I thought that applying for graduate school was the most stressful couple of months of my life… I was wrong. Yes, it was a lot of work over a period of about 10 months: researching programs that seemed like great fits, cold-emailing potential mentors to gauge whether they would be entertaining new students during my application season, applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and then actually getting around to writing statements for the actual applications. I won’t get into everything that went into what seemed like a 5 year process of applying to graduate school here — that definitely warrants its own post.
My point is that while applying to graduate school was an insane process requiring a ton of work and research while juggling a full-time job and a consulting gig, I had control over every step of the process. Once I learned which programs I was interested in had faculty members conducting research that I wanted to work on AND were accepting new students into their lab, I ended up applying to only 5 programs. I have heard that the average prospective student applies to ~15 programs, so my approach was anything but typical. Applying to a small set of programs allowed me to really focus on every single component of each application and tailor every statement to that program and the faculty members I was interested in. For someone who is just now realizing how type A of a personality I have, the ability to be meticulous and focused was oddly comforting.
I thought I would feel intense relief once I pressed submit. It felt like my entire life was leading up to submitting these applications and I thought that once they were out, my stress would be lifted and I would be able to operate like a real person again (actually hang out with my friends and enjoy New York City without my mind being partially occupied by the thought of what to write next in my statements).
I was surprised that once my applications were out, I was more stressed. The anxiety really set in: what if I don’t get an interview? I started to second guess myself in ways that I never did during the application process. I wondered if all of the work I had done was for nothing. How embarrassed I would be if after everything I did and all of the work my mentors and friends did reviewing my statements, writing me recommendation letters, providing support and encouragement, if I didn’t even get an interview. I would crawl into a hole and never come out.
I started obsessively checking thegradcafe.com (which YOU SHOULD NOT DO!). For those of you who do not know about it, this is a website where applicants can post interview invites and admissions decisions. It seems really helpful since this kind of information is not made publicly available by most programs. Essentially, if you do not get an interview invite, you will not be accepted into the program. Therefore, it seems like a good idea to know when others are getting invitations so that if you do not get one you can move on. Sometimes I would refresh the psychology search results at an hourly rate. Just slightly obsessive. For the first couple of weeks in December no one had posted regarding interview invites from the programs I had applied to. I was in the clear, it was still too early. This was a blissful couple of weeks, but it didn’t last long.
It was Monday evening, December 26th, 2016. I will never forget. I was home in Florida to spend time with my family during the holidays prior to moving to Israel. My grandparents came over to our house to celebrate Hanukkah and I was still incapable of enjoying my freedom from the application process. Instead of focusing on my time with my family, I was refreshing thegradcafe.com, when someone posted an interview invite from one of my programs. My heart dropped. I had convinced myself in the span of 30 seconds that my life was over, I would not be getting into graduate school, and that I was moving to Israel to do research in a lab that would not contribute in any way to my professional development anymore. I started coming up with plans B, C, and D. My academic career was over before it started, and it was time to move on.
I knew that this reaction was completely out of control. I had put years into this process, and a single post from a stranger on a website convinced me that it was all for nothing. That was when I decided to block myself from thegradcafe.com and really enjoy my time at home with my family. I had been away from them for nearly 8 years, and was about to move across the world for at least 5 months. It was time to get some perspective and grow up.
Three days later, on December 29th, I received my first interview invite. And no, I did not post it to thegradcafe!