As the fellowship competition blogs heated up last week, it became apparent that the National Science Foundation was getting close to releasing this year's round of fellows. I knew that my chances were slim to join the ranks of the many Nobel prizewinners, and that my proposed project was nothing compared to past proposals (such as the founding of Google). But it still was a painful blow to open up my inbox Tuesday morning and read the rejection letter. In addition to the financial aspect, there was the sinking feeling of being ordinary.
And yet, more surprising was how I soon began to feel a huge weight lifting off my chest. Hope is a strange creature with many faces, and waiting for the winners to be announced was one of my more painful run-ins with Hope. Once I had the closure of the rejection letter, I could finally kick my Belaki into full gear. Belaki is a word I neologized to symbolize the process of coping with an undesirable result by magnifying the disadvantages of the unattained goal (be it a girl, an award, a job, a faith, etc.) and then brainstorming the desirable alternative options. I think the whole process was facilitated by the failure essay I had written in the previous blog (which was a separate scholarship contest by the way). After writing the essay, I had done a lot of thinking about the metaphysical benefits of failure.
But after soaking up those benefits for awhile, I was glad to move on. In this case, I had the good fortune of beginning a new research assistantship to distract me. For the next three quarters, I'll be part of an inter-disciplinary project called the Boat of Knowledge. It's essentially a STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) collaboration between a small group of professors, graduate students, and high school teachers. Part of the project will involve a houseboat that we'll be taking on the Ohio and Muskingham Rivers to collect data like water samples. This quarter will be spent learning about water quality, local river organisms, and getting to know each other in the classroom. In the summer, we'll spend a week on the boat together, and then in the fall, we'll lead some experiential lessons in high school classrooms culminating in a river expedition with students.
Since the assistantship will cover my tuition even over the summer, it's looking like I'll be able to start my PhD program earlier than expected (this summer instead of this fall). Luckily, both the Boat project and my PhD courses will be flexible enough that I can head over to South Korea for 3 weeks with Joo to spend some time on the east coast with her family.