Regina Sierra Carter earned her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently serves as a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Virginia.
Life is like an elevator...
Sometimes you are up, sometimes down, and sometimes you may be out of service.
Graduate school is also like an elevator. It is designed to get you to the next level. However, you must stay on in order to get to the top, which could signify graduation, landing your dream job, or [fill in the blank]. The funny thing about an elevator is that it has a bunch of buttons built into a side panel that can take you from the basement to the umpteenth floor and vice versa.
As a graduate student, I heard professors and peers speak about the necessity of perfecting my elevator pitch. Not a single soul shared that graduate school itself can be likened to an elevator. Nevertheless, doing so can be astonishingly empowering and allow you to put things into proper perspective.
Graduate School as Elevator
Lift: Elevators are a privilege. Not all buildings come equipped with one. Some structures only contain stairs, while others contain both elevators and stairs. Just as elevators are a privilege, entering into, matriculating within, and earning an advanced degree is a privilege. Many pursue an advanced degree with the hopes of getting a life lift—such as receiving a coveted position within your desired field. Graduate schools, like elevators, are ideally designed to lift you to the next level in life.
Levels: An elevator can only go as high as the building it is housed within or as high/low as the individual who rides desires to go. In your graduate program, you decide how hard you will push yourself to get to get to the top level and be your best self.
Open Door Button: Receiving an advanced degree does not guarantee that countless doorways to limitless possibilities await you. This is not what the “Open Door” button represents. Instead, it signifies that it is up to you to decide which opportunities you will pursue.
That said, you cannot keep the elevator door open and expect to progress. Elevators cannot function when the door is open. The door must be closed before it moves. The longer you allow your finger to linger on the “Open Door” button, the longer you will remain at the floor (or level) you are currently on. It is only when you allow the elevator doors to close that you begin your ascent or descent.
Close Door Button: Just as you would press the “Open Door” button to welcome some opportunities, there is also a “Close Door Button” to shut out others. Like opportunities, the open/close buttons can also be used to welcome or shut out people. Be selective about who you allow to enter into your life. Be clear about what their purpose is. Be intentional about who you allow to ride on the elevator with you. You should not accept every opportunity and you should not try to be all things to all people. “Sometimes you must say ‘no’ to the good so that you will have an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to the great.”
Alarm Button: This button should only be pressed during emergencies. So...what does this have to do with graduate school? Everything.
It is essential to define beforehand what is and is not an emergency. Being bankrupt is an emergency to some and not others. Not having the proper attire for a high-profile social engagement might be 911-worthy to some and unimportant to others. Develop healthy, honest definitions for which situations merit emergency status and press the “Alarm” button accordingly.
Help Button: Sometimes things get out of hand. You may be riding the elevator to the 10th floor when it speeds up, slows down, or comes to a complete halt. This is not the time to panic. Instead, this is time to phone for help.
The same thing happens in graduate school—things happen too quickly (i.e. final grades are due), not quickly enough (i.e. waiting to receive word on your qualifying exam), or may come to a complete stop (i.e. writer’s block). People and resources are in our lives for a reason. Use them.
Never, ever be too afraid, too ashamed, or too prideful to phone or connect with trusted (you cannot tell everybody your business) family, friends, and colleagues for assistance.
On this elevator called life, many will climb aboard to go from one level to the next. Do not get off until you reach yours.
How has graduate school helped elevate your prospects? How has it not? Please keep it real and relevant by adding your thoughts in the comments section.
[Image from Flickr user Tom Woodward and used under Creative Commons Licensing.]