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August 26, 2021, was my last day as an employee of Stears. After an exciting 18 months stint, I resigned from my role as a Data Scientist on the Stears Business Product Team. It was a bittersweet moment for me because Stears was such a nice organization to work at, I loved the work I did and I really love the people; however, it was time for something new. I had to make the big move.

What next?
I had always known I would like to get a second degree in my field for various reasons. One being my love for school (as much as I don’t like to admit this, I think it is true), my quest for advanced knowledge, my environment generally and the realities of the people that are close to me, coupled with the fact that the area I am interested in building my career in has most jobs requesting for a Masters or a Ph.D. These and more led to my decision to take up the offer to study for a Master’s in Computer Science at the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado. My research will be focused on artificial intelligence and human-robotic interaction.

Typing this out felt so unreal!!!

So, how did we get here?
I remember finishing my undergraduate final exams in late July 2018 and casually catching up with my friend a few days later. I was referred to him for help while working on my undergraduate thesis earlier that year. He asked me to join his team and I began working remotely the next week. I grew at that company, from a social media associate to a data science intern to a junior data scientist and even dabbling in product management.

After a year and 4 months (November 2019), I decided to apply to graduate school for the Fall, 2020 session. I created a spreadsheet of potential schools, listing out their requirements, fees, deadlines, funding opportunities, and reasons for considering these schools. Then, I narrowed the list down and applied to 5 schools and 1 scholarship in the UK, USA, and Canada. I got admission into 4 schools, all without full funding, but I did not get accepted for the scholarship. I could not afford to finance myself through the programs, so I did not take the offers. I decided to switch jobs and try again next year.

February 2020, I joined Stears, and then the pandemic happened. There was so much uncertainty and I actually thank God that I did not have to make the big move to school during such chaotic and uncertain times. Working with Stears during the pandemic was a privilege; I grew so much, I was happy, I had peace and they genuinely cared about my wellbeing through it all.

In August 2020, I decided to start preparing for the next round of grad school applications. I updated my spreadsheet of potential schools for the next year, reached out to my potential referees, wrote some essays, and had people review them and give feedback. Before this, I had worked on a personal machine learning project to strengthen my application concerning research experience. I appreciate Kelechi for guiding me through this. I wrote the GRE in October of that year and began putting in my applications that month. It was a very stressful time because I applied to 4 schools in 3 months, I had to reach out to numerous Professors at these schools, write essays, get reviews, follow up with my referees, and still work full-time without slacking on my responsibilities.

Fast forward to February 2021, decisions started coming in. Some schools that I was very hopeful about did not come through as expected. This broke me. I went through a long phase of mourning these rejections and feeling very bad. After weeks of sulking and laying in bed aimlessly, I decided to pick myself up and try just one last time. It was about to be a very long and stressful few months ahead, but I asked God for grace and strength. I was also very blessed to have the best people in my corner to encourage me at this time. My family, my amazing support, and some friends.

I had received the University of Denver (DU) admission in February, but it did not come with funding. Now, I had to look for funding, somehow, anyhow, because the fees are pricey. The coming weeks had me reading research papers, emailing Professors, and pitching to work with them during my program for some funding, preparing for interviews, interviewing at night (no thanks to the time difference – 7 hours), doing personal research to increase my knowledge and growing exponentially. It was very stressful but exciting and I tried to keep my hopes up.

Then, on June 1, 2021, it finally happened!

I received the email. The email I had waited so long for; the email that changed everything. I received an offer from my Department offering me a Graduate Teaching Assistantship, which covers all my fees (tuition, health insurance) and a monthly stipend for my living expenses. I can remember forwarding it to one of my favorite people and getting the reply, “Yassss!!!!!!!!! OMG! This is great news. Awwww, God thank you”. I was filled with so much joy, my mom burst into songs of joy and danced over the phone, it felt like a dream. In addition to that, I was also awarded a scholarship by TechAvilly that supported me with some money for my flight ticket to get to the US, my SEVIS fee and refunded what I spent on my GRE fee the previous year.

The following months had me processing documents for my VISA and preparing to travel. And finally, on August 29th, I bade farewell to my family at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on a one-way flight to the USA for the next phase of my life. Do I know exactly what’s coming for me? Not at all. Am I excited and hopeful about the future? Definitely. I know it’s going to be challenging, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I’ve been told that I will evolve a lot, so I’m looking forward to all that growth. While I miss my family and friends back home, I am so thankful for this opportunity. I’m really looking forward to all the learnings and hopefully, I can share with you all via my blog posts.

What are some lessons I learned from this?
1. You might not get it the first time. Failures and rejections are all part of the journey. If you can, get constructive feedback from more experienced people and try again.

2. Things might not happen at your exact time, the exact way you want or have planned for, but God is never late. For someone like me that is such a meticulous planner, this was quite a hard lesson for me to learn.

3. Having a good support system is such a blessing. Please don’t take it for granted if you have this. It could be your family, friends, or colleagues. Also, try being a strong support to the people around you. Genuinely care about them and what’s important to them, look out for them, and be invested in your relationships. It is such a kind and blessed thing to do for others.

4. Reach out for help. I reached out to my friends and some people I met on social media for help, advice, and constructive feedback on all I had done. I also had mock interviews, which was so helpful in preparing me adequately for my major interviews.

5. It is okay to take breaks if you are disappointed. You are human and it’s okay to feel negative emotions if things don’t go as planned. You are allowed to feel how you feel, process all your feelings, and hopefully, get back on your feet in good time.

Are there any other lessons you’ve picked from my story? Kindly share them in the comments section, you might just be helping someone else that is reading this.

I hope this article has been helpful and encouraging to you. You can reach out to me on Twitter, LinkedIn or send an email: contactaniekan at gmail dot com if you want to chat more about grad school, computer science generally, or my research interests.

Thank you for reading,

Aniekan.

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