I got carried away and turned a simple update into a recap of my struggles and an autobiography waiting to be picked up by Steven Spielberg with my last blog post. Well, since I’ve already written a ton, I may as well keep writing. After all, writing is the most therapeutic thing ever…
So, I was on the verge of giving up my PhD dream, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was sad, but after a series of bitching and whining, I still believe I had what it took to make it. I thought of how I learned from my experience dealing with that bitch boss that no matter how good I am, not everyone is going to like me, so I told myself even though I didn’t get accepted that time, I didn’t mean I was any less of a competent scholar. I had a friend who was studying in Australia, and he seemed to be enjoying it a lot. It struck me that perhaps I could try my luck there.
I started Googling and looked up the admission requirements of top Australian schools. I was shocked at how foreign those requirements sounded to me. Not only was I oblivious to what terms like “first class honours” or “second upper honours” meant, I also had to reach out to faculty members first to establish contact before I could even apply. I emailed about 10 schools there, and I only heard back from three. Turns out my supreme GPAs and the degrees I took so much pride in didn’t mean anything in the eyes of most schools. They didn’t care about my double-majored BA with honors, my 3.83 GPA, my course-work based master’s or my professional experience. All they saw was my lack of research experience and my lack of publication. I was told by a professor I needed to get a 2-year master of research (something I had never heard of) before I could even think about getting a PhD.
The only schools that didn’t immediately cross my name off or delete my email were the University of New South Wales and University of Melbourne. The research studies coordinator at UNSW was extremely friendly and helpful. She told me my coursework master wasn’t completely worthless, and even though my undergraduate thesis was short in length, my master’s homework made up for it. She asked me to write a research proposal. As long as I was done with that she could start looking for a potential supervisor for me.
The coordinator at Melbourne, on the other hand, told me I should have no problem fulfilling the entry requirement, but two months after I checked with admission services , they told me I didn’t reach their minimum requirement, but if I insisted, I could still submit my proposal.
I was left with basically only UNSW and still wanted to try applying to Melbourne. I worked very, very hard for my proposal. I knew they were aware of my inadequate research experience, so I told myself I HAD TO write a kickass proposal. I needed to write something that was at least comparable to one written by a M.Phil graduate. I did what I always do when I have a question, I googled “How to write a PhD research proposal”. I reviewed more than 40 journal articles and modelled mine after at I found online. I asked my professor and PhD friends to review my work even though some were from different disciplines. When I submitted my proposal to UNSW and Melbourne, I told them I had never worked harder for any academic writing. A week later, UNSW told me they identified three potential supervisors for me, that means I could finally lodge my application. Meanwhile, Melbourne told me no one would pick up my project, so I could save myself the pain to even apply.
On one hand, I was very happy about UNSW, on the other, I was very disappointed at Melbourne, but I couldn’t say I was surprised. There came another moment I knew the torment and lessons learned were paying off. Instead of feeling all beaten up and depressed about the rejection, I let myself be upset for one day. I reminded myself as long as I still had hope, even though it was just one school, even though the chances were so slim, my dream was still alive.
Where did I get that kind of blind faith? From Violet, the character I created. I was inspiring myself with my only fictional character.
I started filling all the necessary documents and began to look for another backup school. I found that the New Zealand government is extremely generous with international PhD students. The tuition fee is the same for all nationalities, so I decided to apply to University of Auckland too.
Just as I was dealing with paperwork and emailing schools back and forth almost every day, I got a text from an old work associate I knew way back when I was still a new reporter. He asked if I would be free to fill in for him temporarily at his company. I was only teaching part time and my schedule was pretty flexible, so I could technically do it for a few weeks provided my students were okay with me moving the classes to night time. I actually didn’t want to do it at first because I was so convinced corporate jobs weren’t for me. I was convinced that I could never work for a woman boss. I was so worried that I couldn’t even last that three weeks. However, I told myself to take the risk, not only because it was temporary and commitment-free but also because I couldn’t let that woman win.
If I continued to live under her shadow, I would prove her right, I would be everything she said I was–an incompetent worker who couldn’t fit in an office environment.
There was nothing to lose but everything to gain. At least they agreed to pay me well, so I bit the bullet.
My experience turned out to so much more pleasant than I had expected. It was nothing like my former workplace. I knew I could fit into the laid-back culture of the company on my second day. Only a week into my job, my boss told me she thought I was very professional and presentable, and she wanted me to stay.
I’m still working at the company right now. It’s great. I get to write a lot instead of having to listen to meaningless gossips and deal with office politics. I get to leave work on time and continue to do what I love most at night. I’m getting paid reasonably well, so I could save up for my PhD. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I’m so glad I overcame my traumatizing experience.
Then came last Friday, I was at work when I go that acceptance email from UNSW. I wanted to scream so loudly. I am no longer an academic reject! Finally, a prestigious school recognizes my worth as a scholar. After ten months of waiting, countless rejections and buckets of tears shed, I’m on my way to getting my PhD! I know it’s only the beginning. I still have to wait till October to know if I can get a scholarship, and I still have Auckland to hear from.
I’ve learned so much in the past year, and I doubt if I would have learned this much had I stayed at that company. I’m so proud of what I’ve come so far professionally, academically and also personally. I love myself so much more now than I did a year ago.
Don’t lose faith. May it be work, school, or love. Don’t let one bad experience, or even many bad experiences, break you and ruin your faith. Take risks. It’s better to have oh-well’s than what-if’s.
I hope my story does mean something to you, no matter what your dream is.