PhD applications are a funny thing. You apply in December…then you wait. And wait. And wait.
Plenty of time for doubts to fester. More than enough mental energy spent on rethinking my odds.
Potentially a couple hundred applicants for a handful of slots? Check. And amid the fiercest competition imagined by man or beast. Scholars with perfect GPAs, a mother from Harvard, a father from Princeton. Recipients each of the Fulbright, Rhodes, and Thurston Howell III scholarships, who might have spent a year in Ghana inventing and testing a water purification system for a local village before returning stateside to marry his/her perfect life companion with pure beautiful Scandinavian genetic stock and the best hair imaginable. Their applications come armed with perfectly worded Statements of Interest, as if the candidate had been grown in the chemistry lab’s back freezer destined for THAT school with THAT professor’s DNA mixed in. I sure hope you’ve seen Gattaca, or that last analogy went nowhere.
We have the technology. We can make them faster, stronger, smarter.
They see me. Our eyes lock. I clutch the flimsy academic chain mail of the non-traditional applicant and blunt spear tip coated with fuzzy academic interests and conflicting goals. The countdown clock is active – hurry! They’ll be coming! The Most Dangerous Game has begun…!
(*wipes sweat off of forehead. continues to feverishly type*)
Today I am in a work meeting. It’s not bad, as far as work meetings go. Definitely above “Root Canal” on the rating scale. Though below “Sitting On Futon with PB&J with Mad Men Season 6 in the Background.”
My phone vibrates in my pocket. A number I don’t recognize, out of state. I let it go to VM, unfazed. Wait, what’s this? It’s ringing again? Quite the persistent robocaller! Goes to VM again.
About 5 seconds later, it strikes me. Quite literally, I felt a lightning bolt shock me from bottom to top. Out of state number??? Could it be…? What? An interview request from one of my schools? A note of acceptance? VALIDATION???
My fingers fumble with my phone (GOD BLESS SMARTPHONES – I won’t hear a word against them after today) and I do a quick search for the area code. And as the result flickers across my screen, I literally cannot breathe. New Haven, Connecticut. This is where YALE lives.
My colleagues are still speaking, but like that teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I never knew what it was like for one’s head to swirl. But I’m sure swirling now. Drunk with shock. Is this really happening?
There’s a new voicemail. I can’t tell you why I stay in my chair. Why I don’t just get up, politely excuse myself, and go outside to listen to it. Perhaps, it was a strange mix of politeness and fear and awe. What if this was THE call? Would I take the position? Would I really leave everything I’ve known, financial security, and a career, for the unknown? Roll the dice and take the chance? In those moments, I was almost sure I would…might…possibly could…ugh.
As I sat, transfixed and in a stupor, I remembered a dream I had once years ago. It was in the midst of a rather bad bout of depression. I dreamt that I was in the classroom of an Ivy League school, on the first day of the semester in the August heat. As the professor spoke, my heart danced with movements I don’t think I ever felt in real life, and with a happiness I certainly hadn’t felt in months. The professor asked a question, and in the silence that followed, I awoke. I awoke to an absolute, perfect silence. Alone, in my bed, not in an Ivy League classroom.
It was an hour later that I finally excused myself to the hallway. Before listening to the message, I went ahead and did a search on the full number of the missed call. But you already know what I’m going to tell you:
It wasn’t Yale.
Just a telemarketer whose random, cold-calling shotgun approach to sales had provided my life with a strange coincidence. A telemarketer’s call had transported me to a different place and a different life. Not one necessarily better, or more privileged, or more blessed than the one I have now. But different. For one hour, I knew what it would be like to have an opportunity that had only previously existed in my dream.
I listened to the voicemail, deleted it, and smiled imperceptibly to myself. Then I went back into my meeting.