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.

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