All this talk of grad school admissions, reasons for rejection, and whether it is possible to be rejected in a good way reminds me of an incident from my academic youth, when I applied to grad schools.
When I first started looking at grad school possibilities, there were two main areas of focus that were both very interesting to me, so I looked at schools that had strengths in one or (ideally) both of these subfields. As my senior year in college progressed, I tilted strongly towards one of these based on a very positive experience I had with a research project that fascinated me. In the end, I went to work with a professor who was the world expert in the particular topic of my undergrad research and was therefore quite happy with the way my grad school search turned out. Before I made that fateful veer, however, I was very interested in another university.
I visited that university and met its Famous Professors and was very impressed with the facilities I toured and the graduate students I met. I assumed that my visit was organized because my application was at least within the acceptable range for admission. I had good grades at a good school, high GRE scores, had some research experience, and presumably had positive letters of recommendation.
Near the end of my visit, I met with one of the most Famous Professors there. He had my application on his desk. He did not waste any time and told me directly that my application was outstanding, with the exception of one little thing, and if it were not for that one little thing, I would likely be accepted. However, because of this one little thing, my application had a flaw in it and was therefore going to be rejected.
The flaw? During a year spent studying abroad at an international university, one of the professors never gave me a grade for one course. All attempts to communicate with that professor were unsuccessful, and I therefore had an incomplete on my record. Fortunately, I had enough credits to graduate without that course, and it was clearly an outlier compared to my overall academic record.
I explained the situation to the Famous Professor, but he said that there were many excellent applicants who did not have a flaw in their record, as I did, and who would also be rejected. So I had no chance whatsoever of being accepted.
I sort of understood, even though I thought it was a stupid reason to reject my application. It didn't matter in the long run, as I got into the graduate program that was the best fit for my research interests.
I was sort of thinking of this incident when I wrote at the end of yesterday's post that we hope our rejected applicants will succeed elsewhere and eventually make us regret not accepting them. I was thinking about it because I sometimes encounter the Famous Professor in my professional life and I am quite sure he has no recollection of our very first meeting. I was just some random undergraduate -- one of thousands -- who applied to that graduate program over the years. And I have never mentioned it to him, not even when that same university approached me about possibly luring me away from my current university and offering me a senior faculty position.
10 months ago