On the Pursuit of Ships
The fabled ship, The Black Pearl, from the Pirates of the Caribbean chronicles has been and still is said to be “nigh uncatchable”, overtaking or fleeing all other vessels in the story at some point or another. As an undergraduate here at UCSB, I have found it isn’t the only ship with such an evasive reputation: internships and scholarships have also always seemed to be outside my reach. However, they were not so far away that their existence entirely eluded me; their presence has always been noticeably felt because undergraduate success is rarely spoken about without them, but also simultaneously intangible because of their prestigious nature.
After being rejected from three of four summer opportunities in winter quarter of my second year, this perspective was reinforced even further. The only decision I was waiting on happened to be the one I figured my chances were slimmest: The Science, Math, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship from the Department of Defense (DoD). The SMART Scholarship funds a student pursuing either an undergraduate or a graduate education in selected physical science and engineering disciplines, covering full tuition and also providing a yearly stipend to cover all living expenses. Upon graduation, SMART scholars are required to be employed as civilian scientists for however long the program funded his or her education, as well as conduct summer internships in between school years at a suitable Army, Navy, Air Force, or another DoD sponsoring facility.
My pessimistic outlook stemmed not only from the impressive benefits of the scholarship, but also from the application process: in particular, the daunting essay prompts about research interests or experience, career goals, and etc. These details struck me as unfair; how am I supposed to know exactly what I want to be doing with the rest of my life when I have barely finished my lower division classes? As if these questions weren’t stressful in themselves, the due date for the application happened to be during finals week which was only a couple weeks away; frustration and anxiety ensued.
I scheduled an advising appointment at the Career Center to voice my complaints. Although I did not leave with a new-found definition of my future, I left with a clearer purpose regarding how to tackle these essay questions. I decided to start with the small responsibilities I had in the UCSB Valentine Lab, and fused those with my passion for the mysteries of the ocean. Of course, I was not at all well-versed enough in current research in any discipline to make a statement about my future career, but I knew that I wanted to be involved in a scientific field of study related to our planet’s processes, so I tailored my application to emulate that. In the end, my career counselor helped me see that these application essays are a big part of what makes these “ships” seem so unobtainable; and just having a structured and thoughtful application can separate you from the competition, and especially against those who never applied.
I was studying in a quiet study room in April, about four months after the deadline, when I opened the email informing me that I had been selected for the SMART Scholarship Program for three years to finish my joint BS/MS program in Geophysics. Fast forward to the end of June, and I’m being flown out to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for an orientation of my sponsoring facility, the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO), with the same amount of disbelief that I had in April. There was an ingrained passion for fusing oceanography and its naval applications in the people at NAVO that quieted any doubts I had about being a government employee for three years after graduating. NAVO itself is a gargantuan facility home to a variety of cutting edge oceanographic resources, from its library, dedicated specifically to oceanography, to one of the DoD’s supercomputer facilities, which both happen to be one of the most resourceful or advanced in the world, respectively. I found throughout my tour that having top-of-the-line resources and people was a common trend at NAVO, which made me both nervous and proud that soon, this would be my career.
Upon flying back to the quaint airport of Santa Barbara, I had a curious feeling of uncertainty. The SMART Scholarship was more than I was ever hoping for; all I was trying to obtain was something to do over the summer that was somewhat related to my major and would help narrow down some sort of career path for me. Now I know the next six years of my life planned out; three years of undergraduate and graduate education, and three more additional years employed at NAVO, where I will be harnessing oceanographic data to develop specialized navigational products for our military from both the facility in Mississippi and on naval vessels in various places around the world. Being accepted into the SMART program has fundamentally shifted both my projected future and my present lifestyle from a foggy uncertainty to a crystal clear track. It’s still surreal to me that an opportunity like this exists, and even more so that I am able to be a part of it. In hindsight, these ‘ships’ don’t seem as uncatchable anymore; the elusive facade melts away as soon as you start the pursuit of one. The evasive reputation of internships and scholarships are just that: a reputation. In fact, it is a reputation that doesn’t even have Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm to reinforce it, which is all the more reason to go and chase them down, no matter how uncatchable they may seem.