I’m Going to Grad School!!

This post is looooong overdue. I don’t even know how to start. I suppose at the beginning is the most logical place.

In fall of my senior year of college I started applying for grad school. I had planned on getting my PhD in applied mathematics and being very happy as a professor for the rest of my life. I also wanted to make sure that I was less cavalier than I was applying for undergrad (I applied to exactly one school. Oh the confidence of youth).

So I put together my list of 7 schools, ran it by several of my professors, sent out applications, e-mails for recommendation letters, transcripts, and about $2000 dollars, then I sat back and waited. I got my first rejection on February 14.

As more rejections came in, I needed a back up plan. I thought maybe I would become a high school teacher. I had taken a trip to the Zuni reservation in January 2013, and visiting the school really made me want to make a difference with high school students. I looked around, and decided teach for america would be a wonderful opportunity.

I made it through the preliminary application and phone interview, but my group/in person interview went poorly. A huge accident on the parkway made me 10 minutes late, and I had a hard time regaining my footing. Two weeks later my friends sat in my room while I pulled up yet another rejection.

There’s no need to speculate over what went wrong. I’ll own up that the endless train of rejections were about 85% my fault. There were definitely some things (and people) out of my control, but for the most part I know I was to blame. I didn’t pick realistic schools, I didn’t do well on my subject GREs, I didn’t network well, and my personal essays weren’t focused. I’ll tell you what, failure feels a whole lot heavier when you know you could have prevented it.

Fast forward. Through 2 lucky internships, a string of miracles, and a love for going type-a type-a all day, a professor at Pitt took notice of my skills, and through another sting of miracles, I was offered a position in the Bioengineering PhD program. They knew nothing about me but the work I could do. That’s effectively the same as if somebody gave a welder a job as an engineer. I don’t write that to sound braggy, but I’ve often felt that people often underestimate the power of tradesmen, but I’m a computer programmer by trade, not by study. I definitely plan on capitalizing on this to prove that sometimes you don’t need a fancy piece of paper.

Now, if you know me, Bioengineering may seem like a strange field for me to go into. I mean, clearly I don’t have the background for it (biology-wise, anyway).

It’s hard to explain without giving the whole story, but I’ll try to summarize so you don’t have to read a novel. When I was little Patch Adams was my inspiration, and in high school all I wanted was to build the best prosthetics the world has ever seen. I wanted to make Automail a reality. But life, and people, and my own sense of indecision got in the way, and I ended up as a math and physics major at a small liberal arts school.

As a math and physics major at a small liberal arts school, I had time to become a decently good programmer in a couple different languages, which is what got me noticed by Pitt in the first place. So maybe the story here is that I’m incapable if taking straight paths to anywhere (if you know me, you might notice how true this is).

I wanted to keep this short, just to let you know how things stand. To let you know that I’m still standing, though admittedly, that’s more to the credit of my friends, teachers, and family than me. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bakery across the street and I think I’ve earned a celebratory lemon bar.


Poetry Tuesday

Happy  Poetry Tuesday! Today is Veterans Day (or Remembrance Day, depending on where you’re from) so of course that’s what the theme will be today. First, there will be two poems today, because I have two favorites and I refuse to choose. The first is from the point of view of a soldier, and the second is a very old poem (around the 1st century), originally written in Latin, from the author to his brother.

Countless friends and family members of mine have served or are currently serving, and I don’t think that one day is anywhere near enough to say “thank you” for all that you do. There are also countless numbers of veterans who have come home only to be lost and forgotten. So after today’s poetry, I’ve listed several (legitimate) charities dedicated to helping veterans. You can help and honor those who are serving or have served by donating and making sure that they know they are not forgotten, and they are loved.

With that, Happy Poetry Tuesday, and Happy Veteran’s Day.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like of old beggars under sacks,
knocked-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind:
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling and stumbling,
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in sonic smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sore on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not talk with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. -Wilfred Owen

Catullus 101

Carried through many nations and over many seas,
I arrive, brother, for these wretched funeral rites
so that I might present you with the last tribute of death
and speak in vain to silent ash,
since Fortune has carried you, yourself, away from me.
Alas, poor brother, unfairly taken away from me,
now in the meantime, nevertheless, these things which in the ancient custom of ancestors
are handed over as a sad tribute to the rites
receive, dripping much with brotherly weeping.
And forever, brother, hail and farewell. -Gaius Valerius Catullus

Feel free to donate or volunteer at any or all of the following charities. I’ve linked directly to the donation pages, but feel free to look around the sites and read about their work.

This organization helps homeless veterans and their families: Veterans Matter
Started by formerly homeless veteran Ken Leslie to help address the issue of veteran homelessness. As of October, VM has housed 475 veterans in 6 states.

Helps provide rehabilitation and benefits to veterans and their families: The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars)
Started in 1899 to aid veterans of the Spanish-American war. Currently 10 000 posts nationwide.

Sends care packages to U.S. military: Operation Gratitude
Started in 2003, Operation Gratitude has sent over 1 million care packages to deployed service members and veterans.

Provides letters, wishes, and scholarships to servicemen and women and veterans: A Million Thanks (general donation)
To send a letter directly to a service member: Send a Letter
To donate to a wish for an injured service member: Grant a Wish
To donate scholarship funds: Fund a Scholar

Helps support injured veterans: Wounded Warrior Project
Their goal is to make sure no veteran is forgotten.

If you have any other charities, feel free to link them down below, but please make sure they’re legitimate. It would be a shame for someone’s good will to be wasted on a scam. If the link you post is found to be a scam, I will take it down and I will alert the proper authorities.

Special Thanks to: Linda Hansen, Steven Hansen, Frank Fornataro Jr., Daniel Fornataro, Frank Fornataro Sr., Bobby Salem, Emily Kauffman, Jenna Yoder, James Thao, Dakota Holloway, Patrick Kuchyt