• The month of January is not a good time to be a Claire Jarvis.

Both the UK & USA postgraduate admissions cycles have hit a lull in the gap between Christmas and “Spring”. The British universities have opened their online applications and the number submitted is starting to peak: January-March is the main application season. At this point the UK institutions and Principal Investigators (PIs) can only speculate at their funding for the Autumn ’13 academic year, PIs are unable to formally offer anybody a place until they have cash in the bank. I have several British applications in, but could be waiting until March to find out the Yes/No decision.

Meanwhile the American universities (“grad schools” as they’re called) had their application season December-January and a number of schools are already sending out the formal offers. Because American graduate students are only admitted into a PI’s group in their 2nd year the admissions cycle is a lot more standardised, although precise dates for mailing offers varies. A bit of exploring online has led me to the Grad Cafe’s database of “Acceptance/Rejection” dates for all PhD programs and schools from the last couple of years. I can see that none of the schools I applied to are mailing out offers yet…but I now know when they will, having seen their 2012 statistics. Basically, I have a couple more weeks to stew and work myself up into a state.

The logical component of my brain considers my knowledge of Acceptance/Rejection dates an excellent thing. It points out – reasonably – that I was under a lot of stress January-April 2012 waiting for responses from the grad schools, had I known that the “Acceptance” mailings had all been sent out at 17:00 EST on Wednesday __th February I could have cut my losses sooner and made a good stab at my Plan B & C before time ran out for those routes. The emotional component of my brain has hidden under the duvet and is yelling out that it just doesn’t want to know these things, thank you very much, and would be happier with the ‘cheery state of denial’ instead. Brains are so complicated.

It would be remiss of me if I didn't point out that I *have* already been called for interview at one British institution, and that the day went rather well. It illustrates the fact that at least my application isn't being tossed out on sight.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t point out that I *have* already been called for interview at one British institution, and that the day went rather well. As I said, funding is still uncertain so I have a bit of waiting to do. Most gratifyingly, it illustrates the fact that at least my application isn’t being tossed out on sight at the more competitive UK universities.

The bets are off about how my applications will fare this year. I appreciate that I’m in a significantly stronger position than I was last year…but I know that entry to American PhD programs is horrifically competitive (lower than a 1 in 10 chance of receiving an offer at some of the top schools, lower still if you’re an international student) and my best may simply not be good enough. Or that the luck of the draw will grant a place to an applicant who is as equally qualified as me instead. The British universities have a lower applicant:available places ratio…but until I have a paper contract in my hand (“Sign along the dotted line”) I don’t have a guaranteed offer. PIs can never be 100% sure that they will gain the grant money they applied for, regardless of what they say. I am only willing to go as far as to comment that my chances of getting onto a British PhD program are slightly higher than getting on to an American one (admissions committees have higher familiarity with quality/specifics of undergrad degree and referees, the domestic vs. international funding situation)…but I can’t be quantitative.


With such short-term uncertainty it is hard for me to plan out other things in my life. Such as income and jobs. As promised, I’ve started back volunteering in a charity shop – it’s only a couple of half-days per week at the moment, but I’m enjoying it a lot and considering upping my time commitment. Other applications and forms have been sent in for a variety of jobs or volunteering programs. Looking at my CV in its current state I think I will have an uphill struggle finding typical “studenty” work (barista, bar/waiting staff or shop assistant)…but perhaps in a month or so that will change. Mainly I’m hoping to end up busier than I am right now – the quieter my schedule, the more time I have for fretting.

I feel frustratingly bored a lot of the time – not sure what I should be doing with myself. The peculiar thing about boredom is that once you’re in the state nothing much looks appealing as a distraction. I also don’t have the money right now to plan activities or exciting schemes. I’m spending a lot of time in Crail: roaming along the coastline and drinking tea.

However, to end on a positive note – the most productive thing I’m doing right now is getting stuck into my father’s DVD collection, formed out of his responsibilities for the Crail Film Club. A couple of important points: –

  • After watching “Seven Year Itch” and “Rear Window” I’m torn between the desire to be Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly. I suspect my slightly clumsy feminine airs put me closer to Marilyn Monroe…
  • My favourite character in “The Third Man” had to be Vienna itself. The post-war city was such an atmospheric combination of desolate blitzed wastelands and faded Baroque glory. In the night scenes the place looked stunning.
  • I could probably watch “The Shawshank Redemption” on loop.
  • It was probably unreasonable of me to be so snobbish about films in the past. They have as much power to capture your imagination as books do.

8 thoughts on “Trapped

  1. My vote is for Grace Kelly, though I suggest you avoid the tragic ending that comes along with either of them. Sharing adventure pics is worthwhile. Even things mundane to you are exotic to the rest of us. Best of luck!

  2. The waiting and not knowing period is always the hardest.
    Also, The Third Man is a great film. Post-war Vienna, filmed at the actual time, is a beautiful, and yet haunting reminder of the impact of WWII. A great film can be as amazing as a great book.

    • When I’d previously thought of “post-War European cities” I’d only really pictured Berlin. Of course there were a lot of cities left in a similarly ruined, divided state. And as The Third Man demonstrated, the impact was not just physical but psychological…
      Thanks for stopping by!

    • While I wouldn’t characterise my current state as hectic, I DO have more than enough to keep me distracted. There’s books in there too.
      At least at this point in time I don’t have to worry about the major decisions, they come later…

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