Category Archives: Acedotes

The Waiting Game: Graduate Application Purgatory

So, I’ve been gone from the blog for a while. Sorry! Things got busy and I started doing some creative writing that took precedence over the blog, but since it is acceptance/rejection season for graduate school applicants, I thought I would share my story.

I do not remember waiting for responses to my applications fondly. In fact, it was not a good time in my life. Since statistics are really no comfort in this area, my hope is that a bit of anecdotal advice might give those playing the waiting game more realistic expectations of the admissions process.

At the time I applied, my understanding was that I would hear by March whether or not I had been accepted. As I found out, this is very misleading because it suggests that there is a day in March when the school sends out all their acceptances and rejections and then waits for the chips to fall. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In January, most of the admissions committees meet and decide on their top applicants. I’m not on an admissions committee (obviously), but I know they’ve been active because I’ve already been asked to meet with a “strong candidate” who was visiting. It’s fairly safe to say most schools have a good sense of the what this year’s pool of applicants has to offer by February. Then, schools have to make a gamble on how many students to accept, knowing that some will take the offer and others will decline it.

I know of cases where this has gone wrong on the institution’s end: they admitted a reasonable number of students – figuring maybe half will accept the offer – and nearly everyone accepted. When funding is involved, this is a huge monetary blow for the school that usually results in admitting fewer applicants the next year.  To avoid this pitfall, many institutions send out acceptances in waves. Their first-choice applicants receive acceptances, and they see how many of them accept or decline before they send out the next wave of acceptances. For this reason, you may not receive a rejection until very late in the game.

Other factors you may not be aware of can also factor into your schools’ decision process. For example, my graduate institution is making a switch in the program that will hopefully lessen the time-to-dissertation for their current students. In order to allocate enough money for this, they plan to have a very small incoming class next year. So, regardless of how great of a fit your application is, you may have applied to a particular school on a tough year. This is perhaps reason not to despair and to apply again.

For me, the panic ensued when I found out through the grape vine that others had already begun hearing back from schools at the beginning of February. One friend from my undergraduate program had already received acceptances and rejections from various schools by mid-February. Granted, I applied to about half the number of schools as this one friend (something I semi-regret, but that’s another story), but I still found it unnerving that I had heard absolutely NOTHING. Not a word from any of my schools.

Then I began to hear rumors that most schools send out acceptances in February and rejections in March. There is some truth to this, but it is not the whole story either. Many schools send out their first wave of acceptances in February (i.e. the students that they really want to recruit). As it neared the end of February, I had received one rejection and no acceptances. I began to despair more and more. Chances of acceptance looked dismal, and regardless, I felt that I should have heard something by now.

Finally, a glimmer of hope came while I was taking the bus home one weekend. My phone rang and I recognized the caller ID as coming from the locations of one of my schools. I did not want to pick up the phone because the bus was near-silent with the exception of the muffled sound of music coming from a few headphones, so I let it go to voicemail, barely able to contain my excitement. I told myself that I would listen to it when I got home because – just in case – if it was bad news I did not want to break down on public transportation. Nevertheless, I didn’t take my own advice and listened to the voicemail on the bus: I had been accepted to an MA program with funding! This is the point where if I was in a musical, I would break out in song and the rest of the bus would join in.

This particular school was my form of a “safety school” because it was a terminal MA program (not PhD). The real benefit of this program was that it would be a stepping stone to future PhD programs, and since I was offered funding, it wouldn’t be a significant financial burden. Now – slight digression – many people will tell you that there is no such thing as a “safety school” for PhD applications, and this is partly true. Even a school that is not highly ranked as a graduate school in your discipline will still reject you if your research interests are not a good fit. Conversely, you might get into a top-ranked school and get rejected from all the lower-ranked schools you applied to just because your research interests happened to fit with a faculty member at that school.

So, needless to say, getting into any graduate at this time was a much-needed relief in this harrowing process. The one gray lining (as in the opposite of a silver lining) was that if I went through with the terminal MA program, I would have to think about reapplying for PhD programs again in a year. ONE YEAR. However, because this post is about silver linings and not gray ones, let’s say that an MA program would also be a benefit because it would give me more time to figure out whether the PhD was something I really wanted to pursue.

February came and went and I had not heard back from many other schools, except for maybe a couple rejections. All this time, I was desperately checking the “search” feature on the Grad Cafe website, which I hesitate to relate because if you do this it will drive you to insanity. This site allows people to post when they receive an acceptance or rejection from any graduate school. Never before has a device of the internet been so arbitrarily torturous to the minds of so many hopefuls. I warn you that it is a terrible thing to see twelve ecstatic people posting “OMG MY DREAM SCHOOL! Accepted w/ funding” for your #1 school while you sit at your computer screen knowing that you did not receive one of those acceptances. Ouch.

Then, one night when I was sitting at my apartment, I received a strange Evite from someone I did not know at 12:30am on March 1st (I actually went back through my horribly disorganized inbox to find this). When I opened it, it said “PhD Recruitment Event” and I had a serious WTF moment, because to my knowledge I had not been accepted to any PhD programs. (I like to think this was a hilarious miscommunication in the department that these Evites were sent out before the official admissions letters, but it was ok because this definitely indicated an ADMITTANCE).  Later that same day (if you’ll remember it was 12:30am so this was technically the same day, though within normal business hours) I received my official admittance letter, which confirmed that it was not a cruel joke. Bang the happy drums!

March is late for a first round of acceptances to go out, but in this case it did happen. If you take one thing away from this story: it’s not over until it’s over. You could receive a call from admissions mere days before the April 15th deadline to tell you that you have been taken off the waitlist. In fact, I was just talking to a friend in my cohort today who had this happen to him. He was visiting another school he had been admitted to in April when he received the call that he had been taken off the waitlist. Also, once it hits mid-March, it’s appropriate to email schools that have not gotten back to you and inquire about the status of your application. Many of the official rejection letters I received did not come in the mail until late March, but when I emailed the schools, they let me know that I had indeed been rejected. This sucks, but it’s better to know that you are for sure not on the waitlist at another school before you make your decision.

There also exists the possibility that you could get accepted to an MA program at a school for which you applied for the PhD (well, only if you don’t already have an MA). This happened to me with the University of Toronto and the University of Chicago. Generally, this is the case with schools that have a strong enough reputation that people will pay for a terminal MA. It is kind of like a courtesy admittance in the event that you are not high enough on the list to get funded, but they still think your credentials are good enough for them to accept your money. Unfortunately, this is often not a viable means of getting into that school’s PhD program down the road, though it may get you into a good program at another school.

While I will say I am extremely happy to have been accepted at my current school and I love the program here, one last bit of very disappointing news came when I was not accepted to my alma mater.  This really came as a shock to me because while I had been advised that it was generally not the best idea to get all degrees from BA to PhD from the same institution, no one ever indicated to me that I would not be given the opportunity. My initial thoughts were: many of my advisors/recommenders played influential roles on the admissions committee, so how in good conscience could they encourage me to apply to graduate school and recommend me to other schools if they did not want me in their program?

The truth is that many admissions committees right now are hyper-aware of the dismal job market and are making decisions that they feel will best-equip their students to find academic jobs. Unfortunately, having all three degrees from the same institution is rarely a “plus” on a job application. I try my hardest not to take that one personally because I know it was not a matter of whether or not my professors though I was suited for graduate school, or else their recommendations would not have gotten me into a PhD program elsewhere. Still, it was very disheartening to hear that I had not received acceptance from my alma mater. I probably cried the hardest at that one just because I was insulted.

So, here is a story of waiting and woe in Application Purgatory, and ultimate deliverance. I hope that it will give those out there playing the torturous waiting game some hope that they might still receive that acceptance letter, and even if that does not work out, that you should not take it personally and try again next year if it is your dream. Good luck to all those applying and please feel free to ask questions!

My New Graduate School Roommate

So, in my post “To Live Alone or with Roommates?” I expounded on the new-found joys of living alone. You can clean, cook, shower, and sleep on your own time with no one to distract you or inconvenience you. After three weeks of living alone in my one bedroom apartment, I’m already looking into finding roommates for next year. It’s not just the fact that sharing a space can lower costs by over $100 easily. It’s that living along can be, well, lonely.

I currently have a bipolar relationship with living alone now. Sometimes, I’m loving leaving my painting supplies out and knowing that I am the sole arbitrator of the air conditioning/heat temperature. The next I’m desperate for some interaction with anyone or anything.

I’ve made an effort to schedule the occasional study date with a friend or to invite people over for wine nights or accept invitations to meet out for a drink. Yet I miss the laid back interactions of having roommates. I miss having someone to talk to without having to call them on the phone or drive/walk across town. So, while I’m going to enjoy whatever benefit there are of living alone for the rest of the year, I’m definitely looking for roommates for next year.

This is also why I made the big decision to get a pet to cohabit my one-bedroom apartment with me. A lot of thought went into this, but it was still a difficult decision. My roommates and I had an adorable panda bear hamster last year in our apartment and even though he was small, nocturnal, and not very cognizant of himself as a social being, I loved having him around.

This time around I had a strict criteria for what I was looking for in a pet and I had a good idea of what would or wouldn’t work:

A favorable work to rewards ratio.
By “work” I mean the amount of effort, training, and cleaning the pet requires, and by “rewards” I mean how social, loving, and friendly the pet is. A dog for example requires a lot of training, attention, and effort, but once the work is accomplished a dog is one of the most (if not the most) attentive, loyal, and rewarding pets. Conversely, a fish requires little to no work, but also provides little in the way of rewards. Both a good and a fish would have a good work to reward ratio, however, because both animals give as much as you put into them.

In my opinion, most exotic pets have an unfavorable work to rewards ratio. Your boa constrictor might require a ton of space, a lot of money, and gruesome live feeding requirements, but that animal will never love you and appreciate you like a dog or a cat. Some people get a lot out of the act of caring for animals like this – if you do, good for you. But I wanted an animal that was social and pretty well-domesticated.

Sociable.
There are certain types of animals that know when you are sad and purposefully try to comfort you. They respond to you coming in the door and, given the choice, they would run to you rather than away from you. While I liked to hold our little hamster last year, I had no delusions that the animal was cognizant of my presence and preferred being out to being in his cage running on his wheel. I could get another pet just to be a little source of responsibility and enjoyment, but that type of pet wouldn’t fill the void that being alone all the time creates.

Not particularly noisy.
I am easily annoyed by repetitive noises that I cannot turn off. I don’t mind the occasionally woof, meow, or other noise, but I’ve learned that I have a low threshold of patience with little dogs that yap at every sound or birds that squawk incessantly.

Appropriate for my living conditions.
Unfortunately, this one ruled out a dog. Not only does my apartment not allow dogs, but even if I could find a place that allowed dogs, I would be seriously limited as far as future rental places are concerned. Plus, a large to medium sized dog would probably not be happy in a one bedroom apartment with no yard. So even though I’ve been a “dog person” all my life, I felt a dog was better saved for when I get my first house.

This also meant that the pet could move with me into another living condition with roommates. The landlord would have to allow it, but also my future roommates would have to be willing to live with it.

The Verdict:
I decided to get a cat from the local shelter. Now, this flew in the face of years of dog-loving, but I’d seen and interacted with friends’ cats and found that they could be loving and social creatures as well. And frankly – a cat’s reputation to be more independent and aloof is not a bad thing when it comes to fitting into the graduate school lifestyle. I have a bit of an irregular schedule, which might mess with a dog’s feeding times or being able to establish a routine.

So far, my kitty has been getting along wonderfully in my apartment. I had to do a bit of problem solving on issues like where to place the litter box in a one-bedroom apartment, but so far the challenges have not been insurmountable and the rewards have been great! (More on this to come later…)

Feeling Overwhelmed in Graduate School

I’m writing this post because I have had 2 weeks of graduate school (one week of registration/orientation and one week of class) and this is the first time I am feeling truly overwhelmed. I went to my family’s lake house for Labor Day weekend to relax and enjoy some time with my family and my boyfriend, and am now en route back to school. The drive is only partly done (I’ve made a pit stop), but in all it should amount to over 6 hours of driving.

I knew which readings I had to do for class based on our syllabi and I made an effort to get these done at various points before I left or during my trip. In total, I had to read one novel, three scholarly articles, one 62 page “theory book” (as I’m going to call it), and a 646 line medieval poem. And that doesn’t count the two articles we were supposed to discuss last week but are really going to discuss this week, so I might have to refresh my memory on what they said. I approached all my readings and – I must admit – understood them to varying degrees. The poem I’ve studied before and know well. The novel was understandable if boring, the “theory book” was comprehensible, but some of the articles pretty much baffled me at first reading.

Now, during my pit stop I happened to check my email – out of habit more so that for any practical reason – and found two emails from professors I received some time during the last couple hours I was driving. They’ve asked us to “prepare questions” on the readings. Ok, so no papers to turn in, but something I arguably should arguably take the time to sit down and prepare – maybe come up with quotations that point to places in the text I want to discuss. Moreover, for some of the more flowery and theoretical texts (this was most of them, actually) the “questions” actually just alerted me to how little I understood the finer points of the theory.

So now I am faced with another 4 hours of driving in which I can think about the fact that I have these “preparations” I probably should put some time and effort into, but I can’t because I’ll be driving. Oh – and there’s a freaking time change. So an hour will be lost in limbo and I have a 9:30am class tomorrow. Also, my computer decided now was a good time to “forget” all of my passwords.

*Cue feelings of despair, desperation, and overwhelmed-ness*

This is a feeling we all experience whether it is when starting a new job or going to a new school for the first time. The company I used to work for had a saying, “Fake it till you Make it” that we used whenever requests from clients started piling in and we did not know where to begin. In the academic world this amounts to taking a step back, realizing that not everyone understands these highly theoretical articles the first time they read them or knows how to approach them, and then doing the best you can.

The first thing I always want to do is blame. My instructors weren’t thinking about the fact that sending an email less than 24 hours before class would screw people over who were working through very busy schedules the night before class. But then again, they were probably enjoying their weekends as well and my situation is probably not the norm.

I know I won’t have time to prepare beautifully crafted answers to these questions and it is a bummer that my instructors sent those emails so late in day because as a first year student I would have liked more time to prepare. I may not even have time to come up with any clear answers at all. However, reviewing the questions and at least thinking about them will prepare me to consider responses from other more seasoned graduate students in my classes when we discuss it.

Take a deep breath, maybe write down some of your frustrations, and fake it ’till you make it. For me, writing is cathartic, but do whatever works for you.

To live alone or with roommates?

I’ve been MIA for a bit, but was because I was frantically packing and moving down to start school in the fall!

There was a time (after I watched Silence of the Lambs as a kid) when I vowed I would NEVER live alone. It was scary, and boring besides. Now here I am, just a few days removed from a life filled with constant roommates and little personal space, with my own apartment at grad school.

I debated whether to live alone or with roommates. During my childhood, I always shared a room and my first two years of undergrad I lived in tight quarters with 1-3 other people. My junior and senior year I lived in three-bedroom apartments with roommates, though I had my own room. Roommates bring down the cost of living a decent amount – you can share appliances and electricity bills so no one roommate has to pay for everything. If you’re friends with your roommates, there’s also the added social bonus.

In spite of the fact that I loved my roommates last year, there were a number of times that I opted to join them in a Pretty Little Liars marathon or an extra episode of Bridezillas when I really should have been getting work done. Occasionally, they would have guests over when I needed quiet to study, or they would be trying to study during my down time and I would feel guilty having friends over. And this was all the scenario if you got along perfectly well with your roommates!

When it came down to it, having a roommate you do not get along with can ruin an experience more than anything else. You can escape from a bad professor or a fellow student you do not like, but when you nemesis lives with you, there is no sanctuary. I like to think I am an agreeable roommate, but when someone is just mean-spirited I feel like I can’t relax around them. I also like to be able to make the calls like “I’m busy, I can do these dishes later tonight” or “I want to leave my painting supplies out on the kitchen table” and not have to worry about these choices inconveniencing or angering a roommate.

So, in the end I chose to live alone my first year of graduate school. I was slightly worried that this would lead me to not be “social” enough, but so far it hasn’t deterred me from getting out and meeting people. Now decorating the place is an entirely different story!

I got the worst Analytical Writing question on the GRE

Now, if you’ve ever taken the GRE or a practice test, you are hopefully familiar with the Analytical Writing portion. This section of the test gives you one of the great mysteries of the universe in a statement and asks you to argue for or against it using all the stores of knowledge you’ve accumulated in college.

What it is supposed to test is your ability to analyze a highly debatable statement and articulate a response quickly with pointed examples. Contemplating the issue, planning your response, and then actually writing it must all be completed within 30 minutes.

The analytical writing portion is essentially a philosophy paper written in the time span in which someone in the business world might craft a hasty response to an angry client. Descartes might have sat in meditation for a very long time to come up with “I think, therefore I am,” but you will have 30 minutes to BS your way to a 6.0 on the Analytical Writing GRE.

Based on the practice tests, I expected a lofty, distant statement that is so broadly controversial that one could come up with any number of examples in favor or against it, but not political enough to ruffle any feathers (i.e. you’re not going to see a political issue like: “Abortion should be illegal because…”). I assume the reason why they do this is because with specific political issues it’s harder to set aside biases and focus on writing the most strictly logical prose possible.

I was expecting to see something along the lines of:

“The meaning of a piece of art lies only in the viewer’s interpretation, the artist’s intention is irrelevant.”

(I made this one up myself, feel free to hire me if you see this ETS)

The defining characteristic of a GRE question is that the “truth” probably lies somewhere in between the statement and its anthesis, which is what makes it so arguable. However, for the purposes of this essay you can’t be wishy-washy. You have to set aside your personal feelings, pretend your in the debate team state finals, and argue for the sake of arguing.

This is why the “issue” I got is such utter crap. I first took the GRE when I was just a couple days away from moving away from my family to spend the summer studying in Spain. I had just finished a stressful semester of undergrad and had no time to relax before I needed to cram in some last minute studying for the GRE and pack for Spain. I was also deep in the throes of a quarter-life crisis over whether I should be going to graduate school or reconsidering my life and doing something more practical.

I don’t make any claims that this is an exact replication of the wording, but this is the gist of what I saw when the time started for my first section of the GRE.

“Professors are expected to be experts in their subjects, but without any real-world work experience necessary for their degrees, they grow increasingly disconnected from their students’ goals in receiving an education.”

Chances are if you are taking the GRE, you are pretty serious about going to GRADUATE SCHOOL. If you were going to law school, medical school, or getting your MBA, you would not be taking the GRE. Therefore, based on this fact alone, you probably find some value in the type of education you would be receiving in a graduate program. The GRE took the pivotal question of my quarter-life crisis and threw it in my face.

Now, the problem was not that I did not want or feel able to answer this question. It’s that the most crucial mistake a good writer can make on the Analytical Writing is feeling the need to supply an answer to the question that they believe is “right.” The reason I say this is because the answer to these philosophical questions is almost certainly in the middle of any extreme position you might take; sure, most subjects could really benefit from an instructor who has a wide variety of life experiences and perspectives, but what is the “real world”…corporate America? the big city? the Siberian wilderness?

Not taking a firm stance on one side or the other is a big mistake on the Analytical Writing. Forget the correct answer. Your job is to produce a logical and well-articulated answer. And this is where I miserably failed with this issue. I contemplated it for far too long. Then I took a judicial pro/con stance. I questioned the question. And then it cut me off in the middle of my final paragraph.

Ooops.

The second time I took the GRE, I did not have this problem. I tackled the issue without any personal investment whatsoever. That is the way it’s done, folks. Don’t let the GRE get you down.

Grad Student Confessions: There was an embarrassing typo in my writing sample

While I’d like to preface this anecdote with a cautionary “here’s how to learn from my mistakes,” that is not what this post is about. The moral of this story is that you will check your writing over hundreds of times, you will do everything possible to make sure all of your of your materials are in order, and you will STILL inevitably make a mistake in some capacity.

When it came time to apply to graduate schools, I thought I was ahead of the game on my applications because I already had a 20-page research paper written from one of my advanced writing classes. The paper was from second semester my sophomore year and had received an A+ in a 300-level class, so I figured it was an excellent testimony to my writing skills. Ah, sophomoric hubris.

The alternative was, of course, to write a 20-page research paper from scratch in the fall of my senior year. Three months is already a tight squeeze to properly research and edit a paper of that depth, and to get it done in time to revise didn’t seem feasible. However, when I reread my A+ paper from a year and a half ago, I was shocked at how much my writing had changed. The aspect that had changed the most was my ability to engage scholarly articles and synthesize them with my own work. Looking back, this paper had been one of my first major research projects.

The good news: I had been steadily honing my research skills during my last two years of school. The bad news: “revising” my paper was now a task of epic proportions. It’s one thing to revise the wording on a few sentences and scour for typos. It’s another issue entirely to change the way you engage in the discourse of scholarly sources.

What happened next was a month-long rat-race between my old paper and a new one I was writing from scratch. I read scholarship furiously, waiting for that one piece of inspiration that would make everything come together.

While I eventually found that inspiration (for both papers in time, but the old refurbished paper became my writing sample), I kept many different drafts of my “final” writing sample. However, each time I labeled it final, I would get a new series of revisions at the advice of a professor, or decide to take it into the writing center for some last minute consulting. I had so many different files containing the words “final” and “writing sample” that they became difficult to keep track of.

Well, if you would have asked me back then, I would have told you I scoured my final final draft multiple times for typos before I turned it into a PDF – the computerized equivalent of writing it calligraphy on a leather-bound velum book. The deed was done, and I was pleased with the accomplishment.

It was not until I decided to apply to one more program last minute that I reread the PDF of my writing sample just for kicks. Previously, one of my professors who had made comments on my essay did so by writing his comments embedded in my paragraph and putting them in bold text. As I read, I suddenly realized one sentence was not my own – it was my professor remarking that I my auto-correct had turned “intentionalism” into “internationalism” in the middle of my paragraph. Ironically, I had corrected the typo itself, but somehow my professor’s comment had slipped in there. Not only was it a mistake, it was sure to be confusing to an admissions committee and horribly embarrassing.

I nearly died of embarrassment right there. Why, why hadn’t I read it over one last time??

In order to move on you have to accept one thing: no one can be perfect. It’s hard to proofread a paper that you’ve read 100 times over. You will realize 100 things you could have done better after you turn your applications in, and you will fret over it until the whole application season is over, acceptances, rejections and all. Some schools might let you turn another copy in, that’s worth inquiring. But in the end some probably won’t out of fairness to the other students. Accept this and move on, the only thing you can do is your best – mistakes and all.

Disclaimer: I have not proofread this post.

When, Where, and Why I decided to go to grad school

Going into college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My parents both have engineering degrees and my high school had a strong math program that was the focal point of my high school experience. The summer before I started college, I worked as a intern-of-all trades at an engineering firm, dappling in everything from organizing log books to CAD drafting. I signed up for an odd cocktail of classes for my first college semester: everything from the merit section of Calculus 3 to English 200 (introduction to the English major).

Despite math having been my focus in high school, the minute I got down to school I realized I didn’t want to take Calc 3. There was no concrete reasoning – just a feeling. I dropped the class, enrolled in a Spanish class and never looked back. I was a humanities major at heart ever since.

English at the University just clicked with me. I looked forward to going to class for the first time ever (high school didn’t inspire much academic passion in me). I enjoyed doing my homework (also a first). My second semester I enrolled in Introduction to Medieval Lit and Culture just for kicks. My instructor came in late wearing an unexplained eyepatch and started talking about Chaucer, Beowulf, and Anglo-Saxons. I learned much later that she had scratched her eye with her engagement ring and didn’t tell anyone just to freak us out. This instructor – I’ll call her KF – become a sort of mentor for me, helping me work through my research papers and change the notions I had conceived of how to write a valuable paper in high school.

Chester Cycle wagonThrough KF I also got the opportunity to go to a medieval conference in Toronto. The English Department needed undergraduate students to perform in an act of the Chester Cycle plays, which would be performed on wagons over three days at the University of Toronto. It was a reenactment of a medieval event that would have kept an entire medieval city entertained for days, with participation from everyone from the smith’s guild to the town’s carpenters. The 26 acts of the Chester Cycle followed the events of the Bible from Genesis to coming of the Anti-Christ, to the final Judgement Day. This is when I discovered medievalists like to have fun.

SAM_0302We spent the week in Toronto, watching the plays pass by during the day and going out to pubs at night. I was enthralled by the experience of it all – people trying to make sense of the literature of the past. I had a conversation with one of the conference’s leading presenters while tipsy off some Canadian beer and talked to a British graduate student who had come back to get his English PhD after having an epiphany that he wasn’t happy with his medical degree. I decided that week that I would at least look into the possibility of becoming an English graduate student.

So three years of classes, a year of working in the Writing Center, too many essays and research papers to count, attending many a TA and professor’s office hours, Latin, Old English, an honors thesis, and one quarter-life crisis later, I find myself an admitted graduate student preparing for my first year.