The Start of the End

Today is January 24th. It’s a warm, beautiful, and sunny day. I also got my first Ph.D. rejection. What a fantastic day it is today. I’m going to write this post in the form of a story as a means of catharsis. Here it goes.

I wake up. It’s 9 in the morning. My body aches from the hike yesterday. The soreness brings back the beautiful sunset I saw during the hike — warmth rushes through my body. I force myself to get off the bed and with sleep still in my eyes, I unconsciously reach for my phone. I curse at myself for doing this. I have been trying for the past few weeks, unsuccessfully, to avoid touching my phone before breakfast. I scroll through my messages and social media posts; vainly checking how many likes my last post got. Then with two quick swipes (without looking at the screen. A technique I’ve honed from years of practice), I open my email app. I skim through my many inboxes without much thought. Other than the usual Covid-19 emails from the university, which I’ve gotten numb to by now, nothing much caught my eye. Finally, I open my last inbox.

Sunset at Torrey Pines in San Diego

The very first email has the subject line, “Your Application for the Doctoral Pr…”. My heart skips a beat. My mind becomes alert and I feel my lips drying up. With wide eyes and my heart running a sprint, I open the email. The first line reads, “Dear Mr Jain, Thank you for your application and interest in the — — Doctoral Program in Computer and Communication Sciences.” I didn’t have to read the rest of the email to figure out where this train was headed. A mysterious calm embraced me. I didn’t feel sad or happy. I just sat there on my bed, eyes glued to my phone, reading the entire email again and again. I was not processing anything. The words entered my eyes and vanished into oblivion. Finally, after five minutes (felt much longer to me), I put my phone down and got up.

A smile crept up on my face. A slight smile. I thought to myself, “It’s begun. We are in the endgame.” A sliver of self-doubt flashed across my mind, “why am I even doing this? I should have just gotten a job after my undergraduate. Being an IIT graduate means I would have gotten a very decent job. I might not have liked it — but at least I would be earning a lot”. Then I recalled the day I trained my first neural network to classify handwritten digits. I didn’t understand much of what I was doing at that time but I still vividly remember the thrill and exhilaration I felt when my model started to train and I could see the progress bar inching towards completion. I remembered when I first created Anime faces using something called Generative Adversarial Network. I was ecstatic when I observed the first discernible face my network generated. Finally, I reflected on what makes me happy — learning new things. I love discovering the unknown. Being a scientist is the best way to do that and a Ph.D. is a step towards being a good scientist.

I know there’s nothing I can do now other than wait and hope. Finger’s crossed the next few weeks will be more forgiving.

Mohit Jain

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