Caution: This post is filled with overwhelming joy of a dreamer finally getting what she wants. Cynics beware.
As my departure date to Auckland approaches, every day I’m confronted with mixed emotions. I’m happy and worried and excited and anxious and self-doubting and optimistic. One second I feel like the world is at my finger tips. The next I’m worried about making a huge mistake to give up so much at home. Auckland may not have been my first choice for a PhD, but I’ve grown to love the city even though I haven’t even set foot there. I want to believe I’ve made the right choice.
However, a professor at my alma mater hasn’t been completely sold on the idea of me pursuing a PhD anywhere outside the United States. She thinks I’m too good not to be getting the best shot in academic success, but like a loving mother, she has come to accept and respect my decision to go to Auckland.
I had three offers on hand. One notable one is the unfunded master’s offer from Brown University. I deferred it for a year and had been unable to bring myself to reject it (It’s like telling a girl you can’t be in a relationship with her because she is too good for you. Everyone knows it’s bullshit). Last week, I got an email from a professor there, telling me he is in Hong Kong at the moment and would like to meet up to tell me more about Brown. I felt so sucker-punched because I have committed to going to Auckland, and I don’t break promises. I did, however, wondered about visiting research opportunities there because I’m entitled to conduct overseas research for up to 12 months at my program.
I plucked up my courage to pick up the phone to call the professor. I made it very clear that I was going to Auckland, but I also wanted to explore opportunities back in the States. He was totally cool with that and agreed to have lunch.
That alone drove me ecstatic. It was like going on a date! I even contemplated on what I should wear and how I should do my makeup. I consulted my professor friends and even my supervisor at Auckland whom I haven’t even met. I was determined to make a good impression, but I was worried that I’d blow my chances by acting too desperate or silly. I can switch from smart to stupid in a matter of seconds, depending on the subject of discussion. I was afraid I’d make a fool of myself. They told me to relax and assured me I would definitely impress him just by being myself.
On the day of our meeting, I woke up an hour before my alarm went off because I could barely contain my excitement. I arrived early and sweated like a pig before he arrived. When we finally met, I tried my best to keep myself together and thanked him for meeting with me by giving him my book Florid Eyes: A Novel (my professor’s brilliant idea) and my research proposal. I was very glad I actually came up with a short synopsis of my research topic because it always took me forever to explain it to an outsider. I was more than surprised when he showed genuine interest in my topic and thought it could be academically significant. He assured me my interest in fandom and fan culture is not juvenile and that there are several professors at Brown also studying fandom.
I smoothly asked if they ever take visiting research students. To my delight, they do as long as I don’t require financial assistance. He said they would be happy to host me for a semester or two and believed I could bring a lot of constructive insights over. There are also several courses I could audit to complement my research because there is no course work requirement for PhD at Auckland.
I could not believe how easy it went. So many tears were shed because I couldn’t afford the astronomical price tag for their master’s last year. Now they are basically letting me do part of my PhD there for free.
The best part is, I scored that completely on my merit. I’ve heard of the notorious “consolation master offer” Ivy League schools give to PhD rejects. I’ve suspected they took me for the MA because they wanted my money. Now I know that’s not true. I’m 100% good enough by their standard. I don’t have any well-connected family friends to line me up with a prestigious school like that. I don’t even know if my professors at my alma maters have connections of that level. Now I’m certain I got it because of my experience, knowledge and intelligence.
It’s so hard to imagine just one year ago, I was in such a dire situation and was desperately in need of a funded offer from just any school. Now I have the chance to have the best of both worlds–paying the extremely reasonable tuition at Auckland (or not at all if I land a scholarship soon enough) and making Ivy League connections.
Lesson learned: If you truly want something, do your homework and ask for it with sincerity. Don’t be afraid of embarrassing yourself if your ego is all you have to lose. Regrets stink more than wounded egos.