As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.
First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other. But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.
At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it. At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?
Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.
If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.