The Campaign has begun.
Let us suppose you have a goal. Your goal is to find your perfect match, your soulmate, that one person who you share interests with and are devoted to and will shape the rest of your life. You decide that the best way to find this person is to go on an internet search for them. Lacking romance, perhaps, but you have standards you know. Facebook, OKCupid, RateMyProfessors, Lab Websites… having decided on a plan, you scour public personas that reveal these insights, these tiny quirks that will let you know that they’re the one. Let’s call you the Handsome Knight, just to keep in accordance with gender stereotypes.
Change of pace: let’s suppose that you’re the One. Luckily, you’re in that great position in romance novels in which all the good people come to you, drawn by your magnetic and alluring research publications. They’re falling all over themselves to serve you, and so you set your first challenge.
“Okay people, I’m kinda busy here, you gotta get past the dragon first,” you tell them, because it’s always nice when you have can have a weed-out process. You designate yourself Fair Maiden, and go back to doing all the cool research that made the Handsome Knights show up anyway.
The Handsome Knight’s quest has begun. For there are many dragons in the land, but the dragon breed guarding this particular Fair Maiden eats 95% of its challengers. 95%! That’s absurd. That means only 5% of the challengers don’t get eaten! You make sure to poke at a few dragons (without getting too close) because those aren’t great odds, and you need to have some back-ups. There are multiple Fair Maidens in the land, though you are kind of attached to this one—she’s got that nice Youtube video lecture, you know.
But you arm yourself and fight because some things are important, like valor and ambition and getting into grad school. And sure enough, depending on what swash-buckling skills you’ve acquired in the years previous, you go and slip your way past some dragons.
“Ooooh,” Fair Maiden says upon hearing the news. “Look at that, how interesting! Why don’t you come over for dinner. They’re a lot of Handsome Knights, but there are also a fair number of Fair Maidens, so let’s make sure we both understand each other. I’ll even pay for your plane ticket as your reward.”
Pleased as punch, Handsome Knight wrestles with schedulings for a while, stresses himself out unduly, and does some pretty uncomfortable sleeping on planes, but makes it over to various Fair Maidens’ Castles, all of which are in different climates, made from different architectures, and have different inhabitants. Handsome Knight stutters his way through dinner—dinners, plural, actually—in which many of his skills are put to the test. Can he speak about his life’s ambitions? Can he relate his own interests to those of the Fair Maiden? Can he counter arguments regarding the weaknesses of some of his previously acquired sword-fighting abilities? Can he think on his feet? Handsome Knight is exhausted, but he has trained for these dinners for years, so he is also exhilarated. This time the Fair Maidens are doing the wooing, and Handsome Knight embraces the warming flutter of flattery.
Handsome Knight accepts the offer of one of the Castles. He has approval, he has monies, he is victorious—but he suddenly gasps. He has exclusive access to the Castle’s Fair Maidens, yes. The Castle’s Fair Maidens have positive views of him. But how will he pick the right one? How will he find the One? For he must, because by spring semester of first year he needs to fill out the thesis advisor form.
“Shooooot,” Handsome Knight say. “Oh god, what do I do? I like several Fair Maidens, but some better than others. And this soulmate, devotion thing is a mutual affair. The Fair Maidens have space and funding restrictions, and this is a relationship that’s going to last the rest of my life—this is so important, how do I make them want me?”
The Handsome Knight thinks long and hard. And then, in a swirl of realization and anticipation, he knows, and the wooing Campaign is begun.
“Dear Dr. x,” the Handsome Knight writes on his first foray. “I was looking for additional reading materials to prepare myself before school start—do you have any recommendations?”
The Fair Maidens reply favorably. (Also with a lot more work for Handsome Knight.) Handsome Knight is nonetheless pleased, and works on a second missive.
“Dear Dr. x,” the Handsome Knight writes. “Would it please you for me to do a research rotation with you? A 10-week getting-to-know you process. If you like.”
The Fair Maidens again reply favorably. Handsome Knight is ecstatic—all of his dreams are coming true.
Time for a third, more daring missive. Handsome Knight prepares for months. He carefully writes up his best effort, and sends it off to another lab member to read. He also realizes that one of his side projects has been received surprisingly well, and polishes it up a little to add as a sweetener.
“Dear Dr. Fair Maiden,” Handsome Knight writes finally, months and months after his previous missives. “Here are my research interests. Do you think any of them are interesting and productive?” (Handsome Knight knows that almost all of his suggestions will likely not survive, but hopes the spirit of some of them can carry through. He has couched all of his suggestions in as much of the Fair Maiden’s work as he could.) And as that little extra bit: “I’ve made a website aimed at undergraduates interested in going to grad school. Might you pass it around to anyone who’s interested?” Because now Fair Maiden has both the most important thing—evidence of research interests—and a bit extra.
Handsome Knight waits anxiously at the keyboard. Unfortunately, he is defeated by the modern conception of “business hours”, which no one in his or Fair Maiden’s profession keeps to anyway but means that Handsome Knight shouldn’t expect a response for a while. Then Handsome Knight reconsiders, and decides that he actually does like the concept of business hours, and that it’s kind of nice to be in a period in which he’s done all he could at this moment, and it’s all Fair Maiden, now.
The Campaign has begun. (Gong)
Wish me luck!
*for clarification: I take the role of “Handsome Knight” in this scenario; the “Fair Maidens” are professors and potential thesis advisors. Castles are graduate schools and dragons are the graduate school application processes. My new website is womenincocosci.com, and the wooing campaign is exactly that.