🛠️  Hacking with Hamlet  👑

Application season and "unnatural selection"

Graduate school admissions decisions have started going out. MIT accepted some students; it rejected others.

Often the reasons for this can feel arbitrary; absurd, even: perhaps a professor just doesn’t have the funding to take on another student this year, or perhaps they were looking for a specific set of skills and interests that an applicant just by chance happened to satisfy. No applicant can ever control for such circumstances, and among hundreds of deserving prospective graduate students, a bad day on the GRE, a chance paper acceptance or rejection, or an unexpected friendship between advisors could make all the difference. When the stars align in your favor, you can feel divinely touched by the system. When the stars turn against you, the system seems cruel, unfair, and indifferent. But it’s the same system and you’re the same person.

That’s right, I am thinking today of the Muse song “Unnatural Selection.” It’s hard to say what the song is about, but there are some moments I have to imagine were written with university admissions in mind. Think of the thousands of applicants who each year find themselves reduced to a small set of numbers, statistics, and short-response questions on an application form—it can indeed feel like being a “droplet in the ocean,” at the mercy of an elusive and incomprehensible system. Even though the system is for the most qualified applicants ultimately just “random chance selection,” we craft a mythology around those who succeed—that “they are the special ones,” though they “don’t share at all” what actually is so special about them. It does feel unjust and self-perpetuating (“you won’t be the last”).

I check in with those I know have applied to graduate school, and especially those who asked me for advice along the way. I note the anxiety in their responses, I recognize in their voices feelings I myself felt not so long ago. I wish them the very best in the months ahead.

Unnatural Selection (excerpt)

Counterbalance this commotion
We’re not droplets in the ocean

They’ll laugh as they watch us crawl
The lucky don’t share at all
No (Hey) hope (Hey) for fate (Hey)
It’s a random chance selection
I want the truth

Try to ride out the storm
Whilst they’ll make you believe
They are the special ones
(We have not been chosen)

Injustice is the norm
You won’t be the first
And you know you won’t be the last

Counterbalance this commotion
We’re not droplets in the ocean

They’ll laugh as they watch us fall
And the lucky they don’t care at all
No (Hey) chance (Hey) for fate (Hey)
It’s unnatural selection
I want the truth, I want the truth
I want the truth, I want the truth