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Writing Awards Bust

1Q84

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blog-0391607001398203659.jpgI haven't quite sorted out in my mind yet if I am simply feeling the effects of misplaced hubris or if I'm getting regular graduate student blues, but here goes:

Every year there are departmental writing awards. I submitted an essay that my professor really liked, gave an A+ and said it was the best in the class. I felt quite confident I could net at least second place (we have a tiny department).

Fast forward to today: an office admin told me to come by the department because there was leftover food from an event. I went by and saw the leftover programmes touting the writing award winners. I saw someone who has been in the program for many years (maybe four years even though the program is only two) had won first place. Okay, that's fine. But second place they chose not to award at all.

I know for a fact that my colleague in my year submitted a strong essay as well. How in the world could neither of us have won second place? And instead of awarding it to either of us, they thought no one else was worthy? Not only that, but they didn't even bother to send out the award recipients in an email (to me or my colleague). It feels like I was kept in the dark or shut out somehow.

I feel deflated and out of touch with reality all of a sudden. Am I just being puffed up by this one professor and I'm actually a really, really rancid writer?

It's going to take me a while to recover from this I think. What a blow.



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You know, it's better not to look too much into why someone else got an award which you didn't get. The reasoning behind who gets selected is unrelated to how well a writer you are. 

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You know, it's better not to look too much into why someone else got an award which you didn't get. The reasoning behind who gets selected is unrelated to how well a writer you are. 

 

I know that's the logical solution but.... that doesn't make it any easier to deal with it. I guess it's just a lesson in dealing with failure.

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Sorry to hear this. It must be frustrating! :<

 

I agree that it would at least be nice to have been informed about the event. I don't understand why your department wouldn't mention that, or maybe even your advisor...

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Sorry to hear this. It must be frustrating! :<

 

I agree that it would at least be nice to have been informed about the event. I don't understand why your department wouldn't mention that, or maybe even your advisor...

 

Right? I'm in an MA program so I don't have an advisor per se but the graduate director kind of "took me under her wing" and I was hoping she would care enough to let me know. I guess they do say expectations are the only thing that lead to disappointment...

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The first rejection/failure stings. No matter how rationally you can understand how this award doesn't demonstrate your abilities as a writer, the first one always hurts. I remember in my MA program; we had a peer reviewed and edited student journal, and each year, my essay was in the top quarter of ranked essays... but it always missed the cut to be published. The first time, this broke my heart. The second time, I laughed.

 

That's the good news: I now just shrug. One of the hardest parts of our career is how abundant rejection is. Your abstract will be rejected from conferences, you will lose competitions, you won't be granted a fellowship, your publication submission will be rejected. It's part of the game, and the more you play, the more rejection you will face. After a while, I realized how impersonal these decisions really are. Lots of times, it is a question of fit, or there are behind the scenes politics that affect who will get chosen for what. Either way, rejection is rarely about your abilities. Even though it stings now, trust me that this will get easier. You will build a tougher skin, and soon, you'll celebrate the wins and not even blink at the losses. It takes some time, but you will get there. 

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Our undergraduate philosophy department always submitted the senior theses to a philosophy conference - we had a strong department and had a 60% historical success rate. My senior year, they were submitted to a newly organized conference (it was local - travel budgets were cut) and not a single one of our essays was accepted. We only found out later that, despite the fact the call for papers said "any topic," they were actually only accepting papers on metaphysics. As proflorax says: many times the reason a winner was chosen has nothing to do with your own particular quality of writing. There are so many behind-the-scenes factors that go into things. It's the same thing as why it seems to take forever to hear back from grad schools: on the applicant's end, we only see every other person on GradCafe hearing back from their top choice. You don't get to see that the admission office at your top choice recently had someone resign unexpectedly and no one can figure out their files and it's really slowing them down.

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I really second proflorax here. Earlier this year I applied for an on-campus fellowship because my advisor nominated me for it. I spent the entire christmas break to work on the statement, in the end just to find that someone else got it -- the fellowship considers students finishing PhD within 6 years to be competitive, but this student is already on her 6th year at the time of application. Boy I was bummed! I want my holiday back! 

 

I wrote the fellowship office an email asking whether there were written comments about my application. There was no official evaluation but they did tell me that amongst other selection criteria such as how well you present your own research, they also look at publications, whether your research is well supported by your recommenders/program, whether the research is creative etc. So a lot of factors are at play here.

 

Really, don't take it personal. Your ability is only a small part of the judging process, and rejections are rarely about that. 

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Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the bucket of cold water over the head. I needed that.

 

I also talked to the graduate director and she said that the whole thing made her very angry as well that no one was notified and that there was no second place awarded. She said basically the same thing as you all, that I shouldn't let it stand as a reflection of my writing but it was all politics.

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Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the bucket of cold water over the head. I needed that.

 

I also talked to the graduate director and she said that the whole thing made her very angry as well that no one was notified and that there was no second place awarded. She said basically the same thing as you all, that I shouldn't let it stand as a reflection of my writing but it was all politics.

 

 

That's good to have that kind of closure.

 

Good luck in the future! :)

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I know how bad it stings to get denied a well-deserved position. On our graduation ceremony I came to know that I had been taken out of the race for the gold-medal for the best final year project. You know why? Because the other person took their project to a competition in Holland and showcased it there. The college felt they owed them for it. And just like in your case, there was no second position. I was sheepishly told later that they would compensate me with a cash prize. About a year later I am still waiting to hear back. So yeah, I know how you feel. 

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Maybe they just didn't have the funds for second place awards.

 

That's a possibility but if that were the case but they gave second place prizes for every other category so... It's sketchy.

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