a Chemistry PhD.
5. Whilst I was over in the Philadelphia area I discovered ballroom dancing and competitive DanceSport. Up until that point I had done long-distance running, cycling and hiking, so this new hobby was quite a surprise to family & friends. And to myself. Especially since I picked it up quite well.
6. I've lived independently in Edinburgh, Philadelphia, Basel and London. I'm hoping to add many more cities to that list.
7. I'm one of those typical introverted nerdy scientists. In December 2012 I officially decided that Nightclubs Are Too Noisy and my idea of "good night" involves hot chocolate and going to sleep at 10pm.
8. "Science is Interesting...and if you don't agree you can f*ck off." ~Richard Dawkins
9. I can drink double espressos like they're water.
10. I've had dreadlocks for 5 years and counting. They've reached my waist. Their presence on a chemist often confuses other scientists...but at least I've not set them on fire.
After a (relatively) long absence, I'm back!
This past week has marked the beginning of decision season for me. The week before that was frustrating and a bit depressing, which is one of many reasons I did not do my weekly update last weekend.
Several UC Berkeley History decisions were posted on this site around Friday, January 25th, and - knowing the general pattern of admissions/rejections for the school, via Gradcafe's results search page - I began to despair of my chances there. By last Monday, I was in a pretty foul mood (my friends and parents are saints for putting up with my constant anxiety!), and convinced that because Berkeley apparently did not want me, none of the other schools would either. Consider me a cautionary tale of the dangers of Gradcafe addiction!
I was on the verge of cutting myself off from this site entirely - going cold turkey, as it were - by the middle of the week, when yet more days had gone by without a word from any school. I had begun second-guessing everything about my applications and email/phone interactions with professors. Even with POIs I felt I had made a real connection with, and who had been undoubtedly enthusiastic about my application, I started imagining that maybe they had just been stringing me along...or that something had gone horribly wrong with my applications - like that maybe all my recommenders expressed their secretly-harbored beliefs that I'm an idiot imposter who doesn't belong in a graduate program. My imagination went completely (and horribly!) wild!
Thankfully, I was mistaken!
Right in the middle of my super long day on campus (Thursday), I happened to check my email as I was walking to class...and, lo and behold, my inbox presented me with a lovely email from my POI at UNC Chapel Hill, giving me the unofficial notice that I was accepted to the PhD program there with guaranteed funding for five years!
Without exaggerating, this was one of the happiest moments in my life. I called my mom and dad immediately, and have been celebrating ever since! I don't remember anything from my classes that evening - it was so hard not to sit there day-dreaming and grinning like a fool! Hopefully, none of my professors noticed...
One thing I DO remember from that evening of euphoria, however, is that I finally heard back from Berkeley that night. Thank goodness my UNC acceptance had come earlier that day because I did, indeed, get rejected from Berkeley. (I haven't heard anything from the other 8 programs I applied to.)
I can only imagine how depressed I would be feeling right now if Berkeley had rejected me without my having an admission from another school, and I'm really feeling for everyone still waiting. Try to hang in there - I'm sending you all my good luck vibes, and hoping that great news is around the corner for all of you!
With an option in hand, I'm happy to say I can finally sleep properly, check my email a reasonable number of times per day, and even focus better on my thesis. Now that I know I have someplace to go, I feel more motivated to finish strong at my current program. Though, of course, I'm also sorely tempted to distract myself by looking at apartments, etc. in Chapel Hill...so we'll see how things go. I think I deserve a weekend of celebrating after this insane application process, though! My thesis can surely wait til Monday...?
In any case, I wish all of you the very best of luck! We just need to hold out a couple more weeks (for History, anyway). I have a feeling this week will be especially eventful for us. I know it's frustrating and that things might be looking really dark right now (and that nothing I say here will probably ease your mind at all), but try to hang in there (easier said than done, I know!) and stay positive!
I have gotten two acceptances so far - Indiana University's SLIS program and Aberystwyth University's MSEcon in Archives Administration. To those of you who are still waiting, I promise you, the email/letter/phone call you get with your first acceptance (or second) will make the work and the wait worth it.
While I've pretty much decided where I am going, I am waiting for those other decisions. I have to weigh costs of a one year program with a crappy exchange rate (seriously, dollar-pound can you be closer to 1-1 like NOW?) versus a 3 year out-of-state program where I might get half-funding and in-state for the rest. Not entirely sure how that is going to pan out but... I am in a better situation than most. I am graduating from undergrad with absolutely no debt and I have somewhere between $10k and $20k in my college savings leftover for graduate school. So I really can't complain.
What I can complain about is the constant on-my-mind-ness of decisions. And this comes at absolutely THE worst time in the year. I'm starting my new semester today with two very reading-intensive classes, the unofficial class where I write my dissertation (senior thesis). I'm representing my school at two international Model United Nations conferences within the next five weeks and still have to prep for those. And naturally, my social life decided to blossom this semester. Funny how that works.
Anyway, the last thing I want on my mind is graduate school decisions. It just takes up too much time, takes away too much focus and generally makes me a cranky person. I believe my flat can attest to that when in a span of less than 15 minutes I managed to insult all five of them.
So what am I doing? I'm throwing myself into my reading. I may be the weirdest person in the world to throw myself into readings about genocide, mass killings and oral history along with dissertation readings on Slovakia but it helps. It honestly does.
For those of you working, throw yourself into a project. For those with time off: throw yourself into SOMETHING. And for us still in academia - throw ourselves into that. It helps. Trust me. The first half hour of reading is hard but then your focus returns.
Don't worry everyone! We can do this!
Yesterday I emailed a large number of attachments to one of my recommenders so she could write me a letter, and I finished both my Letters of Intent. I picked up copies of my transcripts, and requested copies to be sent to the schools I applied to once I graduate. I only need to finish the online portions of my applications and hassle my recommenders to finish their letters then I'm done with the application process and fully begin my waiting game.
Of course, I have heard the recommenders thing can sometimes be nothing less than a huge pain in the ass - so we shall see how that goes. Presently I am waiting for one recommender to email me his phone number so I can include it in my application (U of T requires it for some reason), and I have spent all weekend impatiently waiting for his reply.
I also changed my Facebook name this week to hopefully keep myself hidden. It may or may not work, but it was worth a try, and I always wanted to be a Penelope.
With all this in mind, I still have another 3 months of school to finish up, and get good grades in. Plus there's the whole making a backup plan if the grad school situation doesn't work out. Presently I feel a calm, from having completed such a necessary and big step in my life (the grad school applications). In a week though I am sure the small amounts of panic will begin to set in again and I'll occasionally pace around my apartment muttering profanities to myself because I'll feel completely and utterly screwed if I don't get in.
I'm going to try and enjoy the calm for now.
Time for my weekly update!
It's been a bit of a wild one, since this week was my first one back in classes after the winter break. Despite the sleep deprivation that usually comes with trying to get back into the rhythm of classes, I got through the week with a minimum of stress.
I currently attend a commuter school and - because of Houston's traffic issues and my particular school's appalling parking situation - I have to get up at 5 to get to campus. The upside to this is that there's nothing to do on campus at that hour besides going to the gym. Thus, I am forced to exercise everyday I head in to school. Bad for my sleep, but good for my health, I guess!
My workout time in the morning is also good my mental state, though. Because of the uneven nature of course offerings in my field at my current program, I'm taking a full course load in addition to writing my MA thesis this semester. Considering how wild my semester usually are, just trying to stay on top of my normal workload, I had a moment this week during which I began freaking out over how I was ever going to finish my thesis by April.
Running around the track, though, is weirdly therapeutic and calming, and I started building a daily/weekly schedule in my head (later transferred to the computer for safekeeping!) as I wheezed my way around the gym. My workload is definitely manageable...as long as I stick to the schedule. I'm realizing that I'll have to be more disciplined than ever this semester.
Thankfully (and miraculously!), in the middle of all this stressing about the semester at hand, I almost forgot to obsess about the horrible wait for PhD admission results! I've still checked the results on this site everyday, and have been checking my email rather more than usual...but I seem to have replaced one stressor for another! Not sure that's completely healthy, but I'll take it.
That said, I was rockclimbing (as a study break!) this afternoon, and afterwards saw I had a missed call and voice mail from an area code containing one of my top-choice schools. My heart started pounding immediately, and I had butterflies in my stomach as I checked the message...it was a wrong number, naturally! I had a little laugh about it, but I still wish it had been from a POI!
Hopefully, my determinedly distracted mindset will last the next couple of weeks. This weekend is sort of the eve of potential admissions decisions. The earliest any of my programs notified anyone (on this site) last year was January 21st, which is two days from now. And while I'm not expecting to hear anything this week (or even possibly the week after), a not-so-small part of my brain is fervently hoping that I will hear something positive in a few days.
Those hopeful, positive thoughts are something I almost don't dare to speak out loud. Maybe it's a superstitious thing, but I almost feel like I'd be jinxing myself if I was to talk about any of my programs with confidence. I'll start imagining receiving an "admitted!" letter/email from my dream schools, and try to cut myself off. Sometimes I almost feel like expressing my wishes will prevent them from becoming realities.
Do any of you guys feel uncomfortable verbalizing or dreaming about your hopes for admissions decisions? How are your semesters going? Anyone else potentially hearing back from schools this week?
Hope this entry finds you all well! Good luck with classes, the waiting game, and your applications!
In the desolate wasteland that rapidly revealed itself to me post-application season, I have found that there seem to be two me's. One is full of confidence, brimming with positivity, a proponent of positive visualisation* who can not only imagine himself tearing open the acceptance letter(s) but can even taste it. The other is wary and on edge yet staunchly assured that in a few months time, he will wake up to yet a few more rejection letters to add to the string of ones he received in previous application cycles and be left with nothing but soul-sucking contingency plans and a yawning purgatory.
One of us can't be wrong.
The first me is convinced that the massive effort and endurance that I have mustered in the past couple of months (to learn everything from the American college system, to what a GRE is, to what a proper SOP looks like) must bear some sweet fruit. Most East Asian cultures do not see hard work as some sort of point of pride or something to attain: it is merely a reality in the struggle for survival. Everywhere I have traveled in East and South East Asia I have encountered this reality; indeed, I need look no further than the weathered faces staring back at me over the kitchen table most nights. Although this cultural reality has become the butt of many jokes for spoiled second or third (etc.) generations of Asians in North America as well as their entitled white friends, it is undeniably in the back of most of our minds. I never thought that it sunk it deep enough for me, thus the years of what some may call "slacking" or what I would rather call daydreaming, but hey, what's bred in the bone...
Now that I've snapped myself out of this reverie, I have to believe for my sake that this hard work will pay off. I have to believe that one of us can't be wrong and I'm hoping it's the first guy.
*The story behind this is that I attended a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in the woods and at the end of it, met a hippie girl from Germany who had run away from home and described how positive visualisation had allowed her to hitchhike across Canada in the dead of winter with no jacket or sleeping bag but purely on the goodwill of strangers. I think it may be no coincidence that she ended up at this retreat, which was free of charge, fed you two meals a day for 10 days and gave you a warm bed to sleep but I digress...
After a rather longer-than-intended delay, I have returned! The reason for said delay (and my suddent absence from GradCafe) has been an unexpected illness, which has kept me couch-ridden for the better part of a week.
As unpleasant as my listless, nauseated sojourn on the sofa has been, however, I have found one or two silver linings to the situation:
1) Classes at my MA program start next week, instead of THIS week. It would have been a terrible way to get the semester started by immediately becoming behind on all of my work. I should be fit as a fiddle come Monday (God willing!), and ready for my all-out sprint toward my thesis defense and graduation.
2) Perhaps more importantly, being a sleepy couch potato (with no motivation to do anything beyond take a shower once a day) briefly cured me of my results-checking obsession! Though, while I'd like to say that my once/twice a day perusal of the results listings will continue into February, I know full well that I will be unable to restrain myself the closer we get to most university's history decisions.
All the same, I've rather enjoyed this brief respite from waiting-game hysteria...even if the underlying cause of my break from GradCafe was decidedly unsavory. I'm hoping that my return to class this week will provide a similar, albeit much more productive, distraction from my grad school insanity!
How are all of you doing with obsessing/compulsively checking the results? Has anyone heard back yet? How many of you have begun the spring term?
Hope this post finds you all well! As always, best of luck to you, and feel free to post any questions or comments you might have here (or in a PM).
So I've completed several of my applications (CSU: LA and CSU: Northridge), which were done and submitted over a month ago. It's been mighty stressful since the Gordian Knot that is the California state budget had yet, or actual is yet, to be settled.
Even though Prop 30 passed, effectively ensuring baseline budgetary support for all Californian higher education, school budgets are still in a chaotic mess. Both schools, I believe haven't even really set a deadline for applications for graduate students yet (it's still listed as TBD on their websites) I wanted to slide it in before the deadline given for previous years (November 30).
I've heard back from both programs with one sending a letter of receipt and completion (of the application) and the other requesting clarification of my transcript and additional materials like my financial affidavit. I responded that I was under the impression that I was to supply all the financial information after I received an offer of acceptance. Does anyone have any experience with this?
Anyway, now I feel like I've lost a little traction after having taken a break for so long for the winter holiday. I was in a real pressure cooker during the months of October and November and, thankfully, that made me extremely productive. Now it's time to get back into the groove and finish my last application for LMU. Since this is a private institution, not a state school, it requires quite a few more pieces of the application puzzle, including the dreaded reference letters.
Strangely, I'm feeling really good about all this. I mean I'm anxious as anyone and I have my moments of panic and doubt, but maybe so much productivity after the past few years of inactivity have really "brought me back to life", in a way.
Here's to more hard work to start of 2013! Hopefully it'll become a personal trend.
The hardest part (for me) is over, I hope. I've sent out my emails requesting letters of recommendation. I finally did the thing I had been putting off for MONTHS (literally). My statement of interest is started (and will now be finished within the week so I can provide it to professors), and I've also begun the portions of my online applications that I can actually do right now. I'll get my transcripts once my first semester grades are in (January 18th).
What brought this sudden rush of personal grad school productivity was not the free time allotted to me thanks to Christmas vacations, but the fact that I came to my senses that if I didn't get these applications done I would DEFINITELY not have anything planned out for next year. This miniature panic was enough to get me past my nervousness with emailing professors and give me the motivation to do it. Now that it's done . . . I don't really understand why those short emails took so much time and energy for me to pump out although I do understand why I felt that way, but in the end it wasn't as big of a deal as I was expecting.
I did accidentally send a typo to one professor though . . .
In addition, after accidentally saving this entry as a draft and not publishing it, my Evolutionary Psychology seminar prof has agreed to write me a letter of recommendation! I will be finishing my Statement of Purpose(s) this week, sending those, my CV and anything else he may require. Hopefully I don't have to chase him for things, but he's already proving pretty on the ball as he replied to an email I sent Sunday.
I got my first acceptance in the mail today!
I was going through the mail today and there was a letter from Indiana University. It was an acceptance letter!
Words cannot express how happy I am that I got accepted. Not that I got accepted to Indiana, per se, but that I got accepted. Huzzah! I was so worried that nobody would accept me, especially after a fiasco with one of my recommenders.
For you non-History majors, I had the lovely experience of getting to read one of my letters that had gotten sent to all of my US applications. In the letter, the recommender said I was good at cleaning and not good at original historical research. It was definitely a blow to my confidence.
So to get a letter from Indiana saying "We want you." (Well, I have no idea how much they want me because financial aid is a separate process) made me feel more confident in what I am doing and that the one letter didn't damn me.
Also, I'm happy that I got my first acceptance over with. It makes me less anxious about the other schools knowing I have at least one school I can go to.
Definitely, definitely happy about this! For everyone still waiting, keep hope! And don't obsessively check your email. But make sure to check your snail mail!
Hi everyone! Welcome to one future historian's quest for admissions, funding, and - eventually - a doctorate!
I heard this was a stress-relieving, cathartic-type thing to do...and since I'm feeling ever more stressed out the closer we get to hearing back from programs, I thought that now would be the perfect time to start this blog. I intend it to be a place for me to share my experiences and any advice that I think might be helpful for other folks going through the process (now or in the future).
I'm not sure just what to put in this first entry, so I guess I'll start with a bit about me and my own experience of this application season. I work on Modern German History with particular emphases on women's history and memory studies. I attended a big urban campus for my undergrad, and am currently attending another big urban campus for my MA. I'll be writing and defending my MA thesis this spring, and am hoping that working diligently on that will distract me from my obsessive, anxious wait to hear back from the PhD programs I applied to. (Just PM me if you want to know more - I'm an open book!)
I applied to 10 schools, and - like most people - I'm on a kind of rollercoaster of outlooks regarding my chances. Some days I think I'll get into at least half of the programs, and other days I think I only really have a shot at one or two of them (at best!). Perhaps foolishly, I applied almost solely to top programs in my field and may have included too few "safe schools" (no such thing anymore, though). So here I sit at the beginning of a shiny new year, second-guessing the hell out of every step I took along the way to applying!
I have thus far resisted the temptation to go back and review my applications, SOPs, and writing samples...I'm sure that would only lead to madness when I eventually discover the now-obvious typos staring me in the face. Instead, I have restricted myself merely to double-checking the receipt of all the pieces of my applications, and am now trying to affect a calm, patient disposition while I wait for the results (obviously not successfully!).
The one thing I have going for me in trying to maintain some modicum of sanity during this waiting game is that I really worked my butt off during the application season. Thankfully, a good friend of mine and I got a relatively early start on drafting SOPs, etc. We met about once a week just to work on applications, and tried our best to make progress on them during the rest of the week. For a while there, I had a rule that I would work on one thing for my coursework AND one thing for PhD applications each night. It got a bit crazy in the middle of the semester, and I had to break my rule, but - by that point - I had made enough progress to feel fairly comfortable about letting it slide a bit.
By the time my December 1st deadlines rolled around (about half of my programs), I had a really polished SOP and writing sample ready. I think I must have sent that dang thing to at least five professors, and had my parents and several friends look it over, too, just for good measure. When I applied to MA programs, I left everything to the minute and felt terribly about my chances (I still have no idea how I got into my current program). So, thankfully, this time I can (try to) rest on my proactivity and sustained effort toward these apps!
All the same, I feel anxious during this waiting period. I'm beginning to feel butterflies in my stomach every time I check my email, or I get a phone call from a number I don't recognize. And while being a part of the GradCafe community has been immensely helpful and comforting throughout this entire process, seeing just how incredibly smart and qualified other applicants are makes me question if I have a real chance at any of my programs. Being the consummate planner-type, I hate being stuck in limbo!
I'm sure many of you feel the same way, and I wish I had some words of wisdom to share...but this is my first (and hopefully last!) round of PhD apps, so I'm in the same boat as you are. I'm going to try throwing myself headlong into work on my MA thesis to distract myself from waiting, as I mentioned, and may also attempt some form of yoga or meditation to see if I can't work up a more zen-like attitude about all this. I'll let you know if I have any success!
That's about all I've got for now...I'm hoping to post here once a week or so (we'll see what happens when the semester starts up) to keep you posted on how things are going. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section - I'd love for this blog to become a forum for both commiseration and communal rejoicing! And please feel free to PM me if there's something specific you'd like to see addressed in my upcoming entries.
Hope your new years are off to a terrific start! Best of luck to everyone!