Positive pessimism

“[…] every year some applicants are surprised when they are admitted, and others are surprised when they are not.”

Above is a quote taken from the SSP website’s admission FAQs. Although this statement is perhaps purposefully generic and therefore broadly fits the overall applicant pool, in my case I feel like the “surprised” in “surprised when they are admitted” is a bit…lacklustre. To me, “surprised” is the kind of pleasant, fleeting amusement you feel when you see a cute dog across the street (or, to stay true to recent context, when you see one of your fellow participant’s—or Dr. Kim’s!—cats appear briefly on the zoom). “Surprised” definitely doesn’t encompass that “so-shocked-that-you-laugh-uncontrollably” feeling that I experienced when I opened my acceptance email one morning in late March. 

When I applied to SSP five months ago, I did so with a positively pessimistic attitude. You might be thinking, “What kind of an oxymoron is that?”, so allow me to elaborate. You see, I never expected to get into SSP. As I asked my physics and maths teachers for letters of recommendation, they looked at me with bemusement and although they readily agreed, they asked, “Jodi, you have alternate plans for the summer, right?” In response, I told them—and told my friends, my family, and most importantly, myself—that yes of course I had backup plans for the summer, and no I didn’t have my hopes up too high (or frankly, at all). This is where positive pessimism came in: I would either a) get rejected but have gained some valuable practice in writing essays for university applications or b) get accepted. In any case, I’d be somewhat  happy; the former would mean that my prediction was correct (and who doesn’t love being proven correct?), and the latter would be, well, the more preferable option to say the least! 

This positive pessimism has carried over to my daily life in SSP. Each day, as we approach the infamous PSet(s), I brace myself for the worst, expecting numerous coding conundrums, mathematical mysteries, you get the gist (okay fine I’ll admit that I couldn’t think of any more fitting alliterations for astro or physics!). So, being positively pessimistic creates a win-win situation…at the end of each WorkPlay block I’m either proven to be—albeit a bit painfully—accurate in my expectations for the day’s difficulty, or satisfied with my submission for the day. Thankfully, the latter is true for the majority of the time, but this is honestly largely thanks to my lovely fellow participants. 

On that note, I’d like to thank every single one of my fellow SSPers. Whether it be collaborating with me on an assignment, leaving a helpful message in one of the Discord channels (special shoutout to WorkPlay 1, we love lurking on your discussions once it’s time for WorkPlay 2!), or just making me laugh during mandatory fun time, you have all contributed to this amazing SSP experience. It’s barely been two weeks, but all the connections I’ve already formed make me so excited for the weeks to come! 


About me: Hi! I’m Jodi, a Korean American rising senior living in Singapore. I love listening to people’s favorite songs, watching people’s favorite movies, and more recently, drinking coffee at midnight (cheers, 12am~2am Learning Block, you know how much us international SSPers love you). I’ve never actually done much astrophysics (oops!) but I’m loving it so far! See you around <3