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I Know Where I Went Wrong

NOWAYNOHOW

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I received my first official rejection today. I also didn't receive an interview at my top choice and I've been unofficially rejected by the anthropology department at my current university. The caliber of these programs and my fit with their faculty make me think that I have good reason to believe I will be shut out this year.

Before I was feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling helpless. I didn't know what to do. My backup plan (an MPH) was just deemed "useless" by an authority on public health and anthropology and I really do think it's going to take a lot of rebuilding from here.

Regardless, I think I realized what went wrong. I think I'm ready for the challenge of starting again.

Back in April, my adviser told me she thought my proposed research for the PhD had too narrow a focus and that I needed an international field site in order to be taken seriously by anthropology committees. Because she's a renowned scholar and we have a great relationship, I took her advice and together we crafted a strong research proposal with transnational implications. I hoped this would make me appeal to more faculty, as I was told it would. I felt that even though the topic was a clear departure from my research thus far, that my record of success in general would make up for the difference between what I do now and what I said I want to do.

I realize now how silly it was to think that a good topic (a great topic!) would convince a committee to admit me despite showing a major departure from what I have worked on until now. I am sure that is my problem. I told the committees what I thought they wanted to hear, instead of telling them what I really wanted to do.

The realization is pretty energizing. So what if I strike out across the board? I still will be graduating with an MA in May, and I should be proud of all the work I've done. My boss just told me I could extend my research position with her and that she'd take me on for the next year if need be, so I don't have to look for another job. I'm going to focus on publishing my thesis, which is on my original topic of interest, and I'm going to connect with the few scholars in the universe that also work on similar topics. I submitted a book review and a paper to two different graduate student journals. I'm going to apply for NSF funding. I'm not going to take these rejections lying down.

What I am going to do is be true to myself. If I want to study what I've been studying all along, then that's what I'm going to do. It might make me less interesting to faculty with international interests, but the only thing that matters to me is being interesting to the people who will enthusiastically support my research. If it means that I need to apply to programs not just in anthropology, and risk getting an interdisciplinary degree, then that is what I will do.

What I'm not going to do is give up.



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Yay! Sounds like a fantastic plan! I hope you're wrong that you're going to get shut out this year. It's still so early, and you haven't heard anything from a number of schools you applied to. Fit is weird and maybe things won't play out the way you think. Regardless, I'm glad to hear you're excited about something new and filled with ideas and momentum. It's inspiring. I think this ability to refocus and persevere through major obstacles will be a boon to you in your future PhD program. You'll need these skills in grad school, from what I hear, so it's great that you're developing them now from a solid foundation! Yay you. :-)

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Reapply. Last year I struck out (1/5 but no funding at the 1). This year I have 7 interviews and an acceptance at my top choice! I honestly didn't believe people when they told me the 2nd round would go better.... but it can.

 

Good luck! There's still no proof you won't get in anywhere!

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Sounds fantastic! Even I feel hopeful after reading your post. Staying true to ourselves is what matters most. Keep it up! :-)

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How does it help or hurt to work for a couple three years with the MA and then consider research projects, schools, etc? I think there is value in experience & perspective.

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"What I am going to do is be true to myself. If I want to study what I've been studying all along, then that's what I'm going to do."

 

THIS is the key - follow your bliss. Do what you're passionate about. The rest, PhD or not, will follow.

 

But, also remember that there are more qualified applicants, more amazing applicants, than there are spaces. So many people who don't get in aren't admitted simply because it was 50/50 with lots of applicants and they just had to pick one. Don't think it's got to do with proposing a different topic. Having watched these processes from within a committee, the sad truth is that once you get to a certain level of qualifications, PhD applications are basically arbitrary and can come down to one professors nit-picky reaction to the opening line of an SOP, or how another professor feels about who wrote your letter. Or, shockingly, even about race, and gender. This is not a neutral, objective, or fair assessment of your qualifications and potential - it's literally a game of chance.

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This is such a fantastic response to your situation. It's tough to consider the possibility of a shut-out when you've worked SO hard, but not making the cut this year does not equate NEVER making the cut. 

 

My advisors stressed to me that if I don't make it this year, to not let that be a deterrent-- that it takes some applicants multiple rounds to find their spot. The key is to make sure, if you don't make it this time, that you spend the next year working on things that will enhance your application next admissions season. 

 

So, a big kudos to you for having a backup plan *just in case* and for not giving up on your dream. :)

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I am in a similar boat with the rejections. This is my first year of applications and I am almost 99% sure I've been declined admission to every place that I applied. I have to hear from two more places, but the odds are very much stacked against me. Perhaps I was too bold in my choices and I need to sit down and be realistic with myself about my abilities and the competitiveness of my application. Perhaps I need to reevaluate my ultimate goal (see: dream) and what I really need to do to get there. My ego, fortunately, doesn't feel too injured by all this rejection since I can't possibly base my value as a person and student on the decisions of other people that don't know me. I am glad to see that you recognize your worth and aren't "taking these rejections lying down".

 

But let's be real: this shit still stings a bit. You work so hard and spend too much money on these applications, transcripts, and GRE exam to not even get an interview or onto a wait list. It can make the calmest person real, real irritated.

 

I think you are right to reevaluate your approach to graduate school for next year and I think it is always better to be true to yourself, even if it means being rejected. At some point someone on one of those committees is going to recognize your potential and give you a shot; I hope this happens sooner rather than later. Good luck in your endeavors and I hope we get to hear when you are successful!

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But let's be real: this shit still stings a bit. You work so hard and spend too much money on these applications, transcripts, and GRE exam to not even get an interview or onto a wait list. It can make the calmest person real, real irritated.

 

Your whole response is spot on, but this is really crucial to my state of mind.  Yeah, I'm going to keep trying, but I can't help but be angry about how much I've done and how little it seems to have mattered.  I've been working 3 jobs as an MA student (2 RA, 1 TA) not just to make money, but to increase my value as a potential applicant.  I feel like the only people I've seen over the last 2 years have been my supervisors and occasionally my husband!  I was looking forward to the PhD not just because it's what I want to do with my life, but because for the first time in years, I'd probably have more time to myself because I'd have one job to deal with and not 3!  I just feel like I hustled above and beyond for nothing.  Ugh!

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