So, it is January 2022 and like me, many are waiting to hear back from the universities to which we applied last month. This period feels like purgatory. Since I am an International student, I didn't go through this during my bachelor's and master's. In my country, decisions are very fast. How did y'all deal with the fear, anxiety, and limiting beliefs while waiting for Ph.D. admissions decisions? To me, it feels like my life depends on it and the overthinking is killing me.
As a first-year graduate student who applied last year during the pandemic, I understand and sympathize with how you must be feeling. Waiting for results alone is difficult -- and I will never forget the added anxiety that came with a pandemic incredibly complicating matters. For me the waiting period were some of the toughest months I've ever had to sit through, and it's always hard to not take any rejections very personally.
During my waiting period I got very into running. It wasn't much, and it was hard to push myself out the door on particularly hard days, but it really helped. It's only especially evident now how much it helped after looking back now and thinking about how much worse I could've been without running to clear my head.
I encourage you to do the same! Not necceserily running (though it is a wonderful hobby you can joyfully bring along into graduate school afterwards), but some activity you can fully envolope yourself in. I heavily recommend though you do something that brings you outside and gets you active! Bonus points if its something you can do with others, like frisbee or soccer. It'll help get your mind in the right place and, contrary to what you'll believe before you step out the door, will lift your mood afterwards quite a bit.
I'd also like to recommend against opting out for an indoor activity like video games. I tried this at first, but I just found that it rarely helped me feel better, and solving puzzles in games even felt difficult on rougher days. Really try to pull yourself outside and get yourself to enjoy life with people close to you. I remember too well how long the waiting period felt, and just as some reassurance, it does end eventually. I understand the anxiety is from just caring about your passion and hoping to continue towards it.
Although I'm not religious (and therefore disregard the theistic aspects of the saying), I find that the Serenity Prayer gives the most rational advice on dealing with such situations:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
First of all, I think it's a feeling that we all understand. After all, research seems like a hugely important part of our lives, and we want to get into a good PhD program.
The situation is not actually unique to PhD applications. I think here's some thoughts that you can think of instead when stressed:
- Since you've already submitted your application, your current thoughts won't really impact the outcome. So there's no guilt in thinking about anything negative.
- Beyond PhD, there will be many situations in life that require you to patiently wait. Take this opportunity as a practice. In short, be curious.
- Instead of dwelling on these thoughts, focus on something fun. Again, you will be reminded of the negative thoughts, but things will be easier.
These thoughts are actually useful, because they tell you to care about your well-being and security. But too much of them will only cause stress and exacerbate your anxiety. So in the spirit of Ben's good answer, but slightly more secular, you could respond by thinking:
Thanks for caring about my well-being, but I'm good for now.
There are various methods to cope with acute anxiety. One of them is to focus on your body and its sensations. How do your hands feel - cold, warm, tingling? Can you feel the ground beneath your feet or the pressure of your body against your chair, etc.? This helps to interrupt any thought spirals by redirecting your attention somewhere south of your brain.
Another method I found useful is called RAIN:
Recognize what is going on. (Oh, there's that thought pattern coming up again.)
Accept the experience as it is. (No need to punish myself for it or to push it away.)
Investigate it, especially its physical manifestations, with curiosity and kindness towards yourself. (That's how this feels -- I'm getting antsy and my chest feels tight. Let me see if it feels any different now than a minute ago.)
Non-identification: This isn't me, and this isn't permanent. It's just an experience that comes and goes like everything else.
I do not know your particular situation, but in general there is a non-negligible chance that one will not receive any offers. What would one do if one does not get any satisfactory offers?
Most people would look for a job. Why not just get started now?
On the other hand if your applications are so strong that it is inconceivable that you will not get at least one satisfactory offer then why worry at all? If you have the resources, I would just take the time off before you are too busy with your studies to just relax.
I’ve found the best way to manage these feelings, especially when there’s nothing to be done to influence the outcome, is:
- Distract yourself — Exercise, take a trip out into nature, spend time with friends and family, start a personal project that you’ll enjoy.
- Share how you’re feeling — With friends, with family, talk about how you’re feeling, any fears you might have. No doubt they, especially older folks in your life, will have experienced similar things. Talking about it can help you manage your anxieties.
- Think about alternatives — Sometimes, it helps to know you’ll be okay if the worst comes to pass and sometimes that means imagining your life in such a situation. I imagine you’re on the younger side of you’re applying to PhD programs. Life takes you in strange directions and the unexpected can often be a blessing. Even if you don’t get in, you can always reapply, and challenges tend to breed wisdom.
I'll give an answer that is not about accepting things that are outside of my control. There is a website called Grad Cafe. Other applicants update this site with their admission decisions.
When I applied for graduate school, I checked the site daily. This way I knew if the decision emails went out to the programs I applied to. Some schools send their acceptance decisions first and then the rejections. So if I didn't get an email, I knew that I had been rejected and I didn't have to wait a few more weeks until I received an email with a decision.
Don't check it too frequently, once a day is fine. Search your school and degree program and you will see if others have received a decision (accept or reject).