It was late on a Tuesday night when the email arrived. Past my bedtime late: it would be around 5pm on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. I was lying on my bed stabbing the keys of my laptop in the endless cycle of re-checking my emails.
Over a month had passed since I'd taken those deep breaths and hit 'Submit' on my American applications. I was in London at the time, drafting personal statements in the library on a Saturday. I'd celebrated by wandering out into the cold December night and treating myself to dinner in a Thai Restaurant (their pad thai was far too sweet) before cycling back to my lodgings.
December had rolled through. With Christmas I returned to Scotland - the pretence was that I'd be back with my family until I found a job, but in reality I think I was to work myself into a state of neurosis over the 5 American PhD applications (and 3 British ones) I'd relinquished control over.
I speculated. There were 2 PhD programs I'd felt lukewarm about applying to, 1 of which I thought was definitely a lost cause. There was 1 "top choice" and the other 2 were "decent enough alternatives". I staked out my place on GradCafe, carefully noted when my Reach Schools gave out decisions last year...and waited.
Based upon the Results Search I could see one week would be a real pressure point, several of my schools were likely to notify applicants of positive decisions then. I planned tasks in my calendar to get myself out of the endless Email Inbox Refresh Cycle.
In the middle of the week - on the last round of email checks before I called it a night - I saw the message from one of my programs.
It was my first PhD acceptance.
I'm not the "run around the house screaming in joy" kinda gal. I simply lay there grinning to myself. In fact I kept the knowledge secret from my family until the next day, just to let the realisation properly diffuse in.
The next two decisions came within a week, Acceptance No. 2 & Rejection No. 1 on the same day. I had my two "decent enough alternatives". Holding a choice felt wonderful: for most of the 2011-12 application cycle I felt powerless, forcing myself onto options and choices I would have regretted. One unconditional PhD offer was a gift, two gave me the luxury of weighing up factors and prioritising what I wanted the most (location, research fit, facilities). Oh wow...
But then Rejection No. 2 was from my "top choice" and it felt like a punch in the stomach. My reaction to the email was one of physical shock: I'd courted Top Choice University the hardest, received plenty of encouragement from POIs...yet still got the generic rejection email. I had to snap out of the daze because there were people I had to meet that day, but when I met them I was unable to smile properly.
After a day or so of quietly "grieving", I was able to admit to myself where the faults had lay. Top Choice University put a lot of weight on GRE & GPA scores - I knew that from my summer visit - so I suspect my weak Chemistry GRE quickly eliminated me from the pile. I strongly encourage courting of POIs...but if they aren't members of the Admissions Committee there is only so much they can influence selections.
Sure I was disappointed...but not so disappointed that I would attempt another re-application. The application cycle was expensive. It took up huge reserves of my energy. I'd done enough short-term research internships, I wanted a 5-year thesis project. There would be no guarantees in a re-application - maybe I could improve my Chemistry GRE, but if the first 2 attempts hadn't achieved good marks...
Besides, the two options I had were perfectly fine, they just lacked the brand name sparkle.
At the time of writing I'm still waiting to hear back from the UK institutions and to visit the US schools. Only when I have more information will I make my final decision.
Whatever I chose, I know I'll make it pay off.