Before You Apply: Are You Vested? Post 5 of 5

This week I conclude the series “Before You Apply” by summarizing the key Questions of the entire series and by asking the final question: Are you VESTED?

Review of the 4 previous Questions in  #BeforeYouApply

  • What’s the vision for your future career?

  • Is this program a viable option for you?

  • Can you be more Versatile?

  • Can you be more Vulnerable?

Before you apply: Are you Vested?

For this question, I want to admit right here that I am co opting a term from another industry for my own purposes… but you will soon see the value in this metaphor.  To become “Vested” is to earn the legal right to a future payment or asset especially in regards to a retirement plan. After a number of years, an employee gains the right to an employer-provided stock incentive or financial contributions made to their retirement account or pension. In short, being Vested is to ‘secure the bag.’

To be Vested is to ‘secure the bag.’

The idea for this term as a critical pre-qualification for future doctors, lawyers to graduate degree earners comes from one of my favorite mentor stories. During my first year in my doc program, I was invited to an event where a panel of prestigious administrators and scholars were addressing the resources available for research at the institution. The most memorable question posed was something like: “Dr X how did you stay motivated during your doctoral training.” For context, this was asked by a person of Color to the sole African American panelist. After a pause, Professor X proceeded to vaguely describe a few of struggles, ironies and injustices he suffered at an unnamed PWI. He concluded his personal story with this line that has stayed with me for over a decade: “The day I walked in to ——- University, I decided I would leave with feet first in a body bag before I’d leave without that degree.”

Then he went on to say that in his opinion the people that finish their PhDs make decisions to finish long before they earn the right to a degree, and sometimes you can see the determination in their eyes.  

….the people that finish their PhDs make decisions to finish long before they earn the right to a degree, and you can see the determination in their eyes.  

My own PhD experience was very similar. However, I didn’t decide to earn the degree until I was beginning my 3rd year. Like Professor X, I faced multiple challenges. In that summer alone, there was a pivotal family adjustment, a lack of support from a clinical supervisor and even a course requirement that intimidated me.  Quitting (taking a leave of absence) was not only advised to me by the program, it was probably in my best interests that semester. I can admit this now in hindsight of course. Nevertheless, I made the stubborn decision to stay and I insisted that there had to be another solution.  It was at this juncture that I began to feel the ownership that I’d learned about earlier. My decision to stay was the line in the sand that required me to act more decisively and to chart a new course for my successful degree completion.

Ownership of the Process

In closing, Being VESTED is a question of ownership. You can feel it in your gut. It’s a willingness to do whatever it takes to get to the next step in the Program.  It’s a commitment to yourself to show up and PRESS HARD no matter what. To advocate for your work, resources, time on people’s calendars, etc. There is something special about how the universe and your supporters (even naysayers) will align themselves to rally when they see you dig those heels in. In another post, I’ll have to share the story of the day I became a stalker to obtain a signature on a form.

The interesting thing is Professor X served on my dissertation committee, and he was such a calming presence.  Once years later, I told him how that story inspired me, and he barely remembered telling it. Yet, I’m sharing it with you now because you are going to need people who believe that you OWN that degree. This is not to say that you won’t have to actually do the work to earn the degree. But with hard work, serious study and the consistent pursuit of excellence AND the determined mind, it’s yours. The mindset is the key, and generally, it comes first. The feeling of ownership is the engine that fuels your persistence at each rung of difficulty. You’ve got this!

The Takeaway

Before you apply to grad school, do the inner work of reflecting on your motivation to earn this degree. Build a strong support team who can encourage you and chastise you appropriately when needed. Be on the lookout for faculty mentors who are content experts AND people of great character who inspire you. They might even be different people.

As always, I appreciate your reading, following and comments on this post. Please share it with someone who would benefit also. I also have a private group on my Facebook page to help future scholars get information and support on their journey to #GetAccepted.

Before you apply: Can you be vulnerable? (4 of 5)

This week I am continuing the theme of questions to ask yourself before you apply to graduate school. The theme of this post is the issue of vulnerability. The question to ask is can you be vulnerable? Or are you willing to risk being vulnerable in order to achieve your goals and get the support you need while navigating the twists and turns of the journey towards your degree.

Review of the last post on #versatility

Versatility is how one survives, thrives and leverages the expertise gained by achieving their masters or professional degree. On one level you must assess whether or not you have intellectual curiosity to understand the basis for classical theories and content. Can you release your firmly held beliefs and tenants long enough to challenge and critique the sacred assumptions.

You must Learn to present and argue dual positions – both for and against – cherished practices or policies is a well respected skill that will serve graduates well beyond the Academy. This last post closed with age strategies to build or expand on versatility.


Before you apply: Can you be vulnerable?

To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable.

To make yourself honorable is to show your strength.

Crissi Jami, American poet and essayist, Your Tango

Accepting vulnerability in graduate school is accepting the reality that you will be “wrong” a lot and you will be told that you need to do better even when your not wrong: Your ideas, your writing assignments,your formatting your sources basically everything. If you are in grad school and you have perceived that you were being attacked frequently it’s not your imagination. Some faculty would say that it is their job to critique and evaluate you harshly and that it is in your best interest.

My belief is that critique is not helpful all of the time; just because those of us with PhD‘s often experienced the trauma harsh criticism in graduate school, means that it should remain that Way for the next generation of students. Physical and emotional harm is not a legacy we need to continue in Higher Education?

The goal of this series is to prepare you for what could happen after being excepted into graduate school. Before you apply is designed to provide information and access to resources before you apply to graduate school. Therefore strategic vulnerability is a trait to be developed and harnessed; whatever negative emotions may come up for you, feeling vulnerable is not your imagination.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and chang.”

Casandra Brené Brown, PhD, MSW, Author

A key reason I include vulnerability as one of the top five questions to ask before you apply is that it’s one that quickly snowballs to impact your wellbeing. On One hand, the process of applying to graduate school requires you to augment your view of yourself. In Particular, it requires you to present yourself with Rose colored glasses and as the best version of yourself. Soon after being accepted, you are suddenly catapulted into a cohort of other high achieving, brilliant candidates. Given our human nature, the urge to compete and measure up within the pack, our egos can be easily bruised with even one bad mark. Even unconsciously you may begin to feel inadequate and less brilliant around your peer group. Even if you are doing fine in your classes and making friends within your group, the sting of competition can damage your self perception.

Therefore being vulnerable is really about being willing to except your human-ness and to express a level of authenticity regardless of how well you perceive your peers or professors are evaluating you. So if this hits home to you, what should you plan to do….

Tips for preparing for vulnerability in graduate school:

  • Establish a relationship with the university counseling center or a community mental health professional.
  • Make time to schedule contact with true lifelong friends.
  • Learn to ask for support when needed.
  • Establish a rigorous self-care routine that includes daily and weekly time to refresh and recharge.
  • Learn to listen to feedback and evaluate the motives and intentions of the giver. All feedback is not good feedback and those who are well-intentioned will not be vested in whether or not you take their advice.

I found that the more truthful and vulnerable I was, the more empowering it was for me. – Alanis Morissette, (Canadian singer-songwriter)

Thank you for reading this post! If this has been helpful to you, please like or share the link with others in your circle of influence who would benefit.

Also, Please check out previous posts on this topic, sign up for our email list, and check out other resources for applying to graduate school.

#getaccepted #beforeyouapply #vulnerability

Post 4 of 5