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Thread: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Health

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    My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Health

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    Hi,
    This is my first post on this forum, but I'm hoping that I can gain some insight as to where to go from here. I recently graduated from university with a BA in economics and international relations (my school doesn't offer a BS), and have been backpacking in SE Asia for the past two months. Once I get back in two weeks, I am planning on studying for the GRE, taking Linear Algebra as part of a post-bacc, and applying to spring internships and full time RA jobs.

    I am bit lost as to where to go from here. I know that I really really like research, especially the quant stuff, and want to have a career in economic research with a policy focus, at a think tank or central bank, or maybe be a university professor and do economic research applied to policy. I am open to an MA in econ, a PhD in econ or an MPP.

    Here is my profile:
    Undergrad: Top 40 liberal arts college BA in economics and international relations
    Undergrad GPA: 3.36 (overall), 3.58 (economics), 3.54 (international relations)
    Grad: none
    Grad GPA: none
    GRE: Will take in November
    Math classes: Calc I/II/III (B-, C+, C+), Stats (A-), Linear Algebra (will take in the fall)
    Econ classes: Intro to Economics I/II (A-, A-), Intermediate Micro, Macro, Econometrics (B+, B+, A-), Economic Development (A-), International Economics (A-), Advanced Macro at study abroad university (doesn't factor into my economics GPA) (see below) (C+), Advanced Macro at my home university (A-), Senior Seminar: Firm-level international trade (B+)
    Other classes: Various political economy classes that could be tangentially related to economics
    LORs: One from a macro professor that I'm close with, he told me that he described me as a "top student, with a burning passion for research and was very motivated to succeed", one from the professor who I RAed with, which is very strong, one from my econometrics professor, which is also very strong
    Research experience: Research and data work for an immigration non-profit, intern at a think tank over the summer (EPRI), intern at the CEA over the summer, RA for a political economy professor who focused on China-SE Asia trade (did some Stat work)
    Teaching experience: I was a grader and a TA for a macro professor who I took three classes with, for his Intermediate Macro class, my last semester of college
    Other: I know Stata and ArcGIS pretty well

    The "see below" part: There is a partial explanation for why my profile sucks so much. When I got to college, I was really really depressed, and had a hard time focusing on schoolwork, especially in the math classes that I was taking. I wanted to go for a math minor, so I challenged myself by taking classes like Calc III that I knew weren't my strong suit, but which only made my depression worse, as I felt hopeless and discouraged. Furthermore, I didn't really get the help that I needed because I thought that I could handle it on my own, which I obviously couldn't. It led me to have crying spells and engage in self-harming behaviors a few times. Things never really got better, and I continued to feel hopeless and depressed throughout my first two and a half years of college.

    2016 was a disaster of a year. That year in the spring, I went to study abroad in England, and my depression got a lot worse. I was totally miserable, and started drinking and smoking week to dull the pain. I would break down crying everyday, had no motivation to go class or to do anything, and my grades (see the C+ in Advanced Macro) suffered as a result. I never really talked to anyone about my problems because I felt like I had to solve them on my own. Furthermore, when I got the CEA internship, things just got worse. I continued to drink everyday alone, often getting drunk, and my work suffered as I had no motivation to do anything or care. I took some days off of work to try and feel better, but I just ended up feeling worse. It all culminated in me having a breakdown at work and threatening to kill myself, being sent to the hospital and having my internship terminated. I was at rock bottom.

    However, since then, things have really turned around. I stopped drinking, started meditating and going to the gym a lot, found friends who are supportive, went on anti-depressants and got a good therapist. Going backpacking in SE Asia for two months helped a lot as well. For the past seven months, I've felt at peace, happy, confident and my depression has virtually disappeared. I've risen like a phoenix, and don't remember a time when I was this happy for this long. It feels fantastic, and I'm ready to see what my next steps should be, now that I've sorted out all of the demons in my head.

    So, I don't really know where to go from here. Should I abandon my research career dreams entirely, or see how I do on the GRE, or do a post-bacc, or look for an internship or a job, or what? Also, what does it mean that I've gotten research internships at the think tank (EPRI), and at the CEA, and have gotten an offer to be an RA at the CFPB, and interviews for RA positions at Brookings and several Fed positions despite my awful profile? Does it mean that I still have a chance, and that people see something in me?

    Thank you guys so much for responding, and have a great day

  2. #2
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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    I suggest you work a year or two in a paid econ/policy research position before you make a decision on whether to do a PhD in econ (or another advanced degree).

    There's not a lot of useful advice we can give you here, both because your profile is too weak for PhD econ admissions right now, and because you have been dealing with personal issues until recently. I think it's important that you continue meeting with your professional therapist, settle into a more "normal" position, find a work/life balance, and adopt good work habits and routines before you tackle the high-stress preparations for PhD application or return into an academic environment.

    PhD life can be difficult for people who don't have good self-control, and a lot of grad students do drop out for similar reasons as why you struggled in your undergrad. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise that you'll have more experience dealing with these issues before you go back to student life, but it may also be the unfortunate reality that you don't have the right personality/interests for being a successful grad student. Which of them applies to you is something you can figure out with more experience in quasi-research positions like being an RA at CPFB/Brookings, and they leave paths open to non-academic positions.

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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    Quote Originally Posted by chateauheart View Post
    I suggest you work a year or two in a paid econ/policy research position before you make a decision on whether to do a PhD in econ (or another advanced degree).

    There's not a lot of useful advice we can give you here, both because your profile is too weak for PhD econ admissions right now, and because you have been dealing with personal issues until recently. I think it's important that you continue meeting with your professional therapist, settle into a more "normal" position, find a work/life balance, and adopt good work habits and routines before you tackle the high-stress preparations for PhD application or return into an academic environment.

    PhD life can be difficult for people who don't have good self-control, and a lot of grad students do drop out for similar reasons as why you struggled in your undergrad. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise that you'll have more experience dealing with these issues before you go back to student life, but it may also be the unfortunate reality that you don't have the right personality/interests for being a successful grad student. Which of them applies to you is something you can figure out with more experience in quasi-research positions like being an RA at CPFB/Brookings, and they leave paths open to non-academic positions.
    Er, suggesting that this person's problem is that they lack "good self-control" strikes me as a very insulting comment. Some people may have never experienced problems with depression or anxiety - good for them, I wouldn't wish these problems on anybody! This does not mean that they have more self-control - it means that they won the lottery of birth in one way or another.

    For what it's worth, I agree with your advice. I take issue with the way you've framed your advice - the notion that people have control over depression is very strange. There is a capacity to handle the problems of depression and there is a kind of predictability associated with what worsens its symptoms or what improves its symptoms but, oftentimes, it is inexplicable.

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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    Thanks for the reply. I think that you gave me good advice. My plan right now is to take the GRE in November, and apply for jobs and work for two years before I apply to grad school in Fall 2018, so that I would start in Fall 2019. I am also planning to do a post bacc as well, and I'll be starting with Linear Algebra at a local community college in the fall of this year. Depending on how I do on the GRE, do you think that I am competitive for Master's programs in Econ? If so, which ones? Also, do you think that grad admissions will take my mental health situation into account? If so, how should I angle it?

    Thanks again

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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    Quote Originally Posted by HowlingWolf View Post
    Also, do you think that grad admissions will take my mental health situation into account? If so, how should I angle it?
    I believe I can answer this part (from my years, lurking on this forum). Almost every applicant has his/her own unique circumstance. 'Unique' because most situations aren't really that unique. They review thousands of applications per year. You won't be the only one dealing with mental health issues, or any other special circumstance, for that matter.. I doubt grad admissions will take that into account. Rather, it might be harmful to your application if they begin to question your ability to cope with grad coursework.

    From what I gather from the advice here, it's much better to acknowledge your issues and show the adcoms that concrete steps have been taken to address said issues, rather than trying to angle it.

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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    That's what I was saying when talking about addressing my mental health stuff. I would give a short description of the issues, like a sentence or two, and then a sentence or two on how I got better and focus on my application post undergrad, which is where I am now, given that I'm largely over the issues that plagued me in the past.

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    Re: My raging dumpster fire of a profile, Grad School, Post-bacc, GRE and Mental Heal

    You are not going to get any sympathy for your mental health issues. You will be seen as a liability.

    Be honest with yourself when making a decision to do a masters or PhD. The environment is very mentally and emotionally taxing. People with mental health issues usually have a difficult time.

    Also, it will be very difficult to find a masters that will help springboard you into a PhD.

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