Remember that scene in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, where Bruce Wayne finds himself imprisoned in a large open pit from which only one inmate has ever escaped? If you are like me, you found that scene interminable, as you immediately caught on to the fact that he would have to climb out of the pit without the rope. I mean, we see the kid climb out without a rope, and that guy speaking all that mumbo-jumbo in a foreign language seemed to be telling him he had to conquer his fear, so, we put two and two together and wait for Wayne to figure it out. It finally takes that same guy talking to him in English (which makes you wonder why he wasn’t speaking English the whole time), telling him to climb out without the rope before he finally gets it.
Well, grad school is like that.
During graduate school you are in a dark, deep pit full of other people you don’t know at first, all staring up at the bright light of graduation, watching others try and fail, attempting to climb out on your own occasionally, and once in a very long while, watching someone actually climb out of the pit.
All along the way there are people telling you what you need to do. They speak the same language you do but you don’t hear. They tell you about the rope, about climbing, about conquering your fear, but you just don’t understand. They tell you to just sit down and write, to figure out what your intervention in the field will be, to read everything you can in your topic. You keep climbing and falling, and then you sit around doing mental situps and sulking, watching TV, like Bruce Wayne in his little cell. Eventually, you get up the courage to try again, but the light is so far up there, it seems impossible. How can anyone climb that high, especially when the footholds are so few and far between, sometimes invisible to the naked eye?
When it comes down to it, you have to find your own way up that wall and out of the hole. People can tell you how they did it, or how they think you should do it, but, until you are ready to hear the advice, you will think they are talking in a foreign language. Even when you can finally understand them, you will find that you need to figure a lot of it out on your own. By the time you figure that out, though, you will be ready.
For Bruce Wayne, it was fear of death. For the graduate student, it is fear of success, fear of failure, fear of whatever is on the other side of graduation, the job market, the lack of structure, the loss of something to fear.
When Bruce Wayne climbs out of that hole, he throws down a rope for the other prisoners. You will do the same after you graduate, trying to help others, but it is up to them, as it was up to you, to figure out how to climb out of the pit.