You're in!

Feb 20 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

How often, in this job, do you get to genuinely make another person feel happy? Though I like to imagine that my trainees are dancing on rainbows for a week after I give them a compliment, something tells me such a response is relatively rare. But there's one time I know I get to make someone's day, and that's when I call to let them know they've been accepted to graduate school.

Of course, the debate of whether we should continue to create new PhD candidates rages on. But just for today, let's feel the happy feels, and remember what it was like to get that call.

I was in my apartment getting ready to go to my job at Starbucks, when the Swatch Phone rang.

Pretty sure it was this one.

It was my soon-to-be thesis advisor, telling me I was being offered a position in the neuroscience program at [Classy Institution]. I was in total shock. I do not remember the conversation very much at all (I really hope I said thank you), but I do remember that after hanging up, I got on my bike and rode the fastest I've ever ridden down the giant hill to the swanky neighborhood where my Starbucks was, and burst in shouting, "I AM GOING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL!!!!" It was one of the best days ever.

Your turn - I know you've got some good stories, so share in the comments!

43 responses so far

  • Kristy Lamb says:

    I was rushing to make a plane, and was cutting it entirely too close. I'd spent a week with my best friend and her still-pretty-new husband in Michigan, and we were just speculating on how much further it was to DTW while watching the clock - it was maybe 15 minutes before boarding was to start. The phone rang, and I said - "That cannot POSSIBLY be the airline asking why I haven't checked in yet." I answered, and it was a faculty member who would go on to be both a rotation advisor and member of my qualifying exam committee telling me she was calling to offer me acceptance. I stammered, acceptance?!? and she went on to tell me I was invited to a recruitment weekend in a few weeks as well. As I was having this call, my best friend's husband was driving like a maniac to arrive right outside the terminal. I hung up from the call, shared my news, hugged them fast, and sprinted for the plane. I barely made it but was clearly ecstatic - the flight attendant asked me what was going on, I looked thrilled, and when I told her, she brought me a drink. Cheers!

    I have a scarf made of alpaca yarn I bought on that trip. I cast on during my first year of grad school, knit on it between other projects every year, and finished the scarf about three months before I handed in my dissertation. I like to think it made the whole journey with me.

  • Joshua Drew says:

    I'm making those phone calls right now! This has been a long and often stressful process in picking the students. You know what? Totally doesn't matter, tonight is about making X number of students really really really happy. It is hands down my favorite part of the job (ok, tie with when students of mine get into grad school and tell me).

    My own Ph.D. acceptance was really fascicle. I got an email from my PI to the chair saying "So should you tell Josh he got in or should I". I guess he had CC'd me by mistake. I remember emailing him saying "umm so does this mean what I think it does...."

    Tonight rocks!

  • drugmonkey says:

    Oh you better believe it! I still remember the phone call from Very Distinguished Professor inviting me to attend the grad program that I eventually attended.

  • Boy, this takes me back.

    I was a senior in college, in a semi-long-distance relationship (six hour drive, one hour flight) with a girl who happened to be in her first year at a highly prestigious graduate school. I was hoping against hope I'd be lucky enough to get in.

    I had just gotten a call from a Very Fancy Scientist who wrote my undergrad neuroscience textbook informing me that I had gotten into an Incredibly Fancy Institution 3,000 miles away from the girl I liked. Meanwhile, it had been a week since my interview at my girlfriend's Fancy University, and I hadn't heard anything.

    I was working on my senior thesis in a lab in the basement, where cell reception was godawful. My phone never rang, but all of a sudden I had a voicemail from the area code where my girlfriend's Very Fancy Univeristy was located. I hightailed it outside so I'd actually have reception and listened to the message. It was the graduate program secretary calling to "follow up" on the good news I had already received.

    What the fuck!!!! I called her back right away, and told her I hadn't heard anything. She was like "Oh, of course you got in. Dr. Very Famous Scientist didn't call you last week? He was supposed to!"

    So, I experienced a combination of elation (Woohoo! I get to go hang out with the girl I like!) and annoyance (I was supposed to know this last week!) all at once.

    In any case, I accepted the offer, moved in with my girlfriend, and ten years later, we've got three kids. I've had a lot to drink in the United Club, so please accept my sincerest apologies if this comes across as incomprehensible or overly sappy.

  • Jayanth Nair says:

    I had taken 6 months off after graduating from college to apply for graduate programs in my discipline. Now, 6 months off, in India, after getting your college degree is frowned upon. It is also often seen as a sign of incompetence. But I stood amongst the top percentile in my graduating class and this is what I really wanted to do. My parents were also totally cool with it. So I sit at home, give my exams, and send my applications to the very top schools in my discipline expecting I'd sail through. But honestly, and to my utter disbelief I got rejected by 4 of the 5 schools I applied to, for one reason or the other. I didn't know what I would do if the last one (and my preferred school, mind you) did not come through. My parents were feeling the stress too. And then one day I get an e-mail from my future advisor telling me he wanted to do a telephonic interview. The interview went great and he told me 'Congratulations, you're in!' before we ended the call. I walked over, numb from disbelief, to my Mom and told her the news. I will forever remember her hug and her tear moistened face touching mine.

  • JaySeeDub says:

    I had a bit of a break between undergrad graduation and starting med school. So, I was working at [Restaurant That Will Not Be Named]. We didn't get phone calls, and I know other people had been refreshing the admission page to find out if they got in. While everyone else was sitting down to family meal, Chef let me hang out in the office hitting refresh on one of the computers. About 10 minutes into cacia e pepe (the very quick and dirty way), people ran into the office because I'd started yelling. They thought something was wrong. I found out I was going to med school. My hands were shaking the rest of that service. And I still have scars on my forearms from using the blowtorch to finish my components that night.

  • biochemprof says:

    Great story. Next month I'll be attending a symposium to celebrate the research of the professor who was relentless in getting me to accept the offer for their PhD program. I enjoyed our conversations so much that I joined his lab. Sorry that he's retiring soon, but he's had a great career and was a fantastic mentor and friend.

  • bashir says:

    I don't recall graduate school at all. I remember the interview. I remember waiting until the last minute to decide if I was going to go but I don't remember the phone call.

    I remember college admission pretty well. I was sitting in AP computer science class goofing off by reading internet, possibly the Princeton Review forums. This was back when the most people were still informed via mailed letter. The total online systems didn't quite exist yet. I remember some guy online said there was a "secret" phone number you could call once the letters had been sent, and oh by the way the letters were sent that morning. I copied down the number and asked to go to the bathroom. This was also pre-iphone so getting to a phone I could use was not trivial. I tried the school phone but that was local calls only and long distance was blocked. I was about to give up when I remember that in my car was a cell phone that my parents got me for emergencies. Back then cell phones were still the size of a small dog so I didn't carry it around with me, just left it in the car. Of course the lot for students was what felt like a mile away. So I walked out to the lot and sat in my car and called the number. It worked. A nice lady on the phone took my information and said

    "Congratulations. You've been admitted to [fancy pants school]."

    "ok! Umm, what do I do now?"

    "Nothing. Have a nice day."

  • NatC says:

    I was in Australia and someone really tried to figure out the time difference. But they called while I was at work (at least it wasn't 3am), so I came home to a message on my answering machine from FamousScientist telling me congratulations, I was accepted into Fancy American University I knew most about from movies and reputation. It was surreal. It was the first time I considered that I really would be moving to the US.

    Last year I got to make that call to congratulate someone on being accepted into our program and my lab. That was pretty amazing too. Looking forward to doing it again soon!

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I was admitted to my PhD program in 1961, and hired into my career long tenure track job in 1965. It did happen, I tell you, but I don't remember any details.

  • Ola says:

    I made a few of those calls last week, and it's also interesting from the caller's end to gauge the responses. Some kids are bouncing off the walls, others are like "err, yeah, that's, err, like great, or something, err". Guess which ones will be getting a resounding "no" when they ask to rotate in the fall?

    My own experience was simply one of relief...I didn't find out until fairly late in the summer (I was on a "hold" list), so actually knowing what I'd be doing come September was a big weight off my shoulders.

  • My courting was a bit strange here. My advisor knew she wanted me in her lab, so rather than interviewing with other faculty in the department I interviewed with her collaborators.

    About three weeks later I got an email from her unofficially saying I was in. I had an official letter the following week.

    Since being here, I've heard some praises about me during the interview weekend. Everyone perceived me to had been accepted already (I had no idea). Some faculty have told me I was talked about highly during the admissions meetings. I'll take their word on that. In terms of collaborations, I am collaborating with everyone I've met at interview weekend -- so, thus far everything I was shown or told I would be handed has happened.

    There has been no smoke and mirrors here. In comparison to what other friends have reportedly gone through (here and elsewhere), I'd say I'm having a killer time.

  • Christina Pikas says:

    Huh. I didn't get a phone call. I got a letter in the mail and this was 2005 so not like ancient history or anything. Maybe field matters?

  • Dee says:

    I was at my first official grad school interview and very nervous about it. I was GREEN., coming from small institution with one summer of research experience. After dinner that night with a group of hosting grad students we all went back to the hotel. I checked my email before bed and found an acceptance from a prestigious MRU in the north that I had informally visited the previous fall. I was elated. Regardless of how the interview went the next day I was going to grad school. I interviewed and went home elated. Before the week was out I got a email (and a voicemail) from the program director saying I hand gotten into the program and accepted their offer. It was comparable in prestige and had a better offer and lower cost of living. I am very happy with my decision thus far.

  • Jessica Tollkuhn says:

    I don't actually remember being accepted to the institution I attended. What I do remember is a totally awkward phone conversation with a different institution that really wanted me to go there. I had decided against it and when the professor asked why, I mumbled something about being "closer to my family", which was completely untrue and incredibly lame sounding. Fortunately, the grad school experience taught me how to sack uppe and be straightforward in situations like that.

    I think there needs to be another thread about best/worst interview experiences!

  • This is such a big difference between the US and my homecountry: we don't apply for graduate school, instead you can apply for a PhD student job opening when PIs have money for that (once you've got your master's degree). And sometimes there are very few job openings but PIs might have some extra money laying around so they can hire you anyway.
    When I couldn't find many job openings, I contacted a PI that I wanted to work with and asked if I could write my master thesis (which in our case was just a review of a literature search) and when he said yes I also mentioned that I was looking for a PhD position. He was waiting for a grant to be funded on a topic I was very interested in and sort of said that he might be able to hire me even before that grant got funded. He would let me know by the end of the summer.
    It all stayed very vague and by the end of the summer I decided that I did need and income and found a job answering phone calls for a company that sells books online. Just a couple days before I would start working there I received an email from my PI saying that I could start next Monday. He was very unexcited and had assumed that I knew that this was going to happen. Instead I had been frantically checking my email all summer… Luckily the grant got funded and I could stay for 4,5 years.

    • bashir says:

      I get emails about "phd studentships" all the time, which always sounds odd to me. The US system in some cases isn't that different. You apply to a department but the PI basically decides if they're "hiring" or not. That's how it was for me (none of this lab rotation stuff).

  • katiesci says:

    Getting in to graduate school here wasn't that big of a deal... I knew I would be accepted just by conversations I'd had with faculty before and during the interview day.

    When I received the email that I'd received an NSF fellowship, on the other hand, I remember every detail. Getting up early just to check my email, staring at it in disbelief as a GIANT smile crept across my face, and them immediately calling my best friend (one of my sisters) shaking and tearing up while I told her. It was so surreal. Had I not received that fellowship I would have had to take out student loans every year for graduate school (because the regular stipend doesn't cover all my expenses being a single mom and homeowner).

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    I remember very well. It was more like a job interview, because in Germany often you are hired to work on a research project and are 'given the opportunity to write a doctoral thesis' on it... which means you work like a full-time researcher, get paid half time and that's the price you pay for your degree. 😉

    So, a friend of mine was already working there and I applied without telling my undergrad thesis advisor about it (we were not on good terms those days). The day before my interview I went to my friend's apartment to stay the night and we went through my job talk. He said 'they will totally hire you, I have seen all the other noobs giving talks and yours is the best by far AND you are the most fitting candidate'. So that was good to hear, even though he had been there for only three months himself.

    The next day I gave a talk about my undergrad thesis and ... both professors liked it. A lot. They told me I was hired if I'd want to, during lunch right after the talk. I was verry happy! Later I almost blew it because my new boss asked me about my undergrad boss and I started a mean rant. The undergrad thesis had been pretty traumatic. My new boss stopped me angrily because he had talked to my undergrad boss on the phone and he had reommended me highly. So... be sure never to speak ill of your former boss. I was too emotional to stop myself and that wasn't well perceived. Later my advisor and I talked about it and I think he came to understand that it was all due to the immense stress I had experienced just prior to that conversation.

    I could choose whether to work on birds or blowflies and I chose to work on zebra finches, which I don't regret at all. My doctoral thesis was the best time of my life!

  • Paula says:

    I was sitting at my desk at my job with Big Pharma Company... the career path I had decided wasn't for me... when I got the news. I called my mum, and she cried with joy.

  • Bob Graybeard (@BSDneuro) says:

    Ah yes, I remember it well...

    It was 1976 and I was an unpaid lab technician at NIMH feeding raisins I painstakingly injected with cocaine to macacques. My experiments required me to deliver a single coke-laced raisin every 30 minutes to 60 monkeys for 72 hours straight. That might seem like a lot of monkeys, but we needed to be sure we would have enough tissue when we ground up the nucleus accumbens of all the monkeys in the old Waring blender in the basement at Bethesda. Remember, this was all pre-PCR!

    In order to power through the experiment, my partner (a certain now very famous brain scientist who we'll call "Bob") and I were alternately fueled by cigarettes, NoDoz, Glenlivet, and a stash of peyote Bob picked up at a ranch retreat led by Carlos Castaneda. We had just finished the dissection of the last brain and eaten the remaining raisins when the phone rang.

    "Please hold for Stephen Kuffler..." was all I was able to make out before Bob yelled "AWESOME SMOOTHIE!"

    I turned around to see Bob, sleep deprived and delirious from the peyote, chugging the last of our nucleus accumbens slurry and I blacked out. When I came to, I was in my second year at Harvard. Good times.

  • attheslac says:

    I was driving down Ivy League Street in NW DC when I got a call from my future Post-doc mentor offering me a job at Ivy League med school.

  • Back in the day, University of Pennsylvania had 2 solid days of interviewing with about 15 faculty members. Invariably someone lost their mind in the group of interviewees and never returned for the second day.
    After my interviews, I anxiously awaited my phone call and when it did not come, I went out with buddy Francis Szele, super famous now-Cambridge scientists, got utterly wasted on 40 oz PBR (so I must have had 100 of them) and proceeded to lay on a picnic table on his front porch, decry the indignation that was my world and then throw up profusely.
    I ambled into the lab I was tech-ing in the next day with a world class hangover. A couple hours later, I was told that the director of the graduate program was on the phone for me. Realizing immediately this was my good friend Francis trying to cheer me up, but being in no mood for it, I picked up the phone listened to him tell me we was thrilled to let me know I was accepted into the graduate program. I kafawed, said "Francis, you're an asshole" and hung up on him.
    Ten minutes later, my then-PI came down from his office and said the head of the graduate program called him on his office line to tell him I was accepted and he was waiting for me to pick up the phone (and presumably not call him an asshole). Indeed, Francis had not even woken up and I had called Larry Palmer, famous neuroscientist and head of the University of Pennsylvania neuroscience graduate program, an asshole. And that, my friends, is how I found out I got into grad school.

  • Amboceptor says:

    I had no idea people's stories of this were so exciting.

    Basically, I applied to three PhD programs. Two of them never responded to my application in any way. And the other one had a faculty member call me for a phone interview which lasted about half an hour, during which she seemed to be treating my acceptance into the program as a formality. So when I got the acceptance letter in the mail, I had already been assuming I'd go there.

  • namnezia says:

    After college I worked in a neuro lab at said college. I remember that I had already been rejected from my top choice but had an acceptance to a decent program in a very cold place and I was mentally preparing myself to go there. I remember I had just cut some brain slices and was waiting an hour for them to incubate and was wasting time surfing the proto-internet using a program called Gopher when the lab phone rang. It was very distinguished professor calling from my second top choice university inviting me for an interview. I remember running down the hall to tell my labmates. During the interview they offered me admission to the program.

  • I must have made an enemy sometime during my undergraduate study at UMD; in particular, one in the registrar's department. When I'd applied to grad schools, I'd requested official transcripts be sent out to each of them. None were.

    It turns out that if you don't have a complete application -- including an official transcript -- a lot of schools can't make you an offer of admission. I heard nothing for months, and I was wrecked, having had no alternative career plans since I'd been in middle school.

    And then one day an email came in, BCCing all the shortlisted candidates at Yale mathematics, reminding us that the deadline for first-round acceptance was fast approaching. I immediately called the director of graduate studies, his number at the bottom of the email, and said I hadn't received any such offer. He told me they never received a transcript -- the first I'd heard of it. I ran to the registrar's office, had them print and seal an official transcript, and I jumped on the next Amtrak from DC to New Haven, hand-delivering it to the Yale registrar.

    How do I know that I hadn't just forgotten to request transcripts? Well, other than the charge for sending them I paid, Yale needed the final transcript including my graduation from UMD in order for me to matriculate in the fall. You can bet I was certain to request that; sure enough, it wasn't there when I arrived in August.

    It turns out I'd been shortlisted at a number of other schools. To this day we still don't know what went wrong with the email system that none of the messages saying "hey, you didn't send a transcript but we want to offer you a place here" arrived in my inbox, but the one that BCCed me did.

  • DJ says:

    I'll offer the counter-point: the "how I did NOT get accepted" story:

    I applied to a variety of institutions, including the one big name state school that every neuroscientist applies to. I sent in the same application, the same GRE scores and a valid payment just as I did to both lesser and more elite schools.

    Days came and went. I was interviewed by and ultimately accepted by a fancy pants Ivy League school, but I never heard from famous state school. Actually, I was accepted by every school to which I applied, except famous state school. I confirmed that they cashed my check. I called. No response. I called again and again and again. No response. I emailed (not common in that day). No response. I never got a letter of any type from them.

    In fact, state school never communicated with me at all. They cashed my check and never accepted or rejected me. They simply didn't respond. They offered no opportunity to contest their lack of decision.

    Years later as an accomplished, tenured faculty member, I was invited to give a seminar at famous state school. I accepted.

    I was able to stand up in front of the entire group and tell them about my experience with applying to their school. It's OK, I said, I did well anyway... it's just that "YOU COULDA HAD THIS! AND I WANT MY MONEY BACK!" I didn't get it, but it was good for a laugh.

  • astrab says:

    The member of the admissions committee tasked with informing me of my acceptance decided to have some fun with the notification.
    When I was applying to grad schools, I was working as a tech in the lab of the then-director of the PhD program at the institution I'd end up attending. In fact, my physiology rig was about 2 feet away from the door to his office. So when it came time for them to accept me, I didn't get a phone call. Instead, a member of the admissions committee (who collaborated often with the lab I worked for), came down to visit the program director (my boss).
    On his way out, he stopped at my rig, where I was half way through an experiment. He told me that he had bad news. He'd decided to submit my PhD application to a program in Slovakia, and they'd accepted me. So I now would have to decide whether to accept the offer in Slovakia, or to come do my PhD at the institution we were at now. And that he was sorry, but he couldn't help me make this enormously difficult decision. And then he stood there. Grinning. Possibly waiting for me to accept on the spot.
    I'm pretty sure I said something along the lines of "I need to finish this recording. I just ... can't deal with you right now." I accepted formally a couple of days later.

  • justanothergradstudent says:

    I applied to more than 10 schools, but with my terrible subject GRE I was seriously worried. Slowly, rejections started trickling in. In March, most friends had at least one acceptance, and by April, I started sending polite inquiry emails to the schools I hadn't heard from. Some told me I was on the wait list, and more than one said "oh, yeah, you didn't get in... nobody told you?" I graduated in May with a plan for the summer but no idea what I would do come fall. I was still on two or three waiting lists (so much for the April 15 thing!).

    Come July, I was very close to being offered (and accepting) a non-academic job. Imagine my surprise when I got an email—not a phone call, but an email—from one of my "backup" schools offering me admission! So in the span of about 6 weeks, I finished up my summer responsibilities, moved to a new city sight unseen, and began graduate school.

    Of course, this particular school only offered a master's degree, and my ultimate goal was a PhD. So, I got to play the whole game a second time two years later with an only-slightly-less-terrible subject GRE score. Once again the rejections trickled in, and once again my ultimate acceptance was rather unorthodox and came via email. This time the fateful message arrived on April 13 (well after the official admitted students weekend, and two days before the nominal acceptance deadline). Since this was my only offer, I again jumped on it sight-unseen.

    I can't say I'd recommend my approach to anybody, particularly if you have a significant other who is seeking employment in each new place you drag them to. But, I'm glad to be where I am today, and I marvel to think how I almost didn't get the opportunity in the first place.

  • TheGrinch says:

    It's so cool to read about these experiences -- they are so personal.

    Being an international applicant, I never had the luxury of attending the interviews/visits. I had applied to 7-8 good schools in the US and had been rejected from all of them apart from a small, niche school in an Ivy League university. I was working at that time as a research engineer in a major multinational company in my home county. So I was not really worried about the future.

    And then one day while at my job, I received the email from my future advisor informing me that he has an opening and whether I am interested. I said yes immediately, of course.

    Now I am on the other side, I feel I am deprived of the happiness many of you seem to get while personally conveying the information -- by phone, goodness! -- to the successful applicants. In my institution, all the successful applicants are notified of the outcome by the graduate school via a stock email. I am sure this is most convenient way to administer, but I do wish I had the opportunity to tell someone the positive news.

  • I just sent out some e-mails to accepted students! I have absolutely zero recollection about how I found out I was accepted to my PhD program.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    The late Alfred Sherwood Romer told this story. He was working at the British Museum of Natural History. He received a letter from Harvard offering him a job at a salary. He was quite ill at the time and did not reply. A second letter came, offering him a higher salary. Still sick and no reply. A third letter came, offering yet a higher salary. He was feeling better, up to writing a reply, accepting the last offer.

  • iGrrrl says:

    I was accepted to two of the three schools I applied to, and I found out about my top choice by a phone call from my hoped-for PI. My response: "Are you sure?"

    "Yeah. Your grades were good, from a good school, and you interview well."

    "Um, I didn't interview."


    The background is that my partner was a post-doc in a lab in the same department. We had provided music for a couple of departmental parties (bass and vocal). Near as I can figure, I'm the only person who auditioned for grad school in neuroscience.

  • […] There is a remarkable amount of substance there. Who knew? For example, there was a delightful piece on stories of how people got into graduate school. It was getting late and was finished with my […]

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