Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part I

written by Laura, a current graduate wife

Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in –  and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.

Stage One: 


Only those souls fueled by a passion to pursue something as valuable as greater knowledge in a particular field, those individuals driven to succeed in the pursuit of excellence and opportunity would willingly submit themselves to grueling hours of study, academic gymnastics, and personal discipline required to complete any grad program.

Yes, but let’s be honest; at this stage grad school can look kind of sexy and enticing. I mean, really, you picture yourself delving into fascinating research or meaty historical writings, prying open heavy volumes of famous theoretical musings and drinking in centuries of esoteric wisdom which ignites your imagination and your inner nerd. You can just smell the newly-sharpened pencils and freshly-brewed coffee as you daydream about what you will look like as a graduate student. What’s not enticing about joining the stream of smoky, tweedy academics who over the past centuries have wrestled with the material you are ready to savor?   Whether philosophers really do don the requisite black turtlenecks and law school students tote leather briefcases, who knows for sure, but one thing is certain: even if a program is only a few short years, it will change everything. There is no going back. It will have an impact on your finances, it will shift your relationships with immediate and extended family (you might return home with changed political loyalties causing many a tussle at thanksgiving dinner), and you will require some major shifts from your immediate family if you are partnered or a parent. Your mental and physical health will be affected, your sense of self will be forever altered, and of course you will change the trajectory of your career. But on the day you receive the acceptance email or letter, none of this is yet a reality and what you know is that you cannot imagine doing anything else. The path has opened before you, and it is beckoning you to tread on.

Stage Two:


You are now surrounded by a buzz of preparation and anticipation; this stage is infused with hopefulness, eagerness, drive, motivation, fear, doubt, and passion. You’ve poured over the academic requirements, researched housing availabilities, finagled some level of financial aid, and you are weighing whether you are willing to take the risk to follow your dream with all the cost-benefit comparisons in front of you. If you are asking a partner or spouse or children to join you in this, you are all contemplating the necessary losses and pleasant expectations, fears and excitement. Some grieving may be rising to the surface as you begin to shed connections to the familiar and cut the ties to your old existence. You are dealing with the reactions, both positive and negative, of loved ones, colleagues, and friends as you share the news of your exciting adventure. They might be responding with discouragement or encouragement, and you are left to sort through the layers of emotion ricocheting around you as you finally go public with your dreams and aspirations. It may feel freeing to leave unencumbered and start fresh, or you might experience deep terror at the thought of severing the familiar moorings which tether you to your home and all the familiar comforts. You google the location of your grad program obsessively and try to piece together some picture of how life in your new hometown will be. Much like setting up base camp when you are about to begin a high elevation mountain climb, this stage requires establishing good foundations, support, and supplies.

Stay tuned for Stages 3-6!

Readers may contact Laura at LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com or check out ThinAirTutorials.wordpress.com

8 thoughts on “Six Stages of the Graduate Journey: Part I

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