In part one of this series I presented two pieces of advice which I prepared for the SBL panel Things I Wish I Knew about a Ph.D.  During this panel I focused on embracing one’s role as a student and preparing for one’s career from the beginning of their Ph.D. program.  In this installment I will discuss some other issues that I addressed during the SBL panel discussion and other pieces of advice that I should have mentioned.

Live close to campus -  This is more important than it may seem.  In addition to saving money on gas and time on the road, living close to campus will allow you to stay more connected to your program.  Unfortunately, I live an hour (when traffic is light) from campus and this has prevented me from attending many functions I wanted to attend.

Understand your funding options – This is especially important when choosing a program.  Don’t choose a program over another based on incomplete funding information.  For instance, I nearly chose a program that was going to give me 8k a year because UCLA was unwilling to give me a financial package.  However, once I did my research I found that nearly all 2nd year students get TAships worth over 15K.  These TAships are then available every year after, along with dissertation grants and other options.  However, other programs that do not award financial packages do not ever provide financial aid and expect their students to pay tuition.  Make sure you thoroughly examine all of the options before choosing a school.

Qualifying Exams – My advice here is two fold.  First, warn your family, friends, etc. that this is a major time commitment and extremely stressful.  You will disappear for extended periods and even when you are present in body your mind will almost certainly be elsewhere.  Second, when you see your exam questions don’t panic.  Answer the questions as well as you can.  Some professors purposely make difficult questions knowing you will struggle.

Establish a relationship with your advisor and examiners – Establish a positive relationship with your advisor, faculty, and examiners as early as possible.  The better your relationship the better your recommendations will be and the more confident your will be going into your qualifying exams.  By the time I took my exams I knew my examiners so well that I was able to guess (accurately) the types of questions they would ask.  There are a number of steps you can take to establish positive relationships with these individuals.  Most obvious is taking their courses.  There’s no better way to determine what is important to your faculty then taking a course from them.  Another great way to connect with your faculty is to grade for them.  I was either a TA or grader for most of my examiners.

Rely on your departmental staff and treat them well – Don’t assume your professors know everything about the nuts and bolts of your program.  They may actually have all the answers, but they may not.  Even worse they may have outdated information.  Essentially, it’s not their job to know this information.  Get to know and rely upon the knowledge of the department staff.  These people know what forms need to be filled out and which hoops need to be jumped through when.  Finally, treat them well and when you are in a bind they will go to great lengths to help you out.

Children, wait – My advice here is wait, wait, wait.  Wait until you are done with your program if at all possible.  For some reason at UCLA it seems to be a requirement to have children during your program, as all of us in the Christian Origins program have children.  However, if you are going to have children during your program wait until after your exams.  If you read my above advice you know that exam prep is brutal and I cannot imagine preparing for exams and caring for one or more children.

Marry someone with a “real job” – Okay this advice is a bit tongue in cheek, but most people I know who are successfully navigating Ph.D. programs have a spouse with a “real job.”  Having someone in the family earning more than 15K a year makes life a lot easier.

Massive time commitment – If you don’t realize Ph.D. programs are a major time commitment then you either are not in a program or have never talked to anyone who has gone through a Ph.D. program.  My advice here is to be as straightforward with those around you as you can.  My first quarter was rough because my wife and I had worked out a time schedule before I started my program.  However, after I began I quickly realized we had not allotted enough time for my work.  Things were rough until we reassessed the situation and made a new schedule.  Be honest with yourself and those who rely on you, they will understand (at least you hope they will).  Set aside time to spend with your family and do your best to honor this time.  Date night is a great idea.

Well that is all the advice I can think of at this moment.  If I think of more advice I will post a third entry for this series.  If anyone else out there has some advice please put it in the comments section.  Perhaps, if there are enough suggestions, I will add a third entry into the series consisting of your advice.

While many turn to Richard Hays’ excellent work Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul for information concerning Paul and the Old Testament, I turn to Christopher Stanley’s many fine works on the subject.  Today’s recommendation is Stanley’s most accessible work, Arguing with Scripture.  Stanley examines a number of questions and assumptions before analyzing Paul’s use of scripture in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans.  Stanley rightly concludes that Paul’s audiences had different levels of prior knowledge of the scripture and thus would have interacted in different ways with Paul’s use of scripture.  I highly recommend this work and am assigning parts of it to my students for my winter course on 1 Corinthians.

Usually I restrict my posts to topic concerning Paul of Tarsus but I also like to post helpful resources for students.  Thus, I have decided to post a summary of my SBL presentation  Things I Wish I Knew about a Ph.D.

During my presentation I addressed two points, embracing one’s role as a student and preparing for one’s career from the beginning on one’s education.  However, in this series I will also address issues concerning funding and qualifying exams.

Embracing one’s role as a student

My advice here is simply this, remember you are a student in a Ph.D. program to learn.  Everyone has gaps in their knowledge and your education is an excellent time to address these gaps.  Taking a wide variety of courses will address gaps in knowledge and provide material for future work allowing you to make connections that would otherwise be missed.  Don’t be afraid of looking foolish in courses or fields in which you are a novice.  Additionally, research a wide variety of topics during your coursework. There is no shame in not knowing something.  It seems that many Ph.D. students are a bit afraid to show any weakness in front of their world renowned faculty and other students who seem to know everything, however, it will serve you well to fully embrace your time as a students.

Prepare for your career early

At the beginning of a 5-7 year program it can be difficult at times to see the big picture.  Coursework can become overwhelming followed by the all encompassing nature of exam prep.  However, it you wait until after your qualifying exams to prepare for your career, it really is too late.  There are a number of small steps you can take throughout your Ph.D. program to prepare for your career.

1.) Take a variety of classes and not just classes that seem interesting to you but rather courses in “hot” fields.  Universities are looking for professors who are not limited to the traditional historical critical methods but have broader training in additional fields and hermeneutics.  My advice is to check the job postings on the SBL website and take a few courses in areas that employers are seeking.  While this can easily be addressed during one’s coursework, cultivating a new area of expertise while working on a dissertation can be very difficult. Here are two recent job postings:

  • Seattle University – We are particularly interested in applicants with expertise in liberation, feminist, African-American, Latino/a, Asian, or ecological hermeneutics
  • University of South Carolina – Strong candidates should have expertise in one or more of the following areas: interdisciplinary approaches to Scripture; knowledge of various interpretive traditions, including postmodern, feminist, multicultural, or global; knowledge of popular/emerging cultures of the Mediterranean; or material culture

2.) Universities will request recommendations, this is obvious.  However, what may not be as obvious is the fact that universities will want recommendations on your teaching skills.  This means inviting your professors to watch you teach and add their thoughts to a your file.  Ideally they will observe your own classes but for many this is not feasible.  Thus, I would suggest even as a TA having your professors observe your section.

3.) Present papers at conferences.  There are endless opportunities to present your work: graduate students conferences, regional SBL, and the national SBL to name a few.  While you may not be confident enough in your research to present your work to the vast array of scholars at the national SBL conference, graduate student conferences are an excellent place to begin.  Presenting papers at graduate student conferences allows you to gain valuable experience presenting before a group and receiving criticism in a group setting.  Additionally, you will probably receive valuable feedback on your work and all presentations are great for your CV.  I suggest working your way up the conference ladder, start with a graduate student conference and then move up to the regional SBL conference in your area.  Try to present at least one paper a year.

4.) Another excellent opportunity available during your Ph.D. program is writing articles for encyclopedias.   These articles are a great opportunity to fill CV with some publications.  However, be careful these entries are more difficult than they might appear.  While writing 600 words on a topic sounds easy it is not!  These short articles require a rather large time commitment so do not agree to do many.  A friend of mine agreed to do 5 during one summer and was completely overwhelmed by them.

5.) As a  professor you will be part of a department.  Thus, it will be expected that you take on administrative duties.  This willingness can be demonstrated by taking on some duties during your program.  I was the liason for Religion subfield to the History Department Graduate Students Association and  UCLA’s SBL’s Student Representative.  Neither duty took much time but both are excellent for my CV.

However, a word of warning, be careful about overextending yourself.  Don’t put so much focus on your long term goals that you get overwhelmed.  Remember your primary role is as a student.  Taking on even one small administrative role, article, or course every year will amount to quite a bit over a five to seven year period.

This concludes part 1.  Next time I will provide some further thoughts on things I wish I knew before I started my Ph.D. program.

Well this year’s SBL was exactly what I hoped it would be.  My goals for SBL are always similar, listen to some interesting papers, purchase books, and make contacts with scholars and interesting students.

Tuesday was an excellent end to the conference with a panel of world class scholars reflecting on Hans Dieter Betz’s groundbreaking Galatians commentary.  In addition, to discussing the work, the panel included many personal reflections, stories, and humor which made the section quite enjoyable.  Additionally, Betz provided a teaser for an article which he is working on concerning retirement in antiquity.  He finished by stating that the paper would discuss Paul and retirement.  I am quite eager to see how Betz makes this claim.

In addition to hearing many great papers I was able to interact with a vast array of scholars, students, and bloggers.  The receptions were great and I met a number of scholars I was hoping to meet.  Additionally, one of these scholars said he was seriously considering starting a blog.  I won’t name names but he is a big name so my fingers are crossed.  Unfortunately, I missed must of the bibliobloggers dinner as there was a paper I wanted to hear and discuss until 6:30 and then another panel at 7:00.  However, I was able to put faces to names of a lot of bloggers.  There sure are a lot of us.

Although I did buy 5 books this year I was disappointed with the book exhibit on Tuesday.  One of the reasons I stayed until the last day was to find some amazing book deals.  However, only Yale increased their discounts for Tuesday.  Oddly enough most publishers were annoyed when I asked if there was a special Tuesday discount.  The books I bought should keep me busy for a while.  I was able to pick up Schnelle’s New Testament Theology, 2 Corinthians by Furnish, Philippians by Reumann, and Invention of Christian Discourse by Vernon Robbins.  My discussions with Robbins have me especially intrigued by his work and I hope to review it soon.  I bought so many books that the airlines wanted to charge my a 90 dollar penalty for having a heavy bag!

This year was especially rewarding for me as I was on my first panel, Things I Wish I Knew about a Ph.D.  My advice was twofold, embrace your role as a student and prepare for your career from the beginning of your Ph.D. program.  I will expound on these two points in my next post.

Well that’s all for this year and I am already looking forward to SBL 2010 in Atlanta.

Day 1 was somewhat uneventful, however, on day 2 I attended the Pauline Epistles section.  There were five papers all at least somewhat interesting. I primarily attended the session to hear two papers by Mark Nanos and David Briones.  Mark Nanos examined 1 Cor 9:19-23 and Paul’s claim to be everything to everybody in light of Nanos’ theory that Paul was  an observant Jew.  Nanos theory is that Paul’s statement did not describe his actual behavior but was rather a rhetorical manuever which Nanos calls rhetorical adaptability.  As one who works with rhetoric I can certainly understand Nanos claim that Paul employed rhetoric in this instance.  However, as one who works with rhetoric I was disturbed by Nanos’ lack of nuance.  Admittedly, he did not have time to present an examination of rhetoric, but his comments in the Q&A section did not reveal a deep understanding of rhetoric.  I would like to hear his thoughts on essential questions concerning Paul’s rhetoric such as his level of education.

EDIT: On Monday I had an excellent conversation with Mark Nanos in which he expounded on how he uses rhetoric.  It seems that he works more generally with rhetoric identifying himself more with scholars who analyze Paul through modern rhetorical theories rather than Greco-Roman rhetoric.

In addition to attending the Pauline Epistles section, fellow bloggers Brandon Wason,  Patrick McCullough, and I  attended the New Testament Theology section in which James D. G. Dunn was highly critical of Udo Schnelle’s recent New Testament Theology.  Dunn’s paper was energetic and quite enjoyable.

While listening to papers was enlightening, the day finished with lengthy conversations with many important scholars.  These conversations are always as educational as the papers themselves, and tonight was no exception.  

For anyone at SBL tomorrow make sure you stop by Things I Wish I Knew about a Ph.D.  I’m one of three panelists and the section meets in SH Bayside A at 9:00.  Please do introduce yourself after the session.

This is the last post in my series of posts concerning my whereabouts during SBL.  The Saturday early evening time slot has a few promising sessions.  I will almost certainly be attending the Pauline Epistles section whose theme is The First Urban Christians Twenty-Five Years Later.  This section will examine the impact of Wayne Meek’s influential work The First Urban Christians and has important panelists such as David Horrell and Wayne Meeks.  Although this session looks excellent, I am seriously considering arriving late in order to hear James McGrath’s paper in the Intertexuality and the New Testament section.  McGrath’s paper examines a topic I am quite interested in, aurality and orality.

Pauline Epistles
11/21/2009
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: La Galerie 1 & 2 – MR

Theme: After the First Urban Christians: The Social Scientific Study of Pauline Christianity Twenty Five Years Later

Alexandra R. Brown, Washington and Lee University, Presiding
David G. Horrell, University of Exeter, Panelist (15 min)
Todd D. Still, Baylor University, Panelist (15 min)
Wayne A. Meeks, Yale University, Panelist (20 min)
Break (5 min)
Steven J. Friesen, University of Texas at Austin, Panelist (20 min)
Margaret MacDonald, St. Francis Xavier University, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (55 min)

Intertextuality in the New Testament
11/22/2009
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Rhythms Ballroom 1 – SH

Theme: Exploring Methods: Hearing, Remembering, and Contextualizing the Intertext

B. J. Oropeza, Azusa Pacific University, Presiding
James F. McGrath, Butler University
On Hearing (Rather Than Reading) Intertextual Echoes: Methodological Considerations Related to Aurality, Orality, and Intertextuality (30 min)
Jill Hicks-Keeton, Duke University
Remember and Believe: Psalm 69:9 in the Johannine Temple Logion (30 min)
Kenneth D. Litwak, Azusa Pacific University
Text, Pretext, Proof Text, Context: Should We Consider the Original Contexts of Intertexts? (30 min)
Stephen Moyise, University of Chichester, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (30 min)

There are a number of Paul sessions and other interesting looking papers during this time slot.  However, I will be attending the Paul and Politics group whose theme is Dieter Georgi’s Intellectual Legacy for Pauline Scholarship.  Two of my favorite scholars Helmut Koester and Richard Horsley are presenting papers.  Unfortunately, this decision means I will be missing many other great sections such as Intertextuality and the New Testament, Second Corinthians, Romans through History, and Social Scientific Criticism of the New Testament.  I am especially sad that I will miss my fellow UCLA colleague Sue Russell and her examination of Mary Douglas’ grid/group theory.

Paul and Politics
11/21/2009
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Napoleon A3 – SH

Theme: Dieter Georgi’s Intellectual Legacy for Pauline Scholarship

Bernadette Brooten, Brandeis University, Presiding
Helmut Koester, Harvard University
Paul in the Prophetic Tradition of Israel (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Angela Standhartinger , Philipps Universität-Marburg
The Political Impact of Gnosticism: Dieter Georgi’s Research on Paul and the Wisdom of Solomon in his Later Frankfurt Period (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Richard A. Horsley, University of Massachusetts Boston
A True Prophet: Dieter Georgi and ‘Gott auf den Kopf Stellen’ (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Other (15 min)
Other (60 min)

Social Scientific Criticism of the New Testament
11/21/2009
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Studio 2 – MR

Theme: A Retrospective on Mary Douglas. Legacy and Impact on Biblical Studies.

Richard E. DeMaris, Valparaiso University, Presiding
A. Sue Russell, Biola University
The Development of Douglas’ Grid/Group as an Analytical Tool and its Application to 1st Century Judaism (30 min)
Kevin Pittle, Biola University
Impurity and Power: Anthropological Considerations of Agency, Hybridity, and the Performance of Counterdesire (30 min)
Ritva H. Williams, Augustana College
Ingesting Impurity: the Social Body and Its Survival (30 min)
Charlotte Fonrobert, Stanford University, Respondent (30 min)
Discussion (25 min)

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