October, 2008. I am in Edmonton, finishing up my BSc at the U of Alberta. I apply for an NSERC, thinking there is NO WAY I will ever get it. I’m still rattled about not having any idea on how to become what I want to be, but maybe going to grad school is as good a starting point as any. Right? Right???
October 2008 – January, 2009. I apply to professors. Each time, I read countless papers, think of a unique questions I would like to address as their graduate student, draft a beautiful letter, send it off. I’m full of expectations. But no reply. No reply. NO REPLY NO REPLY. I apply throughout Canada and the Eastern US. No fishies biting. I feel hopeless, listless, and depressed. 38 beautiful, perfectly formulated letters later, I give up.
February, 2009. I find the PERFECT job. Behaviour Specialist at the Edmonton Humane Society. Job description: Play with dogs. Supervise dogs as they play with other dogs. Rinse (literally). Repeat. I’m making a difference, one dog at a time. I’m happy.
April, 2009. There is a letter on the table from NSERC. I’m scared. I don’t care. I want to stay at my job and I don’t care if I didn’t get it. But I do care. I retreat to my room, tell my boyfriend not to come in until I come out. And…I get it!!! But what to do now? I have failed at finding a professor whose research I was interested in who was also interested in me. I resume the job hunt – gotta find a school SOON!!!
March, 2009. I send out another exhaustive round of applications, perhaps with a little less gusto. Now people are interested in me. With the economy being in a slump, people are worried about money. But now that I have my own funding, I can have my pick. I am trying to find someplace in the Boston area, so that I can be with my boyfriend, who will start his postdoctoral research there.
May, 2009. I fly to Boston for an interview. The researcher who I am interested in is well organized and has fascinating ideas. But the lab is unhappy. The students are worn and frustrated with the way things in the lab are going. I feel micro-managed, even though I’m only visiting for a day! I can’t envision this as a work environment for me. I come home, still without a job.
May, 2009. My boyfriend points me to the lab of Dr. Colin Chapman, here at McGill. In all my searching I had missed him, because he studies primates and is therefore affiliated with Anthropology, not Biology. I send him an e-mail, he responds quickly and shows interest. I can’t visit, because he and his students are leaving to go to their field site in Uganda. But his students say the lab is amazing, they are happy and incredibly friendly. And there is a window of opportunity. Even though the application deadline to start in September is long past, they can make an exception if I apply NOW! So I do. And get in. And plan to move to Montreal.
August 1, 2009. 10 days until I move. My stuff is gone. I am leaving my friends, my family, my beautiful, entertaining dog, and my boyfriend (and not just any boyfriend, THE boyfriend). I feel like with every breath I take, my heart breaks a little more. I rethink everything. Can my education be worth THIS much? Should I really be questing after this silly notion of “making a difference”? I cry every night when everybody else is asleep.
August 10, 2009. I am picked up from the airport by my new, awesome labmate. I meet my new, awesome roomate. I visit my new, awesome (and charming!) house. Everthing is new and awesome. My roomate helps me buy my new, awesome furniture. IKEA saves the day. We become THOSE people who tie a mattress to the top of a car, try and hold it in place with our arms (as if that would help), and drive down a high-speed, jam-packed highway.
August 14, 2009. I meet my professor for the first time. I meet the lab for the first time. My labmate hugs me. People smile. My professor and I talk, we get along really well. We cook up some not-so-brilliant-but-we’ll-work-on-them ideas. Things look up.
Flash Forward: Present day. I love my life I love my life I love my life!!!! I am back from my first field season, I am accustomed to Montreal. Although it is no longer new, it is still awesome. The food is incredible here, it makes me wonder what I was eating while I was in Edmonton. I am a living, breathing example that leaps of faith pay off. I moved to a place I had never been to work with a prof I had never met and left most everything else behind. And it worked.