Yup, I feel lucky

March 10, 2009

For any of you keeping score, my PhD waiting game came to a close yesterday with this final tally: 6 no’s, 1 yes. And as I’ve said before, that works for me, that works just fine. I only needed one. Even better, that was an enthusiastic yes—they’ve guaranteed (for whatever it’s worth these days) six years of funding, three of which will be fellowship years without teaching duties.

That certainly takes any sting out of the other six skinny letters, but I’m hanging on to them. I’ve got them in my PhD application drawer, in between my statement of purpose drafts and subject GRE flashcards, in a folder I’ve mentally labeled “don’t get cocky.” I was one letter away from having to deal complete failure to gain admission. I’ve heard from a couple of my friends that their programs are accepting about a third of the number of applicants they’d normally accept, and that this is turning out to be a very difficult year to land a spot anywhere (it was never easy, and I am well aware that even in a more normal year I might not have ended up admitted to any of the places I applied to). I know myself well enough to know that this would not have been of any immediate consolation to me. I would have been depressed for quite a while. I eventually would have gotten over it, embraced my job as a librarian, and been glad that I at least tried, but I would not have been very mature about it right away. And I want to remember how close that was now that I am thinking about the next six years of my life and realizing that I am going to need to work harder than I ever thought possible and that the opportunity to do so is a kind of gift. When I’m getting skinny letters (or no letters at all) in six years from all one hundred jobs I’ve applied to in a market that will almost certainly be even worse than the one new PhDs are facing this year, I need to remember how badly I wanted just this opportunity, whatever comes of it. More than anything, I need to remember how far I have to go to become the scholar that I want to be.

And now to get started.

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