It has been a while since my last post! I began my Ph.D. this August at Columbia International University in Theological Studies. The first seminar has absorbed all of my “extra” time. We also found out we are expecting our fifth child (third boy) due to arrive in June of 2022. All in all, it has been a busy few months!

I wanted to record my initial thoughts of the program so that I could return to them at a later date. I also wanted to help others who are considering a Ph.D. I found many blog posts helpful in determining my own path, and perhaps this will help you.

Do you like to read and write?

The consistent theme that stood out to me as I researched whether to pursue a Ph.D. is that it requires a lot of reading and writing. One statement, in particular, has stood in my mind (and I do not remember the source, otherwise I would cite it). “If you like to read and write, then a Ph.D. might be for you.” I knew that reading and writing would be required. It is a post-graduate degree, after all. What I did not know, though, was how much reading and writing it would require. I am not a fast reader, nor do I read 500 books a year, but I do read continually. It is more reading than I would have ever imagined!

It is the same with writing. I enjoy writing (though I am not good at it). That is one of the reasons I have a blog. The volume and difficulty are exponentially higher than I would have ever guessed. Again, I know it is a Ph.D. program, so I knew there would be many opportunities to write at a post-graduate level. I just had no idea what to expect.

I think of it as having kids. Whenever you are expecting your first child, everyone is quick to share how much work it is, how much time it will require, and how many sleepless nights you will have. Everyone knows what to expect when you are expecting, but it is completely different when you actually experience having a child.

So, if you like to read and write, as the advice I once read said, then a Ph.D. might be for you.

Do you like to think?

One thing that I am quickly realizing is my own need to sharpen my critical thinking skills. The research I am engaging in involves thinking through advanced concepts that are interconnected with many other views that are equally as complex. In addition to the complexity of the topics, there is also an enormous amount of material.

Working through the Ph.D. is not simply finding out facts and then presenting them in an organized fashion. It is about conducting research on a wide range of topics, finding the connections, and then working through that material to argue for or against a particular view with the hope of advancing studies in that particular field.

This has been challenging and stimulating. I have thoroughly enjoyed this part of the process, though it has also been a challenge. My brain is tired by the end of the day. While all of that is true, I am learning to think through these difficult concepts with greater clarity than I had before. Do you like to think? A Ph.D. may be something you should look into, then.

Do you have money?

The Ph.D. program is expensive. It also requires many books, trips to libraries, and printing out journal articles. If you are pursuing a Ph.D., make sure you have the finances to do so.

Are you married?

If you are single, while not without challenges, there is more freedom with your time, money, and resources. If you are married, sit down and discuss it with your spouse. My wife is amazing. I realize almost on a daily basis how blessed I am to have her. Since we have been married, I have earned two graduate degrees. We discussed this program, and she was supportive. Even now she works with me to ensure I have the time I need to read, write, and edit. She knew the requirements and demands the program would have and agreed to work with me. That buy-in has been encouraging on so many fronts! If your spouse is not on board, it may simply require more time to work through the details. Make sure you two are on the same page.

Where should I go?

Assuming you have read this far and answered in the affirmative to the above questions, the last question is where you should go. There are several factors that go into this question, and while this will not be an exhaustive interaction with the subject, I hope you find this helpful.

Background and Education

What are your background and education? Consider your background. I grew up in an independent, fundamental baptist setting. I attended a small Baptist college and graduated with my undergrad in Bible and Christian education. It was not an academic setting. This prevented me from enrolling in other institutions for a variety of reasons. However, it also allowed me to find colleges that may not have been a consideration prior (I believe this is the Lord’s providential guidance, and for that I am thankful). The fundamental mindset of strict separation also has lingering effects. Though the Lord has helped me tremendously in this area, I still find it difficult in working with others with whom I disagree. In advanced, scholarly work, one must interact with a variety of people. Your background may change your approach to research, interaction, etc.

Not only did this background present challenges for applying to institutions themselves, it also imposed a greater difficulty in my academic development. For example, the college was anti-Calvinistic (and if you know the school, you know that is an understatement). Because of this stance, the professors did not read or interact with any of the Puritans, early church fathers, or any other theologians outside of independent, fundamental baptists. When undergrad and grad students normally know who Barth was, what the various methods of theology are, and how the Scriptures developed, I did not. All of this to say, consider your background. If you are coming from a thin slice (such as independent, fundamental baptist) just know that in addition to your regular studies you will need to read much more to keep up.

You should also know that the institutions from which you graduate will also alter your academic future. In my own example, I referenced the challenges I faced. I applied for a school that I really wanted to attend, and because of the college I graduated from, I was not accepted. You can ask those experienced in academic settings for their advice with regards to applying for graduate/post-graduate education. Knowing this information will help you know which institutions you should apply.

Academic Goals and Research Interests

What are your academic goals and your research interests? Are you looking to teach? Are you wanting to publish? These are important questions you should work through prior to applying to a program.

What are your research interests? Ph.D. work is highly focused. It can work on one word or even a particular case in Greek. This one in particular has been difficult for me. I know I am not alone, but my research interests are broad. How can I be tied to one area? That is one of the reasons I chose a Ph.D. in Theological Studies. That is a broad degree (though my dissertation focus is single), allowing me to utilize the original languages, biblical, historical, and systematic theologies. You may be more interested in Biblical Aramaic. Your choice in an institution will be significantly different than my own. Take time in answering this question. You do not want to begin a program and five months want to head a different route.

European or US Ph.D. Model

Another issue you will want to think through is which model is right for you. There are basically two models: European and US. The European model is research-based. That is, you present a topic on which you want to write your dissertation with the accompanying resources to a school. If the school accepts, you are free to write and research. You have opportunities to work with your supervisor, but you are basically on your own. Once completed, you defend your dissertation and if accepted earn your degree.

The US model is class-based. You attend classes as you did in undergraduate and graduate work. After completing a required amount of classes (these vary with each institution), you begin working on your dissertation. As with the European model, once completed, you defend it. If you pass, you earn your degree.

Which model is best for you? That will determine whether you pursue a Ph.D. in the US or in Europe. There is a third option, though, and it is my recommendation. You can go with a hybrid.

Columbia International University presents the best of both worlds. You have some classes (the stage I am currently in) that prepare you for teaching in a graduate/post-graduate setting and dissertation research and methodology (this is the US model). Then, after these classes, you begin your dissertation research. Following along similar lines to the European model, you work closely with your supervisor and mentor. Once you defend your dissertation, you are awarded your degree. You can learn more about CIU here.

Conclusion

Should you pursue a Ph.D.? Only you can answer that. I have enjoyed the challenges and blessings so far. That may change in the coming months, but I doubt it.

5 thoughts on “Personal Update and Ph.D. Thoughts

  1. Interesting. I started a DMin once, but quit. I discovered I didn’t have a sufficiently valid answer to the Why question, as in, “Why do I want this degree?”

    I think that is the critical question, along with the others you pose.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Don! Where did you start your DMin?

      The why question was a big deal for me. Several mentors asked me why I wanted to pursue further education. At first my answer was always, “its what you do!” But then, as I was challenged on that answer, the Lord began to help clarify these thoughts.

      Like

      1. I was working on it at BJU. I took a few correspondence courses, pre-online era! The courses were good in themselves and helpful, but I finally decided my drive for a degree was ego rather than a more useful focus.

        I think a PhD or what have you is fine, but each person needs to know why they want or need it.

        Maranatha!
        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Awesome! I graduated from BJU in 2020 with a B counseling degree.

        Yes, I agree. There are many that slog through a program when they really did not need it or want it, but felt obligated to do so. It is something that we assume equips pastors for ministry, but it is not all that is needed.

        Like

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