Bent, not broken

Sad news always comes before important/joyful occasions. I got my first PhD rejection on Feb 13 early this year, just a day before Valentine’s DAy. With my birthday on the horizon, the ultimate birthday gift I was wishing for turns out to be devastating bomb.

I got the scholarship rejection email this morning. I was shocked. It was so out of my expectation. I texted my mom and a couple good friends. They asked me what I would do. I simply replied, “I honestly don’t know.” I got myself together and immediately shot my supervisor an email. I told him I was very disappointed to find that the school didn’t think I was “good enough” to get funded and asked him what other options I had.

After sending that email, I was a little surprised by how calm I was. This school was my last resort. Once again I felt like my dream has slipped through my fingers even though it felt so close. Disappointment was actually an understatement. Lots of things went through my mind:

  1. Accepting the Brown master’s offer that will make me an Ivy grad but consume all my savings. After that, I still won’t be a PhD.
  2. Fooling myself that I still have a chance with pending scholarship from other school even though I’m totally on the wait list.
  3. Being a self-funded PhD student even though that means I’m not good enough to get funded.
  4. Saying good bye to this PhD dream and climb the corporate ladder because I definitely have very good prospects at my company here

The most logical option is number 4. It’s the most mature and the safest choice. It also makes the most sense financially. Then I thought of The Guardian article I posted a few days ago about a former footballer who found happiness in academia. I know other than devoting my life in education, there really is nothing I’d rather do. Like Steve Jobs once said,

I had been rejected, but I was still in love.

Meanwhile, my supervisor also wrote me back very quickly and explained to me the department accepted me based on my credentials, and they have no say over who gets a scholarship. My failure to get a scholarship didn’t mean I’m not unworthy of a PhD or reflect how the department viewed me. His words made me feel a lot better. I needed someone who knows how this business work to assure me my admission was not just a charity case or by luck. Even though the scholarship committee didn’t select me, I’m still every bit a competent PhD candidate with potential. He also encouraged me to seek Teaching Assistantships and said he hoped I’d still attend despite the change of plan.

I immediately thought of the one line that I wrote in Florid Eyes: A Novel, which Violet said to Josh when he was totally bummed out by the news that could make his lifelong pursuit meaningless,

We still have hope.

Now I understand why I wasn’t crying or consumed by sorrow. I’ve learned to remain hopeful. My dream was bent, but not broken. I will do whatever I can to make it work.


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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