I’m giving a talk!
Well I slipped through the cracks yet again! It hurts me to admit that I’ve probably earned this one. The 7th annual BRAIN initiative investigators meeting is coming (in June) and I was selected for a Trainee Highlight Award. Is it a big deal? Probably not, but I’ll take a win when I can get it. Today we’re going to dive into what exactly this means for me and why even little victories should be celebrated. Is it a little victory? I mean they did pick me, so what does that say about them?
For those of you just tuning in, this is 365 days of academia year two! It’s my promise to (unless the weather is trying to kill me) blog daily about the PhD journey. Technically I’m on year three of that journey, but who’s counting? I am, I’m counting and it’s killing me. I have my BS and MS in mechanical engineering and my PhD is focused on neuroengineering. They are two totally different things in case the word engineering made you think they were the same thing, I know I thought they would be similar! It’s been a rough transition, but I’ve slowly and painfully carved out a little section of the field just for me. Will I change the world? Statistically, no. But that won’t stop me from trying.
Failure is a part of life. I recently (as in yesterday) met with one of the undergrads I mentor who didn’t get accepted to any of the summer programs she applied to. That’s not as bad as it sounds because it means she can focus on our work, so she had a program, she just wanted to try something new. That didn’t stop her from feeling bummed out about the whole thing. I don’t blame her, I take rejection the same way I would take someone cutting me open and removing my organs while I was watching, as in not well.
So I brought up my recent failure. Okay there was a lot to chose from, I fail pretty regularly and you would think I would get used to it, but no. This particular failure was the rejection from the NDSEG fellowship (here). I had a lot of confidence going into it too. I felt it was a solid application, the proposal was (in my mind) great, but I was still rejected and the worst part is they don’t tell you why! I’m not shy about my failures, because like it or not it happens to all of us. I reminded her that with COVID a lot of programs were closing making the programs still going extra super competitive and they would most likely be looking for people who wanted to do specifically what the program was doing. She on the other hand was looking to try something new, which put her at a disadvantage despite being (in my opinion) overly qualified for any of the programs she would apply to.
Here’s the thing though, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Rejection or not, you don’t know if you don’t try and while rejection hurts (again like someone was ripping out my organs), I would rather that then be stuck wondering if I could’ve gotten it. So when my main-PI suggested I submit an abstract to the BRAIN initiative investigators meeting, despite my frustrations with the experimental setup, design, and frankly the results (talked about here), I did it and I did it as best as I could. I don’t like to do things half-heartedly so I put my full effort to make sure that everything looked as good as possible before we submitted it.
Then I completely forgot about it. Like literally forgot I even applied and it didn’t cross my mind until late afternoon when I got the decision email. Frankly, if you’ve never submitted anything, you get a generic email title (this was BRAIN initiative investigators meeting – Trainee Highlight Award Submission Decision) and the actual bit you care about is buried inside the email somewhere. I wish they would just tell you in the subject line, it would kill a lot of anxiety, but they don’t. Well needless to say I was awarded a spot so now I have a poster to make and a short (5-minute) presentation.
The nice thing about it is that I can record the presentation prior to the event so I can make it as well put together as possible. I really, really like that because I can get what I want to say correct and make sure I hit all my talking points before the time limit instead of trying to do it live with a clock silently ticking in the background. The details are scarce at the moment, but I was promised updates by the end of the month so plenty of time (I hope) to prepare for it and finalize some of the analysis I’m currently doing.
Of course, I emailed my main-PI and Co-PI to share the good news. Both of them are happy for me. I plan to share the news with the undergrads I mentor so they can see that success can come sometimes too, even if there’s a lot of failure along the way. It’s important to celebrate the victories and not take the failures so hard. Easier said than done with that last one, but it’s a statement just as much for me as it is for anyone reading this. It’s also hard to see a win as a win if you’re the one getting it (at least it is for me). I always get a nagging feeling that I was just selected because there was no one else to pick, irrational I know, but hey since we’re being honest here.
But no matter how I feel, I was selected and that means something. At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself!