I earned a place for Doctoral studies at some of the most prestigious and competitive universities in the world, but it all goes to waste if I can’t fund my studies. I deferred my place last year because I couldn’t get the funds together or at all for that matter. I figured, I’d take a year and hopefully things will come together.
But no one wants to give me PhD funding because my grades weren’t the best in undergrad due to my undiagnosed learning disabilities which influenced my grades in areas like math and science which I had to take for my journalism degree. Math, science and classes like Amish culture were completely irrelevant to my degree, but prerequisites are prerequisites. I’m told that in order to get funding my grades need to be the best of the best, but this doesn’t take into account my mitigating circumstances. Surely had I had the financial opportunity to get diagnosed earlier, I would have gotten the opportunity to learn ways to study and learn what worked for me. But alas, I didn’t have those opportunities and there go my funding chances.
Another reason no one wants to fund me is because my academic papers are not published in peer reviewed journals or academic journals, but every time I try and publish, I get told “we only accept published academics,” or I get told that I need to pay in order to get published. So let me get this right: I need money to publish so I can be a recognized academic so I can get PhD funding, but I can’t publish until I’ve been published and have the money? Maybe things work differently when you are already an established academic, but realistically speaking, how am I supposed to get started out? I was a journalist, but when applying for PhD funding, no one seems to care about journalism publications. Or at least this is what the rejection emails tell me.
Next step was to contact charities with grant applications. A list of charities was provided by my prior university, so I used that as a starting point. These are charities that are known to give student grants. And the response there has been dismal. Charities have been rude, mean, have told me to stop soliciting them, told me I’m not Palestinian enough or Arab enough. They’ve told me I don’t meet residency requirements, I don’t display financial hardship, I can’t provide up-to-date information about my disabilities, my grades aren’t good enough, I’m not involved enough or not Muslim enough. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m too this, I’m too that. I’m not enough of this and not enough of that. One person even told me that it was “illegal” for them to give grants, when I know other students who have for a fact received grants from them. One person even replied saying “We don’t have any money. You probably have more money than our charity does.” Really, Really?! You want to go there. Okay, let’s go there. If you have consistent working plumbing, you have consistent heating in your house, don’t have to choose between paying your bills or buying food to eat, then trust me– you are way ahead of me.
Or what about the charity that tried to change my entire PhD topic of study, deeming my topic irrelevant and uninteresting. Firstly, I never asked for your advice on my topic of study, I asked for your sponsorship. Secondly, I have advising teams at each university that differ with you. Not only is my topic ever the more relevant, as it makes headline news regularly, but the top academics in my field believe it to be interesting, important and relevant. Thirdly, you may not know how academia works. For example: I can’t enroll in a music doctoral degree, get there and ask my advising team to support me in studying cryptozoology. Fourthly, you changed my ENTIRE topic. Meaning I would have to reapply all over again with a different proposal. And lastly, by changing every little thing about my topic, you made it your project and no longer mine.
Keep in mind that I am not harassing these people, charities, organizations, entities, etc. I send one email: A grant proposal. A university approved grant proposal. I don’t call, follow up, knock on their doors. I’m completely calm. And I’m not about to waste my life or time arguing with these ignoramuses.
Next, crowdfunding. Even though I have had limited success with crowdfunding. (By the way, I’m VERY grateful for the money I was able to raise. VERY!) Getting £1000 was not easy and almost impossible. I don’t know many people. The people that I do know don’t have money to spare. I’d even get emails in response to my crowdfunding that told me to give up, it was a waste of time, it’s never going to happen, that I need to not bother people, etc. I put myself out there. I tried. I got burned.
Tried the online scholarship search engines. I spend my life on those search engines. I qualify for nothing. Somehow, I don’t qualify for anything.
Even the Said scholarship set up for Palestinians won’t fund me unless I go to Oxford or Cambridge and even though there’s an academic at Cambridge who said he would take me on, I applied there twice and couldn’t get through the first round because my undergrad grades from 10 years ago in math and science were rubbish. I got rejected by Oxford three times for the same reason. (If you’re really polite, nice, desperate and willing to make contacts, lecturers/professor/staff will secretly tell you why you didn’t get in. Doesn’t work everytime, but you get lucky every so often.)
Bottom line- no one cares that I have learning difficulties. No one cares that the American education system is different than the British, European and Australian systems. No one cares that my overall undergrad GPA was a 3.12, but my GPA for my major and minor was a 3.67. No one care that my first MA was on a pass/fail basis. No one care that during my 2nd MA I became registered disabled due to some serious problems in my back that can’t be fixed, but only coped with.
No one cares that I went to the 4th most overpopulated high school in my state, or that my high school teachers told me I wouldn’t succeed to my face or that 9/11 happened during my sophomore year or that the devastation of 9/11 turned our sophomore curriculum upside down or that some of my classes didn’t have classrooms, books, set curriculums or that so many times our teachers gave up, walked out of class and stopped teaching, or that there were 50 students in my classroom or that my high school suffered from riots, bomb threats and at least one major fight a day or that I got bullied mercilessly or that all of these problems affected my learning experience.
When I got to my first year of undergrad I had no confidence, I thought I was dumb, I didn’t know how to study, I had never had to sit through a class longer than 40 minutes, I never had to write an assignment longer than two pages, I never had to use citations, I had never done a research paper, I never had to memorize information, I didn’t know I could get tested for learning disabilities, I didn’t know so many things. I spent most of the first two years of undergrad crying because undergrad hit me like a brick. High school in no way prepared me for undergrad and in comparison to the students in my class that had better academic upbringings, I could tell I was behind. No one cares that I can play a mean game of catch up. But catch up can’t change the past.
I worked my nerves to its ends and got into an Ivy League MA program, where again, I felt I had to play catch up because I was no longer studying journalism and entered into the wonderful world of Liberal Studies. I competed against students who had formal training in studying gender, culture and globalization. It was all new to me. I struggled, a lot. But I’m proud of what I accomplished there. And again I had to play catch up for my second MA as I competed against students who had their first degree is Middle Eastern Studies. Middle Eastern studies was a topic I read about in my spare time. I never studied it intensely or formally, I dabbled, but everyone else was way ahead of the game. I worked day and night, in spite of my medical difficulties and hardship to reach a level in which I finally felt my peers were finally my intellectual peers. I stumbled, A LOT, but no one gets points for most improved on their transcript. If only their were a module in which there were marks for effort, motivation, time spent, passion, determination and promise. If only I could get graded against myself as opposed to against my classmates. Or get a mark for moving my life across the planet by myself to another country, to a completely different educationally structured system and succeeding.
My motivation and ambition doesn’t count for anything on paper because there will always be someone with a perfect GPA or academic standing that gets ahead of me. These things will never show up on a transcript. And if there is anything I’ve learned it’s that transcripts are more important than letters of purpose.
I can’t provide up-to-date information on my disabilities because I haven’t seen a doctor since being back in America. I signed up for that whole Obamacare business and my application for health insurance keeps getting bounced around from office to office and no one seems to know when I will finally have health insurance or if I ever will. Whenever I ask what I should do if I’m sick, they say go to this and this doctor, but you’ll have to play out of pocket. Yup, can’t do that. I have no money. No income.
That no income part, my loan servicers don’t seem to believe that. Seeing as they are federal loans, you’d think they can check and see if I am employed or not via paying taxes, but maybe that’s asking too much. I have to pay back $130,000 in student loans starting in March because that is when my deferment period ends. I applied for unemployment deferment, got rejected and told to apply for income based repayment. Yeah, that’s going to be tough to do because there is no income to speak of.
Not because I don’t want an income. I have been applying for every type of job under the sun since May 2014. Even physical labor jobs which I know will only cause my disability to worsen. And guess what? I still can’t get a job. Signed up with recruitment and temp agencies, LinkedIn profile, Craigslist, Indeed, Simplyhired, Idealist– I get maybe 20 emails a day from different websites listing all these job opportunities. I apply and apply and apply and nothing. When I finally do get the chance at an interview, I set it up, date and time. I’m dressed and ready and pumped and every time they cancel on me with no prior notice.
Even though I have no job and I’m living off of my maxed out credit cards, I still somehow don’t qualify for food stamps, unemployment benefits or any other kinds of benefits. How did I manage that? How? Beats me!
Despite it all, I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m upset, sure. I don’t expect a handout or pity. I’m not going to sit here and toot my own horn about how I’m an amazing human being or list all my good karma points. I’m far from perfect and I’m not entitled to anything in this world. But I want a fair fighting chance. I want more than what’s on paper to count. I want to live and not simply get by, but to really live.
I still remain optimistic that things will work out. I won’t stop trying and neither should you.
Opportunity: Look out, I’m coming for you!