Jump to content


Our community blogs

  1. I think of myself as a lifelong learner, but deciding to go back to grad school wasn't a light decision. When I decided to take the leap in 2016, I was six years into a career as an officer in the U.S. Army and was hesitant to disrupt a steady paying job and what I consider purposeful work. Still, I had a list of reasons in my head for wanting and needing to leave the Army and return to grad school that are probably similar to what most people consider when they're making the potentially life-changing decision to go back to school. 

    My reasons (don't laugh) - I hated getting up early for my job in the military (I had to be at work by 6am most mornings), I kinda hated wearing a uniform every day, and I wanted more control over where I lived (you don't really get to pick in the military). Basically, I just needed a change of pace and a different career. I also just like being in class and learning new stuff. College campuses have always felt like a magical place to me. I've told myself I have no reason to ever need to get a PhD, but I kinda want to just so I can be in the classroom again? Maybe it's because my parents didn't go to college and growing up I never really heard about what it was like to be a college student. Speaking of, one of my other reasons for going back to school and getting a Master's Degree was to make my family proud and bring knowledge back into my community in an effort to impact change. These are just a few of my reasons.

    So, I’m curious --what are your reasons for deciding to go to grad school? Comment below to reveal all. 


    • 1
    • 6
    • 1797

    Recent Entries

    Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! :)

    For my first post, I wanted to open up about what has been the hardest thing for me about the application process so far, and that is the feeling of not being good enough. Reading through the posts on GradCafe and seeing all the wonderful things people have done, I can't help but feel like I don't measure up. This is my fourth year working in labs and I have no publications. My GRE math score is...meh. My honors thesis is still in progress and so I don't have a neat, packaged project that I can talk about or submit as a writing sample.

    I'm still applying.

    I feel like it's easy to forget that the kind of people who post on sites like this tend to not be representative of the applicant pool as a whole, and that there do exist those of us who are applying without 10+ years of related work experience or 5+ published journal articles. My hope is to give readers some insight about what the application process is like for those of us who feel like we might not stand out as much because we don't have those things. Because that's actually not true. My first piece of advice for people who find that they're in my situation is to remember that it's all relative. For example, if you're still in undergrad, there's no way that a grad school will expect you to have as much research experience as someone who has been out of school much longer. Additionally, a lack of published articles is not a death sentence if you can convey in your application that you've gained valuable research skills. This applies both for current undergraduates such as myself, as well as those who have a master's or have been working for a while. Finally, even if someone looks "better" on paper than you, you might actually be the one with a better research fit.

    So, even though it can be difficult, don't be intimidated by your perceived competition. Remember to put the process into perspective and trust that if you highlight your strengths in your application you will end up where you're supposed to be.

  2. The whole reason I wanted to start a blog on here was to try, as realistically as possible, to answer the question, "so what's grad school really like," on this platform that seems to be mostly consumed by "so how do I get into grad school?". Admittedly, when I first started this blog, I had the best intentions of posting more regularly than "those other guys." So here I am, a year later, attempting to make up for it. So here we go, I'm going to break it into sections for the sake of readability. PLEASE, keep in mind, all of this is from my very limited perspective of a first generation, first year, queer, man of color, from the South, living in a major city and attending the only grad program I applied to. 

    Moving cross country to a new city

    As a general personality trait, I'm a huge fan of change. I get bored easily and like to mix things up. So for me, moving across the country, to a city in which I didn't know anyone was just a huge, exciting adventure. I know that for some people, change produces a ton of anxiety. So for those readers, you'll probably want to take everything I say with a grain of salt.

    Anyways, the move was great! I ended up really lucky in the housing search and used Craigslist to find both of the apartments I've lived in here. Exploring the city and getting into a routine of going to this grocery store instead of that one and this park being my spot to relax and destress, was fun. Seattle quickly became home for me.

    Building Community

    One of the best decisions I made when moving to Seattle was finding housing with folks not in my program, or associated with my school at all. I also joined a church pretty early on. My program has a strong focus on community development and it's pretty easy to make friends within, but for the sake of emotional sanity, it's been great to have friends who have no idea what I do for 8 (or more) hours a day. I'd definitely recommend other folks going to grad school in a new place to invest in a community outside of your program, if possible. 

    Personal Life

    Despite the media myths of grad school = buried in books and nothing else for the next x years, I've spent more of the past year intentionally building relationships, exploring my interests, and just enjoying life that I ever have. Though, this could very well be contributed to the location of my program in a major city. 

    With my program being pretty small (about 60 folks in total) I have noticed that the internal drama can be exhausting and pretty ridiculous at times. Granted, my field is a very personal one and the culture of the university calls us to bring out whole selves (baggage and all) to the table.


    In some ways, the classroom experience was exactly what I was expecting, in some ways, it's less than I was expecting, but in other ways, it's way more than I was expecting.  

    As expected, there are lots more reading assignments than I was accustomed to in undergrad. But most of the time, I'm fine as long as I get the drift of what the assigned reading was about. It's less than I was expecting because I often find myself feeling like my classes and those responsibilities feel like an unnecessary addition to the work I'm doing with students in my assistantship and internships; that's pretty disappointing. But at the other extreme, there have been many times when I've had conversations in classrooms that I didn't think could happen in such settings and have genuinely changed the way I think about the world. I live for those conversations, and that's why I'm okay with spending more money than my mom makes in a year for tuition. 


    This is the one area in which I, admittedly, should have done more research before making this huge life decision. Seattle is EXPENSIVE. And, in my particular case, the coveted GA position doesn't cover living expenses, much less living and tuition. This has led to me working part time for a period, and taking out more loans than I expected. This is probably the biggest downfall of my program, but I was privileged enough to not have to take out any loans for undergrad so it's not a huge deal for me and I probably would have made the same decision if I had then, all the information I have now...although I probably would have been a bit more careful about how I spent my savings during my time off between undergrad and grad school.  

    Future Perspectives 

    I definitely feel like my chances of getting a job in my chosen field have increased tenfold in the past year. I've learned more than I could have begun to imagine, and it's made me even more excited to start my career. Also, necessary sidenote, I've reluctantly to see the benefit of strong alumni networks and I'm definitely grateful that my program comes with one of those. :)

    Did I make the right choice?

    100% yes. If I could go back, I wouldn't change anything. There was definitely a time when I wished I'd applied to more programs, there were times when I wished I would have gone to a program that was fully funded and in a cheaper city, there were times I wished I would have stayed closer to home. But if I could go back in time, knowing all that I know now, I would do it all again. This experience has been, by far, the most life changing year ever, and I'm excited to see where the next one takes me.






    Please, feel more than welcome to send me messages about student affairs, Seattle, moving cross country, or anything else. I'm not as acitive here as I once was, but I will get back to you!

  3. So - as I attempt to procrastinate my way into ignoring very real assignment commitments, I figured I'd write a post on "what happens next."  As you may (or may not know) I applied to 6 programs, was accepted 3, and ended up attending my first choice program.  I applied to 4 PhD Programs, a DPA program, and a DBA program.  I got into 2 PhD programs and the DBA programs.  Of course I've gone back to see what the other programs look like.  One PhD program gets 30-40 applications and accepts 4 with hopes of getting 2.  The year prior to my application they accepted only and were looking for faculty. No specific details.  The other PhD only took in 4 students against a usual class of 10-12.  Suddenly I don't feel so badly.  I considered the DPA to be a sure thing - still not sure what went wrong there.  So - now that I've reflected on my defeats - where is it all at?

    I ended up with a summer entry - taking a summer course in my specialization (3 credits).  For the fall I took two courses, one in the program main curriculum (3 credits) and another in my specialization (3 credits), along with a research residency (1 credit).  The result - All A's (including an A+ - I didn't even know these existed!).  For 2017 I'm in my residency year, which requires that I do one 9 credit semester and an 18 credit year.  I took the 9 credits in the spring (which is now and the work I'm currently avoiding).  One course has concluded (I needed a 62 on the final paper to get an A - so I should be ok there).  The second course, which I'm working now (I need to submit two papers tonight, one is half written, the other is a short research report - I'm taking "short" to heart).  This course has given almost nothing in terms of feedback, so I really don't know where I stand.  The third the professor (who is also my program planning chair) went out early in the semester with medical issues.  I don't know when or if she'll return, so this could complicate things.  The sub in professor has been fantastic and I'm chugging along quite nicely.  That paper is due in about 5 days.  I will start it right after I finish these two.  

    Am I happy I went into the program?  Yes.  Do I regret it?  Also, yet.  It has been an overwhelming amount of work, but I can see and feel my growth as an academic.  This is part of the life/career plan - so I'm fortunate to be moving forward and accomplishing the goals I've set for myself.  For the rest of this year I'll be taking an independent study this summer to work on a paper that can lead to publication as well as a conference (which will be 3 credits and falls into the professional development section).  In the fall I'll take another specialization course and another core curriculum.  

    In terms of progress I'm currently planning to sit for prelims at the 3 year mark and have set aside another year and a half for dissertation.  This would put me out at about 4.5 years, well below average (from what I've read) and well before my 40th birthday (my goal).  I'm just hoping I can sustain momentum and clear prelims without too much a challenge.  To all of you just starting - I wish you the very best.  Dig in, dig deep, and keep moving forward.  Good luck to you all.



  4. So, it's been a while since I last updated this. The main reason for this is that there is little to no news. The adjoining reason is that what news there is likely would only lead to a pretty depressing post.
    I'll keep it as light and cheerful as I can manage.

    Since last we met, I've been rejected, either tacitly or directly, from an additional four programs, leaving me with two that have yet to send any information: Georgia State University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. I'm not holding my breath that I'll get rejected from UMass-Amherst and then accepted to NYU, but stranger things have happened. I'm hoping that GSU sends me an acceptance, but since I've already been down this road before, I'm preparing for the worst (while, naturally, hoping for the best).

    In order to move forward with my life (or at the very least make a lateral move) I'm applying to teach English abroad in Japan. My SO is doing it, I want to have some semblance of independence, and I like travel. It's win-win-win.

    Going back to the constantly getting rejected from PhD programs bit, I understand that the admissions committees are busy and I am but a floating speck of dust in the cosmic scheme, but why wouldn't there be some system of feedback for these things? It seems like it would be simple enough to provide some pointers on where an applicant could improve their packet. "Did not attend Ivy League school for undergrad," or "You're kidding, right?" or even "Lack of formal academic training in Communication/Media Studies makes candidate unsuitable for program." As I've mentioned before, I have a lot working against me, so I'd like to know what it is that is keeping me out of the big leagues.

    This is what I get for not being much of a planner, I suppose.

  5. I'm not sure if any of you listen to Fleet Foxes. They're my go-to shower singalong music, though my boyfriend calls it "weird monk music." He listens to rap. Artistic differences, I guess. Anyway, their music really hits me sometimes whether comforting or not. I have a playlist on my laptop of music that I find grounding, and it includes songs like "I Can Feel a Hot One" and some others by Manchester Orchestra, a large amount of Fleet Foxes, a taste or two of both Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, and the like. I play that playlist when I study or do homework, or whenever I just need to get my sh*t together and calm down. 

    I was not accepted into the program at WMU. I found out on Friday by way of a letter that my dad read before me because it wasn't sealed. I can't say I'm surprised at this decision-- I had a feeling the day I returned home from Interview Weekend that there wouldn't be a place for me there. I respect this decision, because I don't think I was who they were looking for. I can't handle the constant party that their department seems to encourage. Being told that the current students go out drinking multiple times a week together is not something that I'm itching to be part of. As I whine about not wanting to party, I'm soaking in the fact that I'll be moving to Chicago in six months. I have an acceptance in hand from Roosevelt and an interview lined up with Elmhurst as well as campus visits to both next week. 

    That's right: Chicago! 
    I held Roosevelt up as my top choice, and now it's becoming real. I need to find somewhere to live. I know very little about living in Chicago, and I'll need all the help I can get. My family knows people all over the country and world, but somehow we don't know anyone in Chicago (well, I know a couple people my age there, but no one who could save me if I ran into trouble). I'm lurking on the City Guide thread for Chicago and all the rental sites I can find. I know Roosevelt has very easy access to all the train lines because it's right by the loop. They include a CTA Ventra U-Pass in tuition, though I don't actually understand how it works. 
    My limited experience in Chicago has always been great. I'm really excited to be living and going to school there, but there are so many issues I now face. Being rejected from WMU has set the ball rolling to the Windy City. Now begins a new journey filled with big decisions-- will my SO be able to move with me? Will I be working at the university or elsewhere? Where will I live? Will I get enough funding from the university to avoid major debt? 

    Where before I was comfortable in the excitement of not knowing, I'm now very uncomfortable in the excitement of decision-making. Here we go. Headphones in, chin up.

  6. 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?

  7. blog-0318631001428210865.jpgAnd 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
    Transcript hassles
    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!
  8. 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.

    Latest Entry

    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.

  10. Tall Chai Latte
    Latest Entry

    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.

  11. Folks, I think I figured it out.

    I look at the people who are in programs and doing things I want to do. Fuzzy Suessian, Resurgence(ZN), etc and I notice a particular thing they have in common.

    They’re all above 200 internet/reputation points.

    THAT’S what you turn these in for, an acceptance! I dunno how the adcomms figure out who is who but they’re sneaky… good thing you have me here to keep them honest.

    Muwahahaha all I need to do now is post more puppy pics and I’ll be in for sure!

    *ring ring* Hello, Berkeley (BARKley?)This is Bowties – my puppy pics are trending and I’ve got 500 internet points… I think that entitles me to a spot in your program.

    Perhaps I’m going crazy…

  12. It has been a long time since I've even come onto the grad café. Moving to London and starting grad school has really taken any free time I used to have to just surf the web and engulfed it, but I am incredibly happy about that.

    First term has finished and I am now progressing into my second round of courses before I hit the heavy 4 months of dissertation writing that is to come in the spring. I'm more excited about finally getting to do some research but also nervous about the prospect of finding a supervisor, and actually working on it all.

    Something which has been on my mind lately is potentially moving on to doing a Ph.D. after this degree. Ideally I would be able to start as soon as I finished my Master's, but I don't think my first term has prepared me enough to be able to send in the applications for the March 14th deadline. I need more time to think, time to get a grasp on if I actually want to move away from industry and into academia, and to ensure my grades are stellar so I can get funding.

    Plus I've been in postsecondary education for nearly 5 years now. Most people would agree that it is time for a break (maybe I'm wrong, but I think I deserve one . . . not sure if starting full-time work would really be considered a break though).

  13. Hello fuzzy penguins,

    Winter and I are just... we're really not friends. It's perpetually cold, I can't go outside and run, and it's always dark. So as I sit here, curled up in fleece with the space heater blaring, I find myself picturing the future and its promise of warmth. Most notably, this upcoming August and September, when I (theoretically) start grad school. ...And yeah, the last few apps I have under review are at schools with winters just as harsh as my current homestead, but I can't help but get excited for the simple prospect of a change in scenery.

    In my quest for graduate admittance, meeting and talking online with applicants and current grad students coupled with a desire for better weather has possessed me with this fun and refreshing sense of adventure. I want to meet the POIs I've researched and see if they're excited about what's going on in their lab and department. I'd like to meet professors in fields I'm inexperienced in and see what cell adhesion pathways or trinucleotide repeat dynamics or parasitic biology is all about. I'm thrilled to hit the town with recruiting grad student reps to talk shop. And more than anything, I wanna make cohort friends. It's just.. it's one of those times that you know is going to have some of the cutest moments in your career.

    Til then, I guess, I will need to make do with this polar-vexed season. Travel might be good. Stay warm, kids.

  14. My apologies for taking so long to get this post up! I started classes and have been pretty sick. As a reminder, the more questions you ask me, the more I know what you want answers to!

    The purpose of the post for today is to provide my insights into interviews and hopefully ease some fears by helping you figure out what to expect at a biomedical science, molecular biology, immunology, or similar interview. I have a few questions that were in my message box, but other than that, I'm just going to fill in the pieces.

    You guys need to remember that at most institutions, if you're selected to interview, you've got a REALLY good shot at being accepted, sometimes better than 75% chance. These programs are trying to impress you on top of trying to make sure that you're going to be a successful student and a productive addition to their research institution.

    This is going to sound cliché, but the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. Don't pretend to be someone who you are not; you don't want them to view you as plastic and fake.

    How do you prepare for interviews?

    I hit on this previously, but there are more things to hit on. I mentioned that it is important to look up the professors who will be interviewing you if the school notifies you ahead of time. You can get a general idea about them from their lab website, but note that those are also rarely updated. Because of this, projects listed on the website may already be completed by interviews and could already be published (thanks to Glow_Gene for reminding me).Your best bet would be to look at their website and then check them out on PubMed. I also looked for their students on PubMed to see what recent publications they were included on. I read some abstracts and reviews on the professors' areas of research so that I would be able to discuss it with them when the time came, and I printed a few abstracts for study material. Prep a couple of general questions based on their most recent publications, but nothing super specific. You don't want to act like you know their field... because you don't!

    All of this research also comes in handy when you're finally at a school and need to pick your first rotation. I also recommend looking up a picture of the professors and program administrators so you can at least know who to expect. It makes you feel a lot more comfortable when you walk into their office! It is also a good idea to bring in updated copies of your resume or CV. Most professors are given your application, but in case they are not or they want a new copy, take them with you.

    I mentioned previously that I took some powerpoint slides from my last MS committee presentation with me to demonstrate that I could generate data. This is not necessary and definitely not required. You should also not do this unless your PI that you did the work under approves what you're taking with you; it could cause some big issues if your PI ends up getting scooped, and you want to protect that data.

    When you pack, keep your bags to a minimum. Sometimes professors come and pick you up, and you will have to get your bag into their car. You're only going for a couple of days, not a month!

    If you're currently in school, you need to be notifying people that you'll be gone. Make sure someone can record audio for you in lectures (if that is allowed) and be sure to reschedule things like exams as soon as you find out about the interview. I also had to find someone to sub for teaching my lab class. If you're employed, you need to either have some vacation time to take or you need to get some unpaid time off.

    What should you be wearing?

    I went over this in the previous post, but seeing people freaking out about it in the forums suggests it is worth repeating. On the plane or traveling, nice jeans and a decent shirt are generally fine, though I changed into khakis when I arrived at the airport.

    For "casual" events such as a dinner with graduate students or other evening activities, I dressed on the more casual end of business casual: Khakis and a cute blouse, brown boots.

    For my actual interview day, I dressed up more, but not to the level of a high end business professional. I wore fitted grey trouser pants with black boots, a ¾ sleeved black blazer, and a blouse.

    For ladies, it is important that you're comfortable.

    Here are things that I feel ladies should avoid:

    1. Skirts, especially those above the knee... Complaints about modesty were common from professors. If you wear pants, you don't have to worry!

    2. High heels, especially stilettos. You're going to be walking so much you'll be miserable before lunch. If you do want a heel, keep it low, and make sure that it is a fat heel so it is more supportive. Short wedge heels or boots are the best. Pick shoes you know you could wear 12+ hours with a few miles worth of walking in a day.

    3. Cleavage. Just cover it up, ladies. You'd rather those you're talking to to look at your face, right? V-necked tops should probably have a camisole underneath just in case.

    4. Sheer fabrics: There was a girl at interviews last year with a sheer shirt on over a yellow bra. Common sense should tell you to avoid things like that.

    Guys, you've got it easier, but sometimes you put patterns together that make people cringe. Just look professional, and that should be all you need to worry about. You don't have to wear a full suit; a nice shirt + tie and dress pants are fine. Just don't wear jeans.

    What are the outings with grad students like?

    Odds are, you'll be arriving the evening before your interviews. Schools generally like to have the current graduate students meet you and take you to dinner, and often these students are volunteers. Usually they'll take you out to a local restaurant and you'll all sit, talk, and generally have fun. This doesn't mean that you should go and get completely wasted. Have fun, have a drink (as in only one, and a small one at that), and enjoy your meal. These grad students are both your best friend and worst enemy. They'll give you insight into the professors you're meeting and will usually answer anything you want to know about the program really honestly. On the other hand, they're also directly in contact with admissions and will note things about you. If you're rude and obnoxious, they're going to tell someone. The same goes for if you're so quiet that you talk only when spoken to or if you do not seem to play well with the other applicants.

    Since I am assuming most people know how to play well with others right now, these outings with the grad students are great ways to learn about the area, real expectations for students, to ask questions about classes, professors, etc.

    I had a blast at one of the interviews; the students ate with us the night before, attended their student seminar the next morning, and then the night of interviews, we got to meet them around a campfire with the professors. After that, we headed to a bar, which was a test, but we all had fun. Probably the best day was the day after interviews where the students showed us their apartments and some of their favorite places in town. Everyone was happy, and everyone was enthusiastically answering our questions.The grad students really made us feel welcome and like we wouldn't shrivel up and die if we attended there.

    Another interview, the students were set up to meet us the evening we got there and then for a reception right after interviews. The difference was that students were reluctant to answer questions, acted miserable, and did not do much to make us feel welcome. These kinds of things can help you solidify a decision, later if you're struggling to choose between two schools.

    What is the interview like, and what are some common interview questions?

    You guys need to realize that everything is fair game. The types of interviews I attended were 3-5 interviews at 30-50 minutes each individually with each professor in their office. None of them treat interviews the same. One may want to ask you a ton of questions about your SoP, your research, and where you see yourself in 10 years. Another may have seen your application and decide that he wants to see how you take to being recruited for his lab, so your interview time will be spent discussing his research. Others are a mix of the two. Many professors will make at least some time in your interview to request that you ask questions of them about research, the area, and the program. Essentially, be ready for anything. I even was assigned a short homework assignment from one PI.

    The obvious thing to do to prepare is to read abstracts as discussed above and to make sure you remember everything you put in your essay.

    That being said, I know all of you still want some questions to prep to help control your constant worrying.

    1. Why do you want to pursue a PhD?

    You would be surprised at how many people get to their interview, are asked this question, and then just sit there staring at the person who asked it completely unable to generate a response. You're applying to grad school, so surely you have a reason for doing so, and hopefully it is one other than that the "real world" is a scary place. Know why you want to do this, and be able to talk about it.

    Hint: You probably hit on this in your essays!

    2. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

    A good idea here is to have a couple of options already in your head.

    3. Why do you want to study at "insert institution name"?

    Of all questions, you really want to be sure of this! You need to be able to demonstrate that you've applied to a school for other reasons than it had a free application or has a well-known name. Were there specific PIs you wanted to work with? Be careful, here... you need to have more than one PI! Was there a specific research area, such as epigenetics, that the school is known for? They almost always ask this, often followed up by something like, "You didn't grow up in a place like this, so how do you think you will adjust?" or "Will moving away from your family be okay with you?" or "Will your significant other be moving with you, or will they remain behind?" These sound personal, and they are, but sometimes they ask to try and gauge if you're serious about the school. I know when I interviewed, I wasn't prepared for that kind of follow-up, but I had luckily already discussed it with my boyfriend and family..

    4. You said "insert random thing" in your essay. Can you elaborate a little on that? Why do you feel that "thing" is so important in "whatever they correlate it to"?

    This is notable because you're going to have things in your essay that make you unique. They're going to want to question you on that. It could be some anecdote from your essay, something you say you want to do with your life (like public science outreach), or even something completely random.

    5. Why did you want to be interviewed by me?

    If you got to select who your professors were, be able to tell them why you picked them. Telling them you just went down the list isn't nice. Pick your profs by research interests and other factors.

    6. Do you have any questions for me?

    Now would be a good time to ask questions about the program, or, if you haven't discussed their research, give a segue into discussing a little about it. Like anyone in science, they love talking about what they do!

    (More questions will be added as I get more question ideas!)

    Interview etiquette (copied from my previous post):

    Make eye contact.

    Shake their hands when you get there and when you leave them.

    Avoid "stuff" words (like, kinda, sorta, maybe, ummm, etc) and run-on sentences (and.... and then.... but..... and.....).

    Ask questions about their research, the students, AND the program (the PIs might not know, but they will see your interest).

    Say thank you!

    Do all of the things you know to be professional, but try not to make yourself seem plastic.

    It is a great idea to have someone give you a practice interview a few times before you go. Some career services places at your university may have this service for you. It is a good idea to film and watch yourself to see where you need to improve.

    Next time, we'll answer Rexzeppelin's question: "How do you determine if your potential PI is a closet psychopath?" Feel free to ask me questions in the comments or to message me questions! I'll either answer them directly or make a new post!


  15. When I was deciding between Maryland and IUPUI, I was weighing the lesser amount of debt versus connections. Or at least, I thought I was. But then someone told me this:

    Pick the place that will make you the happiest, but remember that you always have the right to change your mind about what criteria constitute happiness.

    I love that quote. It told me that I wasn't choosing Maryland because of the connections. It was telling me I could be the happiest at Maryland. I made the decision to become a Terrapin two weeks ago and I honestly think it's the best decision I've made. I could not, for the life of me, get excited about IUPUI. It is a great school and I refuse to knock it at all. But I just couldn't get excited about going there. Maryland, well, I was calling the director of student services with a huge grin on my face, scoping out apartments even though it's a little early, and just... seriously, you couldn't get the smile off of my face.

    I know I will have more debt at Maryland. I know I might be living off of ramen for the next three years. But I also know that I am going to be in my favorite city in the world (it even beats some of my favorites in Europe) and I am going to have so many doors opened to me. I am required to do a field study as part of my program. The list of institutions Maryland does field study with is long and includes places like the Shakespeare Library, the Smithsonians, the National Archives, Library of Congress - the list goes on. My adviser for my Archives Specialization worked at the National Archives for 30 years and loves helping students get there.

    Needless to say, I'm over the moon. It has been a long, long journey. What I thought would make me happy has changed throughout this journey. I've thought less debt, a cheaper city, etc. at one point would make me happy. I thought staying in my study abroad city would make me happy. I thought being done in one year would make me happy. In the end, it's Maryland for a number of reasons.

    For all those who are still deciding, I wish you all the best! For all that have decided, congrats! For those who are looking to apply next year or reapply next year, take a deep breath. We all will make it!

  16. By this stage I figure I'm something of an expert at visiting potential grad schools. As mentioned in my earlier posts, I looked around a number of American universities when I was over in the States last summer (before the applications were even created). I visited several UK universities for formal interview days and informal introductions.

    Last weekend I had my first Visitation Weekend as an admitted grad student. And I handled it like a pro :P

    Seriously, though - I believe that visiting prospective grad schools is a vital thing to do. For starters it taught me how to interact professionally with faculty, how to make small-talk with grad students and how to interview successfully.

    Everybody will have different objectives for the visitation weekend, and will take different approaches to achieving those objectives. Here is advice from my perspective.

    Before the Visit

    • Work out how you feel about the school. Is this place your Top Choice or a Safety School? Did you apply here because you liked the faculty...but think the small college town atmosphere might get to you? If you have concerns about the university think up ways to find out more about the underlying issues. What questions can you ask professors/students/people waiting in the Starbucks queue that will get you the information you need to make a decision.
    • Scour faculty, school, university and specialist Department webpages for information. See what is available to you in this place that is different from other locations. As an international student I wanted to see what resources are there to inform and support grads moving from another country.
    • Write down a list of your most vital questions on a piece of paper...then put it in your jeans' pocket. On the morning of my visitiation weekend I could be found in my hotel room, scrawling feverishly on the back of my boarding pass all the questions I could possibly think of to address to POIs, students and both. Keeping that list on me during the day meant I could double-check it discreetly between meetings to check I wasn't missing out on anything important.
    • Mentally & physically prepare yourself. As an introverted scientist, a whole day spent talking with lots of strangers, acting like a friendly team-player and remaining energetic until I was dropped off after dinner...whew, that counts as an endurance event. I had to take time out to psych myself up and get "in the zone". I'm OK with jetlag, but required a lot of water and an early night beforehand.

      During the Visit - Objectives
      • 3-5 faculty that I could see myself working for. As a chemist I go through several lab rotations. I have a thesis committee of 3, including my PI. I don't know that my 1st choice PI will have space to take me on...or that I'll work well with them. Therefore, the grad school I commit to must have an absolute minimum of 3 POIs that I like.
      • Other Departmental faculty that I get on with. I'm going to be doing more than slaving in the lab for 5 years. I want to be in an environment where the faculty get on with each other and know the grad students quite well. If a major research group-related problems erupts, I want there to be "impartial" figures I can chat to for advice.
      • Grounded Grad Students. I don't want to be in an ultra-competitive grad school where the students have big egos and distrustful attitudes. I don't want to be in a grad school where the students have submissive posture and low self-esteem. I want to be on a program that produces intelligent, confident and likeable grad students. Why? Well, I'd like to be an intelligent, confident and likeable grad student myself - so perhaps I can learn from their example.
      • Resources to help me meet my career objectives. Coming into grad school I have quite a clear idea of where I want to end up in the future (industry, not academia) and what is needed to achieve that. The better a grad school can help me along that path, the more inclined I will be towards choosing it. Do industrial companies recruit grad students on-campus? Does the grad school host Career Talks about working in industry? How many?

      After the visit

      [*]Send brief emails to your POIs and organisers, thanking them for their time. It can't hurt to be polite to the faculty you've met (see my 3-5 rule above). Then see how many working days it takes for them to reply. The faculty who reply quickly? You want to work for those organised people.

  17. blog-0969513001362153281.pngBack again after a fairly long absence! :)

    And gentlefolk, it's finally March. I know for my discipline (history), programs are probably about half-way done returning decisions. I personally applied to ten schools and actually heard from the last of them on Monday. I'm extremely relieved to be done with the waiting game, and am extremely happy with how everything turned out (despite getting rejected from six programs - heh!).

    As you might know from my last update, UNC Chapel Hill accepted me all the way back on January 31st. Part of the reason I didn't want to post another entry until now, in fact, is because I got so much news during the first half of February. And since most of it was good news, I didn't feel like it would be kind to post an update with so much (probably gag-worthy) excitement when so many folks were still waiting to hear back.

    ...Now that people are beginning to enter their decision processes, though, I thought I would share a bit about mine! :)

    I was able to eliminate two of the schools that accepted me right off the bat: one due to poor fit and the other because of ranking/some slightly rude POIs. In the end it came down to CUNY and UNC. They're both excellent fits for me - the faculty is just incredible at both programs. As much as I would love (seriously, love!) to live in NYC, though, the cost of living was a big factor in my decision. Of course, the rankings of the schools are quite different (#10 at UNC vs. #27ish at CUNY for European History), and the prestige/external funding opportunities will be very important to me.

    I gave myself about a week and a half to really mull it over (and wait for rejections from other programs - ha!), fearing that I might have formed an unreasonable attachment to UNC because they gave me my first acceptance. Tallying up the pros and cons, though, I'm completely confident that UNC is the right program for me...so on Saturday I went ahead and formally accepted their offer! :D I'm all set to go out to campus for the visiting weekend in March and absolutely couldn't be happier!

    Now all I need to do is finish my thesis and complete my coursework, so I can actually - you know - *graduate* and attend my new program in the fall. That's proving easier said than done, but spring break is just a week away at my current school, so the finish line is in sight!

    As you all continue the horrible wait and make your decisions, I wish you all the luck and happiness I've been lucky enough to experience the last few weeks! :) Feel free to comment and share your hopes, anxieties, decisions...whatever you like!

  18. Amerz
    Latest Entry

    [Note: found this unpublished and unfinished draft of a blog entry I wrote early last year. Thought I'd publish it anyway.]

    Like several of you, I've heard back from most of the schools I applied to (actually, all but1). I've had two in-person interviews (both followed Skype interviews), one just over-the-phone interview, and two acceptances (weirdly, not following interviews at all).

    General impressions:

    In-person interviews are the only way to go. I know SO much more about those schools, the city I would potentially live in, the faculty, grad students, and general climate of the program than I would have otherwise. In both cases they were game changers - I went in with set opinions that were totally blown out of the water. I literally don't know what to do with the two outright acceptances (without interviews) I did get. How am I supposed to make a decision based on the few pieces of paper they sent me? I'm planning to request visits.

    In-person interviews are exhausting. Much more so than you think they'll be. I'm pretty sure I stopped forming coherent sentences about three-quarters of the way through. But it's okay, I think they expect this, and hopefully don't judge too harshly when you forget important pieces of information - like your name, where you're from, or who your POI is. And trust me, you get asked that a lot.

    Similar-seeming schools and departments can be wildly different.

  19. blog-0094846001360979028.jpegThis 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.

    Fez Out.

  20. psychdork
    Latest Entry

    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.

    • 1
    • 17
    • 16797

    Recent Entries

    Latest Entry

    I bet that right now, there are about a million "What if??" questions running through every one of our brains... But the scariest one is "What if I don't get in?"

    I'll speak for myself-- that seems to be all I can think about lately. A couple of days ago, I made myself write out a Plan B (which started off seriously: "look into MS programs, studying/traveling abroad" but then it became... slightly crazed: "move to hippie farm, join convent"). It helped my anxiety a lot... for a couple of hours... But what we all have to remember is that we'll be okay, no matter what the outcome of this admissions cycle! I'm sure that not all of you believe that "everything happens for a reason", but with grad school applications, I think everything does happen for a reason. If we don't get in to any grad programs this admissions cycle, we have many years ahead of us to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, improve our applications, and try again.

    Okay, so... me. This is my second time applying to grad school. Of the seven schools I applied to last fall, I was accepted to my two "safety schools" for PhD programs in biomedical sciences, but after some thoughtful deliberation, I decided not to attend either of those schools. Why? Because I wasn't sure I'd be happy at those places, and I knew that would hinder my success.

    [Second-time applicant's tip #1: only apply to schools you want to attend. Applying to grad school isn't like applying to college; you shouldn't have a "safety school" unless you could see yourself feeling happy and fulfilled if you went there.]

    [Second-time applicant's tip #2: Find MULTIPLE faculty members with whom you're interested in working at the schools to which you apply. You don't want to find yourself at a school where you're only interested in working with one faculty member and then they don't have the funding/ space to mentor you.]

    Last spring I was terrified of turning down PhD offers because it meant that I would be staying in my job as a research tech for another year when I had been already been working there since my sophomore year of college and for the year since I graduated and I felt ready to move on. It also scared me because I knew that only applying to schools that I wanted to go to was a gamble; they were, by and large "better" schools, and there was always the possibility that I wouldn't get in anywhere in my reapplications. But I took a deep breath, and went with my gut feeling. I have the better part of a year to improve my application, I told myself, I'll get in somewhere... right?

    Now I am so happy that I decided to take that second year off. Over the past year, my work in the lab has gone very well-- I presented my projects at one international conference and at several smaller conferences, I got some major work done on some projects that I wouldn't have been able to finish if I had gone to school in the fall, and I acquired more skills that will leave me with that much less to learn in grad school. Equally importantly, my additional year off has also given me the opportunity to reexamine my application. I met with a member of the admissions committee at my university who was kind enough to go over the shortcomings of my application, and find the places where I could have presented myself a bit better.

    [Second-time applicant's tip #3: Always address the elephant in the room (bad grades, lack of research experience, etc). I had some extenuating circumstances that explained some poor academic performance, but last year I was too embarrassed to address the issue in my personal statement-- big mistake. Explain your situation gracefully and it may help you.]

    All in all, I feel like I have significantly more control this time around-- I know what factors I want in a school, I know how I can improve my application (apply early, revise SOP, retake the GRE, replace one recommendation writer, apply to different schools, etc), and perhaps most importantly, I have that extra motivation to get there, which is clear in my applications. And it's all because I've had the better part of a year to think, plan, and execute.

    So for all of us who are freaking out right now, remember: Not getting in (or taking an extra year to re-apply to schools you would prefer) is a blessing in disguise. If we aren't accepted this time around, our lives will most certainly NOT be over. That's especially true for those of you still in undergrad... I tell all of my undergrad friends not to go straight to grad school-- for the love of all that is good, take some time off! Grad school is long enough, and you don't have to be in a rush to get there. It's better to make such an important decision with slow and careful deliberation.

    -> PM ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE! I'll keep posting here, but if you want to know things like my GPA, etc, let me know!

  21. This might just be my last blog post here on The Grad Cafe, and it is an exciting turn of events. How I went from a 'decaf' lurker to a Master's Student is certainly a trek I will not soon forget. I still wake up some days just wondering how I got into such a great program when everyone just seemed to out-qualify me, but there are those days when I feel confident, happy and ready. I am ready.


    I'm still not 100 percent positive with what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to get my Masters and I know I am happy with the program I am in. I still wish my Japanese was better, I still wish I had more work experience and I still wished I had more time to stay young - but, as I said, I think I'm ready. No matter what number my dice lands on, I'm happy with the way things have worked out right now.


    Where I was

    Undergraduate Institution: Temple University, Japan Campus

    GPA: 3.85, one of 5 Magna Cum Laude

    Major/Minor: Asian Studies/Political Science

    Reflection:Considering the school is the first 6 stories of an Office Building in downtown Tokyo, I don't really regret going to TUJ. It wasn't the hardest school - and most of the students really aren't in it for the academics - but it did teach me a lot. Being in such an unique international set up - an American school in Japan with people from all around the world - really taught me a lot about the world, myself and academia. Maybe I wasn't pushed to my limits, but I really enjoyed the ride and I cannot deny the growth I feel as person with a Temple Japan degree. 


    Where I will be

    Graduate Institution: University of British Columbia

    Program: Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Policy Studies

    Worries: I'm going to die - taking such a heavy course loud to finish school in a year. I'm going to be the dumbest one in the room. The program doesn't focus enough on Japan. Canadian credentials might get in the way down the road, maybe.

    Hopes: I meet a plethora of new international friends and contacts to add to my already varied list. I get a stronger focus on policy studies. The beautiful campus inspires me to actually leave my room. I succeed. 


    Where I could have been

    Graduate Institution: Seton Hall University

    Program: Duel Masters in Asian Studies and Diplomacy & International Relations (Whitehead school)

    Why I didn't go: Offered only a few TA-ships and no other substantial financial assistance. Huge China focus - limited Japan courses that I saw. Didn't make me feel special. 
    What I'll miss out on: Seton Hall has fantastic networking and a unique partnership with the UN that I wish I had access to. Despite being much smaller and younger than UBC, I'm pretty sure Seton Hall's networking and alumni set up is far superior. I would have been able to live at home, and NYC/DC were so close.



    I have officially registered for all but one of my classes with UBC - and I'll be in that last one soon enough. UBC makes you register for the whole year, instead of semester by semester, and since I plan on graduating in one year (=Death) that means I'm all set. My classes are really varied but, ultimately, set me up to have a strong foundation in international development and the role policy plays in the growth of Asia Pacific countries. There's a focus on East Asian diplomacy and Japanese government structures which I'm going to love as well. One of the cooler things I've learned is that many of my professors will let me tailor the classes to fix my interest - they wont care if all my papers are on Japan/US relations or what not. As long as I do the research and mold in their coursework, I'm set.


    I'm taking 4 courses a term/semester, which is scary considering everyone is telling me not to take more than 3. But even grad school has to obey the law of economics and I do not have the money for a fourth semester, so I have to finish up in one year. The only thing I don't know yet is where/what my Practicum will be, though I know it will take place over the summer. I'm hoping to do something in Japan - worth with an NGO or government agency but of course my Japanese will need improving. 


    Of course it seems like I will be missing yet another one of my graduations, which is extremely depressing. I missed TUJ's ceremony because I couldn't afford to fly to Japan for it (graduated a semester early) and now UBC's ceremony for me wouldn't be until November, with me having finished all requirements by September 2013. Oh well. T_T


    I'm still trying to find a job - I applied to a bunch of RA'ships but I didn't get any so far. If I can make 200 a week than I should be able to pay for grad school on my own and return my loan to good old Uncle Sam - but taking so many classes AND working might just honestly kill me. 




    Since this might be my last post ever, I guess I should leave a small bit about what I have learned about applying. One of the things I will point out is to just APPLY to a program - even if you don't think you'll ever get in. I thought UBC and White Head were well beyond my abilities - and yet both got in. UBC even called me an extremely strong candidate (I'm sure they had me mixed up with someone else, though). If you have the money and don't mind bothering the people writing your LoR, please, please, just apply to the programs you are interested in. You never know what will happen. 


    Thank You Grad Cafe for scaring the hell out of me with your 'I save orphans and scored a perfect GRE test', its been mad fun : )




  22. So less than a month until the big move. :) I'm both excited yet freaking out at times. This whole process is about to finally end and a new journey will start and hopefully it ends as well as this one.

    Anyways, as many obstacles it seems like a person confronts with this whole process they must not forget the journey isn't over until you are really there. I say this because some of the things you don't think about when applying become harder once you have made a decision. Finding an apartment has been one of these particularly difficult things I have encountered. Unfortunately, this is somewhat my fault given I simply couldn't afford to make trips back and forth just to look at places. I was finally able to work with a real estate company that has rentals which helped dramatically. I would definitely recommend this to anyone especially if you are moving more than a few hours away. This was after the fact that I had found a place and basically was screwed over. Unfortunately, at many universities on-campus housing is unreliable and most grad students can save a lot money by finding a place off campus, I know from my experience I am saving roughly 200 dollars every month, which is a lot on a graduate student's budget. Overall, I am relieved that I will at least have a place to sleep when the move finally comes.

    Secondly, I am all registered for the fall. A few things may change, but I will see when I actually get to my orientation and talk to a few professors. The big thing I have to confront with this is time conflicts with my required methods courses and a course I really was just looking forward to taking. I knew this may be a problem when I made my decision to choose a smaller program over a larger one though, so still I am excited to get started.

    Thirdly, the thing I am most excited about is starting my assistantship. I think after having worked so hard to get to this point I feel like I can bring something to the table really, at least I hope. I am honestly just happy to be making some money even if the majority of it is going towards my living expenses as well.

    I wanted to finish this blog for the time being by noting more of my background. I applied for PhD programs in poli. sci after a year off of school. I did okay on the GRE but not spectacular like most of the people on this forum. My undergraduate gpa was pretty good at around 3.8, which I definitely believe helped with my less than stellar GRE verbal score. My research focus covers a number of issues, including energy politics, ethnic issues, and more broadly security within Central and Eastern Europe. I do have some experience in the region which I thought helped narrow my research focus, but I don't particularly believe this set me apart from others.

    Overall, if I had recommend anything to anyone about this whole process, it would be to only apply to programs you would actually attend. Lastly, you don't want to have any regrets about the whole process, applying for a given program is a lot less expensive than what you will be spending after you make a final decision.


Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.