Monday, September 17, 2007

Time to be back

It's been quite a while since I've written my last entry. I'm sitting in Andrea's lab and the only thing I can do right now is translating some e-learning tutorials from English into German. It pays part of my rent, but is not particularly thrilling when all you do is think about how you may restructure a sentence in German so that the variable included by the server-sided code is still at the end of the sentence. Sometimes an impossible quest and often boring.

But I better start at the very beginning (make sure you sit comfortably, here comes the probably longest entry ever): In the middle of last summer I started revising for the graduate record examination general test (GRE), one bullshit compilation of exercises that should evaluate a graduate's academic capability [1], which I was due to take at the latest by end of October. As idiotic as this test may appear to assess academic virtues, it still is employed by virtually every American postgraduate institution and suddenly some British colleges show the tendency to trust the «,test» results as well [2]. Considering that I'm no native speaker, nor did I grow up in an English-speaking nation, I believe I did an excellent job in the verbal part scoring more points than most American graduates [3]. The mathematics part was a breeze, but I screwed up badly in the essay section and therefore laid the foundations for the failure of most of my US applications.

I'm now the proud owner of six rejection letters from six Ivy League universities. I'm a first class student, I've collected three awards throughout my undergraduate degree, was twice on the dean's list and have a bunch of other useful qualifications that make me stand out, but I wasn't even invited to the interviews. Yet strangely, I was on the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory [4] interview list and I also attended the European Molecular Biology Laboratory interviews, with unfortunately unsuccessful outcome. In case of CSHL this was especially sad since many of my interviewers hinted that I would be accepted. In the end there were probably some hidden quotas as one of my friends here at UCL was offered a place.

Personally I don't believe that Ivy League and other elitist universities per se carry out better research than the «normal» institutions do, but getting into the high class journals is definitely easier with a big name including a big publication record behind you. Even though that means you follow the stupid «everyone comes five minutes before the professor and leaves the lab five minutes after the professor» rule for four to six years.

After receiving the last rejection letter extremely late (I'll never forget the fourth of April), I was clinging to the last straws such as going to the EMBL labs in Grenoble [5], or the DKfZ labs in Heidelberg [6], but none was to become true. While I was away for interviews the Medical Research Council deadlines passed and the professors I approached directly didn't have any interest in replying. Put yourself into my position, having all the ambitions to stay in higher education but no funds to do so.

Luckily, a professor (Jim) who lectured on my cardiovascular disease course sent out a circular email about a British Heart Foundation funded PhD on gene therapy of ApoE knock-out mice. As Jim made a little reading mistake the application is still pending and I'll have to wait until mid-October to be informed about the outcome [7].

Narf, thus I spent the summer searching for short-term research appointments so I could afford living in London from September onwards. There're plenty of RA positions with a duration of one year and longer, but there's nothing with less [8]. So my knight in the shiny armour turned out to be Andrea who offered me some money for finishing my BSc project and some other lab work. Additional funding would be coming from the translation of e-learning tutorials now destined for medicine students, which I should translate into German, or rather which I'm translating right now (I keep swapping between the blog window and the word window).

I'm sometimes wondering whether I should start collecting information on how rubbish some application systems are and publish a book about it.

Cheerio, there's a blood pH tutorial waiting to be fully translated. But I think I'll have a cup of coffee first. Coffee? Ehm.. I mean the brown stuff the common room's machine extrudes in exchange to 30 pence.

[1] There are plenty of post by me nagging about the GRE and a bazillion more sprinkled over the web, treat yourself.
[2] Namely, Cambridge. Some finance master courses if I remember correctly.
[3] Can you believe that?!?
[4] CSHL is led by James Watson and offers probably the best PhD programme for biological sciences.
[5] The trip to Grenoble is an entertaining story on its own, with myself not capable of speaking French and the French not willing to speak English.
[6] That kinase lady never came back to me after I set up a whole presentation and wanted to book my flights. Andrea always told me that kinase people are different; I should have listened to her.
[7] Should you hear about an Austrian going berserk in London around mid-October, you know my application was rejected.
[8] To be precise, there was one, but instead of hiring me as a well qualified person they chose to rehire someone they've already worked with. That's the simple outline, it was actually a little more complicated with wrong application deadlines being posted and Mike being utterly pissed off for many hours.

PS. isn’t it malicious irony that exactly now, after writing this entry, I receive an email from the GRE service?

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Blogger Ψ*Ψ said...

HEY! You're back!
The GRE is evil. Evil, evil, evil. Same goes for the Ivies. Best of luck with your other applications.

1:29 am  
Blogger Mike said...

It's all evil. Did you do well on yours?

1:03 pm  
Blogger Ψ*Ψ said...

GRE isn't keeping me out of anywhere, but my grades kinda suck.

1:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,

Welcome back to regular blogging again. Wow it seemed that you have made to two EMBL sites by now....

Erm, With your qualifications, you should be more than able to apply for a funded PhD down under easily in the nest Unis here (Uni of Melbourne, Uni of Sydney, etc). Since applications close real soon (31st Oct! but most unis allow applications to be faxed in or even email), I guess you should give it a go and give yourself another option.

Best of luck and looking to reading more of your blogging!

Alvin : >

1:42 am  
Blogger Mike said...

But those deadlines would be for research to be started in 2008. I prefer commencing asap. After all I've been engaged in applications for more than a year by now.

4:32 pm  

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