“We regret to inform you…”

“… that the Selection Committee has declined your application for admission to the MSc programme 2018-2020 in Master Sustainable Energy Technology at TU Delft. Your application has been rejected for the following reason(s): – The Selection Committee considers your academic background/specialisation not closely related enough to the MSc programme you wish to participate in.”

Well, that’s probably not the kind of letter one would like to receive just a couple of days before Christmas 2017. I started planning coming to the Netherlands around 2014; it was my junior year of college, and I had enrolled in a Solar Energy edX MOOC from TU Delft, where this eccentric professor was explaining the physics of solar cells and how the photovoltaic effect worked. I was pretty excited to learn about those topics, since they weren’t covered in much detail in my bachelor’s, so I finished the MOOC eager to learn more about them. After a few weeks searching for postgraduate programs online, I was pretty certain TU Delft was the only place where I wanted to do my master’s.

 

“See you on the next course!”

However, I still had about a year and a half  before I finished my bachelor’s, and there was much more I wanted to do besides a master’s. First of all, I wanted to get my hands dirty and get some experience under my belt, so I put myself to the task of getting a job in the solar industry. As a friend of mine once said, “civil engineers also need to know how to lay bricks.” I was right on time to the party, in 2014 Mexico started the slow (but inevitable) work towards demonopolizing its energy industry, inviting private investment, and incentivizing renewable energy sources.  Needless to say, business was booming.

To my good fortune, a few months before graduation I was offered a full-time engineering position at a recently-founded solar company in Monterrey, with great management and also great opportunities to learn and grow. It suited me perfectly, so I confidently accepted their offer.

For anyone that hasn’t finished college yet, this sums it up pretty well:

I screwed up, learned tons, screwed up again and picked myself up to learn from those other mistakes. First big one I did was quitting my stable, very well-rounded first job after nine months, when I got a new offer at another solar company… Boy, did I regret that one. I didn’t even last two months there. There were quite a few lessons I learned from that experience; firstly, that nothing guarantees you that companies out there will play fair. Before that, my bachelor’s had given me a rose-tinted view of the world, where everyone stuck to the rules and the companies you work for have a decent moral compass and sense of purpose.

I quit after a few weeks because their practices left much, much to be desired. But most importantly, because they cheated their customers and sold them unsafe PV systems, in order to cut corners; 100% of the solar systems they installed were fire hazards, systems that were installed over people’s roofs and over children’s bedrooms. I insisted that was completely beyond acceptable, to which management refused to agree with, so I thanked them and walked through the door.

After that, I was left without a solid footing; I still had to pay rent, my student loan and, well, live. I spent a month trying to figure out what to do; I missed my family badly, and was considering calling it quits and returning home, but again, my good fortune landed me a third job offer, now from the largest solar company in the city.

It’s funny how seeds you plant can blossom one or two years after you do. In this case, I got in touch with that company in 2014 because I was pushing for my dormitories to install PV on their roof, so I needed a company that actually knew how to do it. Back then, negotiations didn’t work out, but they serendipitously got back in touch with me two years later, right when I was looking for a job.

Without exaggerating, I learned more in the first two months working with that company that in the whole four years of my bachelor’s degree. The atmosphere was young and enthusiastic, everyone was eager to help each other and, most importantly, learn from our mistakes. In parallel, I started studying the Solar Energy MicroMaster’s TU Delft offers online, with the hope of arriving there with some courses already under my belt. With that in mind, I started my application at the end of 2017, planning to leave the company after two years working and learning with them.

As I’m sure every other applicant does, I poured my heart and soul into my application. I wrote about my background and experiences, but also about my goals and aspirations, and the why behind them. It was with surprise and a little disbelief that I read those words nobody likes to read, “We regret to inform you…”

In all honesty, I was very confused. I had been building and preparing for that application for six years; bachelor’s in sustainability engineering, two years designing and installing PV systems, but they thought my background’s not really related to their sustainable energy master’s program? Surely, there had to be some kind of mistake. Hell, the word “sustainable” is on the titles of both programs!

This is what I used to do before coming to TU Delft (I still do it from here!)

Fortunately, at the end of the letter were clear instructions on how to appeal if I didn’t agree with the committee’s decision. Great, I just needed to write them a letter explaining how I was confident I had the required skills/knowledge/background to be a good fit for the master’s, so I did. Everyone makes mistakes every once in a while, right? They asked the letter to be sent via snail mail, you know, the ordinary postal system people used before email, so that’s what I did.

In hindsight, another smart move from my part was that, a few months earlier, I became friends with a fellow student from Mexico that was already doing SET at TU Delft. Full disclosure, I likely wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for her. She became my guardian angel, my Virgil guiding me through the whole process, and now I’m happy to say that she’s one of my best friends.

I sent that letter to Liz’s address in Delft and she was kind enough to deliver it to the office in charge of admissions. In mid-January, I was doing a site survey for a PV system we were installing in Puerto Rico when I received an email from the International Office, “I want to inform you that you have been granted admission to the master programme SET.” It would be hard to overstate my excitement, talk about a great way to start the year!

But hey, that was January, and there were a lot of things that could (and did) happen between then and the start of my journey.