Application Woes; or, Be Nice to Yourself

You’ve checked the GHC website for the third time today, despite the resolution you made to yourself to restrain from pressing that looming “refresh button” mocking you in the top left-hand corner of your browser. Your eyes are glossed over and itchy. Surely you must’ve missed something: a necessary requirement you do not possess; the “real story”; or more likely, your pride. Remember how innocent it all began, you may be thinking to yourself, the hope GHC’s turquoise banner once inspired within the cockles of my heart?

Our bright, fresh, smiling faces probably offer little comfort, the smug confidence afforded to a current GHC fellow. As you peruse our many blog posts depicting the litany of our accomplishments (did you know that we have doctors and MPH’s and former White House employees as fellows?!), you may find yourself experiencing what I call “the ricochet effect.”

(Not to be confused with “the boomerang effect.”)

Now, Jonathan, what is this “the ricochet effect” of which you speak? I’m glad you asked, curious reader. It’s the constant companion of one applying to a fellowship. You may begin the application process with a fiery passion, with gusto, even! Those foolish editors on had no idea what they were doing when they posted the perfect GHC placement, just for you. Pafah! You chuckled to yourself, Barbara Bush may as well hand me the job now to spare any broken hearts. Perhaps your initial reaction even invoked the popping of champagne bottles, for how on Earth could such a clouds-parting, perfect-french-fry-to-ketchup-ratio, serendipitous job description suddenly land right on your lap? You begin writing your application essay even before you get the whole story. How could you not apply?!

And then two and a half days pass. Your adrenaline is spent, your serotonin levels stable once again. It’s now a Tuesday afternoon and raining. And you begin to read (yes, reading: the downfall of us all). You read of the competition statistics, of fellows and alumni, of placement organizations, of “leadership” and “passion” and “creativity,” of language requirements and medical liability. Your stomach drops, and with it, your spirit. The inaudible grumbles that escape your mouth attempt to form questions—whywhahuhfuhhmmah?—yet even questions escape you, for what questions are you to ask first?

Do I have the right qualifications?

Should I have taken that intro to Chemistry class my sophomore year?

I should’ve read Paul Farmer’s book.

Who is Paul Farmer?

Why did I major in Comparative Literature?

Wait, how many Fulbrights should I have had before applying?

But most significantly, and most simply put, that underlying question that haunts the rest: Do I measure up?

This stage of the ricochet effect (TRE, for short), is usually accompanied by actions most public health enthusiasts would balk at: food, drink, and that secret cigarette no one knows you have stashed in your top dresser drawer (you know the one, right on the left next to your old Green Day CD). Besides, it’s “self care,” anyway.

This cycle is recycled over and over again, ad nauseum, for the greater part of four months. You may think the first ricochet is the most severe, the extreme highs and lows of the initial “freak out” tempering the ricochets soon-to-be. Sadly, the unpredictability of the TRE model does not lend itself to quantitatively-verified measurements. A ricochet may hit you while on a date with that cutie who sat next to you in that postmodern literary theory class (why wasn’t I a bio major?!). It may sneak upon you while taking your pet corgi on a leisurely jog at 6:00 a.m. (good for you to sticking to your New Year’s Resolution!). The fact remains that for most of us daring (or foolish) enough to apply to GHC, some form of TRE will impede upon our ability to act as functioning human beings for a short period of time.

So what can I—a disembodied, bright-eyed, smiling head on GHC’s blog—offer by way of advice?

Sadly, no medical intervention—public health or otherwise—yet exists to fight the negative side-effects of TRE. It is a (temporarily) chronic condition. There are ways, however, to manage this affliction. Most importantly, do not allow TRE to deflate your obvious passion. There are many for whom TRE immobilizes. With each re-read of one’s application rough draft comes the painful desire to simply, well, not. For others, it requires a speedy solution, like peeling off a Band-Aid or, more accurately, a quick foot amputation for a hang nail: submit as fast as possible so I never have to think about it again. And for others still, it requires an uppage in dosage for anti-anxiety medication.

However you choose to deal with your case of TRE (for it manifests itself differently in each body), remind yourself of that initial fireworks-inducing, damn-near-romantic moment when you first discovered what makes you come alive. Place GHC in the “maybe pile” for one moment, and re-focus your energies on answering a few questions: what inspires you towards action? What are you really, really good at (like, really good at)? What do you enjoy? What was your favorite class in college? Who is your favorite TV character, and how can you be more like her (always Amy Polher)? And really: what are you doing when you feel like your best Self?

Yes, GHC does result in existential crises, I’m glad you noticed.

The questions that swirl in our mind upon the initial ricochet moment usually probe our deepest insecurities: they ask us why we lack. So why not intervene into this line of questioning? Why not ask what we possess? Why not ask if GHC lives up to our potential, to our passion, and to our vision of a more just and equitable world? How can GHC be a vehicle to empower me to be the type of change I wish to see?

I deeply wish I could tell each one of you what it takes to be a GHC scholar, to offer a bulleted list of sure-fire statistics that will guarantee an accurate predictor of your application. The community GHC creates, however, eschews clear lines, embraces the ambiguous, and thrives within interdisciplinary ways of thinking about public health equity. While writing your application (or considering whether or not to apply), write from as authentic a place as an application will allow. For indeed, GHC does not “want” to hear anything. Or rather, they “want” to hear and see you.  And after all: you have a zero percent chance of gaining acceptance if you don’t apply, eh?

Consider applying, not simply because you think you “have a shot” based on easily measurable forms of calculating success. Consider applying because this work makes you come alive. Consider applying because you can’t imagine living life otherwise.