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.