22 years old: more practice on being a nice being.
I did not know how to write about my application process for graduate programmes. I understand that (1) it’s different for everyone, (2) even I cannot be too confident about what works and what doesn’t, and (3) just applying to graduate programmes might not be such a significant thing to share.
But hey, I’m trying to adult well.
Since I don’t know what works and what doesn’t, I guess I will be telling stories, with some reflections at the end. If it can be helpful, it serves the purpose well. If it doesn’t, I hope you enjoy the story itself. I recently put non-fiction writer as a career option.
I started researching for schools around July 2017. I guess the first luck I had was that I thought about graduate schools since the first day of university and somehow the thought did not fluctuate much. All destination options for schools, however, are either under-justified, random, or questionable. For the sake of comprehension, I mostly mention only the names of the universities rather than going into details of the specific programmes.
Helsinki and Tampere: these were first in the list. I wanted to be in Finland for many reasons; Helsinki was actually the school I wanted to go the most.
Glasgow university-based Eramus Mundus programme: one of my friends, in my second year, told me about the programme. The idea of jumping around different countries for 2 years somehow was still attractive to me at the time (probably because I’m a Europe virgin). Now I think I would have dreaded the programme just by the idea of having to move constantly.
Oxford: well it’s Oxford, with a great IR department. Why not go for a long shot.
Cambridge: this popped up much later. A professor (call him A) suggested that if I was applying to Oxford, why not the other school.
These were the ones in my first application period. My original plan was that if these did not work out, I will continue with Japan-based programmes in Tokyo University or Sophia.
“Under-justified, random, or questionable”
I separate preparation into three main blocks: recommendation letters, statement of purpose, and sample writings.
I’m pretty sure luck just slapped me. Oxford and Cambridge asked for the most, 3 letters, and I conveniently had 3 at the time. My supervisor (call him R), my previous sub-supervisor (call her E), and my pseudo supervisor/farmer (still A) were readily over-praising me.
Statement of purpose:
This took the most time: I never wrote one before (cause I dodged the hell out of the American education system). Took me around 30 minutes almost everyday for 3 months to write all versions I needed (since schools asked for different lengths and content). Yuck, please don’t make me write one for PhD or a job or internship or volunteering or urgh.
I took two parts of my thesis. And if you are familiar with the process of going from an uneducated and uncultured person to academia to finishing a thesis, you would probably sympathize when I claim that whatever was produced midway sucks, hard. At least I was extra careful with citations.
I prepared everything for Oxford first, as they asked for the most things. Then I moved things around to fit different schools. There are other things like CV, transcript, or research proposal, but there is not much about them to discuss.
And then I just applied.
Results, in chronological order:
Glasgow: I failed Eramus Mundus (on hindsight, as hinted, this could have been more of a good thing). Glasgow did accept me as a regular student, only after 2 weeks from my submission of application. It de-stressed me greatly for the rest of the process because I knew I would have been happy going to Glasgow.
Cambridge: failed, and right before I got on the bus to Fukuoka to go back to Vietnam for 2018 spring break.
Oxford: still pondering why I passed, yet is overshadowed by how terrified I am now that I’m actually going.
Helsinki and Tampere: passed, and almost at the same time. But at the time it was either Glasgow or Oxford already.
Here are some reflections. This might resemble self-help style of writing. I shall try to make it the least so.
Culture yourself into it:
I was extremely underexposed to academia and graduate studies. So I cultured myself into it. I spent at least 30 minutes a day just reading about programmes, students’ experience, dissertations and such. And on all kinds of platform, too, noticeably: Quora, Facebook, and reddit. I talked professors into sharing (well some, like A, did not need persuasion), and they were very open. I guess culture yourself into it means that I forced myself into thinking about it all the time.
Work with whatever you have:
A told me that if you are applying from [my current university], you are already handicapped. But luckily I don’t spend much time whining (potential “Perks of being raised in a strict Asian household”). While I had to throw most of my extracurricular activities away (trust me, it’s traumatizing when I could not mention that I dance), the remaining ones worked well.
Before I end, I need to make reservations by writing about my luck. I’m lucky to always be overestimated by my professors and peers, that gives a lot of pressure and motivation. I’m lucky to have 2 friends who understand and work towards similar goals as mine. I’m lucky that though I was parented strictly, choices of profession were never restricted. I’m lucky that my best trait is that I always persevere with everything I do, stubbornly. I’m lucky that I have met some key people in the last 4 years who triggered me to grow in multitudes of ways. It’s slowly getting cheesy, so Imma stop.
There are some parts I am not sharing, like what I specifically wrote in the statement of purpose, for obvious reasons. But I would be very happy to share them on a more private platform, like I have been. I do think graduate schools, at least for the master level, are the relatively better choices for young adults. Would love to give it a push in popularity.
This totally came out of the goodwill to share, and not to dodge the amount of academic writing I needed to do.