As a scientist, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. When I started working with fruit flies, my advisor and I thought it’d take 6-8 months to complete (it ended up taking almost 18 months of work spread out over 4 years). When I began my Master’s, I expected to finish in 2 years, yet 11 semesters later I proudly defended. Throughout my academic career, it’s been proven time and again that nothing comes easily, and speed bumps lurk beneath the surface waiting to slow your research down. So although I was crushed and extremely disappointed yesterday, a part of me wasn’t surprised to learn my Ph.D. NSERC proposal was not selected by the university for further consideration.
There’s nothing that compares to reading that rejection letter, informing you again that you were oh so close, but please try again next year. This isn’t my first experience with the email-of-academic-death, but its repeated blows don’t soften the pain. It can be easy to blame yourself (“If I’d only gotten one more manuscript submitted…”), others (“They don’t appreciate the work we do as taxonomists…”) or even the system (“Interdepartmental politics sidelined my chances from the start…”), but it’s important to not give in to feelings of inadequacy or contempt imposed on you by awards committees.
No, I choose to funnel my frustration into proving those awards committees wrong, that they missed their opportunity to contribute to my rising academic star. I know I’m a damn good scientist and a damn good taxonomist, with ideas that will force others to take notice, a work ethic to out-compete my peers, and, most importantly, the drive to become a leader in my field. While the perks which come with NSERC scholarship make life & research easier, I have excelled without them by substituting harder work for financial freedom, and am now better prepared to face all trials I am confronted with. If the awards committee of today fails to see that, it’s their loss, not mine; I’ll find a way, and give my acknowledgement to someone else.
And when I return with Ph.D. in hand and apply to join their ranks as faculty, I know they’ll see a stronger researcher; one who has dealt with adversity; one who has done what was necessary to surpass his goals; and one who has the ability to lead where others follow. I have friends and colleagues who challenge, inspire and drive me, a wife who supports and comforts me, and an ego that won’t lay down and die.
So look out dammit, because I don’t just want to be an entomologist. I will be an entomologist.