Grae's blog

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Grae's blog

Post by grae313 » Sat Feb 23, 2008 3:04 am

On Motivation and Success. AKA: how I learned to jump though hoops

To everyone who has struggled with feeling sad, with finding motivation, with wondering what the point is, and with the fear of letting yourself down:


I'm pretty excited right now.

Winding up at Nowhere State University was, to be perfectly candid, a mistake. When I missed the application deadline to my choice college, some might have said I was unfortunate. When I missed the deadline to accept the University of Washington's offer of admission, some might have said it was a stroke of bad luck. Put into the context of my life in 2001, however, it was undeniably a result of my own immaturity, and entirely symptomatic of the person I was in high school. I would wake up, live through the day, go to sleep at night, then do it all again the next day, and then feel sorry that my life was not turning out the way I wanted it to.

I started feeling so sorry that I stopped going to school during my first college semester. When I didn't register for any classes the subsequent semester, I was kicked out of Nowhere State. Yes, I was kicked out of the very *** school that I was so angry and embarrassed to attend--the one that I thought I was too good for. I had always looked forward to college, because I had told myself all through high school that college was when the bullshit would stop, and I'd finally get a chance to learn the "Real Stuff." Then there I was at Nowhere State and it was still bullshit--a bunch of hoops that I was supposed to jump through, except I could jump through them backwards, on one foot, with my eyes closed, while juggling knives.

Four years ago something changed, and I'm still not sure what it was.

I spent two years out of school completely depressed. I played pool, I worked, I played more pool, and every day, I contemplated the point of existing. Life, it seemed, was just one long row of hoops to jump though. Bullshit hoops. And the worst part was, after you die, it doesn't even matter how many hoops you jump through or how high they were. None of it even matters. You're just dead and that's it. All we get is this one blink of an eye to exist, to love, laugh, cry, and fear and then you're done and it's not. ***. fair. So why was I going to spend my tiny amount of time jumping through bullshit hoops?

So I started thinking, if jumping though hoops wasn't the right way to live life, then what was? What if I wanted to go far away from it all, live on some mist-covered mountain, work the land and eat the food that I grew? Given that once we die it's over and done with, given that nothing matters on a large enough time scale, is that life really any better or worse than one spent jumping through bullshit hoops? I decided that the two lives were completely equivalent, and that people should do whichever made them happier.

But I still wasn't happy.

Then I talked to someone very special to me, and whose opinion I respected tremendously. Adam told me that he believed the two lives were not equivalent and that I owed it, if not to society, then to myself to do something good and productive with my abilities. I couldn't resolve this immediately with our shared atheism, but I started to think less about the point of existing, and more about why my existence was so miserable.

Several reasons. I was lonely. I was disappointed with myself. I knew my life was off-track, but *** if I couldn't figure out whether a track even existed, let alone where to start looking for it.

The next set of realizations that I had do not have a chronological place in my memory, so I'm just going to put them out there.

* I look out on the world through the isolation of my own unique consciousness and perspective, but so does everyone else. Mine is not a unique state, even if I'm one of the few who realizes how tragic it is.

* The things that were most important to me and that had truly brought me the most joy were my family, the people I have loved and who have loved me, and the people who have touched my life along the way.

* I cannot accept the idea that, if I say the right words, my soul will float up to happy-land and live forever. Consequently, all I have is this one, short lifetime. If none of it matters on a long enough time scale, then there can be no measure of how well or poorly a life is lived except the amount of goodness experienced and contributed in that life.

* As my state is fundamentally no different from anyone else's, then as a human being with empathy, I want to also make the positive difference in other people's lives that some have made in mine.

Finally, I decided that I must do two things in order to be happy:

1) I must realize my full potential as a human being, both personally and intellectually.
2) I must make a positive difference in the lives of the people close to me.

It was time to go back to school. I knew I had one last chance to get my education back on track. If I could get into a good graduate program, I knew I could be pushed to my limit intellectually, while simultaneously preparing for a career that could really make a difference in the world.

I went back to school. This time, I knew what I wanted and I thought about it every day. When I reminded myself constantly of why I was jumping through the hoops, I could get through it. And I did get through it. In fact, I tore it up. I've been working my ass off and now, it is starting to pay off.

I've been accepted to the physics PhD programs at Cornell, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, Yale, UCLA, U Washington, and UC Santa Cruz. I could not be happier. Looking back on my experiences, I know it is cliche to say this, but I don't regret any of it. I actually came to truly enjoy my time at Nowhere State. I have friends here, and I learned that no matter where I end up, I can land on my feet.

I had help along the way. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me. Thank you to everyone who has loved me even when I was at my worst. Without you, I would still be lost.

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Re: Grae's blog

Post by grae313 » Sat Feb 23, 2008 4:19 pm

Getting into Stanford feels weird

I got into Stanford applied physics last night. I think I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, and even a bit guilty. I know that I'm qualified, and that I deserve to get into these schools, but I also know that there are applicants who are even more qualified and who also deserve to get in that didn't and won't. I'm pretty sure that I've had so much success because I am female, and because as a female, my application really stands out.

I also have no idea where I'm going to go, and as always, I'm really worried about making the wrong decision. My plan is to wait until I have all of the details of my offers in front of me, and then to visit each of the schools and then start really thinking about it. My dad, the ultimate rational, told me that this is one of those times when it can be good to go with a "gut feeling." For example, I have a step sister that was admitted to Stanford for a physics PhD, but when she went to visit, she came away feeling like they hadn't been very nice to her. She went to Cornell instead and loved it. I had a dream last night that all of the students admitted to a high-powered physics program all went to this sort of gala to celebrate, and oh my god what a bunch of snooty despicable snobs. I don't want to go to school with a bunch of snobs.

I can't focus on school work at all.

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Re: Grae's blog

Post by grae313 » Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:18 pm

Contacting "Famous" Professors

For this post, I wanted to share my experience attempting to contact a certain prestigious CM professor at a certain top 20 but not top 10 University. I would characterize the attempt as unsuccessful, and I hope somebody someday might actually read this and learn from my mistakes.

So there's a prof at this school, he is doing exactly the sort of research I am interested in, and he's really famous. He's got like 200 plus publications, multiple books, and he has Nature and Science publications up the wazoo. He's also the only prof at this school that I am really interested in working with. So here I am with an acceptance from Cornell, and I figure I should get in contact with this guy to see if he will be accepting new students in his group in the next year or two. I figure if he says "no," then I can just go ahead and cross his school off my list because there are like five professors I would like to work with at Cornell...

So I email the prof. I title the email with the name of his research group, which incidentally contains the word "biophysics", so he won't junk it, and in the email I tell him that I've recently been accepted to his University, I tell him I've been doing CM/CNT research for the last two years and want to continue this in grad school towards applications in nanoelectronics, biosensors, and/or photovoltaics. I tell him his research interests are a perfect match with mine and I'm eager to know if he will have room for a student such as myself in his research group in the next year or two. I attach my CV, I thank him for his time.

I get a response:

Unfortunately, we are no longer performing biophysics research."


I write him back and tell him that both my research experience and my interests are in nanoelectronics, and once again express my interest.

I get a response:
"come see me next week, Tuesday or Wednesday"

:roll: :roll: :roll: :roll:

I tell him I'm a six-hour drive away, but that all I want to know is if he will have room for a student such as myself in his lab. If so, I'll be at the open house and we can meet then. If not, then I have other options I'm more interested in.

He responds and asks me for my phone number and a good time to call, which is at the very top of the CV I sent him in the first email.

I respond with my phone number and told him the afternoons that he could call me, but that he'd have to tell me what time he will call so that I can be in an area with cellphone reception at that time. I haven't heard back from him.

The good part is, he actually answered the emails, even though he is obviously extremely busy. The good part is, he was interested in meeting me (although it would seem that he is either very absent-minded, or that he never even looked at my CV).

Here is where I think I went wrong and what I could have done better: When contacting a famous professor, realize that they are so very busy, with probably hundreds of these emails, that they really only have time to read maybe the first sentence of your email before responding, if they respond at all. My dad gave me some advice in regards to this. He said, "read your email, and if you see that the point of the email comes five or so lines into it, cut and paste that line and make it the first line in your email." I think that would have saved a lot of time with this prof. When contacted these profs, put the point in the first sentence.

I think he stopped contacting me because it was just taking too much time and effort. I still don't know if he even realizes that all I need from him is a simple "yes" or "no" answer, because I never asked my main question in the first sentence of an email.

I'm not stressing it, because I have three acceptances from top 10 Universities now. I consider it a learning experience and hopefully I'll be able to do this better when I start contacting profs at my first choice schools.

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Re: Grae's blog

Post by grae313 » Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:07 am

Keeping Organized with Spreadsheets

I'm pretty disorganized with my things, but for some reason, I'm OCD organized on my computer. It's probably because here, I just have to point, click, and type.

Anyway, I've used spreadsheets extensively to help keep things organized in the graduate school application process, and I wanted to make them available for other people to use.

I spent countless hours each day researching physics graduate schools last summer. I would read everything I could find about the condensed matter research, the nanotech facilities, the funding, the graduate program, and the admissions process at the different schools I was interested in. It started getting difficult to keep track of what was what, so I started keeping notes.

Once I thought I had narrowed down my list, I made a word document listing:

1) the faculty I was most interested in working with at each institution, and
2) some pros and cons for each institution.

Here is the end result, minus some details towards the end: Graduate Programs Summary

Before applying to these places, I printed out a copy and discussed it with my favorite physics prof who was also one of my letter writers and the person I've always come to for advice through my undergrad career. The document was hugely helpful in organizing my thoughts, and providing an excellent template to begin a discussion of these schools with my favorite prof.

Next, once I had started applying, I made a spreadsheet to help me keep track of what was required by each school, and what I had already completed. Then, I updated it to show what had been sent. Finally, as I got confirmation that each piece had been received, I updated it with this information. Once an application had been confirmed as received and complete, I highlighted it as blue so I could forget about it (if only that were true :wink: ).

Here's the document: Graduate School Application Materials

Now, I'm deciding where to go and I need help organizing my thoughts. I've created a new spreadsheet listing the details of my admission offers, a final list of the faculty whose research I find most interesting, and my thoughts on the pros and cons of each institution.

Here's the document: Graduate School Decisions

Feel free to download these, modify them to suit your priorities, and use them to help you keep organized during this hectic process!

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Re: Grae's blog

Post by grae313 » Fri Feb 29, 2008 1:41 am

Well ***...

Just when I thought I had made up my mind to cross a school off my list... UCLA has to go and make my life difficult. They just got back to me on the financial offer, and I'm getting two big fellowships worth >20k, with the option of TA-ing, or, RA-ing for a total of 33k for 9 months. :shock: :shock: I know, I know, poor me.

Now what am I going to do?

First it was the physics GRE. What stress, stress, stress every day and I thought, "if I can just get through this I can relax." Then as soon as that was done I had a million applications to fill out (that's right, a million), essays to write, letter-writers to bug, and I thought, "If I can just get all my applications in on time, I can relax." Then came the worst waiting of my life, and I thought, "once I hear from a couple good schools that I really want to go to, I can relax." Now I have to make one of the biggest decisions of my life and I'm beginning to think I may never relax again.

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