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Where’s the Road Ahead? It’s Beneath Your Feet.

Where’s the Road Ahead? It’s Beneath Your Feet.

One of the most touching emails I ever got from my father, a successful tenured professor and excellent mentor with worldwide recognition and important contributions in his field, was something I wasn’t expecting to hear from him at the time, locked as I was inside my own academic and obviously incorrect assumptions.  In it, he expressed his encouragement and pride in my first job, which was one outside academia.

“When I have the chance to jump on new things or a new adventure,” he wrote, “I will do it, even though it might mean taking some risks.  We live only once.  If there is a big stage for us to dance, then dance with enthusiasm, never mind what others might say.”

Coming from someone who has fought so hard, every step of the way, to be where he is today, it shouldn’t have been surprising at all.  There was no structured future for him growing up in a poor family from rural China; PhDs were unheard of.

 That’s why it was so nice to hear his encouragement.

He ended the email with a quote from the theme song to a Chinese tv show about the legendary Journey to the West classic Chinese fantasy:


which translates roughly to, “May I ask where the road ahead is?” with the answer: “The road is beneath your feet.”

“There is no fixed model of success,” he wrote after referencing that line.  “In fact, there is not even a clear definition of success. You just set a goal and go for it. If you succeed, happy; if you don’t, pick another goal and move on. As I always say, the best job is do whatever you love and still make enough money.”


“Sometimes there isn’t a road ready made for you to walk on.  Your road is beneath your feet.”

By Vay Cao, Ph.D.


Have you gotten support from your family about your PhD journey?  What have your folks shared, or expressed about it?


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