Why Grad School is Like Learning How to Drive a Stick Shift

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I have always loved cars, which is really convenient given my line of work! When I was 15, I could not wait to learn how to drive a stick shift on my own. See, my mom had hurt her wrist and I was already helping shift gears with my left hand.

I am not sure how much courage my Dad had to muster up, but off we went to the parking lot of the community college. I will never forget how he made me turn everything off; no a/c, no radio and we had to have the windows down. You have to listen and feel the car in order to know how to shift. But Dad!!!!!!! No radio?!?!?

We started out slow, learning how to start in first gear, knowing when you needed gas. I did that over and over again and from there we moved onto knowing when you needed to shift, not because of what the RPM’s said but because of the sounds the engine was making. Finally, there was a little hill where I had to keep the car from stalling without the brakes or the gas, just using the clutch.

A week later we did it again, but in a different car. See how the clutch is slightly different and how it sounds different when it’s time to shift?

I know, I know there are probably a lot of ‘car people’ out there saying “you’ll burn out the clutch or the RPMs are the only thing that matter and the future is all about paddle shifters.”

So how does this relate to grad school?

Each class and professor are similar to driving a stick shift and learning a new clutch. You are not sure what their expectations are and you have to feel your way through. One professor may want you to comment throughout the week and another might be okay if you finish them all at once. Do not get flustered.

Knowing which classes require more work and being ready to commit to that amount of work is similar to being on the hill and knowing you are going to stall. Everyone talks about the amount of work you have to put into PR but they also talk about how much you get out of it.

Listening to the car is similar to listing to your classmates. Do not do your discussion board posts in a vacuum; read what others have written and leverage that in your comments.

You never forget how to drive a stick shift. If you have to take a semester off, you might need a minute to get comfortable in your seat, but you will pick back up where you left off.

Finally, there is nothing like pulling away from a light and leaving that other car in your dust. That’s exactly what you are doing to your competition by being enrolled in the IMC program.

Here’s my post grad school stick shift dream, what’s yours?

2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The 650-hp, 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is one of the most capable vehicles on the market, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in only 2.95 seconds, achieving 1.2 g in cornering acceleration, and braking from 60-0 mph in just 99.6 feet.

2016 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible

The 650-hp, 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is one of the most capable vehicles on the market, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in only 2.95 seconds, achieving 1.2 g in cornering acceleration, and braking from 60-0 mph in just 99.6 feet.

Images courtesy of General Motors

3 Responses to “Why Grad School is Like Learning How to Drive a Stick Shift”

  1. aaadave Says:

    Whitney,
    Great article! I’m a person who had a Dad like yours who taught me how to drive a stick shift and, by the way, how to recover from spins in the snow where we practiced in the high school parking lot on snowy weekends. Do you know what they call someone who can’t drive a stick shift? A Millennial . Like you say each instructor is somewhat different while living within the same overall guiding principles from WVU. I am one who tells my students that I expect them to participate actively in the discussions and not post all their discussions on the last day, especially in the last 6 hours, unless they are satisfied with a C or B. So listening to the engine is what I am saying in my welcome letter and then knowing when to shift is to hit the discussions early and not shift into high after 6 PM on Friday. Thanks for your post which as a former Ford Marketing Manager, hit hoe with me.

  2. Mary Ramos Says:

    I learned how to iron at midnight, reading Kant. Single parent to girl tweens. Slept with twenty books. Third seat in the Suburban was a row of seatbelted books. Analyzed thesis data at softball games and dissertation data at swim practice. More like double clutching a semi on some days…

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