Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pressure Cooker

This month I hear back on two fellowships I've applied for. Each fellowship carries a monthly living stipend, tuition, and research expenses for at least one year -- a lot of money, very competitive. I am sweating bullets and feeling the pressure that comes with the overdue desire to move on. Hackneyed and half-cocked, part of me is languishing while hesitant to hope; the other part is on pins and needles. Fortunately, I'm an idealist and, as a scientist, a fan of slow-and-steady.

So how does one arrive at the inside of such a pressure-cooker, you might ask? There are really two ways of going about it:

Option #1: short-term pressure cooker. Network with colleagues, search online, etc., and when a funded graduate research project crosses your path, grab it and don't think twice. This works best for those born with an innate propensity for serendipity (or sell-out).

Option #2: hazing-process pressure cooker. Thoroughly research professors according to your interest area (me: insects) and geographic preference (if you have one). Then research professors within those parameters according to your preferred sub-specialty (example: agricultural entomology, medical entomology, etc...Mine: conservation). Critically consider the type of university they're associated with, and whether it's the right institution for you. If "yes" then release the hounds! Stalk them. Study their publications. Inquire about them among those you know. And when you fortuitously happen to encounter them (i.e., a well-orchestrated meeting), POW! Hit 'em with your smarts and sell yourself as their only logical option for a future research student. Then the formalities: apply to the university, and work with your prospective professor to secure a boatload of funding. Then the pressure cooker really heats up... You wait. And hope.

It's grad school as I see it, anyway.

Option #1 - obviously much easier. In my case, this approach produced research opportunities and great professors, but nothing in conservation -- my passion, above the bugs and birds. So for quite a while now I've navigated the waters of option #2. I have done all the homework and stalking, and secured myself (with a handshake) as the future student of a professor with a well-defined conservation project in entomology. The end is where I currently sit. Pressure cooker's on full blast.

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