27th November 2011
Email from Roz Savage to Vince Perez:
I’d like to pose a question. In considering my plans for the next chapter of my life, I am considering the possibility of a postgraduate degree. My goals would be:
– improve my knowledge of subjects such as environmental science, psychology, ecology, economics, philosophy and quantum physics – all of which I believe will have an impact on the future of humanity
– enhance my credibility as an advocate of change, particularly with a view to discussions with policy makers and business leaders
– extend my network of influence, and have formative discussions with an intelligent, informed and engaged group of peers.
However, I am very aware of the opportunity cost, both personal and financial, of taking a year (or more) out for study. So I am not yet convinced that this is the right way to go. I am gathering information, but would also very much value your view on whether this would be a wise route to take.
28th November 2011
Email from Vince Perez to Roz Savage:
Do check out the Yale World Fellows Program at Yale University – ideal for those in mid-career with great potential in their 40s.
I googled and checked out the website. The course would involve a structured curriculum comprised of required seminars, group presentations, and visiting lectures, as well as individually tailored opportunities to pursue independent study via access to Yale course offerings. World Fellows would be expected to give talks to the undergraduate students, and to take part in field trips to New York and Washington DC to meet with politicians, CEOs, and heads of NGOs. Alumni of the programme – Vince Perez included – had gone on to make a real impact in the world, heading up cause-driven organisations, running for office, generating social change.
The course met my criteria perfectly, but surely it had to cost a fortune. I looked further, and discovered to my delight that it was completely free of charge. The best things in life are free, according to the song, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that occasionally this holds true in the real world.
The snag? I had only 11 days before the applications deadline, during which I had to fill out an application form, write a CV, submit two essays, and obtain three letters of recommendation from worthy individuals. During that same period I was due to visit Vic Phillipson (podcast co-host) in Norway, meet up with Rob Hamill (ocean rower and main protagonist of Brother Number One) at the international film festival in Amsterdam, see the start of the Atlantic Rowing Race in the Canaries, and fly back to London. I didn’t exactly have the luxury of an empty diary. It would be challenging but, I decided, do-able.
The form proved to be time-consuming, but straightforward. I managed to overcome my preconceived notion to beware any role requiring a new CV (along the lines of Thoreau’s dictum: “Beware any enterprise requiring new clothes”) and composed a new resume. Bill McKibben, Zac Goldsmith, and Vince Perez agreed to say nice things about me. The essays proved to be more taxing, but friends provided helpful feedback and eventually I convinced myself that the essays were as good as I could manage in the time available.
The day of the deadline arrived. By then I was back in London, staying with friends in Islington. I woke up early, around 4.30am, and was too excited to go back to sleep so I decided I may as well get up and submit my application. I had to come downstairs to get wifi reception, and entered the the kitchen to find that the family dog had pooped on the floor during the night. One of the reasons I will never be a dog owner is that I can’t abide the notion of scooping the poop, and I decided this job was definitely above my pay grade. And so one of the most important tasks I have ever completed online was performed at around 5am on a dark December morning in north London, sitting in a basement kitchen next to a dog turd. I couldn’t decide if this was inauspicious, or just hilarious.
The next phase of the application process was more dignified. I had engineered my luck so that I would “just happen to be” in the northeast USA at the appropriate time should I happen to be called for interview. To my delight, I was. I was already planning to take the train from DC to New York that day, so I extended my journey up to New Haven. I was shown around Betts House, the Victorian mansion where the World Fellows spend their days in study and seminars (and apparently considered as the filming location for The Addams Family), and met the faculty staff. I enjoyed the interviews, but afterwards I started analysing what I’d said and started to have my doubts. Should I have said x? And maybe I shouldn’t have said y? A pointless and crazy-making exercise in futility, of course, but so difficult not to do it when something is so important to me.
A few weeks later there was a request from Yale for supplementary information: Two more references, and a list of recent media coverage. Was this a good sign, or a bad sign? More crazy-making second-guessing.
Dr Sylvia Earle and Dr Aenor Sawyer agreed to provide letters of recommendation, but it was quite a challenge to compile the list of media coverage. It’s not like I have a PR agency keeping an ongoing log of articles and interviews. My mother was set to work trawling the internet for recent news stories. It was interesting reviewing her list. While a lot of the coverage mentions that I am an “environmentalist” or “campaigner”, it appears I have had limited success in conveying a call to action, particularly in the mainstream media. I resolved to hone my message, and then make it such an integral part of what I am doing that it finds its way into all media coverage so that it is crystal clear what I stand for. I hoped that the Yale program might help – if I was lucky enough to get in.
Once again I submitted the requested information, and waited. And waited. To be honest, I didn’t have to wait very long, but when you’re in an agony of suspense a couple of weeks can feel like an eternity.
Finally, last Friday, the waiting ended. I was sitting in the members’ room at the Royal Geographical Society, one of my favourite London hangouts for free wifi and a work-friendly atmosphere. Almost submerged in the tidal wave of emails from the OAR team, as we work on our plans and strategies for the summer, was an email from the admissions director. “Congratulations! I am delighted to inform you……”
I was elated – that fantastic feeling that comes from having worked really hard for something, and it all comes good. The letter went on to say that they had received close to 2,500 applications, and had selected 16 World Fellows, of whom I would be one. From August 15 to December 14 this year, Yale will be my home. I am tremendously honoured to have been chosen, and incredibly excited about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait to immerse myself in Yale life, and am open to anything and everything that the programme entails. It will be intensely hard work, but I have no doubt that it will be life-transforming in the best possible way.
I was not the most diligent undergraduate student in the world, spending more of my time on the river or in the beer cellar than in the law library (although I did find that volumes of case law can make a very comfortable pillow after an early morning rowing outing). As a postgrad, things will be very different. I know exactly why I am there, and what I want to get out of it. I can’t wait. I just have to go row an ocean first….