Practising self-care when failing in a PhD scholarship application

Image Description: Person in a robe and facemask against a purple background, confronted by several extended hands


I am sorry that your PhD scholarship application fails……

Ouch…. another heartbreak, another scholarship failure. How many scholarships have I failed?

How many rejections have I got? How many denials have I been facing, so far?


I didn’t cry, I wasn’t crying, I would never cry.

I said to myself at first after learning the news.

My heart was like a motionless sea with serenity.

I asked myself three questions.

1) What does this failure mean to my personal growth?

2) What does this failure mean to my finance in both short and long term?

3) What does this failure mean to my academic profile and works?

I was quite surprised by my calmness and rationality.

Maybe I was too used to facing failures. I have learnt how to be a quick problem solver and

respond proactively throughout countless failures.

Or, should I frame this scholarship failure as “a failure”? Maybe it is not a failure,

But more like an obstacle that I have to overcome in this life stage or just in this particular moment or month in my life.


I started to reply to my supervisor, thanking her for telling me the news and informing her that I would continue to work hard.

I started to send messages to my friends who supported me throughout this scholarship application journey.

I started to, I had to, I was ….

Actually, forcing myself to repress my emotions.


“Scarlett, you have tried your best. I know you have worked really really hard. I am sorry …. please don’t push yourself too hard now”.

A friend sent me an audio message. I burst into tears immediately.

I started to feel like I couldn’t hold this unhappiness and disappointment anymore,

Feelings were feelings,

I cried out so loud. My heart felt painful. I cried out so loud.


I turned off my phone, shut myself off from the “world”, from the “reality”.

I started to, I had to, I was……going to have self-care

Because Audre Lorde says

self-care is self-preservation and an act of political warfare.

I cried in the shower, I cried during my sleep. I woke up two times at 3 and 5am.

I cried and cried and cried with a strong headache accompanying.

Tears and fear became the best friend on earth.

“Who says you are going to get this? Who says you must get this scholarship?”

I asked myself.

“I know, I know, I know…”

I replied.

“Why am I so sad? Why does my heart ache so much?”

I asked myself.

Then, I started to realise that I was mourning, I was mourning for a loss of hope.

I felt so incompetent and weak. I hated to cry like a baby. I felt naïve and stupid.

Emotions were so real and cruel.

They were just too overwhelming.

I had to confront with them in the dark.






The next day, I continued to stay in my universe.

I talked to my plants. I redecorated my walls. I ate chocolate. I took a nap.

I woke up. I cried again. I needed more time for myself.

But I knew I had to reconnect with the “world”.

Turned on my phone –

9 missing calls, 10 unread messages from my family in Hong Kong.

G-R-E-A-T…. F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C….


Another day, I called my mum.

I hoped she was alright.

She asked me back if I was alright.

“Yeah, alright? … right…. right…”

I gave another call.

I had to discuss long-term planning about my PhD finance.

The conversation worked out pretty well.

At the end of the call, things just seemed alright.



I guess….

I myself was

the only person who could not forgive myself,

Who looked down on myself for failing a scholarship.

Who told myself things were not alright.

Things could be alright, I would be alright. I know it.

I am always a fighter.


Lately, Oxford has been extremely stormy.

And I thought, Ha, maybe the storm represented my obstacle,

After the storm, there would follow the sun and the rainbow.

The circle never ends,

The storm never comes once,

Nor the sun and the rainbow.


Today, while I was writing this reflexive journal,

I recalled a beautiful encounter some weeks ago.

I met this lovely plant in the supermarket.

I thought I had picked the loveliest and “the most perfect” succulent among the others.

While walking back home, I found that one of its leaves had actually fallen out.

At first, I thought, gosh, it was not so “perfect”.

Then, I found out that some water was coming out from the broken leaf.

It was beautiful. I felt a sense of peace.

Flaws bring hope. You’d never know.

Image Credit: Jonas M. via The Oxford Student Creative Team