Applying for the future: a guide to opening your doors

This guest post was written by Mari Soula, undergraduate researcher in Dr. Jenn Rehage's lab at Florida International University.


The most annoying thing for me to hear is “but I don’t know if I’m going to like it” or “they’re not going to accept me”. My mom has always said that I’d never know if I’d like something until I try it. (She’s a smart lady, so I assume the same could be said for the second statement.)

What’s even worse is when people let that simple “fear” get in the way and they don’t even try. I find that when it comes to applications for programs, awards, funding, conferences, etc. people use this “fear” as an excuse to cover up their laziness.

The way I see it, every application is a new door. And every door not taken is an opportunity wasted, an opportunity with the potential to change your life. We’re all ecologists here; this opportunity wasted is like not waking up to go smell the flowers on the first day of spring.

With that said, application processes can be really long and tedious. Don’t try and fill out multiple applications in because you’ll just blow your brains out and end up not wanting to apply for anything. When applying for multiple things I find it easier to make two lists: 1) a list of things required by each and 2) a list of deadlines. This keeps you organized so you can decide if you can recycle essays, recommendation letters or background information for multiple applications. It also lets you keep track of what you’ve done, what you have left to do, and if you’ve already asked your PIs, professors, mentors etc. for their illuminating letters. (Remember, the reviewers have no idea who you are. Rec letters tell them if they should believe that you’re the best possible candidate.)Try your best to ask whomever is going to write your letter a few weeks in advance, these people are very busy and they’re really only doing you a favor.

When writing your essays or about yourself always be honest and humble. The people reading your applications are geniuses don’t try and make yourself seem smarter than them because chances are…you’re really not. Don’t make things up either, because if they do accept you, you’ll have to answer for all of that greatness.

Also, try and turn everything in to the reviewers a couple of days before it’s due. Midnight deadlines don’t mean that they’re up waiting to see of you finally decided to turn everything in AND the way you’re supposed to. You never get a second chance at a first impression; it really doesn’t impress very much if they have to get back at you a few days passed deadline to tell you that you’re missing things. With these people, your first impression may be your only impression, Make. It. Count.

You’ll never get anything you apply for. Maybe at the beginning it’s a little frustrating because you won’t get anything at all. But every time someone declines your application, thank them and ask what you should improve on. Then take this into consideration every time you apply thereafter. In no time at all you’ll be turned into an untouchable applicant!

If you’re chosen, don’t feel obliged to accept. Gracefully decline but make sure to be extremely grateful and straightforward.

An opportunity lost is a door closed. Whether it’s deciding to apply or accept an award, know that you’ll never really know if it’s meant for you until you try. You’ll never really know if they’re not going to accept you if you don’t even try. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no try again next year or you don’t like the experience? Big deal! At least you can now close one door and move on to other billion. Or you can work hard, put yourself out there and blow them away the following year.
Good Luck!


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