Monday, 22 July 2013

My MIRACULOUS journey towards my DREAM!

Hola folks! Hope you all are doing great. I assume everyone who has reached my blog and is reading this post, if not completely, partially relates to the title since each one of us must have had moments of absolute AWE in our lives after achieving something which we never even in our wildest dreams must have thought we would. No matter how BIG or SMALL, these achievements would definitely be UNIQUE to each one of us, giving us an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and self-worth and that is precisely what matters. You all must be wondering as to why am I yapping about your achievements and what have I got to do with them! Right? Well, the reason being, I wanna start off this self-acclaimed miraculous journey of mine by giving each of us a sense of pride and positive self-image which we very often fail to cherish.  
Before moving to why I call this journey miraculous, let me make you all a bit acquainted with my DREAM. Wasn't something unique or out of this world I must say. All Indian students aiming to go to the US would know. Like everyone of you, I wanted to pursue higher studies in the United States after my Masters in India. The reasons being simple. One, I didn't want to pursue a PhD in India. Had my own set of reasons for that. Two, to be very honest, I was frustrated with travelling in the local trains of Mumbai and wanted a life away from the crowd. Wanted to see empty streets, shorter queues, quieter surroundings and most of all, less people. Call me an introvert. But Yes, that's what I wanted. Three, the sheer thrill of being in the United States of America used to be so consuming.The very thought of being away from your parents, on your own, with the freedom to do whatever you wish to and most of all getting to see unbelievably fit chicks right in front of your eyes (not just in TV shows, movies or porn sites) was alluring. 

However, no matter how majestic it all sounded, I was well aware of the miseries of a Master's student in the US unless he belonged to the Ambani's OR Mittal's OR for that matter any of the upper class families in India, which I surely didn't. And, like every other middle class guy/girl, I didn't want to spend a huge sum of my parents hard-earned money behind an over-priced education. So, right from the beginning, I was very clear about one thing that life could be enjoyed in the US if and only if I were debt-free and had a source of income to support my stay there. And this could be achieved only and only if I either went for a fully funded Doctorate degree or a partially funded Master's, which again was my second preference. Initially, being a final year Masters's student of Biotechnology at the Padmashree Dr. D.Y.Patil University, I felt like I was asking for too much. Seeking a Doctorate level entry for someone with way less research experience and practical knowledge than his fellow competitors was equivalent to aiming for Pluto and not the sky. 

I remember I had started inquiring about the General GRE well in advance in October 2011 to be able to apply for Fall 2013. I can't even come close to explaining the huge dilemma I was in within the first 2 months of inquiring about applying for a Doctorate degree. Looking at my resume, whoever I consulted turned me down about going ahead with a PhD application ( mind you I am talking about some of the renowned firms of foreign education in Mumbai). And they were not wrong I must say. They had their reputations at stake. I was quite dejected and confused for a month or two whether to go ahead and apply for a Master's or stick to my decision. At last making slight amendments to my plan after considering the experts' advice, I decided to apply for both Master's and PhD Programs until I heard this awesome news about one of my seniors. He had been accepted as a Doctoral Research Assistant in the University of Oklahoma with full funding from the University. That too without any publications.  At the time I was really happy for him but more thrilled and pacified to know that it was possible. It was such a boost for my belief towards my goal just because I could relate to his. 

That was the moment when I made up my mind to go for what I actually and really wanted, nothing less! It was a tough decision because one can never be sure about PhD admits. After all the time, effort and most of all money that you invest in applying to US universities, the odds of getting rejected were conventionally more than being accepted into the program. Regardless of that, I knew one thing for sure. If that was what I really wanted, I had to be bold enough to live up to my choices and man enough to face the consequences. The worst that could happen was I could get rejected from all the universities I applied to and I won't be able to make it to the US in Fall 2013 after toiling for a year and a half.  I was ready to accept it. With this in mind, I went for it and trust me, it was WORTH it! A perfect example of  ' Where there's a will, there's a way'- this journey of mine from an Aspirer to an Achiever was indeed MIRACULOUS just because I chose to trust my intuition (voice of your heart) over logic.       

So what I am gonna be sharing in this post is the story behind one such moment of my life when I was in a state of absolute awe, astonishment, utmost happiness and joy, which at the time felt too good to be true. So unbelievable, that I didn't quite know how to respond. Instead on that morning of 20th April, 2013, I just kept re-reading that e-mail from Miss Phyllis Shaw, Assistant to the Graduate Coordinator, Graduate Admissions, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I had been accepted into the Doctoral Program in the Department of Biological Sciences at UWM with Full Financial Assistance and the mail had a huge list of Offer letter, Employment letter, Graduate Award letter,etc. attached with it. 

Mind you, that state of awe wasn't because I had not anticipated anything even close to an admit, but because I was seeing something unorthodox yet beautiful I had read about repeatedly and applied over the past year, come true in front of my eyes. Yes, I am talking about the 'Universal Law of Attraction' if that is what most of you all are wondering about. A concept that has been talked and written a lot about over the past decade as the ultimate psychological formula to social, physical and most of all economic well being. So much that they even ended up making a documentary called 'The Secret' explaining how this simple Law of Attraction governs our lives and how we as creators OR sculptors of our own lives can influence the outcomes we experience, manifest the results we desire. And relying on what I had experienced that morning, I just couldn't believe the fact that I had purely ATTRACTED that PhD admit in my life. Nothing more.   

Why am I using the word ATTRACTED? If that's what you guys are thinking, here goes the explanation. Luckily I happened to see this documentary a year before I planned to apply to the U.S. and had applied The Secret once in my personal life and the ramifications were awesome. I had actually managed to get the girl whom I had a crush on since the 1st year of college to date me, which was again way beyond what I had expected. Something that could not sink in for a week or two. My friends would be with me on this. That was the first time I had experienced the power behind our thoughts. So overwhelming that it left me curious to know more. Over the next year, I read many other self-help books such as 'Spiritual Marketing', 'The Attractor Factor' and 'Zero Limits' by Dr. Joe Vitale. The content had so much meaning, wisdom and so well written that I didn't seem to get enough of it. I still remember that one quote which inspired me the most to go for my goal with all that I had in me. It said, ' Anything in this universe (and by anything he meant any-damn-thing) is not meant to be or supposed to be a particular way. It can always be the other way round. No exception.' So simple yet so effective, this quote almost got me goose bumps. I had realized now was the time to use the secret for good.

From that day onward, I knew what I did not want for sure...  spending a penny over education in the US. Instead I just focused on what I did want which was ' Entering the US with Full Funding as a Doctoral student'. I made a word document and mentioned every small detail as to exactly how I wanted to see myself in the US a year from now. Right from what research I would like to do, the kind of mentor I would like to be under, the state I would like to go to, the kind of friends I would like to make, the kind of chicks I would like to bang (Spanish to be very honest) and every other tiny detail I could think of. I would try to frequently go through this document whenever I found time and visualize myself doing every single thing in that list in the US and live like I was already there in my mind. I used to try my best to feel every bit of what I was visualizing. At first, it seemed like an exercise. But with time, it turned out to be sheer fun and so much joy that my favorite past time used to be this. No matter how crazy it sounds, it kept me focused and motivated towards that PhD admit for that one entire year. 

The last but the most difficult part of this visualization process was to make what I was visualizing believable to my sub-conscious and to let go of the doubts and negative memories that were associated with past experiences. For instance, try saying this out loud. "I am the Best!". In  no time, you shall hear a counteracting inner voice saying, " Come on! Who are you kidding?! ". This is your sub-conscious trying to trick you and lower your self-esteem. And till this conflict with your sub-conscious persists, you will be held back from going for and attracting what you want. This was precisely the reason why it was so important for me to make it believable to my sub-conscious mind. Furthermore, at the time, I was going through a rough patch in my personal life. The very girl I mentioned above, whom I loved more than myself and BEER of course, had parted ways with me a couple of months prior. Unknowingly, I had screwed it up. That's what she said at least. So I really had a hard time trying to let things go till I found the audio series of Zero Limits composed by Dr. Joe Vitale. 

Again, a very simplistic approach described to resolve ones conflicts and let go of ones problems was to truly love them, the recording said. As long as you avoid them and see them as bad experiences, they keep getting deposited in your subconscious as unresolved emotions. But once you accept them, take responsibility for them, say sorry from your heart and love them, they start to dissolve slowly from your sub-conscious and eventually disappear one day, never to show up. It was a head warping concept when I first read it and wasn't quite sure if it would help. But I knew it would be unwise of me to simply reject it, so I decided to give it a try. And trust me, I didn't even know if I was doing it right, but somehow doing what I was doing made me feel much at ease with myself in a months span. And that was the first time when I truly thanked Dr. Joe Vitale and Dr. Hew Len with all my heart for writing such an amazing book. 

I was done with both my GRE and TOEFL exams by September 2012. Though I had scored quite well in TOEFL (114), my GRE score (308) was quite average with just an above average score in AWA of 5.0. I remember my counselor wasn't quite happy with my GRE score since he expected me to score around 320 to even think of applying for a PhD program. So he asked me to take it again which left me in a befuddling situation because I had my college exams and many other things coming up at the same time. Once more, I was in a situation where I had to make a bold decision. Though my mind said that a 308 is not even close to enough for a PhD admit, somewhere in my heart, I could hear a voice saying " Doesn't matter, Go ahead! U have worked hard for it and it will pay off! ". I trusted and followed my intuition and went ahead with the Statement of Purpose and Recommendations. I had to make sure that I make up for my low GRE through my SOP and letters. I took almost a month to finalize the draft. Meanwhile, I kept researching universities I would like to apply to and by co-incidence found another friend of mine on Edulix who had got an MS admit with Full Funding at UWM. I quickly got in touch with her and she was the one who asked me to go ahead and apply to UWM since both the Research and funding opportunities were quite good. I did my research on UWM thoroughly and liked the ongoing research in some of the labs of my interest. That was when I decided on applying to UWM with five other universities recommended by my counselor. Today when I look back, I really feel meeting her wasn't a co-incidence but I indeed attracted her in my life owing to what I was primarily focusing on and because we shared similar interests of studying in the US without spending our parents money. And I am really thankful that I met her. She is partly the reason behind my success today.

By the end of October 2012, I was ready with all the documentation needed to apply to US universities and within a fortnight, I dispatched all the envelopes to the respective universities. I was quite complacent to have sent all my applications well before the deadlines and had finally found time to relax a bit after almost 6 months. I remember that preparatory leave which almost felt like a mini-vacation to me. After procrastinating for a week, I again got busy with exam preparation and applying to institutes for my final year internship. By the end of December, I had managed to somehow get an internship at NIRRH, Parel. 

Meanwhile, I kept tracking all my applications and made sure they had reached the respective departments at each university. All along, I knew that a major part of PhD admits was to get accepted by a faculty member in the desired department and if that happens the student wouldn't be interviewed further and rather be directly given an admit. Of course, the rules varied slightly from university to university but this was the case with most of the universities I applied to. So now was the time to thoroughly go through the research of interested faculty members and mail them showing your interest in their work and letting them know that you would love to join their lab as a Doctoral student. 

And trust me, doing this made me realize how wrong I was to think that my ex-girlfriend tested my patience. The professors were worse. They never replied. In an entire month I had mailed almost 10 professors and only one of them found the time to reply. That too saying that he didn't have any vacancy for the coming fall and that I should try applying to another lab. Depressing I tell you. However, speaking to my senior friend who was already enjoying his stay in the US for about 5 months now put me at ease. He asked me to not lose patience. Instead, to just do my part without expecting any replies. Keeping that in mind, I again tried to switch to a positive frame of mind which at the moment seemed quite short-lived. From then on, every time before mailing any faculty, I would close my eyes and visualize him/her going through my mail merrily and typing a positive response on his/her computer. I know most of you all are disgusted at what I am writing right now but trust me this was the only thing that kept me going for two months straight without getting a single positive response.

January and February passed by and it was the 1st week of March till I got something close to a first positive response from an Indian faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The very same university to which my friend whom I had met by co-incidence on Edulix belonged to. The Professor wrote that he plans to take a PhD student the coming Fall only if the candidate showed any particular interest in his research. ' Bas! Fir kya tha! ' This was the first time in an entire year I could see myself getting somewhere close to that PhD admit. Soon after that mail, I started going through his papers and tried to make sense of the content he had published. I almost took a week before replying back with a few doubts in one of his papers. I remember how excited and eager I was to hear back from him. Within a week, he replied back giving brief answers to my questions but nothing more. Though I was quite thrilled to receive his mail and read another paper of his in the meantime, I wasn't quite sure what to do next. I mailed him a couple of times informing him about my current work and asking him if he would like to accommodate me in his lab. But there weren't any replies this time. Not till March end at least. That whole month was quite depressing for me for I had already been rejected from 3 of the universities I had applied to and one of them, in spite of rejecting me for a PhD position was gonna review my application for the Masters program. And eventually, I did get accepted into it. But again something I didn't wanna go for. Pursuing a Masters in a state like California, I would have put my parents under a shit-load of debt. So it was right away a big NO from my end. To sum it all up, I just had 2 more Universities to rely upon by the end of March 2013.       

With just over a month left before submitting my thesis, I got busy with finishing my bench work and compiling the data when I received a shocking mail from the same Professor stating that he had already accepted a student from Kolkata in his lab for fall 2013 and it wouldn't be possible for him to accommodate me in his lab. That same day I got rejected from the other university whose decision was pending. A perfect icing on the cake. The only hope I had of making it to the US in Fall 2013 as a Doctoral student was crushed too. It really was heart-breaking. I went mum for a couple of days. Contemplating on my fruitless efforts for a year and a half. My faith over all this crazy shit I was doing over the past year slowly seemed to diminish. After slightly getting over my grief, I decided to write back to the professor thanking him for having the courtesy to inform me and that I shall try again next year. 

It was the first week of April 2013 when all this happened. Throughout that week, I was in a rough state of mind trying to make myself accept the consequences of what I had chosen, trying to pacify myself by saying that at least I had the balls to stick to what I wanted rather than giving in to others opinions. Also that if it turned out to be a mistake, it was MY mistake and not someone else's that I had to bear with. And then, something unexpectedly beautiful happened. The very professor who could not accept me in his lab had replied asking me to give him a call. I was a bit confused and thrilled at the same time to know what it was he wanted to talk about. I remember calling him that very night and following is the conversation we had.

Sir: Hi Ankush, How are you? (with a Bengali accent) 

Me: I am good Sir. How are you?

Sir: Fine. Thank You. See, I could not take you in since the other student had a greater research experience than you did. Hope you understand. 

Me: I do Sir. Not a Problem.

Sir: Now tell me something frankly. Do you want to come to the US in this Fall?

Me: Ehh.. Ya.. I do Sir. (in a totally confused state)

Sir: See, I recently spoke to this guy Colin Scanes and he seems to be a nice guy. He is planning to setup a lab this coming fall and he needs a Doctoral student. I asked him to review your application. We are planning to do a collaborative project in the near future too. See if U like his research and mail him if u wish. 

Me: (Totally amazed at what he said) Ohh.. I shall go through his research Sir. Thanks a lot for your help. It means a lot. 

Sir: No Problem. Let me know what happens.

Me: Sure Sir. Take care.

Sir: Bye Ankush.

The moment he hung up, I couldn't for a moment believe that he actually said what he said. I had often heard people saying " Luck matters! " OR " One was lucky to have made it! ". But for the first time in my life, I was experiencing what being lucky means and how it feels. To be very honest, feels simply BLESSED! Out of no where, I had another chance of making it to my dream this very year. All that pain of rejection seemed to have disappeared for a moment. 

I gathered myself  together soon, trying hard to keep myself calm and e-mailed Dr. Colin Scanes right away explaining him the situation and told him that I got his reference from the other professor. Unfortunately, I couldn't go through his research since he did not have a separate web-page of his own at the time. I construed that might be because he is starting a new lab this fall. Within a couple of days, Dr. Scanes replied stating that he had indeed spoken with the other professor about my application and was kind enough to send me a copy of his Resume. He asked me to go through it to get acquainted with his broad research interests and previous work. The moment I opened his resume, I was totally overwhelmed to see the years of Research experience he had, the number of publications and books on his name, the different Universities he had taught at and the various institutes and conferences he had been a part of. I was literally blown away looking at his virtually endless resume.

Though his Research interests (Poultry science/Avian Biology) were quite different than mine (Immunology), it was an opportunity I had been seeking for almost two years now and was just steps away from reaching my destination. For the third time in these 2 years, I had to take a bold decision and I was aware of the fact that I didn't have any other PhD admits nor did I want to go ahead and accept the Masters admit. I took a couple of days to talk to my PI and the HOD where I was working currently. Took their take on what should be done. 

In spite of realizing that I won't be sure if I would like the work, they also acknowledged the fact that such opportunities are rare and not everyone gets them. And looking at the funding that the University would provide to Doctoral students, they suggested I go ahead and accept it. Also being in research for merely 5 months, I had at least realized one thing. While pursuing a PhD, ones relationship with one's Advisor is much more important than what research one is doing. So I knew if my mentor is helpful and caring enough, I would make it through any kind of research, which I had already been informed he was. So I made my mind and decided to take the leap. That night I wrote back to Dr. Scanes telling him that though I didn't have much work experience in the field of Avian Biology, I would like to work under him towards my PhD. 

And to my surprise I woke up in the morning to read that beautiful line he had written in his mail. Something I would never forget. " Dear Ankush, I would welcome you in my Lab. Best Wishes. Colin Scanes. " Though I had not been officially admitted to UWM yet, I knew I was almost there. All I had to do now was patiently wait  for the admit. I forwarded that mail to my counselor whom I had not spoken to in weeks and he was more than glad to read it, specially after being informed of a series of rejections over the past month and asked me to do the necessary follow up. I am sure he must have felt relieved. 

A fortnight went by and there was no mail from the graduate office about any admission decision. I was starting to get a bit impatient, more than half of which was driven by the curiosity of my parents. Every morning my dad used to ask " Got any mail ? ". After a week, I myself got so frustrated that I frowned on him one morning asking him to stop disgusting me with the same question and that he would obviously be the first to know if I heard back from the University. For the entire next week he didn't ask me a single question until that Saturday morning of 20th April, when you all know what I received in my inbox and told my dad about. 

What an unforgettable MOMENT! He hugged me as tight as he could and I had a tear in my eye! A feeling simply out of this world! Words aren't enough to describe it.........

Firstly, for those few who read till here, thanks for being so patient. This being my first post, I didn't quite know how to make things interesting. But I hope my story was interesting enough to not bore you guys. Secondly, after listening to my scintillating journey what would you guys call it if not MIRACULOUS?? Tell me. If there is any part where anyone of you thinks what happened to me was not sheer MIRACLE or LUCK, please let me know about it via your comments. Again, to be very frank, the only reason why I am stressing upon the word MIRACLE so much is to make you guys believe that such things happen and they shall happen to you too if you truly with all your heart believe that they happen! And they shall be as unique and special to each one of you as mine was to me! 

But for that, Always trust your INTUITION over LOGIC. It knows whats BEST for you! 

And for the moment, TRUST me on this! :D 

Love you all! 

Adios! ;)                                    




  1. Really, Congratulations Ankush once again! Your hard work and dedication has paid you off...And what can I say about luck? It can make you and it can break you...But it surprises you at the most unexpected time...:)But I do agree with what you have said in the end that 'you will get what you desire if you truly believe in your heart'
    All the best for your future...

  2. Kori can write?! And this awesome? Super post bro!!

  3. Thanks a lot sanket and swathi... N nikunj, lol... Thanks Man! tujhe pasand aaya na.. bas fir kya chiye mujhe aur... :P

  4. wow it was really long and good read; very deep, motivational and inspirational stuff, glad you decoded secrets of life and channelled it in right direction,it sounds simple but very difficult to fathom and practice. rough patches are always going to be there,but we humans are always young to say something like that (esp if it involves a relationship with another human) and would be a shame to waste our precious days,months, years of our short life sulking about whats already done, but always remember that whatever happens, happens for the good, and nature has bigger plans for you buddy, and our best wishes are always with you!!!!!

    1. Thanks Lolya! means a lot.. Now I see why I scored a 5.0 in AWA... lol...:D