Thoughts After Applying to PhD Programs

My thoughts after appplying to PhD programs

New year, something something goals, new me, and a new post. It’s been a little over a month since I’ve sent in my applications and in the next few weeks I’ll be hearing back from some schools about interviews (hopefully!). Maybe it isn’t too smart to posting something like this… If you’re reviewing my application, uh, stop reading and look at my shiny video tutorial.

After applying, there’s really no satisfaction, not yet. Despite people’s congratulations, my mind is in a stasis. Locked in perpetuity waiting for the next five years of my life. A higher education goal I’ve been working towards since middle school: Dr. Gupta.

The last three months of 2018 were challenging. During the entire process there was always the feeling of self-degradation wondering if I’m really a good candidate. Is it even worth applying to these schools? Are you just making the “next” academic move? Is this inline with your life goals? Are these the right professors? Can you truthfully tolerate 5 years? Every single flaw in my applications spoke louder than the accomplishments, they screamed. These feelings did get better.

It was after I spoke to the professors I was applying to. They were receptive to my ideas, asked thorough questions, gave insightful critiques about my work, etc. It gave me a reminder that I haven’t had in a while, why I pursue research. It’s the ability, the possibility of creating future knowledge for humanity and working with the smartest people in the world and even sometimes getting to challenge their ideas. For me, there is no better high, to put it bluntly. These conversations helped me re-realize I am a good applicant. I played the game (not well all the time) and have come to a place where at a point I knew I was ready to apply, regardless of my future feelings.

The other thing that helped me was after I finished my applications, I read Drunkard’s Walk. A book about randomness and how it affects everyday life. Sometimes, no matter how much you do, the literal randomness of life trumps your qualifications. Forest Gump comes to mind, someone proceeds through life with no clear goals for themselves achieves incredible things. It was chance that someone noticed Forest’s skill as running back, chance that he lived through Vietnam, chance that he picked up ping pong, etc. There was no rhyme or reason for any of it really. It was all rather random. Anyways, the point of this rant is that what happens in life isn’t always a reflection of who you are. Your applications aren’t who you are, your work isn’t always who you are, and because you didn’t get into your top choice, doesn’t mean you aren’t a top pick (doesn’t mean you are), it could just be plain randomness. It gives me a weird peace of mind knowing that I’m going to be dealt a hand, just like I was at the start of my life, and for god damn sure I’ll be making the most of it.

The journey to where I am now now has brought me to incredible places and will continue to. I guess I’ve been feeling less satisfied because I’ve been focusing so much on ensuring my future career to get to a point where I can feel satisfied with what I am doing. Not to say that I’m not incredibly thankful for my current position, but it’s not me anymore. Actually it’s a little ironic. The reason I got into psychology was because of schizophrenia (more accurately described along a psychosis spectrum) and “diseases of the mind”. 10 years ago, I would have been overly ecstatic to be living in LA doing this research (I definitely am!). Now, personally and academically it is time for me to move on.

Mohan Gupta
Psychology PhD Student

My research interests include the what are the best ways to learn, why those are the best ways, and can I build computational models to predict what people will learn.