Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Should I get a PhD?

Here is a response from someone I have been talking with about the possibility of future doctoral work. This person is presently in the midst of a prestigious PhD program (Hebrew Bible) and knows the game. I wanted to pass along the wisdom so others can take it to heart. Perhaps it is not like this in all circumstances, but it seems to fit the bill pretty closely.

The comment is a response to a question regarding the value of a ThM (MTh). Is it worth it? Often people wonder why get a ThM when one can just go for a PhD?

"My Th.M. was a necessary means to fill in a few holes. I applied to Ph.D. programs my last year of seminary and got in no where. My problems were allieviated by taking classes in my particular area, but just taking more classes did not solve my problem. I was fortunate enough to gain one really great mentoring friendship in my last semester of my M.Div. and the beginning of my Th.M. This professor helped me navigate the system. Merely applying multiple times without changing the look of the application is somewhat pointless. So in my next round, I had a completely different feel to my app because I had more Ancient Near Eastern classes, but I also had a completely different set of recommendations. If I were to guess ... I would say that classes will be helpful, but classes alone are not sufficient without the networking component.

Essentially the Ph.D. application process is one of advocacy -- everyone needs to find someone to be their advocate and vouch for you to their fellow friends in academia. When a program admits you, they are making a huge commitment to you (that is, if it is a good program). Good schools whose goal is for their Ph.D.ers to work in academia don't want merely to produce ph.d.ers who can't get jobs. In the end, that makes you, them and their program look poorly. So they are essentially committing to help you and support you through the job finding process. So if you take some classes, do take them strategically and pick professors that can help you get where you would like to go.

Also most of this stuff applies if you are wanting to get your foot into certain circles of academia. If your goal is to teach for a Pentecostal school, the same applies but in a different sort of way. The academic level of the program from which your receive your Ph.D. isn't as crucial but the rule of networking still applies. I'm only in my second year of my program, and I've had two different schools tell me they would be interested in me teaching for them. These offers came only because I have a great friendship with a faculty member and his family at one institution and the academic dean at the other school met me through my brother.

Personally, I hate networking. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I would rather have an authentic relationship with someone rather than force it. So in some ways, I just let things come as they may. I know that professionally I probably won't get as far, but I'm ok with that. I figure God'll work it out. I'd rather enjoy the people around me and love life. I don't always want to be searching for a way to climb up to the next rung on the ladder. Frankly I don't want to reach the last rung on the ladder at retirement and realize that those around me don't love me and my family dislike me. But yeah, I've seen and heard of too many academics whose families suffer while their career advances.

Remember too, keep in mind your family, more central questions than age or what degree or where you go, are what kind of life does your family wish to have in the next 5-7 years as you do school work? Is your wife ok with taking a job? Do you think that your kids would suffer at a crucial developmental phase of their life because their dad would be wrapped up in a book? Different phases of life lend themselves to school in different ways. Decisions like this need to involve whole family (or future family).

So pick your goals wisely, prioritize and discern where God is calling you."

Here is the point: Get Connected, Build Relationships, Form Networks, Be Intentional.

One other thing...another friend once told me there are three things one needs if one wishes to do doctoral work: money, brains, and GUTS! It takes GUTS to commit to and go through any kind of doctoral program because of the hard work and commitment level needed. So the question becomes do you have the GUTS?

Now of course if that is not what God is calling you to, then no problem. But if he is, are you willing??

Please feel free to leave a comment or offer other suggestions, critiques, etc.


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